Ben Wicks

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Ben Wicks, CM (October 1, 1926 – September 10, 2000) was a British-born Canadian cartoonist, illustrator, journalist and author.

Wicks was a Cockney born into a poor, working-class family in London's East End near London Bridge. He learned to play the saxophone in the British Army and toured Europe in a band with author Leonard Bigg also from London. He emigrated to Canada in 1957 with his wife Doreen Wicks with just $25. He found work as a milkman in Calgary and then joined the Canadian Army as a musician and began studying cartooning from books. Wicks came across a list in a library of magazines willing to purchase cartoons and began trying his hand—his first major success was being published by the Saturday Evening Post.

In 1963, he travelled to Toronto to assess cartooning possibilities and met Toronto Telegram 'The Giants' daily illustrated feature cartoonist, Norman Drew who advised him to move to Toronto. Wicks then moved to Toronto to work for the Toronto Telegram and his cartoon, The Outcasts, was soon syndicated in over 50 newspapers. His cartoons were simply drawn but were very topical and witty and became popular with readers and were picked up by the Toronto Star after the Telegram ceased operations in 1971. At its height, his daily cartoon, now called Wicks was carried by 84 Canadian and more than 100 American newspapers.

Wicks had a self-effacing but charming personality and became a popular guest on television and radio shows and had his own television show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the 1970s. He also created and illustrated the Katie and Orbie series of children's books written by his daughter Susan which in 1994 were turned into an animated television program for Family in Canada and for PBS in the United States.

I was the first person to employ Ben Wicks when he arrived in Calgary early in 1957. I was a partner in Fisher Trade Services Ltd., a company set up to supply the printing industry with camera-ready art and short run printing projects. An immigrant myself from Britain in 1952, I was trained at the old Luton School of Arts, now Barnfield College, and had just left my job as head of a small art and printing department at Motor Car Supply Company to form a partnership with Art Brown, of Graphic Arts Supply Ltd.

Ben had been canvassing all the suitable companies in Calgary, and came into my place one day accompanied by his wife Doreen. I explained we had just started operations and simply couldn't afford to take on staff. Ben promptly offered to work for nothing on a trial period and I was impressed by his persistence and determination, plus his obvious ability to get along with people. He showed me some samples of his work and I was frankly unimpressed, but there was something about him that appealed to me. I was in need of a short holiday as the stress of our start-up was beginning to tell so I decided to take him at his word. Ben was something of a disaster during his stay with me as he simply hadn't the experience and speed needed to cope with the world of commercial art, but we parted friends after a short time and stayed friends for many years. Ben was godfather to our son Michael John Fisher, and was a frequent house-guest during his early years in Canada.

Ben was a professional charmer in the best sense of that word. He was a hard worker and endured all the rejections and disappointments that go with trying to break into the cartoon business with good humour and a ready smile. His cockney accent was his schtick and as the years went by it seemed to grow more pronounced. He readily admitted he couldn't draw worth beans, and I had to agree with him. I have always been mildly amused by Ben's biographies and chided him that I was never included, and that certain periods of his life were always glossed over with vague references to odd jobs such as milkman and playing in an army band. You could never stay mad at Ben for any length of time. He charmed his way into many successful careers and earned every award given him. We were actually neighbours in the Toronto Don Valley Woods Townhouse development in the 1960s when I was beginning my writing career and we lost touch later, but I followed his career with interest. Ben Wicks was the classic example of a penniless immigrant making good. He did it with a mixture of some talent and a lot of hard work and natural charm. John Fisher, 2010

He also opened a pub in Toronto's Cabbagetown district named The Ben Wicks.[1] The Parliament Street pub was sold to new owners July 2013. However, a blue plaque commemorating Wicks has been installed on the railing and a wall sized outdoor cartoon by Wicks has been retained.

Wicks was also known for his humanitarian work. He used his illustrations to publicize the plight of civilian sufferers of the Biafran War in Nigeria, and became a supporter of Oxfam. During the 1984–1985 famine in Ethiopia, he organized Cartoonists for Africa raising money and awareness. Wicks spent much time in his later decades promoting literacy among children.

In 1986, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

In 1997, he donated material to the Ryerson University archives.

Wicks died of cancer in 2000 at age 73.

In Wicks' memory, the annual "Ben Wicks Award" was given (from 2001 to 2010) to young talented cartoonists by Regional Maple Leaf Communications.

In May 2007, Wicks was the subject of a court case, as his children tried to reclaim 2,408 vintage drawings left behind in a 1992 move.[2]

Works[edit]

The Day They Took the Children, Stoddart, Toronto,1989, ISBN 0-7737-2333-1

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Ben Wicks, 424 Parliament St., Toronto, ON M5A 3A2
  2. ^ Who owns Wicks cartoons?, by John Goddard, The Toronto Star, Published May 15, 2007.