So, that was a pretty decent 10th birthday party. For those of you who weren’t able to attend in person, The Doug Wright Awards celebrated its 10th anniversary this past weekend as part of the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF) in (mostly) sunny downtown Toronto.
A feature event of TCAF, the DWAs were staged a quick walk from the TCAF HQ that is the Toronto Reference Library. I think I speak for most of us involved in the Awards when I say that 2014 was a high-water mark for the organization, in part because of the lack of any major distractions (which last year included a fire alarm and an impromptu one-man show) \ but also because it flowed briskly, hitting some great notes throughout the evening. There were the highs of seeing the winners faces light-up on stage and watching 88-year-old Canadian Whites cartoonist Jack Tremblay accept his Giants of the North medal and the lows, like watching me deliver 50-year-old Bob Hope jokes — and stick my foot firmly in my mouth as I tried to congratulate superstars Rachel Richey and Hope Nicholson for their amazing work in preserving Canadian comics history.
(Side-bar: As someone who wrote and co-edited a book on Doug Wright, I think the largely older, male “community” of researchers and writers who traditionally work in the field are infinitely better off with Hope and Rachel on board to shake things up. They’re youth and courage was instrumental in mounting a successful Kickstarter to reprint a complete collection of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, something I have heard many people ask for over the years. I’ve known both women for a couple of years now and was over-joyed that they accepted our invite to launch their book at the ceremony. My sincere apologies if my ad-libbed words struck a deaf note.)
The show itself actually involves a lot of pre-planning and set-up, which began at 9 pm Friday night with a proper technical run-through. Thanks to Sean Rogers and Rachel (who loaned us her lap-top and advice about the use of the word “deftly” in one of the nominee summaries) and TCAF tech guru Parrish, we were ready to go.
Then on Saturday night, as guests lined up and nominees got drunk at the hotel bar, Seth, Jeet Heer, Sean, Jerry Ciccoritti and a bunch of volunteers started assembling the physical aspects of the big show inside the ballroom of the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel. Here’s some shots of how it went down.
Then we opened the doors. Here are some shots of the Golden Globe-esque crowd filling into the Forest Hill Ballroom.
Then I finally jumped on stage and kicked off the show. As is tradition, we welcomed all of the 13 nominees in stage to congratulate them all.
Then I delivered my opening remarks, which let’s face it are typically a low point of any show. It’s like hearing the accounting guy come on and stiffly deliver some joke about movies at the Oscars. So I tried to switch it up this year by delivering some honest-to-goodness jokes, to loosen things up a bit. As I said during the show, i lifted these directly from long-time Oscars host Bob Hope. Exhibit A: a real joke I told. “We have a very distinguished audience out here tonight, as befits this great occasion. Sitting out there are the comic stars of today and the Adventure Time storyboard artists of tomorrow.”
Here’s Hope delivering some of the yuks in 1966. (Scroll to the 3:30 mark to see how a pro does it.)
Here’s a shot of Scott Thompson smiling at my jokes — and thinking “He’s no Bob Hope.”
After my pre-amble Ken Wright, one of Doug and Phyllis Wright’s three boys, took to the stage to say a few words. Ken, a retired police officer, is all class and has been a true supporter of the DWAs over the past decade along with his mom. In a short/sweet speech he thanked the organization for its hard work over the years in supporting Canadian comics and helping to spread awareness of his father’s life and career. It was a touching moment for me, personally, and I appreciate him saying them on behalf of the Wright family.
I then introduced our annual Best Book video and gave the podium over to Scott. Here are some blurry shots of him chatting about comics, Stan Lee and Dave Collier. Scott is a pro, and a genuine fan of comics, having written his own a graphic novel called The Hollow Planet. So he’s a perfect fit for the awards — and we’re glad to have him return this year.
Then it was time to get down to the awards. First up was the Pigskin Peters Award, which recognizes the best in experimental and avant-garde comics. The award itself is distinct: based on a seminal Canadian comic strip character called “Pigksin Peters” created by Jimmy Frise it takes the form of a derby hat — as modeled by Pete himself on the hat-box — and comes with a badge and a plaque that the winner can hang on his or her wall to hang the hat on.
All right — that’s enough for Part One! More to come in a day or two!
(I should add a big thanks to the eternally youthful Chris Anthony Diaz for the official photos at the awards this year. Great work Chris!)