Hartley Lin, Ariane Dénommé, and Xiaoxiao Li take home 2019 Doug Wright Awards, Fiona Smyth and Alootook Ipellie inducted into Giants of the North

Hartley Lin, Ariane Dénommé, and Xiaoxiao Li take home 2019 Doug Wright Awards, Fiona Smyth and Alootook Ipellie inducted into Giants of the North

May 15, 2019—The winners of the 15th annual Doug Wright Awards, recognizing the best work and most promising talent in Canadian comics, were announced on Saturday evening during a ceremony at Toronto’s Marriott Yorkville. 

Hartley Lin’s debut graphic novel, Young Frances (Adhouse Books), won the 2019 Doug Wright Award for Best Book. Young Frances is the story of an evolving relationship between two twenty-something women, told through small moments of everyday life. The book originally was serialized in Lin’s comic series, Pope Hats, which itself was previously nominated for four Doug Wright Awards, winning the Doug Wright Spotlight Award in 2012. 

Rotem Anna Diamant, of the Canadian Comics Open Library and one of this year’s judges, announced the winner, saying:

This narrative captures quiet moments of pause, as well as how life can shift so quickly we hardly notice, and suddenly we are changed. This is a thoughtful, funny, frightening, and sympathetic portrait of the humanity and inhumanity of corporate culture, young professional life, and stumbling into adulthood, made with care and great skill. 

Ariane Dénommé, a first-time DWA nominee, took home the 2019 Doug Wright Spotlight Award (also known as “the Nipper,” named for Doug Wright’s signature character) for 100 Days in Uranium City (Conundrum Press), a book that explores an under-examined corner of Canadian industry with intimate detail. The Spotlight Award is presented to a Canadian cartoonist or writer and artist team deserving of wider recognition. 

The cartoonist Dalton Sharp, another of this year’s judges, announced the winner, which was accepted by Conundrum publisher Andy Brown. Of Dénommé’s work Sharp said:

I suspect most of us don’t want to know too much about our parents’ lives before us—who did what to whom at the dance, the office party, the camping trip. But at times we wonder. We all wonder—a few of us even ask—usually getting half answers, deflections, knowing looks, mystery. Tonight’s winner got the goods. She did ask. She did speak to her dad about the days before she arrived on the scene, days of hard rock mining, 100 days on, 14 days off, and we have a great book with quiet moments of longing, anxiety about the future, and, yes . . . I’ll say it . . . love.

Retomber, by first-time DWA nominee Xiaoxiao Li, won this year’s Pigskin Peters Award, which recognizes the best experimental, unconventional, or avant-garde Canadian comic of the year. Retomber, a hand-stitched object printed on translucent paper, is a diary comic that looks to the future by experimenting with new forms of storytelling. 

The winner was announced by poet and illustrator Sabrina Scott, a member of this year’s nominating committee, which chooses the winner of the Pigskin Peters Award. Scott said of the winning book:

This little book is a gentle force that provokes reflection on what we see of each other, what we expose to each other; what we don’t, what we can’t. The artist’s unique play with layers and visually transparent media evokes reflection on fragmentation, embarrassment, desire, shame, inclusion, and omission. Form echoes content in this raw and revealing work.

Alongside this year’s winners, Fiona Smyth and Alootook Ipellie were inducted into the Giants of the North Hall of Fame, which celebrates creators who have made a lasting contribution to the field of Canadian comics. 

Fiona Smyth, an artist whose work straddles art, comics, and murals, and is marked by a bold and overt sexuality, was inducted by her longtime friend and colleague, the artist Maurice Vellekoop. During his induction speech, Vellekoop said: 

Fiona is a supernova feminist icon; a pop culture razzle-dazzler. She’s a miraculous magician who can transubstantiate paint into mouthwatering flavour. She is up there with the very greatest of the greatest greats.  . . . Fiona can do anything. 

Alootook Ipellie (1951–2007) was an Inuk artist born outside of what is now Iqaluit, Nunavut. He developed an early and abiding interest in comics, creating work that often satirically examined the modern world’s impact in Inuit life. Ipellie was inducted by his longtime friend, the writer Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, and Louisa Gillespie, who attended the Indian residential school system with Ipellie. “What he said and what he drew is what we felt, but were too shy to say,” Gillespie said before performing a traditional drum song alongside Monica Ittusardjuat, another childhood friend of Ipellie. She then read a letter provided by Ipellie’s daughter, Taina, which, in part, spoke of the anger she once felt for not having known her father, and how she came to forgive him. She further wrote:  

I would like to thank you for honouring my father’s work, as I feel much of it applies to the world we live in, even today. . . . I won’t profess to know exactly how he would feel on this day. But I imagine he would feel honoured and very grateful for this recognition. 

The evening also paid tribute to artist Teva Harrison, author of the graphic novel memoir In-Between Days (House of Anansi), who was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer five years ago and died on April 27. 

The Doug Wright Awards ceremony, a featured event at this year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival, was hosted by Steve Manale, who kept the evening moving with an unlikely basketball theme. Manale, a Toronto-based artist and cartoonist, entered the awards accompanied by musical fanfare, wearing a sweat-suit and dribbling a basketball. He explained he had come from his Saturday night rec-league ball game. 

After pausing to hydrate, he tore off his suit to reveal a custom, handmade black, white, and gold Doug Wright Award basketball uniform. Manale later distributed several silkscreened DWA T-shirts and failed to initiate a game of one-on-one with the artist Joe Ollmann. 

Finalists for this year’s awards were chosen from dozens of works published during the 2018 calendar year.  The nominating committee consisted of Ehab Arafeh, Alex Hoffman, Betty Liang, and Sabrina Scott. 

The jury for the 15th annual Doug Wright Awards included Rotem Diamant, president and librarian of the Canadian Comics Open Library; Rebecca Roher, winner of the 2017 Doug Wright Best Book Award for her full-length debut, Bird in a Cage; Joe Ollmann, the 2007 winner of the Best Book Award, for This Will All End in Tears; and Dalton Sharp, a cartoonist and long-time wrangler for the Toronto Comic Jam.