Creator of islanders cartoon retires strip

After two decades of illustrations, Berry Wijdeven says it's time for a change

  • Sep. 23, 2015 11:00 a.m.

After 20 years and more than 1,000 editorial cartoons reflecting the ironies, tragedies and achievements of Haida Gwaii, Observer illustrator Berry Wijdeven is retiring his comic series, islanders.This week’s cartoon will be the last scheduled submission, however it may not be the last readers will see of long-running strip. “It has been an honour to appear weekly onto the island scene but it is time for a change,” Mr. Wijdeven says. “I’m not sure what that will look like, but I very much doubt that the islanders are retiring for good. There will always be issues….”Observer publisher Quinn Bender said he’s sad to see the end of the series, but welcomes any future submissions on a casual basis.”It’s incredibly rare for a newspaper this size to feature an editorial cartoon created by one of its own readers. It will be impossible to replace Berry. I think I speak for all the current and past staff here when I say his voice will be greatly missed in the editorial pages.”One of Mr. Wijdeven’s first jobs upon arriving on-islands was creating ads and layout at the Observer. Reading the weekly issues, it didn’t take him long to discover that islanders were quite passionate about local issues, and, more often than not, used the Observer’s Letters to the Editor section to make their point. “I wanted to participate in those discussions,” he says, “but I didn’t necessarily want to add inflammatory material to the raging debates. Having done a bit of dabbling before, I decided providing cartoons would allow me to have a say, while also poking some gentle fun. A spoonful of sugar and all that. And so islanders was born.”Mr. Wijdeven took over the editorial space from illustrator Manzanita Snow. Then owner and publisher of the Observer, Jeff King, says at that time he didn’t hesitate to bring Mr. Wijdeven on board when he espressed interest in the vacancy.”We picked him up right away. His cartoons were always so on-the-mark, so incisive, so easy to understand instantaneously, which is so important in a cartoon. He was always just so in touch with islanders and what they were thinking. It was uncanny.”There’s only one Berry-of course there are eaqually great cartoonists in the world, but they don’t live here.”Over the two decades since his first cartoon, Mr. Wijdeven says simply, “It was quite a ride.”Haida Gwaii has gone through many, many changes ranging from name changes and title cases to land-use plans and a new generation of ceremonial poles. And islanders had the privilege to have a comic say on them all.” Meanwhile, the success of islanders spawned what he charitably be described as a career with the publication of two books and cartoons which have appeared in Maclean’s, the Vancouver Sun, rabble.ca, Wavelength Paddling and a variety of papers and magazines all over British Columbia. “I even got to go the Canadian Association of Editorial Cartoonists conference in Montreal, where I met my hero Terry Mosher who has been publishing his Aislin cartoon in the Montreal Gazette for over 40 years. And all of this on the back from what really are some rather silly stick people with raindrop heads.”In the past two issues of the Observer, islanders has featured two of those raindrop-headed characters witnessing the collapse of their trademark fence, on which they’ve debated islands issues over the years.Faced with the splintered planks they ruminated first on how to resurrect it (“maybe we can apply to Gwaii Trust”), and now this week on whether they should simply let it lie (“a change might do us good”) before saying farewell.Goodbye to you, Berry. Thanks for the insights and the laughs.

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