1642 Raeside outdoors

Wildlife For Idiots: And Other Animal Cartoons
by Adrian Raeside

Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2022
$16.95 / 9781550179323

Reviewed by Sage Birchwater

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So how do you review a book of cartoons by sardonic, irreverent, witty Adrian Raeside — standup comedian of the literary world.

Born in New Zealand in 1957, Raeside came to Canada via England as a 15-year-old in 1972 and got his start as an artist by illustrating his mother, Joan Raeside’s children’s books. In British Columbia he began drawing editorial cartoons for the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper in 1979 to kickoff his professional career, and never looked back. Over that 43 years he has gained global recognition. His comic strip The Other Coast has appeared in newspapers and magazines worldwide.

Raeside has authored 20 books, including last year’s The World According to Dogs: An Owner’s Manual (reviewed by Valerie Green – Ed.).

Adrian Raeside

The cover illustration of his latest, Wildlife For Idiots: And Other Animal Cartoons, sets the stage. Tourists standing on the back of a safari vehicle are taking pictures of wild animals in an African landscape. In the foreground a lion, zebra, baboon and a hippo are featured with signs hanging from their necks. “Hello Lion,” “Hello Zebra,” and so on.

Is this a hint of the growing human/natural world divide that predominates our world today? To make his point, Raeside kicks his humour up a notch. The inside title page shows the same four animals driving away in the safari vehicle carrying the tourists’ cameras, cellphone and sunglasses. Behind, standing perplexed on the ground, are the four tourists.

The cartoonist continues with a more poignant statement on the Introduction page. A cartoon strip shows a virgin forest, then a logger cutting it down, followed by a bulldozer clearing the area. In the next sequence developers are constructing a new building in the clearcut. Completing the narrative a tourist entering the brand new Wilderness Centre asks, “Where is the wilderness?” The attendant replies: “The gift shop is selling plush spotted owls.”

Raeside writes in his introduction how humans and wild animals share a number of similarities. “We all need food, water, shelter and the company of our own species, whether in the form of a herd, flock, pack or bridge club.”

Adrian Raeside, Self Portrait

He also notes how animals and humans share similarities like building homes, raising young and caring for each other. “But we can also mess up and sometimes squabble,” he adds.

As you turn the pages, Raeside’s imagination covers a wide swath of subject matter. “What are animals thinking?” he asks. “Does the eagle who fails to snag a fish get the cold shoulder from its mate? Do sharks feel remorse if they bit a surfer instead of a seal? Would an alligator buy an alligator skin handbag if it was on sale?”

He promises Wildlife for Idiots will answer these questions and more.

The artist starts at the beginning, as do most cosmologies. “In the beginning” is the title of the first colour-coded chapter. Colour Me Light Green.

Chapter Two switches from primordial evolution to “Iconic Invertebrates.” Colour Me Orange. Three bugs watch a 3-D horror movie on television. The windshield of a truck is coming right at them. Shudder!

Next up are the Water Dwellers. Colour Me Blue-green. Plenty of shark action. Lots of fish jokes. Then there’s the whale who moves to shallow water to avoid the big shipping lanes, only to get smucked by a guy driving a Sea-Doo. Sigh…

Chapter 4 is Rakish Reptiles. Colour Me Purple. Many crocodile jokes. A croc in a bar talking to the crocodile-skin purse of a bar patron. “Well, hellooo there. I haven’t seen you here before…”

And then the python jokes: the mystery of the disappearing “python whisperer,” the heisted “chocolate-covered goat,” and the “plastic flamingo” lawn ornament all plainly revealed by the shape of the guilty swallower.

The chapters roll on: Exuberant Eagles, Colour Me Gold. Other winged wonders, Colour me Red. Rampant Rodents. Colour Me Dark Green.

One of my favourites in the Bodacious Bears chapter. Colour Me Brown. Two bears sipping glasses of wine in front of the head-mount of a human holding a visa card. “Bagged him just as he was charging,” one bruin tells the other.

Anyway, you get the picture. Raeside is off the charts, just where you’d expect him to be. You might want to get a copy of the book to actually see the pictures. Well worth it.

It’s funny; it’s ironic; it’s great just to have a copy of the book to poke fun at the seriousness of our curious and sometimes dire human condition. I can see it positioned in outhouses for those who like to read and have a chuckle while doing their business. And the likelihood of pages getting ripped out to use as tissue is diminished thanks to the book’s glossy page colour format.

The last comic strip in the book, in the Humorous Humans section, Colour Me Purple, shows two bluebirds on a tree branch in a pristine mountainous setting. The roar of an all-terrain vehicle can be perceived off in the distance. As the ATV vrooms into sight, deep ruts are carved into the alpine vegetation. One rider exclaims, “I love communing with nature!”

One of the birds replies, “Don’t hurry back on our account.”

And as an extra bonus, on the inside front and back covers are outline drawings of the animal characters found on the inner pages. Something for kids to colour perhaps. Or maybe outhouse artisans could doodle creatively while waiting for the interminable drop.

Ironically, Wikipedia chuckles how Adrian Raeside first practiced his art on washroom walls as a kid in Dunedin, New Zealand. So things do come full circle.

Enjoy this book.

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Sage Birchwater

Sage Birchwater, a long-time resident of the Cariboo-Chilcotin, has written several books about the area including Chiwid (New Star, 1995). Born in Victoria in 1948, Birchwater was involved with Cool Aid in Victoria, travelled throughout North America, and worked as a trapper, photographer, environmental educator, and oral history researcher. Sage served as the Chilcotin rural correspondent for two local papers for 24 years while raising his family south of Tatla Lake. He has also lived in Tatlayoko, where he was a freelance writer and editor, and Williams Lake, where he was a staff writer for the Williams Lake Tribune until his retirement in 2009. His other books include Williams Lake: Gateway to the Cariboo Chilcotin (2004, with Stan Navratil); Gumption & Grit: Extraordinary Women of the Cariboo Chilcotin, (2009); Double or Nothing: The Flying Fur Buyer of Anahim Lake (2010); The Legendary Betty Frank (2011); Flyover: British Columbia’s Cariboo Chilcotin Coast (2012, with Chris Harris); Corky Williams: Cowboy Poet of the Cariboo Chilcotin (2013); Chilcotin Chronicles (2017), reviewed here by Lorraine Weir; and Talking to the Story Keepers: Stories from the Chilcotin Plateau (Caitlin Press, 2022). Editor’s note: Sage Birchwater has recently reviewed books by Matti Halminen, Erskine BurnettPaul McKendrickHiram Cody Tegart & Andrew Bruce RichardsChris Czajkowski & Fred Reid, and Marianne Van Osch for The British Columbia Review.

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The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

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