Logger Cartoonist Created one of Canada’s First Graphic Novels
Gilbert Joseph (Bus) Griffiths, a cartoonist, logger and fisherman, died of prostate cancer in Comox, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2006. Griffiths was best known as the creator of Now You’re Logging, a 119-page graphic novel about the 1930s logging industry in BC.
Born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Griffiths was raised in British Columbia, first in Penicton and then in Burnaby. As a teenager he was interested in cartooning but was unsuccessful in finding work in the newspaper field. As a young adult he illustrated catalogues for Massey-Harris but left that job to work as a logger during the 1930s Depression. Giffiths specialized as a faller, a logger tasked with dropping trees so that they do not cause damage to or become entangled with neigbouring trees. By his own account, Griffiths was very good at his job and loved every aspect of the industry, even though it was seasonal and prone to lay-offs, especially during the 1930s. His logging career began in the Fraser Valley and the Mainland coast of BC, but he eventually migrated to Vancouver Island.
After a decade in the bush, Griffiths married his wife Maragaret in 1940. He also managed to find jobs as a cartoonist, creating work in the 1940s for Vancouver’s Maple Leaf publishing, one of the short lived Canadian comics publishers that sprang up during World War II. At the same time, he produced an 8-page children’s comic book about logging for the BC government. An editor for BC Lumberman magazine encouraged Griffiths to submit strips about logging to the magazine –a project that would eventually lead to the creation of a much longer work.
Giffiths retired from logging in 1961 and began working as a fisherman out of Fanny Bay, where he had moved in 1944. In 1972, at the urging of his wife, and using her as a model, Griffiths began working on a longer comic book about logging in his spare time. This was published in 1978 by Harbour Press as Now You’re Logging.
The book concerns the adventures of two young loggers in the 1930s who learn the ropes from an older camp-boss. Full of period detail, Now You’re Logging is almost a primer on the basics of the business from the days before the advent of the chainsaw, and contains many lengthy explanations of the techniques and tools of the trade. Graphically, the book looks something like a cross between a textbook and a love story illustrated by a heterosexual Tom of Finland. Griffiths cartooning combines muscular figures with tightly rendered machines and landscapes to charming effect. Shawn Conner, writing in the Comics Journal in 1996, characterized the book as “a true anomaly: written and drawn by a man with decades of experience in the woods, it’s a book with no clear antecedent, more intent on documenting a way of life than telling a story (though it does that, too),” noting that, “it might just change your perception of what comics are, what they can do, and why we need them.” Indeed, although published during the same period that U.S. based cartoonists were beginning to refer to their long-form comics as graphic novels, Griffith’s book seems totally divorced from the world of North American comics of the time. In this sense it has more in common with other sui generis graphic novels of the past, such as The Four Immigants Manga or Frans Masereel’s woodcut novels. Now You’re Logging went through 3 printings but is now out of print.
In later years Griffiths continued to pursue artistic endeavours: he illustrated a few other books about BC subjects and several of his oil painting hang in local museums. At the end of his life he was preparing a series of short prose stories about his logging career. According to Grant Shilling’s Globe and Mail obituary, Griffiths “was a small man with a big chest, a lovely lilt in his voice and a twinkle in his eye. He was built more like Popeye, with well-developed forearms grown strong from working a saw and an axe for a living.” Griffiths experienced a stroke in 2003 and had been living under extended care since then. He is survived by his wife Margaret, two sons, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren. A memorial service was held October 21.
Globe and Mail obituary (08/12/06)
Georgia Straight Profile by Grant Shilling
illustrated article by Gordon Hak
Shawn Connor, “Beyond the Grid, Later, up in the woods…,” The Comics Journal, 187 (May 1996), 111-2. (the same issue also includes an interview with Griffiths and samples of his work)