Editorial Cartoons: Len Norris, Master of Just About Everything

Len Norris

After the holidays, my pal Jo-Jo Baptista showed me a paperback book of political cartoons he picked up in a junk store when he was visiting his family. It was by a cartoonist I had never heard of before… Len Norris. The second I opened the book, I started to get excited. This guy had everything- great compositions, stylish design, solidly constructed characters, flawless perspective, funny drawings, great fabric folds, expressive hand poses, wild looking kids and animals- and he seemed to be able to draw anything from any angle. He caricatured automobiles and trains as well as the insides of gothic cathedrals and department stores, and depicted fabulous mansions as easily as he drew middle class living rooms. What a talent!

Len NorrisLen NorrisI did a little Googling and discovered that Norris worked as Art Director for Macleans magazines for a few years after WWII, then began a 27 year run as editorial cartoonist for the Vancouver Sun. Norris would lampoon stories from the paper, which he would refer to in a tiny box at the top or on the headline of a paper in a character’s hand. Today, without an understanding of the topical context, some of the gags are pretty puzzling. But it doesn’t matter- Norris’ drawings are spectacular.

It’s clear that Norris was inspired by the work of Ronald Searle, as are many current day animators. But Norris takes Searle’s ornamental line and wraps it around completely solid forms. This is exactly the sort of translation that a character designer would need to do if he wanted to adapt Searle’s style to an animatable model. But Norris isn’t just a Searle imitator. His characters are keenly observed and capture the spirit of Canadian culture in the 1950s. Look at these fantastic editorial cartoons and see if you don’t agree with Walt Kelly who was quoted as saying that Len Norris was “the best in the business”.

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Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resource

Editorial CartoonsEditorial Cartoons

This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Editorial Cartoons.

19 Responses to “Editorial Cartoons: Len Norris, Master of Just About Everything”

  1. Bryan Castleman says:

    Impressive drawings. I would like to see more.

  2. Lluis fuzzhound says:

    These are amazing I love this stuff!!! Yeah I want more!!!!! hehehe Great Stuff!!! thank you!

  3. Lloyd says:

    yeah me too…very nice composition and balance..

  4. Bruce says:

    Yes sir, yes sir, yes SIR!

    More, please.

    From an aspiring animator/ cartoonist

  5. Will Finn says:

    What a find! Pure manna…this is like the recurring dream of stumbling into a toy store that has everything you wanted as a kid, including stuff they never made…

    Please more….!

  6. Tim says:

    As a kid who loved art growing up in late 60's Vancouver, I always loved the Norris cartoons in the Vancouver Sun. I'd just moved from England and Norris was my new "Carl Giles" of the Daily Express. Not quite so political and always full of whimsy. Thanks for the flashback!

  7. Chief Executive Burrito says:

    Some of the best work I've ever seen! I would love more work! I agree with Will! Amazing and I'd never even heard his name mentioned anywhere let alone seen his awesome work!

  8. Yowp says:

    Steve, thanks for posting this.

    Len Norris was an astute obverser of the local political scene here some years back and I'm of the age where I know the context of the cartoons.

    The PGE one is really brilliant. He's comparing the rattle-trap rail-line .. which cost untolled amount of taxpayers dollars and was not completed for decades .. to the old wooden roller coaster at the Pacific National Exhibition. It's really clever commentary. The PGE was the butt of many columns and cartoons for years. And, yes, the line was/is along the hilly and cliff-dotted waterfront to Squamish overlooking Howe Sound.

    Norris liked to use a character reading a newspaper or sign to either set up the gag in the caption.

    Yowp

  9. John Jenkins says:

    Wow! This is truly beautiful cartooning. I would love to see more. Thank you ever so much for posting these.

  10. pili says:

    this really looks like Gile’s cartoons, it’s amazing.

  11. godfrey says:

    If you are looking for more of his cartoon annuals I may be able to help, they still show up occasionally. They were printed from 1952/3 to about 1980 every year. Some are undoubtedly harder to find than others. There was also a very rare set of TEN figurines produced depicting some of his more colourful characters, these show up very infrequently even as singles. And generally command quite high prices today. I only know of a handfull of complete sets. I believe that Len is one of the last centuries best North American cartoonists.

  12. Norma Gramling says:

    I live in Illinois. Years ago my father was traveling in Canada and brought home 10 Figurine Characters by Norris. After my father died in 1980 I kept the figurines all in their original boxes and in perfect condition. My father told me some day they would become a rare collector’s item. Can you help me? I would appreciate any help in finding there true value or worth.

    Thank You, Norma Gramling

    • Seth says:

      Hi Norma: I don’t know the value of the figurines but I would imagine they are quite hard to find. I’m a big Norris fan and would certainly be interested in working out a deal to purchase those figures if you would even consider parting with them.
      Please send me an email at clyde_fans@hotmail.com should you wish to discuss it.
      Seth

    • Dave Russell says:

      I have purchased several of these figurines at an average $30/ea. They don’t come up for sale very often for whatever reason but there isn’t a huge market for them either. I just bought one for $25 the other day, it’s the first one I’ve seen advertised for months. If you like them, hang on to them, if not sell them to Seth who is a big Norris fan,or me, as I an too. Thanks ,Dave Russell

  13. Nice! some jokes are puzzling but really cool drawing!

  14. Norm Drew says:

    When I met Len at the Vancouver Sun, circa 1961, (that’s right – 50 years ago!) he said Giles was his inspiration. I thought this amusing as I thought Len’s work was ‘better’ than Giles in many ways: line/brush work, composition, spatial tension, hidden multiple gags and a wider range of characters.

    Len willed his original cartoons (he retained almost all of them!– although he personally autographed one for me!! Muahaha! ) to Simon Fraser University’s Editorial Cartoon Archive.

    If you want to see more of his cartoons, you can browse many of them on the Norris archive page here: http://edocs.lib.sfu.ca/projects/Norris-Collection/BrowseExhibition.htm

  15. J. Simpson says:

    Len Norris will never be forgotten, by me, anyway. I will always chuckle at a remembered cartoon when an event reminds me of one.
    Thank you.

  16. J Roberts says:

    Thanks for this. I fondly remember the Norris annual. My father kept them in his den next to his “magazines”. Imagine a 14 year old boy finding more enjoyment from multi-level political gags, than from scantily clad women! However, I was a political junkie, having enjoyed many signed originals of Len’s lampoons of WAC B.

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