Ottawa Citizen

MEET THE CARTOONIST

David Cooper’s work is ‘uncomforta­bly titillatin­g’

- BRUCE DEACHMAN Through profiles here and online, Bruce Deachman uncovers the people who bring Ottawa to life; people who exhibit an unusual passion or obsession. Do you know someone who is one in a million? Email the details to bdeachman@ ottawaciti­zen.co

In the synaptic firings that make up the pyrotechni­cs of Dave Cooper’s mind, beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. His 2002 graphic novella Dan and Larry, for example, retells the classic story of the ugly duckling, but in Cooper’s version, the fairy-tale transforma­tion doesn’t occur; Dan remains ugly, only becoming beautiful when compared to the uglier things in his and Larry’s world.

The women who largely inhabit Cooper’s paintings, meanwhile, are voluminous beings who have most often been characteri­zed as “pillowy.” In Ripple, a graphic novel published in 2003, flounderin­g artist Martin, in overcoming his revulsion for the homely model he hires, is forced to question his own notions of beauty and sexuality. The story was described as “sad, funny, and often uncomforta­bly titillatin­g,” a portrayal that could aptly be attributed to much of Cooper’s work.

“I’m not into the typical body type,” says Cooper, laughing. “That’s for sure.

“To me, that’s reality. I just love all women. A lot of them are women a lot of men wouldn’t find attractive in the least, but they’re mouth-watering to me. All different sizes: tall, short, fat. Just about the only type I’m not into is the typical fashion model. “I don’t know where that comes from.” Asked to describe himself as a youngster, he starts to say “quiet,” but then corrects himself. He was active, he says, but growing up the youngest of four kids in the countrysid­e near Shelburne, N.S., he was something of a loner left to his own wits for entertainm­ent and diversion.

“I would wander off into the woods and just kind of get lost,” he recalls.

He was also always drawing, he says, from the moment he could hold a pencil, and knew that was what he would eventually do. Tomi Ungerer, a children’s book author and illustrato­r who has described himself as an “archivist of human absurdity,” often spent summers in the area and became friends with the Coopers.

“Getting to meet him at a very young age planted that seed that ‘You can draw for a living; that can be your career.’ ”

When he was nine, his father — Shelburne’s town doctor — was offered the position of head of the Medical Devices Bureau (“I used to love looking at his old medical journals”), and the family moved to Ottawa, where Cooper attended Mutchmor and Hopewell elementary

At 18, when many people were graduating from high school, Cooper dropped out. ‘All my years in high school were just a disaster,’ he recalls, ‘so when I finally found an out, everybody kind of breathed a sigh of relief.’

schools, and then Glebe and High School of Commerce.

“In retrospect, I think I had some kind of learning disorder,” he admits. “I could kind of charm my way through grade school, but in high school … I could never seem to grasp things.

“I think that’s why I became good at art,” he adds. “It was something that I could do that I could be really proud of.”

At 18, when many people are graduating from high school, Cooper dropped out. His parents, he says, were hardly upset. “They saw the writing on the wall.

“All my years in high school were just a disaster, so when I finally found an out, everybody kind of breathed a sigh of relief.”

His “out” was a position with Aircel Comics, an Ottawa publishing group whose formation in 1985 coincided with the boom in alternativ­e comics. With plenty of financing, Cooper and other artists were given full-time salaried jobs.

The boom turned bust in just a few years, however, and he floundered for the next handful of years, into the mid 1990s. It was the publicatio­n, in 1997, of his graphic novel Suckle that launched his career. With the attention it garnered within the industry, he was able to sell many of his paintings, as the Lowbrow art movement — “cartoon-tainted abstract surrealism,” it’s been called — flourished. Cooper showed in top galleries, including Los Angeles’s prestigiou­s La Luz de Jesus Gallery.

The Simpsons creator Matt Groening asked Cooper to help with his second TV project, Futurama. More graphic novels followed, with industry accolades right behind. In 2000, he won a Harvey Award and two Ignatz Awards for his Weasel series.

“I was selling like crazy for a few years in the gallery scene,” he recalls.

With his commercial success, he’s been able to branch into other areas. He’s published a children’s book, Bagel’s Lucky Hat, while vinyl toys were manufactur­ed based on characters he created.

These days, the 44-year-old husband and father of two has a pair of children’s animation projects — one for Nickelodeo­n, the other for Teletoon, the latter an adaptation of Bagel’s Lucky Hat — in the works, and has incorporat­ed another of his obsessions — drumming — into his work, making comic strips based on interviews he’s done with drummers.

So far he’s drawn sessions player Steve Gadd, Mastodon’s Brann Dailor and New Orleans funk drummer Stanton Moore.

“There are different facets of my creative mind,” he says. “I feel I need a lot of contrast, so I have all these things happening, but they’re all necessary to make me feel satisfied. It’s got to be this big pot happening, with everything boiling at once.

“It’s therapy for me,” he adds. “I don’t see ever wanting to retire from the thing that I love to death.”

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 ?? ARTWORK BY DAVE COOPER. PHOTOS BY BRUCE DEACHMAN, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN ?? Dave Cooper’s reputation was largely made after the 1997 publicatio­n of his graphic novel Suckle. ‘That’s when my current career really started.’
ARTWORK BY DAVE COOPER. PHOTOS BY BRUCE DEACHMAN, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN Dave Cooper’s reputation was largely made after the 1997 publicatio­n of his graphic novel Suckle. ‘That’s when my current career really started.’
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 ??  ?? Visit ottawaciti­zen.com/million to see more photos and artwork and listen to Dave Cooper, or to see past stories.
Visit ottawaciti­zen.com/million to see more photos and artwork and listen to Dave Cooper, or to see past stories.
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