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Respect, love of wildlife shows in cartoonist's latest collection

Don’t be fooled by the title of this book — you don’t need to be an idiot to enjoy the work of Adrian Raeside.

Wildlife for Idiots and Other Animal Cartoons

By Adrian Raeside; Harbour Publishing

Reviewed by Dave Obee, editor and publisher of the Times Colonist

Don’t be fooled by the title of this book. You don’t need to be an idiot to enjoy the work of Adrian Raeside, known on the Island for his editorial cartoons and across North America for his comic strip, The Other Coast.

After all, with a career that has spanned more than four decades, he must be doing something right. His many fans can’t all be wrong.

I have a bit of a bias here, given that Adrian and I have worked together for a quarter of a century, more or less. But I have known several cartoonists over the years, and I would tell any of them that Adrian’s work is the best I have seen.

He started his career with editorial cartoons, and often included animal issues — whales in captivity, disappearing wild salmon, the treatment of urban bears and deer, for example. So of course, wildlife has had a role to play in his comic strip as well.

Wildlife For Idiots and Other Animal Cartoons follows last year’s The World According to Dogs, An Owner’s Manual, which was a best-seller. It made sense, then, that Adrian would put together another book with an animal theme.

He’d already done three books on dogs, so the next step would be to tackle wildlife.

Fans of The Other Coast strip might recognize many of the strips included in this book. They will certainly recognize some of the characters and their personalities.

You will find Carl, the wolf who would rather philosophize than pounce on prey; Eddy and Edwina, the squabbling eagles; garbage-rummaging bears, pre-handbag alligators, penguins, squirrels, etc.

They’ve all become regular cast members — and Adrian says that in some cases, these characters even get their own fan mail.

This book has about 340 cartoons, most of them drawn from more than 8,000 Adrian has done over the 23 years The Other Coast has been published in newspapers such as the Times Colonist.

In theory, these are the best 340, but of course that doesn’t mean that everyone’s favourite will be included. “The best” is a matter of opinion, of course.

“Unable to resist fiddling, I’d either tweak the drawing, or mess with the caption, and in some cases, either redraw it or come up with something completely new. What I thought would be a few weeks’ work turned into a few months.”

Adrian says he found many strips that he did not remember doing. But that is not a surprise, given the pressure of producing these strips, week after week.

Comic strips are generally produced about six weeks before they are published, which gives the syndicates time to get them to newspapers across the continent.

“Going through the wildlife strips in the archives was a surprise to me,” he says. “I was either surprised I had drawn it, because it was funny. Or I was surprised I’d drawn it, because it wasn’t funny.”

It would be hard to miss the respect that Adrian has for wildlife. It shows, in every page.

He says he has been observing bears, coyotes, birds, eagles and other wildlife for years and always wondered … do they have moods and personalities like we do? Does the eagle who misses snagging a fish get grief back at the family nest?

Do migratory birds look forward to hanging out in warmer weather? Or is getting there a chore? Does the elephant producing elephant art know his agent is ripping him off?

In the end, Adrian Raeside succeeds in this book by giving wildlife personalities. He makes us understand that the hairy and feathery creatures we co-exist with are really thinking, feeling creatures who occasionally mess up — just like us, for the most part.

But who are the idiots? Let us let Adrian answer that. “Mostly trophy hunters.”

Words of wisdom from the cartoonist

The examples of wildlife in Wildlife for Idiots are smarter and funnier than humans. As Adrian Raeside notes:

What would be a crab pickup line in a singles bar? “Hi. I just crawled out from under a rock.”

Would an alligator buy an alligator handbag if it was on sale?

Would every wolf at a wolf costume party come dressed as Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma? (After all, there is no point in tossing the outfit after just one use.)

Would wolves make good search and rescue dogs? (Answer: no.)

Who gets the nest when birds divorce?

Is the Abominable Snowman really abominable, or just slightly annoying?

And of course, the definitive answer as to why the Unicorn did not survive Noah’s Ark.

Raeside, Knox Book signings on Dec. 10

Adrian Raeside and Times Colonist columnist Jack Knox, author of Fortune Knox Once, will be signing their new books at Bolen Books at Hillside mall, 1 to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10.