How I was trapped by Jasper the bear for Maclean's Magazine

The true confessions of the man who created Jasper in 1948 and has been running hard to keep up with Canada's most famous bear ever since

James Simpkins July 6 1963

How I was trapped by Jasper the bear for Maclean's Magazine

The true confessions of the man who created Jasper in 1948 and has been running hard to keep up with Canada's most famous bear ever since

James Simpkins July 6 1963

How I was trapped by Jasper the bear for Maclean's Magazine

The true confessions of the man who created Jasper in 1948 and has been running hard to keep up with Canada's most famous bear ever since

James Simpkins

THE FIRST TIME I ever set eyes on him the bear was nailing a "No Hunting" sign to a tree. That was almost fifteen years ago and although he didn't have a name yet, he was already launched on a career of making life difficult for hunters, fishermen, tourists, mankind in general and me in particular. By the time he reappeared two weeks later in Maclean's for Dec. 1. 1948. the editors had decided to call him Jasper: he was scaring the daylights out of a lumberjack and luring me down the garden path. For when I began drawing Jasper 1 thought, with some pride, that 1 had created a new cartoon character. Now I know I was trapped by a bear.

Since then Jasper has appeared in this magazine over three hundred times, including page 51 of this issue. He has conned innocent city folk into picking his berries for him, swiped a little kid’s slingshot to raid a bees’ nest, and scooped a scuba diver out of the river to grab the fish off his spear. After all. it was Jasper’s river and Jasper’s fish, for he is never really vicious — to anyone but me. Jasper spends most of the winter hibernating comfortably in a cave but he keeps me prisoner in a cave of my own all year, desperately trying to think

44 Nobody ever sees me at partk

lip new triumphs for him to enjoy.

My cave is a ten-by-twelve room up under the gingerbread eaves of a rambling Victorian house originally built eighty-five years ago as a summer home overlooking the St. Lawrence at Beaconsfield, near Montreal. It is furnished with a drawing board, a bookcase full of old cartoons, and a bed on which I like to doze after lunch — when I can get away from Jasper.

I share the house with my wife, Ethel, and four of our five children (our oldest girl is married), and they are all in league with the bear. It was at least partly because of the doctor's bills lying ahead, when our fourteen - year - old Janice was about to be born, that I headed for Toronto to show Mat lean's a bunch of my cartoons in the fall of I44S. The art editor asked if I would try to develop an animal character that would be distinctively Canadian ("but no Bertie-the-Beavers. please") and suggested I rough up about thirty-five samples as a start. We agreed it should be a bear and I went home to my sketch pad until I had thirty-five bear jokes, of which the magazine accepted onl\ six. That was the first hint I had of what that bear was going to do to me, but the first cheque arrived just as Ethel and Janice came home from the hospital. I don't remember whether it was cashed to pay the doctor, or buy Pablum from the grocer. All I know is that I didn't frame it. or any that have come since. When you have three teenagers in the family somebody always has to have a new dress or music lessons or money for a date, and Jasper provides the extras.

The rent and food and other essentials have been taken care of for most of our married life by the National Film Board, for which 1 was a staff artist for sixteen years and for whom I now free lance regularly. For the NFB I draw strip films, which are like cartoon strips that you can project on a screen. 1 have done strips for school use about Sir John A. Macdonald, explorer David Thompson, what firemen do. and how to walk safely. I've never put Jasper in a film strip, although I did do a serious one on the life and habits of the black bear. On the side I have illustrated books ( including four by humorist Eric Nicol), sold gag cartoons to many magazines, and I once designed a Canadian stamp commemorating Canada’s world champion hockey players.

Bui while other jobs come and go. every two weeks I have to meet another deadline with Jasper — and he seems to be the only thing I draw that anybody really cares about. I'm constantly amazed how well known he is.

Jasper has been chosen to announce Boy Scout week and regularly turns up on TV commercials for scouting. He was the toast of a winter carnival at Macdonald Agricultural College, here in Quebec. Malabar's the costumers in Toronto, got a special order to create a Jasper costume a w hile ago. and lie's the only Canadian cartoon character featured in a series of children's floor mats —the rest are Disney characters. Last month he appeared on a set of greeting cards.

Qf course, the place Jasper is king is at

Jasper Park, Alta. I designed a special Jasper. with tartan cap and scarf, for the Jasper curling club to wear on their sweaters. You can buy him on golfing caps in the Jasper pro shop and as a three-inch wood carving in the gift shops. He presides in effigy, four times life size, at all gala town functions, and is mounted on rollers so he can be trundled aboard trucks, platforms and boats as the occasion demands. (They’ve even got a smaller version of him at Banff, of all places.) The nicest thing Jasper ever did

for me w'as the time the town threw a big party for Ethel and me and our young son Scott, three years ago. We had a glorious week staying at the best lodges and motels in the area and saw' all the sights — including lots of bears. In fact, that w'as the first time I'd ever seen bears, outside of the Winnipeg zoo w'hen I was a boy.

The bears are one of the chief attractions in the mountain parks because they are almost as friendly and playful as Jasper — but they can also be dangerous. I w'as hor-

but Jasper is a real celebrity

rified by the story of a father who was seen to perch a small child on a bear's back, to take a snapshot. I drew a picture of Jasper spanking a tourist, which is now used as a warning poster all over the parks. I hope this will compensate for anything my bear may have done to prevent visitors taking the real bears seriously, but I can't let the facts of life influence Jasper's antics in Maclean's.

If you have either of the two collections of Jasper cartoons which have been pub-

lished. you may note that he looked and acted more like a real bear in the beginning. He was shaggier and chunkier and he once dragged a hunter into his cave to use as a man rug. He was also less bearlike, for he surprised a hunter by peering into the opposite end of his telescopic gun sight, and growling, "Brings me up close, doesn't it?"

Jasper never talks to people any more, just to other animals — though he can understand what people say, and read signs. He has been known to pawn a bear trap

and make off with a football from the Grey Cup game (he thought it must be good to eat because everybody was fighting over it) but this is only because he delights in putting one over on humans. His character has crystallized and is now pretty well set. Although endowed with a definite sense of superiority, he is a prankster who means no real harm. (Among other cartoons 1 do is a caveman who bashes women on the head with a club. Through him. both Jasper and I work off a lot of steam.)

In some ways you might say Jasper has grown more like a man: he has a sleeker look, a white shirt front and an undeniable paunch. He gets around a lot for a cave dweller but even on his travels he stays in character. He turned up at the coronation parade among the bearskin-hatted Guards (although he was also seen emerging from 10 Downing Street smoking a cigar) and the time he joined the NHI. he of course signed with the Bruins. But he clings to the wilds in most of his adventures, just trying to cope with the humans who invade his habitat from season to season. A Mountie demands his fishing licence in spring; Jasper interrupts an outdoor movie, casting a bearsized shadow on the screen in summer; he dresses up like a bear for Hallowe’en with the kids at the townsite; and brings home the groceries on the ski lift, when it comes time to hibernate.

Mind you, I scarcely know what the season is, back in Beaconsfield, Que., because Jasper’s magazine deadlines tend to confuse my calendar. I have to produce his summer adventures before the snow is gone and worry how he's going to celebrate Christmas while you're still at your cottage. Jasper even casts a spell on my social life; I'm an average, unglamorous man whom nobody notices at parties — until I’m introduced as the fellow who draws him. Then the faces brighten with interest. They’ve never heard of me, but the bear is a celebrity.

The first thing people invariably ask is, “Where do you get all your ideas?” They always assume a cartoonist goes around jotting down funny things people say at parties. I wish life was that easy.

My family are some help: in fourteen years the five of them between them have come up with precisely one idea. That was when Sandy, God bless her, said wouldn’t it be funny if a cottager set a mousetrap and caught Jasper instead. Occasionally events in the outside world penetrate Jasper’s cave — as they did literally when he discovered that the transCanada pipeline had been run clear through it. My own favorite is a cartoon that showed Jasper and his cub with a deer and her fawn, looking down on a missile base in the valley far below. Jasper said, “I wish we could do something before they become extinct.” Several magazines reprinted that one including Paris Match. I suppose it proved that Jasper really likes people — except me, of course.

For apart from such occasional inspirations, the only way I know to get ideas is to retire to my cave with Jasper gloating over my shoulder at the latest note from Macleans telling me it's time for some more hibernating cartoons. (They’ll be mailing it any summer’s day, now.) Then I take a soft pencil and a thick pad of tracing paper and I start sketching until the ideas come.