After 45 years of poking cartoon fun at the B.C. government – where “nothing really changes” – and at humanity, Adrian Raeside still insists he’s “an optimist.”
“I really am,” Raeside told West Coast Now from his Vancouver Island home. “I think there are more good people than bad people out there. The majority are decent.”
Adrian Raeside’s new book is called “Wildlife for Idiots and Other Animal Cartoons”
The minority, which he calls “not so nice,” are the butt of his jokes in his editorial cartoons for the Times Colonist newspaper, and in his syndicated comic strip of funny animals, The Other Coast, which runs in some 200 newspapers around the world.
Raeside now has a new comic book, Wildlife for Idiots and Other Animal Cartoons, in which animals are the good guys. It’s his latest of some 20 books. In it, he takes aim at trophy hunters, people who praise nature while destroying it, and plain old “idiots.”
In one of the cartoons, a pair of penguins walk right over a human couple suntanning on a melting ice flow. “Do you get the feeling humans aren’t taking climate change seriously?” one penguin quips to the other.
Raeside’s “idiots” also star in another cartoon. A woman looks out a house window at a yard full of dead animals and a dead postal carrier, and calls out to her husband, “George, can I see the label on that can of weed killer you’re using?”
Raeside spent most of his teenage years on Saltspring Island, after an early childhood in New Zealand, where he was born. ”Back then kids were basically feral. You were out the door in the morning, and you came back when you were hungry. It was a great childhood. We roamed the bush and beaches and did as we please.”
His father, a scientist in the New Zealand diplomatic service, and his mother, a children’s book writer and playwright, moved when Raeside was 13, briefly living in England, then settling on Saltspring Island, where his grandfather lived.
As Raeside describes it, he became one of Canada’s most successful cartoonists almost by accident.
After school he tried his hand first in forestry, then at a printing company, but “drifted into cartooning because I was no good at anything else. I got so many rejections, but I kept going. I think I was too stupid to know that what I was doing was impossible!”
Eventually, community newspapers in B.C. started paying him a few dollars for his cartoons, and the Times Colonist hired him as an editorial cartoonist.
In 2001, the Creators Syndicate picked up his comic strip featuring animals, The Other Coast, and his work has since run in more than 200 newspapers worldwide.
He finds his ideas “subconsciously,” he says, often by considering ordinary things together and finding the fun in them – like a person dropping their ham sandwich lunch on an agility course as a dog runs it, then having the disgraced dog make excuses to his owner as they drive home.
His days are spent mostly at home on the coast, with his wife of 30 years. “I don’t talk to many people. I rarely talk on the phone,” he laughs during a phone interview. “I work seven days a week. It’s a very solitary business. Every day, you take a blank piece of paper, and you put something on it.”
Political polarization and the pandemic have made some issues challenging, he says, and he more carefully considers all sides of every cartoon. Some people object to everything he does, he notes. “But I also got lots of letters saying thanks. People really need a laugh.”
Despite his insistence that he’s an optimist, humans come off badly in his latest book.
“Let’s face it – animals are a lot smarter than we are. How can a migratory bird fly thousands of miles across oceans, and we have to use a GPS to drive to the grocery store in a car?” he says.
“We can invent an iPhone, but when it comes to wildlife, we fumble around … we say we love the countryside, and build a house in the woods – fantastic! Then when a bear comes trotting through, as he has for thousands of years, we call conservation officers and have them trapped and shot,” he says.
“It’s nuts. Hundreds of thousands of species are at risk, but we don’t even blink anymore. The numbers are too great.”
Wildlife for Idiots, he says, “is very sympathetic to the animals, not so much to the people … and it’s about the stupidity of people when it comes to animals.”
“Just leave them alone! If we left nature alone it would do very well without us.”
When asked if he intends his new book to make a statement, Raeside laughs.
“No!” he exclaims, poking fun at yet another human – himself. “I’m just trying to make enough money to buy a better class of wine!”
Wildlife for Idiots and Other Animal Cartoons, by Adrian Raeside, is available in B.C. bookstores or online, here, through Harbour Publishing. Harbour Publishing describes it as “a menagerie of garbage-rummaging bears, squabbling eagles, philosophizing wolves, pre-handbag alligators, artistic elephants, shedding mammoths ….”