Ben Wicks’ cartoons find a home at York

York University Libraries’ Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections is the new home to almost 2,500 cartoons by famed Canadian cartoonist Ben Wicks.

Right: A Ben Wicks illustration about former US president Richard Nixon

The collection, donated to York by the Wicks family, features cartoons Wicks drew during the late 1960s and early 1970s for publication around the world. Renowned for their simple lines and quick-witted insight on topical subjects, Wicks’ cartoons were once carried in more that 200 newspapers across North America and Britain, including the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, the Toronto Telegram and the Toronto Star.

“This gift is wonderfully generous,” says York Chancellor Roy McMurtry. “Ben Wicks was a close friend, and both his talent and commitment to public service are legendary.”

“York University Libraries is so pleased to be the steward of this collection and legacy,” says Michael Moir, University archivist and head of the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections.

Left: An illustration by Ben Wicks regarding the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s

“Ben Wicks’ cartoons provide important insights on 20th century events and Canadian culture. His work features keen insights into the human condition and a sense of humour that add depth and texture to our understanding of historical events, particularly during the Trudeau era. The cartoons will be particularly useful for research into Canadian studies, political science and communications,” says Moir.

Wicks was born in London, England in 1926 and with his wife, Doreen, immigrated to Canada in 1957. He worked as a milkman and musician, and served in the Canadian Army before finding fame for his drawings.

Right: A Ben Wicks illustration of an Apollo mission splashdown

“It was my parents’ hope that the cartoons could be shared with as many people as possible, so we are thrilled that an institution such as York University was able to take on this collection for us,” says Wicks’ daughter, Susan. “York just felt right, like the type of place where my dad would want his work preserved.”

Wicks’ big break came in the early 1960s when he was published in the American magazine, The Saturday Evening Post. Over the years, Wicks drew acclaim for his depictions of world events such as famine in Africa and the Vietnam War, as well as drawings of such political figures as Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark and Richard Nixon.

Left: An illustration by Ben Wicks regarding the first test tube baby

Wicks was also a well-known TV personality, journalist, entrepreneur (he opened the Ben Wicks Bar & Bistro in Toronto’s Cabbagetown), author, literacy advocate and humanitarian. He organized Cartoonists for Africa to fundraise for the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s. Wicks was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1986. He died in 2000.

The collection of cartoons donated to York was mistakenly left behind when a Wicks family member moved homes in the 1990s. The collection became the subject of a legal battle between the family and the home’s buyers. The Wicks family was awarded ownership of the cartoons and donated them to York.

“His work is not just a treasure to his family, it is a treasure to Canada,” says Susan Wicks.