Sunday, February 18, 2018

"Ben" Creator Daniel Shelton

From The Montreal Gazette.

Remember when we used to call them funny papers, those ever-present cartoon strips in our daily newspapers, that often as not we would turn to before settling into the more serious stuff.

Well, happy to say, they are still with us.

For example, the Montreal Gazette alone carries 16 different strips, each revealing its unique overview of the human condition, all bundled together on what the Gazette calls the Diversions page, a page it shares with Your Horoscope.

These works of art, for that’s what they, range across all platforms, from the outlandish wordplay of Bizarro and the unforgiving scalpel of Doonesbury’s penetrating satire, to the more quotidian, strips that provide glimpses into the joys and hardships of daily life, and which, in a sense, help us see ourselves as we really are.

Of this last group, my favourite is Ben, a family oriented comic strip drawn by Daniel Shelton which has appeared in the Gazette for well over 20 years.

However, it might surprise you to know that, quite beyond its permanent spot in the Gazette, Ben is also syndicated widely across Canada, from coast to coast in English, and throughout Quebec, in both English and French.

Add to that an internet subscription list of over 25,000 adherents.

Or that he has published a dozen Ben anthologies.

Or that Shelton and his family have lived in Hudson for nigh on 15 years or more. In fact, he is my neighbour and dog-walking companion.

Shelton is an Eastern Townshipper to the core.

He was born and raised there and still he reflects the sturdiness of his Townshippers roots. 

Even his time in New York as an art student and then moving into this region have not diminished his first love of place.

Thus it is not surprising that the foundation for Ben, the comic strip, sports a sturdy, albeit gentle, low-keyed approach like Shelton’s own bearing.

Ben, the title character, is a loveable and active, if sometimes awkward, grandfather: his wife Olivia or Liv, is equally delightful but considerably more practical.

As they are both in good health, there is plenty of opportunity for Shelton to involve them and their family in any number of escapades, large or small.

Indeed, it is not uncommon to find their daughter, (Patty) and son-in-law (Nathan), and especially their grandchildren, Nicholas, Michael, Alec and Mia, popping in and out of various strips, frequently at the most inopportune moments.

When asked what accounts for the popularity Ben has enjoyed over the years, Shelton suggests it is the affable tone and quiet optimism he strives to bring to each day’s story.

“Working in this medium is a solitary affair,” he said. “There are few ways to reach readers on a daily basis, to interest them enough that they will want to return.

“My aim, I guess, is to provide a splash of morning lightness and hope, and perhaps humour, to the early moments of the day – just a bit of optimism before coming face to face with the tougher challenges ahead.

“I hope I provide a respite, a buffer against those harsher tones ahead.”

While Shelton’s goals might appear to be modest ones, the strip’s quiet humour is almost always guaranteed to bring a bit of sunshine into your early mornings.

Happy reading.

To learn about Ben, check,

Bill Young

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