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John Henderson is the new editorial cartoonist for Northern News Services' Northwest Territories-based newspapers. Henderson has no formal training as an artist, but says he has been drawing for as long as he can remember. Henderson says he is a bit intimidated about filling the shoes of much-loved cartoonist Norm Muffitt, a.k.a. Bush, who died Aug. 19, but is looking forward to fulfilling his childhood dream of being paid to draw cartoons. - Galit Rodan/NNSL photo

New cartoonist 'thrilled' to fulfill childhood dream

Galit Rodan
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yellowknifer's new cartoonist, a humble family man by the name of John Henderson, wasn't overly confident about his chances when he entered a contest to fill the position. In fact, he waited until the very last day to submit his work.

"I don't know if it's common for most people, but you kind of think, 'Well this isn't really that good. I don't really think it's good enough,'" he said.

But, the prospect of fulfilling his childhood fantasy compelled him to try.

"I thought it would be the coolest thing ever," said Henderson. "You're a kid ... If somebody said, 'Do you want to draw cartoons when you grow up?' I'd say, 'Of course I do!'"

As a child growing up in Newfoundland, Henderson, now 41, mimicked the drawings he saw in his superhero, Richie Rich and Archie comics. Sometime during his teenage years, he abandoned his sketches and doodles "for a long, long time," only to have his own daughter later rekindle his enthusiasm. When Janessa was born, Henderson drew a picture for her room and there it remains, seven years later. Then he wrote and illustrated a Christmas book called Christmas In The North. The family moved from Calgary to Yellowknife when Janessa was just four months old.

"Of course, as she got older she started to draw ... She'd want me to draw different things so over the last probably four to five years I've drawn more than I ever have," said Henderson.

His favourite subject, naturally, is his daughter.

Henderson said he is "thrilled" to be the paper's new - and merely its second - cartoonist. The late Norm Muffitt, who for decades produced well-loved cartoons for Yellowknifer under the pen name Bush, died Aug. 19.

"You look at how long (Muffit) did it and how long people have enjoyed his work and then that gets a little intimidating," said Henderson.

When Henderson found out he got the job he began looking at the work of many other editorial cartoonists to try to gain a feel for conveying a message or a joke in a limited amount of space. He also tried to adopt some of the techniques he saw, like inking and shading. He has been searching through images of some of the Northwest Territories' prominent figures - like Premier Bob McLeod - and attempting to nail down facial features so they are immediately recognizable in cartoons. Drawing people straight on is much harder than drawing them in profile, he said.

"From a practice perspective, it's really hard to get a face."

Henderson knows his new job will be a challenge, but he is allowing himself room to grow and improve.

"You know what, every (cartoon) is not gonna be a winner. It's just the way it is," he said. "I guess if you're a comedian not every joke's a winner and, you know, if you're a writer every story's not a winner and I guess if you're a cartoonist, well guess what? Every cartoon is not gonna be a winner. But, you hope you have more wins than not."

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