Author Tags: Humour

Born in London, Ontario in 1953, he came to Vancouver in 1977 to contribute cartoons to the Georgia Straight. Eclipse Comics of California has distributed his successful comic books about Laszlo, Great Slavic Lover and Reid Fleming, The World's Toughest Milkman internationally. His first Laszlo comic book was dedicated to the memory of Octopus Books founder Juils Comeault (1944-1983) who encouraged Boswell's early work, along with former Georgia Straight and Vancouver magazine editor Bob Mercer.

[BCBW 1995] "Humour"

'Rogue to Riches'

IT IS A WELL-KNOWN FACT that JAMES Boswell (1740-1795) of London, England wrote a biographical study of the famous curmudgeon, Samuel Johnson. His tirelessness in gathering intimate material for Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) and his unbounded admiration for his subject are proverbial; hence the adjective 'Boswellian'.

Only slightly less known is that David Boswell was born in London, Ontario in 1953 and came to Vancouver in 1977. He is over halfway through an eight volume Boswellian study of Reid Fleming, The World's Toughest Milkman.

"It started out as a joke," says Boswell, who has 125,000 comic books in print since 1980, "The idea was to have a character who was thoroughly horrible to everyone. People would expect him to get his come-uppance in the end. But he never would!"

After creating his heroically obnoxious milkman, Boswell began to receive fan letters signed by a group of men in the shipping department of Woodwards, letters that pleaded for the immediate return of Reid Fleming to Boswell's regular Georgia Straight strip in the late 1970's.

Boswell obliged and the rest is comical history. His early self-published books about Reid Fleming and Laszlo, Great Slavic Lover are now owned by his California publisher, Eclipse Comics. The first Reid Fleming book is into its fourth printing. The likes of Jim Belushi and Dave Thomas have wanted to star in Boswell's film script (nixed in 1987 by Warner Brothers, now being shopped to another studio).

Boswell the Second, meanwhile, continues to toil in his small office overlooking Victory Square, seated beneath a large photograph of Frankenstein demurely sipping tea, listening to his favourite Hector Berlioz symphonies and frequently peering at the strange goings on in the bushes across Hastings Street six storeys below.

"My main task these days is to try and make myself laugh," he says, picking up his binoculars with each passing fire engine or pretty woman, "And sometimes it can be a tough job. I'm a tough audience. I think basically I value originality over anything."

To keep Reid Fleming original, Boswell chooses to work within strict limitations.' "It's not at all like super-heroes where anything can happen. I work in real time where everything must follow logically. With Reid Fleming, I centre everything around his working day. Everything springs from his job. Work, as a topic, is seldom explored. But to me, as a topic, it seems like a goldmine."

Earlier this year, at a conference of esteemed international literary critics convened in Paris in conjunction with the publication of Rogue to Riches, Chapter 3, (in which Reid Fleming has a disastrous one-day career as cablevision installer) scholars were divided as to whether or not Mr. Boswell the First and Mr. Boswell the Second would have been friends.

Neither Boswell was available for the conference. "Rightly or wrongly," he says, "people have a perception that because I do a comic book, I ought to be entertaining. Or else I ought to be something of a character myself.

'Well I’m a writer. I have a fundamental resistance to publicity. I like my anonymity. It helps me work. So I don't want to be famous. I want Reid to be famous:' (Reports that Mr. Boswell preferred to stay at home looking after his four children in the mornings, bicycling downtown on his l0-speed to work in the afternoons, could not be confirmed or denied.)

A subsequent conference in Vienna has, however, achieved complete unanimity among Boswell scholars as to the more crucial thematic issue of the relative potential compatibility of the two Boswell creations.

"Yessirreee," said Dr. Gustav KlunkerDiltz, in a press communiqué issued by the host Boswell Institute, "Dr. Johnson and Reid would have got along like gangbusters. "Dr. Johnson, as a great acerbic wit, would have delighted in the abusive and anti-social antics of Reid Fleming on his milk runs. In Reid Fleming, Dr. Johnson would have recognized a fellow non-hypocrite, a physical counterpart to his own aggressive intellectual instincts…Or, putting it in Jungian terms that we can all understand. .:'

It was all destined to be. Boswell's mother is related to Max Fleischer, the animator of the Popeye cartoons. Having seriously studied film since age 12, Boswell is especially fond of Luis Bunuel movies and his favourite past-time is assembling bits of old films into absurd pastiches to make new stories.

"I probably turned to comics because I see them as a happy blend of the virtues of books and movies. It's pictures, and yet like a book you can set your own pace.'

Receptivity to Boswell's comic books in B.C. bookstores has been good. His first Laszlo the Slavic Lover comic book was dedicated to the memory of Octopus Books founder Juils Comeault (19441983), who was one of the first people in the literary world to recognize and encourage Boswell as a writer, artist and publisher.

All 8 comic books in Boswell's projected 'Rogue to Riches' series, which form an ongoing story, will be published as a trade paperback. Meanwhile they’re available for $2.95 at most specialty comic shops.

[Summer/BCBW 1989]

Reid Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman (IDW $29.99)

The first of a planned two-volume set of David Boswell’s Reid Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman (IDW $29.99) collects all the Reid Fleming comics together. The release includes an introduction by Academy Award-winning film director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs). This year, Boswell was inducted into The Giants of the North, the Canadian cartooning Hall of Fame in Toronto. David Boswell began his cartooning career in 1977 at the Georgia Straight newspaper in Vancouver. 978-1600108020

[BCBW 2011]