John Henderson: Celebrating the Great White North

When he arrived in Yellowknife, back in 2004, with his wife, Serena, and baby daughter, Janessa, it didn’t occur to John Henderson that he might still be there 14 years later, have a thriving career as chief operating officer at the Det’on Cho Corporation and a side career in the arts as the editorial cartoonist of record for the Yellowknifer, News/North and the Inuvik Drum.

John Henderson
John Henderson is the editorial cartoonist of record for the Yellowknifer, News/North and the Inuvik Drum

“If I recall correctly, we said we’d spend a couple of years, like everybody does,” Henderson said. “Then we’d evaluate and see if we liked it. Obviously we liked something.”

The North does have a touch of Newfoundland about it, and Henderson was raised in the Grand Falls–Windsor area. Being right on Great Slave Lake does give some places an East Coast feel. He’s been cartooning since 2012, commenting on various local, national and international themes for community papers, and trying to appeal to the local readers of each of them. He says he usually does four cartoons in the run of a week.

He’s self-taught as a cartoonist and works in a combination of hand-drawn and digital media. This combination came in handy when he got the notion to pitch a book to MacIntyre Purcell Publishing, a house which had already produced a series of “You Might Be From … If …” books based on various cities, provinces and regions: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Hamilton.

“I approached them after reading the one about Newfoundland and Labrador, which I thought was quite hilarious.

He says he wanted to base the book on the Northwest Territories, but the publisher felt it would sell more widely if he used the Yukon and Nunavut, as well, so it became “You Might Be From the Great White North If …” and he set out to produce 121 full-page cartoons.“The first 50 came right away,” he told me,” but then it did get a bit harder.”

He did manage to cover all three territories. There may have been more with a N.W.T. reference, but most of the items apply to the North, in general.

In the planning phase, he combined his left-brain/right-brain skills, listing and describing all the ideas he could come up with on a spreadsheet before sketching them out, and then doing the digital drawings on his computer, where he also did the colouring.

The drawings came first, and the actual wording for the captions was the last part of the process.

The book has sold well, reaching the top of the Amazon online sales list several times since last spring, when it first came out. It seems to wax and wane on the list, being as high as No. 1, back in May. He suspects that people buy multiple copies as gifts, and that causes the book to bounce around on the list.

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