Anyone who reads What’s up Yukon regularly will have come across the comic strip, Didee & Didoo.
The comic was created by Old Crow resident, Allan Benjamin. It depicts a humourous take on the life of two Gwitchin elders.
Along with his poetry, Didee & Didoo has been a fixture in WUY for the last seven years.
Benjamin, the creator, has led an interesting life.
Born and raised in Old Crow, he shared a home with eight brothers and sisters. When he was young, a bout of whooping cough and a near death experience led to him to be adopted by his grandmother.
They lived off the land, which Benjamin admits was tough but good:
“When we were kids we had no Ski-Doo or chainsaw; we used dog teams and Swede saws; it was colder but we were tougher back then.”
Like many Gwitchin across the North, Benjamin is a gifted fiddler. Having played all over northern Canada and Alaska, he takes great pride in the fact that he was self-taught.
“When I was growing up my grandmother never had much money to afford the fiddle, I learned to play through guitar by watching other guitar players, just picked it up on my own,” he says. “Nobody spent a penny on me to send me to music school.”
In 1985 Benjamin joined the Canadian Rangers, and is still in service — making him one of the longest-serving Rangers still active today.
After years of hard work, including three medals of honours, he takes great pride in being a Ranger; he hopes to be active when he’s 100.
He also snowshoes avidly; in 1993 Allen won the Iditasport 100-mile Snowshoe Race in Anchorage, Alaska. What makes it an amazing story is this was Benjamin’s first race in the Iditasport, and not only did he win, he posted a record time of 18:01:00 hours, and defeated veteran racer and multi-time winner, Shawn Lyons, by a mere second.
He credits his grandmother for coaching him. To this day if someone asks him about his amazing win, he’ll coyly smile and say, “I’m still tired”.
It’s this sense of humour that resonates throughout Didee & Didoo, and the comic helps illustrate the humour of the elders in Old Crow.
“Being humorous is one of the ways that we survive; my grandmother was always funny, and I picked up a lot with comical people,” says Benjamin. “Mostly I like to draw cartoons because they’re funny, and I think it’s important that people get a good laugh.”
Didee & Didoo is Gwitchin for grandmother and grandfather. The characters are a compilation of elders, and Benjamin is inspired from hearing the quips and jokes of day-to-day life in Old Crow. He remembers the men had pipes in their mouths, lit or not, and the woman wore handkerchiefs.
Didee & Didoo pays homage to the past, and a different way of life.
With over 300 cartoons and a plethora of poetry, Allan Benjamin hopes to one day make a book, which he’ll dedicate to residential school victims.
“I was in residential schools for two-and-a-half years, and I work a lot because I want to represent residential school survivors — with the Rangers, and comics, and fiddling, and snow shoeing — and to be a role model.”