September 23, 2009

Hockey Is A Funny Game: Interview With Merv Magus, Hockey Cartoonist

I found a great used book store in Chilliwack, BC this summer. The Book Man on Wellington Street not only was one of the better used book stores I've seen in Western Canada, and they had a real good hockey book selection. Or at least they used to before I bought much of their collection.

One book I was pleasantly pleased to discover was a 1980s book of hockey cartoons by a fellow named Merv Magus. I had never heard of Magus or any of his 5 books, but I enjoyed his offering so much I just had to track him down.

Through the magic of Facebook I did just that. Merv and I began talking a lot about hockey, cartoons and publishing. Mr. Magus was kind enough to grant me this interview so we can better get to know him.

Hockey Book Reviews (HBR):
How did you get into the hockey cartoon business?

Merv Magus (MM): I entered the hockey cartoon business in the 1970’s shortly after the Canucks joined the NHL. Myself and two other guys went 3 ways on a season ticket, so I attended quite a few games. The Canuck program at that time contained new material for every game. I drew a few sample cartoons for the publication, and John Whitman, who was the editor at that time, used several of the cartoons during the season. Eventually, the one-panel cartoons grew to a 4-panel strip. In some years, then editor, Norm Jewison used full-page color hockey cartoons and illustrations for his editorials. Every game a new cartoon would appear in the program. The hockey cartoons were a regular feature for over 20 years.

(HBR) Can you guesstimate how many hockey cartoons you've done over the years?

(MM) Over the 20+ years with the Canucks, the 2 years with the Winnipeg Jets, submissions to other publications such as Goal Magazine, the WHL Junior news, Breakaway, hockey book illustrations, and Hockey Now, I’ve probably produced about 900 hockey cartoons.

(HBR) Do you have a favorite hockey cartoon over the years? How about a hockey favorite subject?

(MM) There is no favorite specific cartoon that I have. But I would often focus on the Canucks’ opposition for the next program idea. Gretzky often made a good topic when the Oilers came to town. One cartoon topic was: how does he get all those points? These were the days when he would rack up 100+ point seasons. The cartoon shows him beating a defenseman with a wall pass off the boards, and then going in to score. That way, Gretzky got the points for both the assist and the goal. (It’s really funnier when you see it in cartoon version)

(HBR) Was drawing hockey cartoons for a living something you dreamed of as a kid?

(MM) As a kid, I thought that drawing cartoons for a living would be ideal, but later in life, reality sets in and you realize that getting job that pays the rent is what you need.
So, I went to UBC, and then taught high school in Burnaby – math, physical education, and graphic arts (the creative stuff). Of course, one of the graphics projects was to create a cartoon character and draw the strip. The best of which were to be printed in the school newsletter.

(HBR) Did you play hockey as a kid? Who were your idols growing up?

(MM) When I was a young kid, we played roller hockey. Ice rinks then were scarce – Kerrisdale arena was the closest, about 6 miles away. In those days, parents did not drive their kids to play sports, and there was no way we could get there and back before school in the morning. As we got older, we would rent a sheet of ice and play rec. hockey, as did many others.

My earliest hockey idols were the famous Detroit line of Howe, Lindsay, and Able. I would listen to the CBC radio in those days. I liked the Western Hockey League players like Popien, Fielder, Maloney… Apart from admiring the infinite skills of Orr, Hull, Lefleur, Robinson and Gretzky, my favorite was still Trevor Linden for his game ethic and for what he meant to the team and community.

(HBR) You do really nice hockey history cartoons. What made you decide to go that route?

(MM) Hockey history cartoons are a topic that had not been explored at this point. This gave me much material to “humorize”, as well as provide the educational component of hockey history in a short, entertaining form to the reader. This way, a bit of history can merge with some humor, making learning ‘painless’. These history cartoons are very time consuming to construct. Several sources are researched, a capsulated narrative is then written to fit the allotted space. The cartoon was drawn to emphasize the main historic idea with, obviously, a humorous twist. This was the one page format.

(HBR) A lot of people know Elston for his weekly cartoons in The Hockey News. How big of a market is there for hockey cartoons?

(MM) Everybody is familiar with Elston’s work in, The Hockey News, as he is able to capture the hockey moment very well. Hockey cartoons, I think, are a very limited market. I’ve offered my hockey cartoons to several publications for almost no charge to test the market. However, many of the programs in hockey today are up against space and advertising income. It just depends on the publication’s editor and his space available.

(HBR) How many cartoonists specialize in hockey?

(MM) When I checked on hockey cartoonists on the web, many of the artists draw a variety of topics, with hockey being only one of the sports represented.

(HBR) Have any of your cartoons ever landed you in hot water with the subject or the establishment?

(MM) Only slightly – once somebody complained about the excessive violence in a Canucks hockey program, and the editor, Norm Jewison, asked me not to make it too graphic. We both knew these were cartoons, not real life situations as cartoons just try to emphasize the situation – something like a player breaking his stick on another player. The basis rule was; no excessive violence and don’t make fun of the Canucks. These were “family” type cartoons that poked gentle fun at the hockey world.

(HBR) You also have 5 hockey books out, showcasing some of the best of the best of your collection over the years. Where can people find them nowadays?

(MM) During the time with the Canucks, I produced five hockey cartoon books. Book 5 is still available on a limited supply through my website,, while the previous books are now out of print and only collector’s items. I plan to reprint some of the “Hockey is a Funny Game, book 5”, this fall.


Nitzy September 23, 2009 at 9:45 PM  

Good interview Joe, intersting stuff being a hockey kids writer/artist myself. Incidentally, I found that same book store in Chilliwack in August and came out with about 6 or 8 books.

Joe Pelletier September 24, 2009 at 2:22 AM  

I'm glad I got there in July then Chris, and got the good books before you did!

I should do a feature on good used book stores for the hockey book fan. The used book stores tend to not be overly friendly to sports fans, but I've found a few gems in BC.

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