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Bruce McCall's father, T.C., was an inaccessible tyrant. Bruce's mother, Peg, drank to blunt the effect of her husband's rages and to dodge the duties of taking care of six children. Still, Bruce did know some moments of pleasure as a child, especially in the small town of Simcoe, before T.C. moved his family to the dreary outskirts of Toronto: The Second World War offered its awesome matériel and its heroic men, milk bottles grew top hats of cream, and grapes hung free for the stealing in Mrs. Klein's backyard. But his parents' demons took their toll on Bruce, and the move to Toronto set the stage for academic and social disasters: He flunked out of high school and took dead-end graphic-design jobs, all the while envying the full-color culture and high-octane energy of Canada's muscular neighbor to the south.
That envy, combined with Bruce's passion for reading and drawing--one of the few positive bequests from T.C. and Peg McCall--became his refuge and then his salvation. His precocious reverence for The New Yorker magazine led him to invent entire comic worlds of artistic and literary creation. Ultimately, he read, wrote, and drew himself out of pennilessness and despair. Bruce McCall may not have been destined to glide around Madison Square Garden holding the Stanley Cup aloft, but as Thin Ice demonstrates, perseverance and talent can turn crummy ice skates--and even dashed hopes--into dreams come true.
In short chapters that give a madcap serial reconstruction of a hardscrabble, emotionally deprived childhood in Simcoe, Ontario, circa 1945 (and, later, Toronto and Windsor), McCall, son of an absentee father and alcoholic mother who conveyed the impression that kids had ruined their lives, evokes a young Canadian's sense of inferiority to his US peers in the glory years of WW II and the postwar boom. Lacking its own Empire State Building, Hoover Dam, or Golden Gate Bridge, explains McCall, "Canada declined to soar in any way." Canadian underachievement, combined with McCall's low family self-image, provides ample fuel for his rabid drollery: "A rotten start," he muses, "I don't know where I'd be today without it." Drawing at the refuge of his bedroom desk, McCall exercised a dawning artistic consciousness fed by comics, cartoons, and magazine illustrations, and reveled in the grand entertainment of the war, a "triple header" of news and propaganda streaming from Ottowa, Washington, and London; in news about "flash" American fighter planes; and in his own noble sacrifices on the home front, including the use of Soya Spread (a ghoulish synthetic peanut butter substitute). He loses momentum in reviewing his gradual departure from the wondrously twisted family nest to spend the mid-'50s as a failed commercial illustrator for Detroit—a waste, he says, but probably inevitable; it was a safe place to lie low while sorting things out and waiting for the master plan of his career to be revealed. Ultimately, a passion for automobiles led to a succession of editorial jobs with the Canadian car rags, and—presto!—to this keen subversive's inevitable discovery of a writerly vocation that fits like a glove.
McCall is always amusing, but his survivalist comic viewpoint is instructive, too, as a model for overcoming truly miserable circumstances.