WIZR - written by Keith Wells and illustrated by Peter McMahon - Kuwait

This blog is dedicated to Keith Wells, the late Peter McMahon and their creation: Wizr - Kuwait's greatest driver. Keith Wells worked at the Arab Times in Kuwait sometime during the late 70s, early 80s. His articles about life in Kuwait have been compiled in a number of books, that are very hard to come by. As there is almost no information on WIZR on the net, this blog will endeavour to be a reference point for all WIZR fans still out there.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Ahlan wa Sahlan! Welcome!

Dear visitor,

I created this website to honor and document a piece of Kuwait’s modern history. I came across the Last Wizr book in the 90s, and even with the dawn of the age of the internet I struggled to find anything out about the author, Keith Wells, the illustrator, McPeter McMahon or anything related to the creation of WIZR.

Over the almost 10 years this blog has been up, I have “met” many friendly people from around the world who shared books, stories, pictures and information. Through the help of complete strangers, I managed to acquire original copies of all three WIZR books.

And the greatest honor has been that Keith Wells himself has written, and provided some information about the creation of Wizr:

In 1979 I'd been working in Kuwait as an English teacher for a couple of years in which I got to know quite a few different kinds of people and the general lifestyle of expatriates in Kuwait. The one thing that everyone seemed to have in common, regardless of age, occupation or background was a fear of driving...the accident rate was frighteningly high.. I suppose the arrival of super fast roads and expensive cars meant that unsophisticated drivers had very few limits. Many things I saw were quite horrific. A brand new Mercedes cut in half on the Airport Road. I can only imagine what sort of speed it takes to do that!  Wizr just seemed to be a perfect way of dissipating the tension and fear that the traffic caused. After a couple of the stories appeared and proved instantly popular, I met Peter McMahon at a party. Rather oddly, he had never read any of the Wizr stories, but somebody introduced him to me as a potential cartoonist. "So who is this Wizr character?" he asked. "He's the young Kuwaiti with a brand new Transam with the eagle stencilled on the bonnet." Peter nodded, pulled out a scrap of paper and scribbled away for a few minutes then held up a perfect cartoon of Wizr leaning back on his Transam with the eagle neatly transformed into a sort of demented chicken. Brilliant.

We became friends from that moment on. Every week I would take the latest story around to his flat on Friday afternoon and collect his cartoon of the previous week's tale. He had an uncanny ability to visualise exactly how I imagined the story. It really was a partnership... some of his pictures have a life of their own beyond the stories. His drawing of Dozy Salaam with his twin rubber stamps, "Perhaps" and "Perhaps Not" is a real classic. The line of people waiting in the Traffic department ending with a skeleton sat against the wall.  We each made the other laugh, one of the most wonderful gifts in my life.  In the big scheme of things I'd like to think that we kept a few people sane in those years. There was a lot happening, the Iran Iraq war was audible even over the traffic noise during the day, a continuing rumble of cannon fire. Laughter is the best defence against despair, it defuses anger and neutralises fear.

After six months or so I was contacted by Tony Jashanmal of the department store on Fahad Salem Street, and Bashir Qatib of the Kuwait Bookshop who were prepared to help finance a book of the stories. Peter and I jumped at the chance. He came up with the two cover pictures and a bunch of thumbnail sketches which I used to design and layout the book which was printed at the Arab Times. We launched the first book at the British Embassy Garden Fete in November 1979 and were amazed when we sold 480 copies in two hours!

We kept on working and within a year we had enough stories and cartoons for a second book. But then on St Valentine's Day 1981, Peter was murdered. I was heartbroken, but felt very strongly that the second book had to go ahead so I put it together with some new drawings, some cutups and odd scraps. The cover was a draft that Peter had done for a Wizr poster.”

(Received on August 2, 2015)

Mr. Wells has also been featured on another blog, and his interview can be read here.

If you have any additional information or personal stories related to WIZR, please share them either by posting a comment in the appropriate section, or by emailing me at bigis03@hotmail.com.