Friend and fellow cartoonist Adrian Raeside says Unger had been feeling unwell for some time and died in his sleep at his home in Saanich, B.C..
Raeside says Unger's cartoons, which span decades, are still as fresh and funny as the day he drew them.
Unger could find humour in just about anything, Raeside told the Victoria Times Colonist, a newspaper he draws cartoons for, in addition to a syndicated comic strip.
Born in London, England, Unger immigrated in 1968 to Canada, where his cartooning career began at the Mississauga Times in Mississauga, Ont.
"Herman" became a syndicated cartoon in 1974, eventually appearing in newspapers around the world. Unger twice won the National Cartoonist Society’s award for best syndicated panel.
He retired to the Bahamas in 1992, but five years later, "Herman" was re-syndicated and Unger started releasing a mix of classic and new material.
"If, like me, you’re feeling down about Jim Unger’s passing," Raeside said Tuesday, "go pick up a Herman book. I guarantee you’ll start giggling at the first cartoon. I think that’s how Jim would want to be remembered."
Besides his enormous talent as a cartoonist, Raeside said, Unger had “a wonderful soul and a big heart.” He was always willing to help those less fortunate, especially during the years he lived in the Bahamas.
Unger moved to Saanich about a decade ago, and lived with his brother, Robert, in a home close to their sister Deborah. Robert died in 2003.
Another longtime friend, fellow cartoonist David Waisglass, said that in a “small community of creators,” Unger stood out as an icon.
“We not only lost a comic genius, we lost a fine human being,” said Waisglass, creator of the cartoon "Farcus."
“He had truly an offbeat single-panel comment that was in mainstream newspapers. Nobody had done that before,” Waisglass said, adding that it was Unger’s insight and perception that drove his success.
"To reach the pinnacle of success as a syndicated cartoonist, you have to be original and hilarious and be consistent."
An “observer of the human condition” with a wry sense of humour, Unger was a generous soul outside of work, Waisglass said.
“It’s a huge loss for us who loved him,” he said, adding that Unger was especially close to his siblings.
Unger is survived by sisters Deborah in Saanich and Shirley in Ontario, as well as brother Steve in the United Kingdom.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been made. In lieu of flowers and cards, Unger’s family has asked for donations to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
(Victoria Times Colonist)