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ARCHIVED - Satirical Newspapers of the 19th Century
The end of the 19th century was a period of rapid transformation for Quebec, politically, socially and economically. The industrial revolution that reshaped the western world did not pass over French-Canadian society. Quebec -- primarily rural until then -- began to modernize and to industrialize.
The concentration of factories and industries in large cities brought a massive exodus of the rural population towards urban centres. Whereas in 1851, the population of Montréal had been 57 715 (15% of the Quebec population), by 1901 it grew to 267 730 inhabitants (36% of the province's population). And movement was not only towards cities -- several hundred thousand French Canadians emigrated to the northern United States in search of better living conditions and greater freedom.
Quebec during this period was divided between liberals, represented by the Institut Canadien1, and ultramontanists, supported by the Roman Catholic Church. While the former wanted to modernize Quebec society with methods such as the establishment of democratic institutions and the introduction of compulsory education, the latter saw catastrophe in every change.
The Catholic clergy, always opposed to compulsory education, managed in 1875 to abolish the ministère de l'Instruction publique. This meant that, by 1911, one third of school-age children had never been inside a school, and that Quebec had the lowest literacy rate in Canada.
Opposition between two dominant ideologies, liberal and ultramontanist, is reflected in the newspapers of the day: the Quebec Mercury (1805), answered by Le Canadien in 1807, La Minerve (1826), Le Journal de Québec (1842), and others. It was in these partisan papers that the earliest caricatures and stories told in pictures appeared. While these early drawings were often anonymous, the first francophone caricature to use a speech balloon can be attributed to William Augustus Leggo. An illustrator for Le Journal de Québec, Leggo authored the caricature "La Ménagerie annexionniste" in 1850. He portrayed members of the Annexionist Party with their leader, the painter Joseph Légaré, wearing a dunce cap. In a speech balloon, Leggo's Légaré declared, "Je suis… t… annexionniste!" ("I am a… f… annexionist!") Over the next few years, speech balloons continued to appear in humoristic drawings as well as, increasingly, in advertising.
Satire being a formidable political and social weapon, the publication of humoristic and opinionated newspapers, plentifully illustrated, multiplied in the years that followed. Napoléon Aubin founded Le Fantasque, a small weekly sheet in which all subjects were lampooned, in Québec in 1837. Between 1844 and 1900, more than 70 periodicals appeared and disappeared in Montréal and Québec. Among them were La Scie (1863), Le Canard (1877), Le Farceur (1878), Le Vrai Canard (1879), Le Grognard (1881) and Le Violon (1886).
These first humoristic periodicals were often short-lived; in fact, they sometimes only lasted one number. Nevertheless, it is in their pages that the first pantomime, or wordless, comic strips, as well as the first locally produced, captioned ones, are found. Here, too, some comic strips of French and English origin appeared.
At the turn of the century, the French-Canadian reader could buy compilations of comic drawings and illustrated newspaper features, as well as unpublished works of the same sort. Among these ancestors of comic albums were Album drolatique du journal Le Farceur by Henri Julien, around 1878; En roulant ma boule by Raoul Barré, in 1901; Nos p'tites filles en caricatures, taken from the newspaper Le Taon, by Joseph Charlebois, in 1903; Les Voyages de Ladébauche, taken from La Presse, by Albéric Bourgeois, around 1907; Le Prince de Galles aux fêtes du 3e centenaire de la fondation de Québec, in 1908, Monsieur Gouin voyage and Montréal juif : dessins gais, in 1913, all three by Joseph Charlebois; and Nos amis les québecquois by Charles Huard, in 1913.
The first comic strips
In 1866, a wood-engraved strip called "Baptiste Pacôt" appeared in La Scie with text accompanying the drawing. This serial story, attributed to the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Côté, recounted the dubious exploits of a lazy public servant.
Certain periodicals published occasional comic strips. On March 5, 1887, a captioned comic strip called "Premier voyage de Monsieur Glissentravers en Canada : Une partie de glissoire" appeared in Le Monde Illustré. However, it was unsigned and its origins cannot be precisely established. On April 21, 1900, Le Monde illustré published "Pas le temps!", another captioned comic strip, this time signed by A. Lemoy. A short moral story in nine panels, "Pas le temps!" illustrated the consequences to someone who, in a rush, neglected his faith.
In December 1902, La Presse published an uncaptioned comic strip in eight frames called "Pour un dîner de Noël," signed by Raoul Barré. This is the first known comic strip published in a Quebec daily. In the boldly-drawn strip, which employed varied perspectives, Barré demonstrated his interest in movement, an interest that would make him, a few years later, a pioneer in American animation.
Hector Berthelot and Père Ladébauche
Hector Berthelot, a journalist and caricaturist, was one of the greatest French-Canadian humorists of the 19th century, and was at the centre of several controversial newspapers. After working at La Scie in Québec, he founded Le Canard in Montréal. As of 1877, Le Canard published several comic strips (both captioned and uncaptioned and sometimes serial), and even humoristic drawings with balloons.
On September 22, 1883 the oldest known comic strip using a speech balloon appeared. Its message was quite simple; the strip depicted the weariness of a listener who has heard a popular song once too often. In it, a single large frame surrounds the five segments of the narrative sequence. The images have no captions but they contain balloons with musical notes to symbolize the song's melody.
It was in Le Canard that, on November 9, 1878, Berthelot first used the pen name Père Ladébauche to sign satirical articles. Père Ladébauche followed Berthelot to most of the newspapers that he edited or founded in the following years. The character also appeared in many caricatures drawn by Berthelot, Arthur Racey or Albert-Samuel Brodeur. A few years later, in La Presse, Joseph Charlebois and Albéric Bourgeois each adapted Père Ladébauche in turn for their comic strips.
After having sold Le Canard to another publisher (having a better sense of comedy than business), Hector Berthelot founded Le Vrai Canard. When readers confused these two papers, he changed the name of the new publication to Le Grognard, and then Le Violon. These newspapers published fierce political satire as well as caricatures, humoristic drawings and captioned comic strips by Berthelot himself, Henri Julien (who sometimes signed himself Octavo or Crincrin), Brodeur and Racey.