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ARCHIVED - Newspaper Strips of the 20th Century
It was at the turn of the 20th century that most major French-Canadian newspapers were launched. Initially, these dailies and weeklies voiced strong opinions, belonging as they did to political parties or even to the Catholic clergy. Nevertheless, little by little, this partisan press gave way to a more popular press that gave the appearance of being objective.
Before long, all the major newspapers were hiring artists to draw political caricatures and illustrate news items, as photographic reproduction was still in its infancy. Several contributors to the satirical newspaper Le Canard made the switch to major newspapers. Thus, from 1888 to his death in 1908, Henri Julien worked at the Montreal Daily Star. Arthur G. Racey, an illustrator and caricaturist originally from Québec, also drew for the Star. As of 1891, La Presse hired Albert-Samuel Brodeur to illustrate news items and current affairs. The daily then gradually increased its team of illustrators so that, at the beginning of the 20th century, there were eight illustrators working on the paper. At the same time, Hector Berthelot, founder of the Le Canard, collaborated on almost all Montréal newspapers, from La Patrie to La Presse, including La Minerve and Le Monde.
The course of the daily La Patrie, founded by Honoré Beaugrand, is a good example of the transformation that the partisan press was undergoing at the time. A liberal vehicle that was a bit too radical for the Liberal leader, La Patrie was bought out by that party in 1897. Its publication was entrusted to Israël Tarte, right-hand-man to Wilfrid Laurier. Tarte quickly mellowed the tone of the daily and modernized it based on American models: sensational articles, items on sports, labour and women, striking headlines, lots of illustrations and photographs, Sunday supplements, colour pages and, of course, comic strips.
Pioneers of the Balloon (1904-1908)
In 1902, Albéric Bourgeois, a young French-Canadian artist living in Boston and then painting sets for the Grand Opera, published a family strip called "The Education of Annie" in the Boston Post. At the end of 1903, Israël Tarte managed to convince him to return to Montréal to produce a daily cartoon for La Patrie as well as a page of comic strips on weekends.
On January 30, 1904, the first instalment of Albéric Bourgeois' "Les Aventures de Timothée" came out. This series was the first French-language comic strip to consistently use balloons. Wearing a top hat and a monocle and carrying a cane, Timothée was a bumbling dandy whose only concerns were social life, marrying his perpetual fiancée, Sophronie, and being entertained. Unfortunately for him, he was constantly being brought down by failure and he lamented not having been born in a country and at a time where there were "neither policemen nor mothers-in-law." "Les Aventures de Timothée" was very well received by the readers of La Patrie and Timothée quickly became the newspaper's star.
The Golden Age of the BDQ
Timothée provided the kick-start for several new series, frequently short-lived, that jostled for the next five years. After a few attempts ("Histoires sans parole" and "Pourquoi la famille Peignefort mangea maigre le jour de Pâques"), René-Charles Béliveau came out with "La Famille Citrouillard" on April 23, 1904. The same year, H. Samelart produced two strips (on October 29 and November 5) of "M. Phirin Lefinfin se fait colon." Reflecting transformations that were shaking up Quebec society, Béliveau and Samelart' two series spoke of the difficulties in adapting to a new environment. The Citrouillard family came directly from the country and discovered the disappointments of urban and modern life. Phirin Lefinfin, on the other hand, was a city intellectual who became an awkward settler to help repopulate rural areas.
Faced with Timothée's success, La Presse, another major Montréal daily, also published a weekly section for children, "La Ruche enfantine," which included comic strips. The first comic strip to appear there, on February 20, 1904, was called "Pourquoi il n'y eut pas de canard au dîner," attributed to Auguste Charbonnier. As of March 5, Joseph Charlebois adapted Père Ladébauche, a fetishized character by Hector Berthelot, into captioned comic strips. He produced 43 episodes of "Les Aventures de Ladébauche" before handing the strip over to Albéric Bourgeois.
In February 1905, Albéric Bourgeois gave up his position at La Patrie to go to the rival newspaper. He took up "Les Aventures de Ladébauche" and also created a wealth of comic series of greater or shorter length: "Zidore," "Les Aventures de Toinon," "Les Fables du parc Lafontaine," "Histoire du Canada pour les enfants" and others. The weekly page of Ladébauche strips quickly became an illustrated feature in which Bourgeois humorously commented on current events. He had Ladébauche travel around the world and the meet all of the major monarchs and heads of state of the time. With his good nature and his good country sense, Père Ladébauche gave all of these leaders advice on the how best to run their countries. Albéric Bourgeois remained at La Presse until he retired in 1955.
La Patrie called on Théophile Busnel, an artist of Breton origin, to continue the Timothée series. However, in 1905, in the space of three weeks, Busnel and René-Charles Béliveau each left their respective series to draw new characters: Busnel "Farces du petit cousin Charlot" and Béliveau "Le Père Nicodème" -- not to be confused with the character of the same name, drawn by F. Paradis, which appeared in La Presse the same year. Béliveau left "La Famille Citrouillard" completely in September 1905 and when his successor, T. Bisson, also gave it up in 1906, Busnel integrated its characters into Timothée's world. Their combined adventures occurred from then on, every two weeks in a full page of La Patrie.
"Les Aventures de Timothée" alternated in La Patrie with Raoul Barré's "Les Contes du père Rheault" as of June 1906. At the top of the page, this series presented a traditional or original tale, which inspired the tricks of two boisterous kids, Fanfan and P'tit Pit. The young jokers played tricks on their parents and on their aunt Frizine -- who gave as good as they got. Raoul Barré lived in New York from 1903 on, and sent his artwork from there. He was also very interested in the burgeoning art of animated cartoons, of which he would become one of the leading pioneers.
Since travel stories were in style in June 1907, Théophile Busnel sent Timothée on a long trip around the world and thus created the first serial comic strip with balloons. For 30 weeks, (15 semi-weekly strips), Timothée experienced the adventures of travel together with little Jean, and Professor Fendl'air, an aeronaut that he met on his trip. Busnel continued the series of Timothée's adventure until his death in September 1908.
Timothée's strip was immediately replaced by the translation of Richard F. Outcault's American series "Buster Brown." A few weeks later, "Les Contes du père Rheault" gave up its space to another translated series, "Le Jeune Ménage -- Et bébé" (from "The Newlyweds" by George McManus). This too-brief five-year period (from 1904 to 1909) had seen the rise and fall of the BDQ in Quebec dailies. When American series arrived in 1909 -- they, in turn, to be displaced by captioned comic strips out of France the following year -- the ax fell on the Quebec comic strip. It would not be until the 1970s, a period frequently referred to as the springtime of the Quebecois comic strip, that such an upswell of local comic strips in Quebec newspapers would be seen again.
Humour and Adventure (1913-1965)
Although it now had a lower profile, the BDQ did not disappear completely from the newspapers; however, under the influence of American strips and of silent films, it slowly lost its Quebecois distinctiveness. Whereas "Les Aventures de Timothée," "La Famille Citrouillard" and "Monsieur Phirin Lefinfin se fait colon" had represented contemporary social reality, the strips drawn as of 1909 tended more towards vaudeville and situation comedy.
In 1913, La Patrie published a new funny animal series, "À l'hôtel du Père Noé," by Raoul Barré. This was not, however, an original work but a translation -- probably by the creator himself -- of a strip produced by Barré for a New York paper in 1912 and distributed by the McLure Newspaper Syndicate1. The humorous series presented the misadventures of clients, drawn as all sorts of animals, in a large hotel. At the bottom of the frames, Barré drew small animals whose lives were independent of the weekly stories. This procedure would later be imitated by several creators, of which Marcel Gotlib of France is doubtless the best known.
The following year, Russel Patterson, an American-born creator who grew up and studied in Montréal, produced "Pierrot et Pierrette" for La Patrie. This strip presented two trick-playing children and their long-suffering father. "Pierrot et Pierrette" continued until August 1914, when Canada went to war and Russel Patterson returned to the United States, after being refused by the Canadian army.
During WWI, comic strips were few and far between in the dailies. A few patriotic captioned French strips sometimes appeared on the children's page, but the only notable comic strip in evidence was "L'Éducation de Pierrot" in La Presse. This first attempt to publish a daily Quebecois strip, signed by Max, appeared for a week, from the 22nd to the 28th of December, 19152. At the end of the war, comic strips timidly returned to the pages of Montréal dailies. La Patrie published a daily strip starting in 1919, a translation of "The Whole Blooming Family" (renamed "Coquelinette") by the American George McManus. Then, in October 1920, comic strips finally reclaimed their place in the colour pages of the Saturday supplement. For this, La Patrie called on none other than Timothée.
On October 16, 1920, "Les Aventures de Timothée" returned to the pages of La Patrie drawn by a new author, Arthur LeMay. This version of the "Les Aventures de Timothée" was clearly burlesque. Misunderstandings abounded and thrashings rained on Timothée and his friends. LeMay continued the series until June 1925, when he passed it on to Maurice Gagnon. "Les Aventures de Timothée" disappeared in December 1926 and the character took his final run from September to December 1933.
American series resurfaced a few months after Timothée returned to the pages of La Patrie in 1920. Now better distributed by the syndicates, as the decade unwound they appeared in all Quebec newspapers. The weekend supplements grew rapidly -- some with as many as 40 pages -- and presented the classical strips of the American Golden Age, from "Tarzan" to "Blondie," and including "Prince Valiant," "Flash Gordon" and "The Katzenjammer Kids." Some comic strips from France ("Zorro," "Robin l'intrépide," "Les Pionniers de l'espérance") also appeared during this time.
During the 1930s and 1940s, some Quebec creators manage to penetrate the weekend supplements. In the Montréal weekly Le Petit Journal appeared "Oncle Pacifique" produced by Vic Martin, the awkward "Casimir" by Tom Lucas (who shared a page with "Oncle Pacifique"), "La Mère Jasette" by H. Christin and "Mouchette" by Julien Hébert. Others were published outside the supplements, in the pages of dailies and weeklies. Such were: Arthur Durocher's "Les Aventures de Ti-Zeff" in Le Canard; Yvette Lapointe's "Pourquoi?" in L'Illustration and then "Les Petits Espiègles" in La Patrie; Eddy Prévost's funny daily "Tipit, le chétif" in Le Petit Journal; Mik's "Le Bouillant Bidou" in L'Illustration; Lorenzo Morel and René Houde's "Baptiste et Marie" in L'Événement; and Hector Brault's satire of the fascist movement, "Tom Brinfin et Dodolf" in Le Samedi.
Albert Chartier made his début in comic strips in 1935 with "Bouboule," based on scenarios by René Boivin. Published in La Patrie du Dimanche until 1937, this series presented the disappointments of a little, plump, forthright but inept person. Chartier's most important creation, however, was the series "Onésime", published each month as of 1943 in the Bulletin des agriculteurs, where it displaced "Captain and the Kids." Onésime was a country person living in the Laurentians who stuttered a little (at least in the beginning), was a little naïve and very clumsy, and whose wife, Zénoïde, was as round and authoritarian as he was thin and simple-minded. For the same bulletin, from 1954 to 1972 Chartier illustrated "Séraphin," a comic strip adaptation of the novel Un homme et son péché by Claude-Henri Grignon. Chartier also authored an uncaptioned strip, "Kiki," and a bilingual strip, "Les Canadiens," which was published in 35 English-speaking newspapers.
Adventure series and literary adaptations
Realistic series first broke into American newspapers in the middle of the 1920s, but it was the economic crisis of 1929 that led to the accelerated growth of the genre. Readers sought to escape from their daily gloom (unemployment, poverty, expropriation) and comic strips -- just like the movies -- offered inexpensive distraction. Series followed series at a frenetic pace and all the major genres of popular culture were exploited, including science fiction, police stories, knights, westerns and exotic adventures.
There were few realistic series in Quebec. The precariousness of the occupation and the lack of opportunities did not incite creators to undertake long-term projects. In the 1940s, a creator could receive but fifteen dollars for a page -- in other words, the cost of an American syndicate strip. While newspaper directors were willing to publish local strips, they did not want to pay more than they would for an American one.
The first realistic series to come out in Quebec were commissioned works and propaganda, adaptations of "novels of the homeland" created for Catholic newspapers (discussed in "Comics During the 'Great Darkness'"). Under the name Éditions Vincent, Rodolphe and Odette Vincent, a young couple who were both illustrators, produced adaptations of sword and cape novels. During WWII, they managed to sell a few strips to several newspapers, namely L'Action catholique and Le Petit Journal. Three of these series ("Sergent Belle-Rose," "La Fille du brouillard" and "La Toison d'or"), full of noise and fury but also romanticism, appeared between 1942 and 1944 before being reprinted in collections by the Quebec Éditions de l'A. B. The armistice and the return in full force of American comic strips to Quebec newspapers nevertheless put an end to the activities of the Éditions Vincent.
In 1947 and 1948, in Le Progrès du Saguenay, a boy of sixteen, Paulin Lessard, published the first science-fiction story of the BDQ: "Les Deux Petits Nains." This marvellous strip recounted the exploits of two brothers, only a few centimetres tall but endowed with colossal strength. On a trip in a toy plane, the brothers encountered the Lutons, a people who were just as small as themselves, who came from the stars, and who had an argument with the Fusons, another minuscule people with Asiatic traits (the battle of the Pacific was still recent). The longest-running adventure comic strip, though, was the work of Roberto Wilson. A series of modern police adventures that took place in Quebec, his strip, "Les Aventures de Robert et Roland," was published daily in L'Action catholique from 1956 to 1965.