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ARCHIVED - Precursors, 1849-1928
Although there are many early examples throughout the world of what might be called graphic narrative, the first comic strips, as such, appeared in Europe in the latter part of the 19th century. In North America, the newspaper strip was inaugurated in 1895 in the New York World, with the publication of Richard Felton Outcault's "Hogan's Alley," which featured the Yellow Kid. Numerous rival strips soon followed, as American newspapers competed for a growing readership of children and adults who were drawn to the new art form. English-Canadian comic art began to appear not long after. It can be seen, as can its American counterpart, as growing out of a distinguished national tradition of political cartooning.
Canadian cartooning began in earnest with the publication, in Montréal in 1849, of Punch in Canada. Modeled after its famous British namesake, the Canadian Punch featured cartoons by John Henry Walker, its multi-talented editor and publisher. Although the weekly was short-lived, it paved the way for a host of similar 19th-century journals, such as The Jester, The Grumbler, Grinchuckle, and Diogenes. Like Punch in Canada, most of these operated only briefly, and certainly none approached the success of the country's leading Victorian periodical, the somewhat more staid Canadian Illustrated News. Inaugurated at Montréal in 1869, the Canadian Illustrated News published the work of numerous artists and cartoonists. One of its best early illustrators was the Frenchman Edward Jump, who specialized in caricatures of political figures. Jump worked on the paper from 1871 until 1873, when he left for the United States.
While Jump was mildly lampooning the nation's leaders, a Toronto Globe reporter, John Wilson Bengough, launched an irreverent cartoon weekly called Grip on May 24, 1873. The Pacific railroad scandal rocked the Conservative federal government shortly after, and Bengough was able to exploit the public's growing appetite for a satirical perspective on politics in Ottawa. The first major English-Canadian humour magazine, Grip survived for 22 years.
If Bengough was the most significant and prolific cartoonist in Canada before 1900, Henri Julien -- who began contributing to Canadian Illustrated News and to its French edition, L'Opinion publique, in 1874 -- was the most accomplished. Also a noted illustrator, Julien worked for the leading Canadian journals of his day, as well as for international periodicals such as Harper's, Century, Le Monde illustré and The Graphic. In 1888, Julien became the first full-time newspaper cartoonist in the country when the Montreal Star hired him as its chief artist, a position he held for two decades.
The only Canadian who rivalled Julien during this period was the expatriate Palmer Cox. Born near Granby, Quebec, in 1840, Cox moved to the US, where he became a regular contributor to St. Nicholas Magazine as well as the creator of the children's characters the Brownies. Cox's cartoon pixies soon became phenomenally popular. In fact, the first collection of Brownies stories, The Brownies, Their Book (1887), sold more than a million copies. Eventually, the Brownies also appeared in a wide array of commercial products -- toys, china, and trade cards among them. They even lent their name to a new, inexpensive Kodak camera -- the famous Brownie -- intended to bring photography to the masses.
Though the early illustrated adventures of the Brownies combined cartoon images with text (poetry), these two elements were not sufficiently integrated to fully constitute comic art. It was with the spin-off Brownies' newspaper comic strip, drawn and written by Cox and published from about 1898 to 1907, that English Canada saw its first non-political comic art. In the last year or so of the strip Cox made use of the word balloons that became a defining feature of comics. By this time, the artist had returned to Granby, where he lived in "Brownie Castle" until his death in 1924.
There were other important cartoonists in this era, including Cox's fellow Quebecker Arthur G. Racey, Henri Julien's eventual successor at the Montreal Star. Racey produced a memorable series of emigration-related cartoons entitled "The Englishman in Canada." He also contributed to The Moon, an influential illustrated humour magazine that appeared in Toronto in 1901. Around the same time, the artist J. B. Fitzmaurice began his career at the Vancouver Daily Province. Fitzmaurice, whose cartoons were often presented in a comic-strip style (with narrative sustained through several panels or through serial cartoons), can be counted among the earliest Canadian comic artists. A contemporary of Racey's and Fitzmaurice's was Bob Edwards, who launched one of the nation's most irreverent papers, the Calgary Eye-Opener, in 1902. While Edwards served as the Eye-Opener's first cartoonist, he later hired professional artists such as Donald McRitchie and Charles H. Forrester. Both the paper and its legendary founder died in 1922.1
In the first years of the 20th century, Canadian comic-strip art was only just emerging as a lively new art form. Over the next two decades it continued to gradually develop, and, in English Canada, the American newspaper syndicates that dominated the medium shaped its growth. For many years, most aspiring English-Canadian comic-strip artists were obliged to pursue their dreams south of the border. Consequently, for a time, the two main centres of comic art by English Canadians were New York and Chicago.
Although Palmer Cox and several Canadian political cartoonists had flirted with the comic-strip format at the turn of the century, it was probably the cartoonist H. A. McGill -- a Nova Scotian living in New York -- who was the first English Canadian to work full time as a comic-strip artist. In 1904, McGill turned his attention from political cartooning to newspaper strips in which he depicted the lives of young workers in the city. The most popular of these, "The Hall-Room Boys" (later retitled "Percy & Ferdy"), first appeared in 1906. It ran for several years before being collected in book format by the noted comic-strip reprint publisher Cupples and Leon in 1921.
Not long after McGill's initial success in the US, Russell Patterson, an American-born cartoonist who grew up in Canada, placed his strip, "Pierre et Pierrette," with the Montréal paper La Patrie. When Patterson was rejected by the Canadian army at the outbreak of the First World War, he moved to Chicago, where he became a leading US illustrator and sometime comic-strip artist.
In New York, Quebecker Raoul Barré created a strip called "Noah's Ark" for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate in 1912. (A French-language version of the strip was published in La Patrie the following year, titled "À l'hôtel du Père Noé.") Barré -- known in the US as "Barre" -- soon ceased his activities as a cartoonist to become a leading pioneer in film animation, and in 1914, in New York, opened the first true animation studio, where he introduced numerous innovations. Although Barré stopped working on his own comic strips, he did produce animated shorts based on Bud Fisher's popular "Mutt and Jeff."
Another political cartoonist who made the transition to comic art was Arch Dale. While working freelance for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Grain-Grower's Guide, Dale created a strip, featuring Brownie-like characters, called "The Doo Dads." When he moved to Chicago in 1921, he was able to arrange for his strip to be syndicated in over 50 newspapers throughout North America. Eventually, however, Dale resumed political cartooning in Canada, and "The Doo Dads" was largely forgotten.
Unlike McGill, Patterson, Barré and Dale, who pursued their comic-art careers in the US, Toronto artist Jimmy Frise was able, in 1921, to sell a strip in Canada -- to the Star Weekly, a weekend supplement to the Toronto Star. Originally titled "Life's Little Comedies," the strip was soon renamed "Birdseye Centre," and became the longest-running comic strip ever published in English Canada. After appearing in the Star Weekly for 26 years, the strip was lured away, in 1947, by the Montréal Standard, where it was featured in colour and with a new title: "Juniper Junction." Frise's strip also saw a limited degree of syndication prior to his death in 1948. "Juniper Junction" was briefly continued after Frise's death by Doug Wright, who went on to become one of Canada's best post-war comic-strip artists.
The same year that Frise began "Life's Little Comedies," the humour magazine The Goblin was launched in Toronto. During the roaring 20s it featured a number of talented cartoonists, some of whom -- such as Richard Taylor (who would later become one of the greatest New Yorker cartoonists) and Lou Skuce -- also worked on comic strips.