TREMBLAY, Jack (1926-2018)

Jack Tremblay was a Canadian painter and illustrator, who worked as a comic book artist for Bell Features during the World War II period, also referred to as the First Age of Canadian Comics. He was known for creating the fighter pilot ‘Crash Carson’ (1942-1943) in Wow Comics.

Originally from the United States, Tremblay was born in 1926 in Providence, Rhode Island. The Tremblay family then settled on the historical Fort William site (now known as Thunder Bay), before moving to Montreal when Jack was eight years old. The young man was an avid drawer, who sold many of his hand-made comics around his Montreal neighbourhood on Rue Drake for a nickel apiece. When World War II broke out, the Canadian government prohibited the import of “non-essential” materials into the country, in order to preserve the local economy. Of course, comic books also fell under this “War Exchange Conservation Act” (WECA). Consequently, this led to the establishment of the Canadian comic book industry. Several small publishing labels began releasing their own comic books, which of course lended heavily from their American examples. One of such companies was Bell Features, which operated from Toronto. The Canadian comic books became known as “Canadian whites” because of their colored covers and black-and-white interiors.

One of Bell’s leading titles was Wow Comics (1941-1946). In the second issue of November 1941 the editors announced a drawing contest in which young Jack Tremblay participated. His talent was duly noted, and by the May/June 1942 issue (#8) Tremblay was part of the team with his own feature about ace fighter pilot ‘Crash Carson’ and his squadron, the Devil’s Angels. He had only just turned sixteen, and was a first-year student at the Ecole des Beaux-arts in Montreal. ‘Crash Carson’ remained in active duty until Wow Comics issue #16 (August/September 1943), and Tremblay additionally made a feature called ‘Wings over the Atlantic’ for the first three issues of Bell’s Commando Comics (1942-1943). It was then continued by Andre Kulbach.

Tremblay left the comic book industry after turning 18, and joined the Paratroop Corps of the Canadian Forces in September 1944. He however never saw action, as the war came to an end in September 1945. Back in civilian life, the artist never returned to comic books, as the local industry slowly came to an end when the import ban was lifted. He instead went to work as a freelance artist for advertising agencies. During the 1950s and 1960s he illustrated books about Canadian history and folklore for Brunswick Press. He most notably wrote and illustrated the book ‘Ten Canadian Legends (A Story from Each Province)’ (1955), and eight of the twelve books in the series ‘The Story of Canada’ (1960s). Additional illustration work were the book ‘Shelter Bay: Tales of the Quebec North Shore’ by Harvey H. Smith (McClelland, 1964) and prose by Gregory Clark for the newspaper supplement Weekend Magazine. Under the “nom de plume” Jean-Jacques Tremblay he turned to painting fine art in the 1970s, holding his first solo exhibition at Galerie Libre in Montreal in 1976, and selling many canvases in the following decades. Later in life he also ventured into creating computer graphics.

Although largely remembered as a painter, Jack Tremblay’s earlier foray into the comic book industry became more known as the history of Canadian comics was further explored. At old age, he regularly attended comics festivals together with his son, the underground cartoonist Rick Trembles. On these occasions, the veteran artist was rightfully celebrated as one of the local heroes of the medium. Pioneers out of sheer necessity, most young artists of the “Canadian whites” became known for their later-day artistic exploits. Besides Jack Tremblay, they also include Aram Alexanian, Leo Bachle, Mel Crawford, Manny Easson, Edmond Good, Murray Karn, Fred Kelly, René Kulbach, Gerald Lazare, Edmund Legault, Ross Saakel, Doris Slater and Ted Steele.

Jack Tremblay, Gerry Lazare, Murray Karn and Mel Crawford were inducted into the “Giants of the North” hall of fame during the Toronto Comic Arts Festival on 10 May 2014.

Tremblay passed away in Montreal on 11 November 2018, at the age of 92.