“If the troops like the cartoons, I can thank my army experience more than any other one thing. Because no matter how well you can draw, you can’t get that feeling of live humour into an army cartoon unless you’ve experienced the things you’re trying to put into black and white. You’ve got to live it first.” William “Bing” Coughlin. This Army Maple Leaf Album No. 1: 63.
“What I want to most git out of this war …is me!” A caption from a “Herbie”cartoon. Canada’s Newspaper Legend: 94.
Sergeant William Garnet “Bing” Coughlin, the creator of “Herbie” was born in 1912 in Ottawa, he attended elementary school there before moving with his mother to Philadelphia in the United States. His father had been killed in an accident. He attended the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art instead of high school and while studying there he drew sketches and cartoons for periodicals and newspapers in but he did not take these efforts seriously. When he graduated he became a display advertising designer in Philadelphia. In 1940 he returned to Ottawa to work for a Canadian display company.
He enlisted as a trooper in the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards at Ottawa in 1941 and was later promoted to Sergeant. He took part in the invasion of Sicily and served four months in the Italian campaign all the while sketching cartoons for his own amusement and that of his fellow soldiers. Captain J.D. MacFarlane who was editor of The Maple Leaf, the Canadian Army newspaper, was advertising for cartoonists and William sent him some samples. MacFarlane liked them and had him transferred in January 1944 to the 2 Canadian Public Relations in Naples Italy where he became cartoonist for the newspaper:
His first panel cartoon under the title “This Army” appeared February 19 1944. The cartoon was of a Canadian soldier tending to the generic side much like you see in “Johnny and Monty”. MacFarlane entered with some editorial advice. According to his son Richard, McFarlane, he suggested that William needed to create a Canadian soldier who tended to have a more of a specific character with whom the soldiers could identify. MacFarlane also suggested the name “Herbie”. “On February 21 1944 the “Herbie” character appeared and soon became so popular that the soldiers in Italy where The Maple Leaf was being published voted him, Canada’s man of the year for 1944. As time passed, “Herbie” began appearing as a comic strip as well as a gag panels. This character entered army life in other ways. After a while a ubiquitous sign “Don’t Be A Herbie” began appearing along the front lines. It was short hand for the Coughlin cartoons that said: don’t goof up, don’t make a wrong turn, don’t do the wrong thing. As can be seen it entered the field of the editorial cartoon as well. Another example was when “Herbie” was used a comment about the failures in the system to repatriate Canadian soldiers to Canada after Germany was defeated.
As time passed, “Herbie” expanded from a feature of The Maple Leaf to being syndicated in thirty-five Canadian newspapers, including the Evening Telegram, under the title “Active Service” and the British Columbian under “This Army”. He was collected into three books: This Army, This Army vol. 2, and Herbie and has appeared in other books down to this day. Coughlin was awarded an MBE for his work.
Originally Coughlin based his cartoons on own experiences in the Italian campaign. After he became a cartoonist he reinforced this experience by taking periodic trips to the front lines to visit with the troops.
After the war Coughlin returned to Ottawa. Like many veterans he had trouble returning to civilian life. It was at this point that MacFarlane insisted that they partner to do a collection of “Herbie” cartoons. The result which appeared in 1946 was a best seller resulting in two printings. A 1959 printing was a 20th anniversary edition commemorating the beginning of World War Two.
Coughlin eventually moved back to the U.S. and entered business. There is no indication he ever created another cartoon character. He died in 1991.
Bing Coughlin’s Herbie in cartoon portrayed the everyman slightly naive Canadian soldier. Earl Birney in his novel Turvey portrayed the same character in words. Both works were very successful at that time in touching the hearts of the Canadians.
BOOK GRAPHIC COLLECTION:
Front & back: This Army; Maple Leaf Album. Illus., Bing Coughlin. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1944.
Front & back: This Army, vol. 2: Another Maple Leaf Album. Illus., Bing Coughlin. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1945.
This Army; Maple Leaf Album no. 1. Rome Italy: No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1944.
This Army; Maple Leaf Album, no. 1. Car., Bing Coughlin. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1944. A reprint.
This Army vol. 2. Rome Italy: No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1945.
BOOK TEXT & GRAPHIC:
Front: Illus., Bing Coughlin. Herbie. Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., no date.
Herbie. Ed., & Writ., Doug MacFarlane. Car., Bing Coughlin. Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., no date. MacFarlane provided the accompanying text.
BOOK TEXT & GRAPHIC ANTHOLOGY:
Herbie and Friends: Cartoons in Wartime. Natural Heritage/ Natural History Inc.,1990.
Herbie and Friends: Cartoons in Wartime, Ed., Barry Browland. Natural Heritage/ Natural History Inc.,1990.
The Maple Leaf Forever. Eds., & Memorialists, Barry D Rowland & J. Douglas MacFarlane. Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc., 1987.
The Maple Leaf Scrapbook: Souvenir Book printed in Belgium at cost price to forces overseas. No editor. No date: No. 3 Canadian P.R. Group, n. d: 12-16.
“WHERE ISH TH’ SARGINT MAJOR – HIC!”. The Maple Leaf, 3-39, 9 May 1945 Special Victory Edition: Back page. A full page cartoon panel (387 mm h X 254 mm w)
Canada’s Newspaper Legend: The Story of J. Douglas MacFarlane. Writ., Richard MacFarlane. ECW Press, 2000: 48, 50, 94.
The Maple Leaf Forever, Writ., Barry D. Rowland & J. Douglas MacFarlane, Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc., 198743-44.
“Bing Coughlin.” The Maple Leaf Scrapbook: Souvenir Book printed in Belgium at cost price to forces overseas, no editor, Belgique: No. 3 Canadian P.R. Group, no date: 12 -16.
“Forward.” Writ., Lt. Gen. E.L.M. Burns. This Army; Maple Leaf Album. Car., Bing Coughlin. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1944.
“Forward.” Writ., Lt.-Gen. Charles. Foulkes, This Army; Maple Leaf Album, & This Army; Maple Leaf Album, no 1. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1944: 7.
“You’ve Got To Live It First.” Writ., Major R.E. Beamish. This Army; Maple Leaf Album & This Army; Maple Leaf Album, no 1. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1944: 61-63.
“Ancora!” Writ., Lt.-Col. C.W. Gilchrist. This Army; Maple Leaf Album, no. 2. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1944:7, 61-63.
. “A Word From The Managing Editor.” Major J.D. MacFarlane, This Army; Maple Leaf Album, & This Army; Maple Leaf Album, no 1. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1944:7, 61-63.
“You Asked For It.” Lt.-Col. C.W. Gilchrist. This Army; Maple Leaf Album & & This Army; Maple Leaf Album, no 1. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1944.
“Canadian Is Creator Of Popular Character.” Writ., Douglas Amaron with Canadian Corps in Italy. Canadian Press, 4 June 1944.
The Maple Leaf, 13 May 1944
I told ya so! No matter how much air ya put in
the tires she still sinks.
The Maple Leaf Scrap Book:16.
Coughlin’s cartoons appeared under the title “This Army” in many daily newspapers.