The brother of Andre Kulbach, he was born in Russia (Estonia) in 1908 and lived in the Crimea on the Black Sea as a young man. After the Russian Revolution he lived in Germany for three years then in Latvia for five. He was a self taught painter. From about five years old he began drawing animals which were his favourite subject. Much of his experience was gained sketching in the Zoological Gardens in Stuttgart, Frankfurt-on-Main and Hamburg. It was an excellent preparation for his subsequent cartoon creation “Tang”.
April 2, 1928 he moved to Canada and travelled extensively: harvesting, fruit-picking, cow punching, painting and sketching. In 1936 he established a studio in Toronto and became part of a well known colony of writers and artists living and working on Granville Street. During this time he painted “beautiful” murals on the massive ceiling of the Crystal Ballroom in Toronto’s Royal York Hotel.
When World War 2 broke out he co-founded Hillborough Studio with his brother André, Adrian Dingle and an investor. It seemed a natural extension of his sketching practice in the zoological gardens of Germany, that his contributions to Triumph Adventure Comics should be cartooning “Out Of The Woods” and illustrating “Tang” the story of a horse. Adrian Dingle in a 1973 interview said of him, “René was extremely good at drawing animals … He was fantastic”.
When Hillborough merged with Bell Features late in 1941 Kulbach moved to the new company and now cartooned “Tang”. Indeed his name became synonymous with this feature which he seems to have cartooned to the end of the war suggesting that he continued to produce for Bell even when he was in the R.C.A. F. He took over “Dixon Of The Mounted” from T.A. Steele and continued it till he joined the R.C.A.F.
As the war continued Kulbach joined the R.C.A.F. Service Police and was stationed at Trenton Air Force Base. There, in his leisure time he began painting a mural in the Sergeant’s Mess keeping the work in progress hidden behind sheets until in early 1944 the members were astounded to see the east end wall filled with what Kulbach called “The Procession of the Goddess of Plenty”. The Goddess was carried by a golden carriage loaded with fruits and vegetables and accompanied by Bacchus the God of Wine and merriment astride a donkey and Pan, God of the Marshes and Friend of Wild Creatures. Centaurs and other creatures completed the gigantic mural.
This was the first painted by Kulbach at the base. Another mural, interpreted the story of Canada from prehistoric times to Confederation and covered the walls of the stairways leading up to the Library above the airmen’s mess. Yet another showed Indians attacking a covered wagon and was located in the Wintergarden section of the Sports Hanger.
In addition he illustrated a story about the town of Trenton depicting its lumber industry in the late 1800’s and the little known film industry located in the town in the early 1900’s. This was published in the Air Base’s newspaper Contact. He also produced a full page illustration in Contact’s VE Day edition which depicted the part the station played in achieving victory over the Axis.
He was discharged from Trenton in 1945. In Joke Comics 23, Bell Features reporting on all the Bell staff who were being released from the armed services and were returning to the company stated: “R.C.A.F. SPECIAL POLICE – Rene is the poster and mural artist of the Air Force. He also speaks [m] any of the European languages . René has carried on his strips “Tang” and “Dixon of the Mounted” all through the war and most of the time under VERY difficult conditions. His latest effort is “Out of the Woods” a very clever animal strip.” This was the first time “Out of the Woods” appeared under the Bell banner.
In 1948 he painted another large mural in the waiting room in Sunnybrook Hospital. He died in the 1950’s.
PERIODICAL GRAPHIC ANTHOLOGY:
|Active Comics … no date. “Know Your Birds.”…. Bell Features & Publishing. Black & white.|
|25: Back cover.||26: Back cover.|
Active Comics, “Know Your Animals.” Bell Features & Publishing. Black & white.
|Active Comics … no date: “Dixon of the Mounted.”…. Bell Features & Publishing. Black & white.|
|9: 1-8.||10: 1-8.||11: 1-8.||12: 1-8.||15: 1-7.||16: 1-7.||17: 1-7.||18: 23-29.|
Active Comics, 14, no date: “Dixon of the Mounted.” Car,’ unidentified, probably René Kulbach: 1-8.
Bell Features. Black & white.
|Triumph Adventure Comics…: “Out of the Woods.” ….Hillborough Studios. Black & white.|
|1-1, Aug.1941: 64.||1-4, Nov.1941: 64.||1-5, Jan.1942: 64.||1-6, Feb. 1942: 64.|
Triumph Comics, no number, no date: “Tang”: 37-48. Bell Features & Publishing. Black & white.
|Triumph Comics… no date: “Tang: …”: The Capture of ‘Grey Owl’’’: …. Bell Features & Publishing. Black & white.|
|8: “…A Story of the Western Range: The Capture of ‘Grey Owl’’’: 37-48.
9: “…:A Story of the Western Range: The Capture of ‘Red’”: 37-38.
|Triumph Comics … no date: “Tang.” Bell Features & Publishing. Black & white.|
11: 36-47. 12: 35-46.
|13: 26-37. 14: 26-37. 15: 24-34.||16:26-35.||19: 10-13,16,15,14
PERIODICAL GRAPHIC ANTHOLOGY:
|Triumph Adventure Comics,…: “Tang:….” Writ., Frank Brookwood: …. Hillborough Studio. Black & white.|
|1-1, August1941: “…: The Story of a Colt”:51-62.
1-2, September 1941: “…:The Story of the Western Range”: 42-53.
1-4, November 1941: “…: The Story of the Western Range”: 52-63.
|Triumph Adventure Comics,…: “Tang:….” Writ., Herbert Ohrt: …. Hillborough Studio. Black & white.|
|1-5, January1942: “…: The Story of the Western Range”: 54-63.
1-6, February 1942: “…: The Story of the Western Range”: 54-63.
Active Comics, 10, no date. “Dixon of the Mounted.” Bell Features & Publishing
Triumph Adventure Comics, 1-3, August 1941. Hillborough Studio.
Guardians of the North: The National Superhero in Canadian Comic-Book Art. Writ., John Bell.
National Archives of Canada, 1992:5. Print. A catalogue for the exhibit of the same name.
Sgt. Sargent’s Trenton. Writ., J. William Sargent. Belleville: The Hanger Bookshelf, 1985: 78-82.
Joke Comics, 23, no date: “Welcome Home Gang”: 26.
Now and Then Times, 1-2, Oct.1973: “A conversation with Adrian and Pat Dingle and Bill Thomas.” Writ., Dave Sim: 27+.
Triumph Adventure Comics, 1-3, August 1941: Front cover.