“The reason I like it [comic book art] is because as a kid I could act out my fantasies and feelings through a strip. I could write the kind of adventure story I might hear on the radio. I’ve always loved mystery stories and I’ve always loved books like Treasure Island. To be able to draw and write for other people was something I got a terrific kick out of. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was obviously mad to draw well. I always admired people who could draw a figure beautifully. That’s really my main goal. If I hadn’t been picked up by Bell, I Probably would have gone to art school to learn how to draw in the traditional sense.”
Jerry Lazare was born September 25, 1927 in Toronto.
Lazare’s love with the visual arts began very early in life about four or five years old. After watching his older half brother drawing from the Saturday comic section he began to try his hand at putting marks on paper. Another big factor was “…something that wasn’t visual”: radio. From about the age of nine or ten until he entered high school he spent a lot of time sitting and sketching while he listened to radio programs like the “The Shadow”, “Sam Spade” or “I Love a Mystery”. “So, I used to sit and things I heard on the radio I would try and draw.”
In high school Lazare read comics and through them he encountered his first important influence Alex Raymond [“Flash Gordon”]. He was fascinated by the work of Raymond, “… primarily because I thought he was a great draughtsman. The comics that were funny or the people who didn’t draw well …didn’t interest me.” Interestingly, Milton Caniff never appealed to him.
When Lazare was in grade 11 in high school, Canadian comics were just coming on the market and He saw a Bell Features comic. He sent some pencil drawings into the company and about a week later got a call from Cy Bell asking him if he wanted to do a strip. Jerry was stunned he had sent the drawings in looking for criticism – what they thought of them. He remembered being “…very nervous full and of humility. I was just amazed that anyone would wanted to buy the stuff.” Adrian Dingle in a 1973 interview commented: “We had a lot of young kids coming down who didn’t stand a Chinaman’s chance. And they’d be bringing stuff in and then occasionally one had a spark and we’d cultivate that spark.” “Jerry Lazare, for instance, was quite young. And he, of course, has become a first rate illustrator.” Jerry went down to see Cy and Cy asked him if he wanted to take over “Jeff Waring”. Murray Karn the previous cartoonist had gone into the military. Jerry accepted and tried to do the strip in the evenings and on weekends but his school grades deteriorated. His parents talked with the principal and he suggested technical school. Jerry transferred but did not stay very long. Finally he wound up working full time for Bell teaching himself to draw through copying from Alex Raymond strips.
This copying should be clarified. Gerry would study Milton’s strips and then try to emulate them much as an art student will sit in a gallery and attempt to emulate the techniques in the pictures by the masters on the wall.
Lazare’s favourite strips that he worked on were “The Dreamer”, a take off on Morpheus and sleep thing and ‘Drummy Young’ a strip he did because he loved jazz. Another strip he created was “Wing”. Contrary to most of the cartoonists, he never did war strips. Indeed war entered his strips because war was a part of the life of Canadians. His work method was to write out a rough plot for his story Then he’d do the story page by page copying Alex Raymond art and thinking of what the characters would say in the balloons as he went along. He always “got a kick” out of the writing always looking for new ideas; always trying to figure out plots.
He and Fred Kelly who was much older became friends and collaborated on stories. They would get together and talk about what they were doing and bounce ideas off each other. They rented a studio on Yonge Street above the Capitol Theatre. It was Gerry’s first move away from the family home at 17 or 18 years of age.
Lazare remembered one of the significant events for him as a artist occurred while he was working at Bell. “I remember one of the turning points for me came when I was still swiping Raymond’s work … one day I took my stuff in and Dingle said ‘You ought to quit doing this. You’re swiping his stuff!’ I went away and thought, ‘You know he’s right.’ So I just put aside all of the Raymond strips and I tried to do it on my own. … After that session with Dingle I just stopped [swiping] completely. I think the next time I brought a strip in Dingle was absolutely shocked at the quality because it just went right down. I had a very hard time after I decided to stop swiping and from that point on I just did everything out of my head. However, I discovered when I got into illustration that you don’t do that – you use models or reference.” In spite of the fact that Gerry thought the quality of his work had plummeted. His work was never returned to him for corrections: something that happened to other artists of the Bell stable.
In a 1973 interview Lazare commented on his development as a artist during the Bell years. Of his early efforts, “ I didn’t think very much of my work at all. I didn’t really like it until very late on when I felt something coming. Then I started to to get pride in my work. But that only happened near the end.”… “One of the last strips I did was a colour one called ‘Master Key’. I think I did just one or two before it folded. At that point I thought I was drawing better than I ever had.”
On further questioning in 2011, Gerald admitted that “I feel now my ability to write well and letter and dramatize the scene with strong blacks even though the anatomy was wanting was impressive and better than most.”
“They had a party when The Great Canadian Comic Books hardcover was released at Peter Martin’s place. There was one ‘Air Woman’ page – they had a whole mock display with curtains that they drew back. And this was the first time I had seen things that I couldn’t remember ever doing. These were so far back that it was like looking at another person’s work, so I was very objective. A friend of mine was there and he thought the ‘Air Woman’ was great – the best one there. I tried looking at it objectively; it was easy and I felt differently. I felt, ‘It’s not bad for sixteen or seventeen.” I teach and if I have a student who can do black and white that well, I’d think it wasn’t bad at all. But [back] then, I thought it was terrible. In retrospect it’s not bad.”
As Bell Features was entering its twilight period Gerry’s focus was shifting to illustration. Instead of looking at cartoon strip artists for inspiration he turned to magazine illustrators. He discovered the degree to which these illustrators inspired cartoonists. He found that Raymond’s influences were Matt and Benton Clark. He considered Noel Sickles a fantastic illustrator. In Lazare’s opinion Sickles who became an important illustrator for major magazines like Saturday Evening Post was the one who got Milton Caniff started and whose style Caniff followed,. He was particularly drawn to Albert Dorne, “who really had a very good black and white style that would have fitted the comics beautifully” but who had never done comics at all.”
After Bell Features closed its doors Gerry went to New York looking for work in cartooning but found the work conditions distasteful. “The atmosphere looked pretty hack when I went down there. The artists were all lined up in one big room like a bullpen. I had been used to working on my own – writing it and drawing it, doing the whole bit myself. There I would have just been doing penciling or inking. It just didn’t look that thrilling to me ….” Furthermore, he found out that he could be drafted into the U.S. Army which he did not want.
He returned to Toronto and applied for a job at Bomac Engravers an art studio on 246 Richmond Street. In 1949 it was the place to be. “They had the best illustrators in town working there…”. He recalled his reception, “… as soon as they saw my comic samples they said, ‘You’re drawing isn’t bad, but you’re going to have to get that comic art stuff out of your blood. That’s terrible.’…” He started as an apprentice illustrator at $25 a week, quite a descent from the $90 a week he had been making at Bell.
He had to change his whole approach. He learned to work in different mediums: watercolour, gouache and acrylic and acquired a knowledge of colour and its effects. In spite of the interviewer’s comments about his cartoon work, Gerry thought that Bell Features had given him a head start in black and white illustration. “As an apprentice illustrator you get a lot of black and white work and I knew how to spot blacks and I had a feeling for using a pen and brush.” Gerry spent three years at Bomac working his way up to senior illustrator and earning $150 to $200 a week. By that time he was doing advertising illustrations in newspapers and magazines plus some posters for the accounts such as the Ford Motor Co., insurance companies and supermarkets.
Over this period Gerry went to New York each summer to see art shows and meet artists. He became the first Canadian to take Albert Dorne’s Famous Artist Course. It was a correspondence course which instructed students throughout the world. He and Dorne and became good friends and he helped Dorne to bring the Famous Artist course to Canada. The first article about his work appeared in their alumni magazine.
In 1953 he married, left Bomac and went to Europe to study. He worked as an illustrator for Carlton Studios in London. He had an American style of illustration and it was much in demand in England.
Late in 1954 he returned to Bomac where he stayed for a year. He then left and became a freelancer so that he could eliminate advertising work and devote himself to illustrating fiction in magazines and books. The 1950’s were a golden age for magazines and there was plenty of work in book illustrations as well.
From 1956 to 1973 he freelanced as a figurative illustrator for major publishers, both book and magazine in Canada and the U.S.A.
He joined the faculty of the Ontario College of Art in 1966 and taught painting and portraiture in the Fine Arts and Communications and Design Departments two days a week until 1990. He avoided full time and turned down an offer to be chairman of the Fine Arts Department so that they would not interfere with his painting. In the 1971 /1972 study year he taught Advanced Painting at Humber College. He was Artist in Residence in the Ottawa Separate School System (1971), and lectured on art in Ottawa and Peterborough Teacher’s College (1971 – 1972), George Brown College (Painting and Illustration 1971 – 1973),
From 1970 to 1973 he added to a busy teaching and commissions schedule work as a historical painter for the Provincial and Federal governments in Ontario and Quebec.
In 1975 he turned to painting exclusively contemporary life, urban themes and portraiture.
In 1975 he became divorced partly as a result of his decision to depend entirely on his work as a painter for his income. In 1976 he married Setsuko who was also a fine arts painter.
He taught and acted as the co-ordinator of the Ontario College of Art off-campus program in Florence Italy in 1981 – 1982 and in 1989 – 1990.He continued to paint in Italy and France and his one-man show, “Lazare in Europe” was a critical and financial success.
His work is in the collections of: Confederation Life, Bank of Montreal, Imperial Oil Company, The Hudson’s Bay Co., Mary Kay Cosmetics, B.M.I. Canada Ltd., Cambridge Leaseholds, City of Toronto Archives and Metro Toronto Library.
PERIODICAL GRAPHIC ANTHOLOGY: All published by Bell Features & Publishing Ltd.
Active Comics, 28, no date: “The Dreamer”: 37-43. Black & white.
|Wow Comics, no date: “Jeff Waring.” Black & white.|
|19: 13-18.||22: 14-20.||24: 24-30.||27: 32-38.||28: 37-43.|
“The Wing.” Active Comics, 28, no date: 10-15. Black & white.
Home From Far, Writ., Jean Little. Little Brown & Co., 1965.
PERIODICAL TEXT & GRAPHIC ANTHOLOGY:
Now and Then Times, 1-2, 1973:
GERALD LAZARE, Paintings and Drawings, January 10 to February 1 1979, Prince Arthur Galleries.
LAZARE IN EUROPE, A Visual Diary, April 9 to April 28 1981, Prince Arthur Galleries,
GERALD LAZARE, Painting the City: A Retrospective, February 29 to April 26 1992, The Market Gallery of the City of Toronto Archives.
1964, Toronto, Canadian Book Illustrators Exhibition, Toronto Central Library, Group Show.
1966, Toronto, Canadian Illustrators Show, Toronto Education Building, Group Show.
1970, Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Show with Lewis Parker.
1971, Toronto, Arts and Letters Club, Show with Lewis Parker.
1976, Ottawa, Dominion Corinth Gallery, Show with Peter Corbett.
1976, Toronto, Nancy Poole Gallery, Solo show.
1976, Toronto, Ontario Society of Artists Annual Exhibition,Group Show.
1977, Toronto, Nancy Poole Gallery, Group Show.
1977, Toronto, Nancy Poole Gallery, Solo Show.
1978, Toronto, Gallery 76, Ontario College of Art Fine Arts Faculty Exhibition, Group Show.
1979, Toronto, Prince Arthur Gallery Solo show.
1981, Toronto, Prince Arthur Gallery Solo show.
1983, Toronto, Canadians in Italy, Simpson’s Avon Galleries, Group Show.
1985, Toronto, Yaneff Gallery, Solo show.
1985, Toronto, Market Gallery City of Toronto, “Interiors-Exteriors”, Group Show.
1987, Toronto, Market Gallery City of Toronto, “Window on Toronto”, Group Show.
1987, St. John’s Newfoundland, Memorial University Gallery, “Painting of People”, Group Show.
1988, Seoul, Korea,: Official Seoul Olympics, Watercolour Exhibition, Group Show (representing
1988, Toronto, York Quay, DuMaurier Council For the Arts, “Images of Jazz”, Group Show.
1990, Seoul Korea, International Seoul Watercolour Exhibition, Group Show (representing Canada).
1991, Toronto, Okeefe Centre, Canadian Opera Company Benefit Show, Group Show.
1992, Toronto, Market Gallery of City of Toronto, Solo show (retrospective).
1994, Seoul Korea, Korean Oil Painting Society International Exhibition, Group Show.
1994, New York, N.Y. U.S.A., Salmagundi Club, Group Show.
1995, New York, N.Y. U.S.A., Salmagundi Club, Group Show.
1995, New Jersey, U.S.A., Wyckoff Gallery, Group Show.
1996, New York, N.Y. U.S.A., Salmagundi Club, Group Show.
1996, New Jersey, U.S.A., Wyckoff Gallery, Group Show.
1996, New Jersey, U.S.A., Wyckoff Gallery, Solo show.
1997, New York, N.Y. U.S.A., Salmagundi Club, Group Show.
1997, New Jersey, U.S.A., Wyckoff Gallery, Group Show.
1998, New Jersey, U.S.A., Wyckoff Gallery, Group Show.
1998, New York, N.Y. U.S.A., Salmagundi Club, Group Show.
1998, East Hanover New Jersey U.S.A., Nabisco Corporate Center, Group Show.
1999, New Jersey, U.S.A., Wyckoff Gallery, Group Show.
1999, Toronto, Gallery Gevik, Solo show.
1999,New York, N.Y. U.S.A., Group Show: Salmagundi Club.
2000,New York, N.Y. U.S.A., Group Show: Salmagundi Club.
2001,New York, N.Y. U.S.A., Group Show: Salmagundi Club.
2002,New York, N.Y. U.S.A., Group Show: Salmagundi Club.
2002, Toronto, Gallery Gevik, Solo show.
2003,New York, N.Y. U.S.A., Group Show: Salmagundi Club
2004,New York, N.Y. U.S.A., Group Show: Salmagundi Club,..
2004, Dufferin County, Dufferin County Museum, “Huron Series”, Show with Lewis Parker.
2005, Toronto, Propeller Centre For the Arts, Panels, “Paintings & Other Pursuits” Group Show.
COLLECTIONS & COMMISSIONS:
Confederation Life, Toronto City of Toronto Collection
Bank of Montreal, Montreal Imperial Oil Collection
Metropolitan Library, Toronto Province of Ontario, Midland
B.M.I. Canada Ltd., Toronto Museum of Civilization, Hull, Quebec
Maclean Hunter, Toronto Cartier Museum, Québec City
Warner Brothers Pictures, New York Museum of Peel, Brampton, Ontario
Mary Kay Collection, Toronto McClelland and Stewart, Toronto
Smithsonian Museum, Washington D.C. Hudson’s Bay Company, Toronto
University of Toronto Katz Collection Private collections
AWARDS & HONOURS:
1966, Illustration: Best Children’s Book of the Year, Queeny Peavy, USA.
1992, Retrospective mounted by the City of Toronto, “Gerald Lazare Painting the City” official opening
By Mayor The Honourable June Rowlands.
1994, Newington Award for best painting in the show any medium The American Artists Professional
League 66th Grand National Exhibition New York.
1995, Lifetime Achievement Award winner, The Canadian Association of Photographers and Illustrators in Communications.
1996, Award for Excellence in Portraiture, The Salmagundi Club, AAPL, New York.
1998, The Claude Parsons Memorial Award, AAPL, New York.
2001, The Colonel George Morales Memorial Award, AAPL, New York.
2007, Joe Shuster Hall of Fame induction, Toronto.
East meets West, the art of Gerald & Setsuko Lazare, LAZARE Gerald & Setsuko, Abicello Press, 2008.
GERALD LAZARE, Paintings and Drawings, January 10 to February 1 1979, Prince Arthur Galleries,
LAZARE IN EUROPE, A Visual Diary, April 9 to April 28 1981, Prince Arthur Galleries,
GERALD LAZARE, Painting the City: A Retrospective, February 29 to April 26 1992, The Market Gallery of the City of Toronto Archives,
Now and Then Times, 1- 2, October 1973: “A conversation with Adrian and Pat Dingle and Bill Thomas.” Writ., Dave Sim: 27, 29,33. & “An interview with Jerry Lazare.” Writ., Dave Sim,:33..
“Gerald John Lazare.” https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/thestar/obituary.aspx?n=gerald-john-lazare&pid=198181544 . Accessed 2 April 2021.