Behind the Scenes, Back in the Day

« Television is like the invention of indoor plumbing. It didn’t change people’s habits. It just kept them inside the house. » — Alfred Hitchcock

A little while back, I chanced upon a handsome, lavishly-illustrated brochure (undated, but from 1976 or so) promoting the services of a Montréal television production company, which leads into this little history lesson.

JPL Productions Inc. was a subsidiary of Télé-Métropole*, Canada’s first private French-language television network. In 1965, France-Film president and Télé-Métropole founder Joseph-Alexandre DeSève sagely ensconced political cartoonist, illustrator, art director, television director, watercolourist… and even co-star of a timeless, Oscar-winning Norman McLaren short film, Jean-Paul Ladouceur (1921-1992) at the head of the newly-constituted ad production arm of his television operation. This was an era in which you might actually find bonafide creatives in positions of influence, before the age of financial ‘diversification’ and conglomerates** unleashed its full toxic bloom and creatives were henceforth sidelined and supplanted by bean counters.

Over time, JPL expanded the scope and range of its activities. I hardly need to go into details: that is precisely this publication’s purpose.

The front cover. All artwork (uncredited… for shame!) by Bernard Groz.
JPL himself provides the introduction: « To tell you about us, to speak of our people, our accomplishments, our equipment, we told ourselves: “it can’t be done without images”. And so, this illustrated brochure. JPL Productions Inc. is a subsidiary of Télé-Métropole Inc., the largest private enterprise television station in America. We produce advertisements, documentaries, industrial films, feature films, slideshows, soundtracks, printed matter, soundtracks, etc.. We hope that the following pages will give you a sense of the scope of our business. Our illustrator could not include each member of our personnel in his drawings. He had to leave out 250 of them. When we speak of ourselves, we say that we are producers, designers, publicists, advertisers, creators, communicators, propagandists, persuaders, as well as a whole range of ‘-lists’ and ‘-ers’. Without doubt and without false pride we are right. But we… prefer to think of ourselves, first and foremost as makers of amazement. » Phew!


An elephant running a vacuum cleaner? I’d like to see that commercial.


Four Sound Studios. Here and there, Groz threw in recognizable figures. In this one, the pianist (and the bandleader) are the talented Georges Tremblay, who composed and performed many a memorable (and often surprisingly elaborate) theme for Télé-Métropole’s émissions. To wit, the network released an LP’s worth of them, Les thèmes du 10. Here’s one, La couleur du temps, written for… the weather bulletin.
Stage Services: workshops, studios, salons.
Front cover of Le Capitaine Bonhomme au Mexique: Dynamite et… Tequila (1973, Hatier/Mondia); scripted by the Capitaine himself, ace raconteur Michel Noël (1922-1993) and illustrated by Bernard Groz. How much of Renaissance man was the Capitaine? Here’s his astounding biography (in French).
Dynamite et Tequila‘s opening page. The beloved Capitaine Bonhomme, a Télé-Métropole fixture introduced in 1962, would follow his creator throughout his life. He was yarn-spinner in the grand old Münchausen / McBragg tradition, and his wide-ranging popularity in Québec has endured largely because he never patronized his audience and, as with much of the richest grade of humour, his wooly accounts were sprinkled with witticisms and allusions whose meaning(s) suited both juvenile and adult sensibilities. Here he is during a 1988 talk show appearance.


*« Present at the February 19, 1961 inauguration were Montréal’s Archbishop, Paul-Émile Léger, the city’s mayor, Jean Drapeau, and the Prime Minister of Québec, Jean Lesage, who declared that television has « great power, and therefore great responsibility. » Chew on that, Stan Lee fans!

**After mobster and parking lot maven Emmanuel “Manny” Kimmel inherited the assets of his partner Abner “Longie” Zwillman (“the Al Capone of New Jersey“) upon the latter’s death, he continued his plans for legitimization and diversification. After The Kinney Parking Corporation acquired a chain of funeral homes, Kimmel soon entrusted the business dealings to a canny young undertaker named Steve Ross. « Ross diversified into businesses that had no visible connection to the already odd marriage of caskets and parking spaces. He bought office cleaning services, DC Comics (publishers of Superman), MAD Magazine, and a talent agency. In 1969 Ross made a daring bid for Warner Brothers, the film studio and record company. » « Kinney acquired Warner for $400 million. » Quotes from William Poundstone‘s captivating Fortune’s Formula (2005).

And that, children, is how The Mob bought DC Comics. I always chuckle when fanboys claim, without a shred of evidence, that Charlton Comics (owned by the Santangelo family) were ‘mobbed up’. I guess to some people, it’s only the Mob if it’s eye-talian.

Le Printemps and Its Perils

« It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! » — Mark Twain

André Montpetit (1943-2012) was a prodigiously talented québécois cartoonist and illustrator who, after wowing the public and his peers in the late 1960s and early 1970s, essentially turned on his heels and walked away from it all. Was it fear of success, fear of failure, self-loathing, self-respect or something else that prompted his slow fade? Hard to tell.

In the meantime, here’s a seasonally sardonic piece he produced in 1971. It saw print in the March 20, 1971 issue of Perspectives, a supplement bundled with each Saturday edition of Québec’s Le Soleil daily newspaper from 1959 to 1982.

The sun appears… the birds return… the flowers grow back… the beasts awaken… the city has an air of joy… it’s the season of love. « Let us go contemplate the marvels of nature! »
« Oh, the beautiful pigeon! » « Oh, such a pretty flower! » « Oh! A small, limpid puddle! » « I’ve had enough! I’m going home!!! »  « You’re right. It’s going to rain! » IN GENERAL, PEOPLE WATCH THE SPRING ON TELEVISION. IT’S LESS DANGEROUS.

In recent years, writer-director Saël Lacroix endeavoured to put together a documentary to assemble and organize the known facts and to fill in some of the blanks of Montpetit’s troubled career and existence. The result, Sur les traces d’Arthur (aka Tracing Arthur) was released in 2016. Watch the trailer here.


“You’re going to ruin your eyes under that mattress!”

In 1943, Albert Chartier, a French-Canadian cartoonist and illustrator (and commonly accepted as the father of Québec’s “bande dessinée“), was offered the chance of creating his own comic strip for the “Bulletin des agriculteurs” (Farmers’ Bulletin). Thus began Onésime, Chartier’s most popular and enduring œuvre.

Onésime was the perfect strip for the Bulletin’s audience: inspired by life in rural areas of Québec (in particular, picturesque Saint-Jean-de-Matha), it was a charming chronicle of the countryside. It lasted all the way until 2002 (it is said that four generations of Québecois learned to read with Onésime!), and reflected the changes in Quebec’s social landscape, making it a priceless historical document as well an as excellent comic.


This strip (originally published in November 1959) was scanned from Drawn & Quarterly #5 (August 2003). As far as I know, D&Q’s 47 pages of “Albert Chartier – a Retrospective” is the only existing English version of Onésime (the French-to-English translation is credited to Helge Dascher; the redrawn letters, to Dirk Rehm).

While Onésime is Chartier’s best known work, here’s something that’s even harder to come by for your enjoyment – a strip in which Kiki gets carried away. You can meet Kiki in “Une piquante petite brunette” (roughly translated to “a spicy little brunette”), a beautifully done, quite entertaining collection of previously unpublished Chartier strips about a young woman’s adventures (Les 400 coups, 2008).


~ ds