Noah's Ark, by VARB
Noahzark Hotel

Raoul Barré was one of the pioneers of the French-Canadian comic strip, together with Albéric Bourgeois, Joseph Charlebois, René-Charles Béliveau and Th. Busnel. He was the first Canadian comics artist to publish in French and holds historical significance as the first Canadian animator and the first person in history to create his own animation studio.

Vital Achille Raoul Barré was born in 1874 as the son of a communion wine importer with 12 children. He studied at the Institut du Mont Saint-Louis in Montréal and le Conseil des Arts et Manufactures. He published his first illustrations in magazines like Monde Illustré and Le Passe-temps. In the spring of 1896 Barré moved to Paris, where he studied at the Académie Julian and École des Beaux-arts. Around the same time he published caricatures in Le Sifflet, Le Cri de Paris, Le Gavroche, Les Débats, La Revue des Deux Frances and La Gaîté Gauloise. Barré didn't limit his political opinions to drawing alone. When French military officer Alfred Dreyfus was put on trial because of treason, Barré was one of the few people at the time who realized antisemitism was the real reason Dreyfuss got tarred and feathered. He was a fierce critic of the unjust way these trials were held, making him a diagonal opponent of another cartoonist and future animation pioneer, Émile Cohl. He returned to Québec in 1898.

Pour un Diner de Noël, by Raoul Barré

In 1900 Barré became a frequent collaborator of the Montréal newspaper La Presse. His pantomime comic 'Pour un Dîner de Noël' was published in La Presse on 20 December 1902 and is considered the first Quebecan comic strip. In eight panels, it tells the story of a family of three trying to catch a duck for their Christmas diner. He continued to work for the paper until 1908. He published many picture stories and cartoons, some of them with speech balloons, on the 'En roulant ma boule' page. This included the cartoon feature 'Histoire de Sauvage'. A book collection of 'En roulant ma boule' was published by Librairie Déom Frères. Another comic strip, 'Les Contes du Père Rheault' (1906), appeared in color in La Patrie and also featured speech balloons. Barré furthermore illustrated novels by Henri Julien. He published under the pseudonyms "Raoul Barry" and "VARB" and moved to New York City in 1913, where he began an association with the McClure Newspaper Syndicate. The same year his comic strip 'Noahzark Hotel' was distributed by the same syndicate. It was published in The New Haven Union between 12 January and 9 November 1913 and also ran in La Patrie under the title 'À l'Hôtel du père Noél'. This funny animal comic is set in a hotel.


Les Contes du Père Rheault (25 August 1906)

In 1914 Barré ventured into animation. He started out at the Edison Studios, where he met Bill Nolan, a producer of live-action shorts who'd become his business and creative partner. They made several animated advertisements. They pioneered the peg system to keep animated drawings in the exact same order and same place on paper. Barré also devised the "slash system" which kept the background drawings and the character drawings separate, then combining them together while filming every image. This system was in use until deep in the 1930s, but eventually replaced by the much more efficient cel animation sysem. Nolan also discovered that if a background drawn on a long piece of paper was passed under the drawings of a character walking, an illusion of horizontal motion was produced. This was the basis of all pan movements in animated films.


Histoire de Sauvage

In 1914 Barré and Nolan founded their own studio called Barré-Nolan. This was the first animation studio in history, even though their attempt was moderate compared with the more professional factory-based studios that would follow later. In May 1915 they launched one of the first animated series build around one character: 'The Animated Grouch Chasers', which was distributed by the Edison Studios and notable for combining animation with live-action. Together with Gregory LaCava and Frank Moser of William Randolph Hearst's International Film Service they also worked on a series of "Phables", based on the comic strip by Tom Powers. Among the people who were once employed at Barré-Nolan were Gregory LaCava, Frank Moser and Pat Sullivan. In 1916 Hearst's International Film Service hired most of Barré's animators, including Nolan. Barré became a contractor to IFS, but only stayed for seven films.


One of Barré's Animated Grouch Chasers

In 1916 he founded Barré-Bowers Studios with animator Charles Bowers who'd previously made animated films based on Rudolph Dirks' 'Der Katzenjammer Kids' and Frederick Burr Opper's 'Happy Hooligan'. Together they made an animated version of Bud Fisher's comic strip 'Mutt and Jeff'. Among the people employed in their studio were Vernon Stallings, Ted Sears, Mannie Davis, Burt Gillett, Ben Sharpsteen, Dick Huemer and Bill Tytla. Barré retired from animation in 1919, amid rumors of a nervous breakdown. Tensions had been high in the studio, particularly because Bud Fisher often took credit for all the work there, while in reality he didn't do anything and rarely visited the place. Barré became an oil painter and poster designer, while the company was renamed the Bud Fisher Studio.

The 'Mutt and Jeff' cartoon series ended in 1926 after Fisher fired Bowers in 1919 because of financial irregularities on how the studio was run. He rehired Bowers in 1920, but fired him again later because of padding the studio payroll and other shady dealings. Barré returned to animation in 1926, while working for Pat Sullivan's 'Felix the Cat' series as an animator. A year later he retired again, this time for good. He kept making paintings and political cartoons for Le Taureau under the pseudonym "É. Paulette" and started his own art school.

Raoul Barré died of cancer at the age of 58 in 1932.

Raoul Barre

Ink Slinger profile on the Stripper's Guide

Series and books by Raoul Barré in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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