Les Callan was a Canadian political cartoonist, active for the Vancouver Sun and the Toronto Star in the mid-20th century. During World War II he enlisted in the Canadian army and made numerous cartoons and illustrations depicting his fellow soldiers. His best known gag cartoon series was 'Monty and Johnny' (1944-1945).

Les Callan was born in 1905 in Ignace, near Ontario, Canada. From an early age he enjoyed drawing cartoons of his classmates at school. After leaving school he worked at a rail yard, following an evening course in art. In 1926 Callan moved to Chicago to study at the local Academy of Art and a school not far away which specialized in cartooning. His graphic career took off when he became a freelance editorial cartoonist at the Winnipeg Free Press. Between 1928 and 1937 he worked at the Vancouver Sun, after which Joseph E. Atkinson, founder and publisher of the Toronto Star, personally asked him to join his paper instead. Callan would remain the Toronto Star's political cartoonist from 1937 until 1961.

In 1940 World War II broke out. Callan's brother joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, while Callan himself enlisted in the Reserve Army. Two years later he moved up to the Artillery. He fought along with the troops as they moved ahead in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and eventually to Berlin, Germany. On 2 January 1944 a daily newspaper was established for the Canadian troops: The Maple Leaf. Its staff consisted mostly of soldiers with experience in the press industry. The publication not only contained news from the front and at home, but also features from Canadian newspaper syndicates, pin-up photos, letters, poems and cartoons. Bing Coughlin had a cartoon series starring 'Herbie'. Other cartoonists who drew for the paper were Merle "Ting" Tingley, Ted "The Moaner" Reeve, L.E. Weekes, Tom Luzny and Les Callan. Callan had a gag cartoon series in the Northwest Europe edition of the paper named 'Monty and Johnny'. Monty referred to British general Bernard Montgomery, while Johnny was the nickname for the common Canadian soldier. The cartoons mostly ran between 1944 and 1945 and referred to various actual events at the time.

From: Normandy and On... From D-Day to Victory
From: Normandy and On... From D-Day to Victory

Callan also drew more serious illustrations for the newspaper, such as 'On the Road to Berlin', which were portraits of Canadian soldiers with description of their occupation and hometown. He got much of his ideas from talking directly with his fellow soldiers. After the war they were collected in the book 'Normandy and On... From D-Day to Victory' (1945, Longmans, Green and Co.). In the foreword Callan wrote: "The Canadian soldier is a grand fighting man with a keen sense of humor and a great heart. It is my hope that this [work] may in its own modest way add to the record of his achievements and help to keep memories of them fresh."

Callan also ran unsuccesfully for the Canadian House of Commons for the Liberal Party in his home in Scarborough North, before he eventually moved to Vancouver in 1973. He passed away in 1986.

Les Callan on punchincanada.blogspot.com

Series and books by Les Callan in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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