Jeff Waring by Murray Karn
'Jeff Waring'.

Murray Karn was a Canadian cartoonist, illustrator and painter, and one of the young artists who worked in the short-lived Canadian comic book industry of the 1940s. He was present in Bell Features titles like Active Comics and Wow Comics with features like 'Thunderfist' (1942-1943) and 'Jeff Waring, King of the Amazon' (1942-1943, 1946).

Early life
Murray Joseph Karn was born in Toronto in either 1924 or 1925. The young man showed an early talent for drawing, especially copying the styles of other cartoonists and illustrators. In his comic book artwork, Karn mostly got his inspiration from Alex Raymond's 'Flash Gordon' and 'Jungle Jim'. He was only sixteen years old, when he and a handful of other local artists were hired by Toronto-based publisher Cy Bell to fill his new line of comic books.

Bell Features
After World War II broke out, the Canadian government had prohibited the import of "non-essential" materials into the country, in order to preserve the local economy. Of course, comic books also fell under this "War Exchange Conservation Act" (WECA). Consequently, this led to the establishment of the Canadian comic book industry. Several small publishing labels began releasing their own comic books, which of course lended heavily from their North American examples. One of such companies was Bell Features. The Canadian comic books became known as "Canadian whites" because of their colored covers and black-and-white interiors.

With writer Edmund T. Legault, Karn was responsible for creating one of the first Canadian superheroes, 'Thunderfist, the Crime Crusher'. The character made its debut in the first issue of Active Comics, which hit the newsstands in February 1942. The main hero was circus strongman Randolph Steele, who uses the inventions of his murdered scientist brother to create superhero powers and a fitting costume for his battle against all threats to society. After six episodes, Karn took over the writing as well, and he continued the feature on his own until issue #12 (July 1943).

Jeff Waring
One of Bell's leading titles was Wow Comics (1941-1946). From issue #7 of May 1942, Karn was present with one of his own creations, the jungle hero 'Jeff Waring, King of the Amazon' (1942-1943, 1946). Karn drew the feature on a regular base until Wow Comics #16 (December 1943) and it was subsequently continued by Jerry Lazere. Karn then returned to his hero in 1946 for three more stories in Wow Comics issues #29 and #30 and Slam Bang Comics issue #7. Of all the young Bell artists, Karn was one of the most skilled. His editors therefore regularly asked him to provide illustrations for covers, text stories and advertisements.

Later career
During his 1943-1945 interlude from comic books, Karn served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in Europe. During this period, he continued to create entertaining cartoons to raise the spirits of wounded soldiers. He was wounded himself in France shortly after D-Day, and returned to his home country when World War II was over. He drew a few more comic stories for Bell in 1946, but the local comic books disappeared shortly after the war, when the ban on American titles was lifted. Karn worked as a commercial illustrator from then on. After a stint with a Toronto art firm, Karn moved to the USA. Based in New York, he spent the remaining 55 years of his career designing and illustrating book covers, advertisements and magazine illustrators for various clients, mostly from Chicago, Cleveland and New York. Among his notable commercial work were the 'Wags to riches' series of porcelain collectible plates starring the popular movie dog 'Benji' for Mulberry Square Productions in 1982. Later in life, he started painting landscapes and buildings, which he exhibited and sold through his membership of the Southampton Artists Association of Long Island, New York.

His work as a youngster in the early Canadian comic book industry gained more recognition when historians and scholars began exploring its history, starting with the 1971 book 'The Great Canadian Comic Books' by Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert. Together with the other surviving members of the Bell team, Jack Tremblay, Gerald Lazare and Mel Crawford, he was inducted into the "Giants of the North" hall of fame during the Toronto Comic Arts Festival on 10 May 2014. Pioneers out of sheer necessity, most young artists of the "Canadian whites" became known for their later-day artistic exploits. Besides the aforementioned artists, they also include Aram Alexanian, Leo Bachle, Manny Easson, Edmond Good, Fred Kelly, René Kulbach, Edmund Legault, Ross Saakel, Doris Slater and Ted Steele.

Murray Karn passed away at the Stony Brook Southampton Hospital on 19 March 2018.

Text story illustration for The Funny Comics #3.

Murray Karn on

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