Lazare's story is a fascinating one. During WWII, the Canadian government imposed an embargo on "non-essential mail." Falling into that category were American comic books. The sudden absence of this popular source of children's entertainment presented a unique opportunity for Canadian publishers. A few were astute enough to jump into the comic book business, but finding enough artists and writers to provide a steady source of content was a challenge.
Enter young Jerry Lazare. Still just in high school, Lazare submitted a sample story to Toronto publisher, Bell Features. It was immediately snapped up. The emboldened Lazare took this as a sign that his school days were over. At age 16 he dropped out, opened a studio and, along with a number of similarly entrepreneurial youngsters, began churning out comic pages.
But the Canadian comics phenomenon would last only as long as the war (and the embargo on the superior American comics). With the inevitable collapse of Bell Features, Lazare found himself unemployed. This situation didn't dissuade him from continuing to pursue art as a career, however... in 1945 Lazare managed to secure an apprenticeship in a Toronto commercial art studio.
Lazare recalled, "During that period, several of us from the studio - all young, would-be illustrators - met weekly to analyze the work of our favourite pro - Al Dorne. We clipped and studied every example of his work we could find."
That same year, Lazare went to New York and made arrangements to meet his idol. He said, "I'll never forget my arrival at [Dorne's] studio, clutching some horrible comic strip samples - and receiving an unbelievably warm welcome."
"While we chatted, Arthur William Brown and Ben Stahl dropped in, and I nearly flipped!"
On that day Jerry Lazare heard about Dorne's plans for the Famous Artists School from Dorne himself. When the school finally launched, he became one of its first Canadian students. Lazare's friendship continued for many years afterwards - when he had himself become a successful illustrator and would make frequent trips to New York. Those trips often included visits with his friend and mentor. Lazare said that Dorne treated him like a son.
In 1953, Jerry Lazare married and took a three month tour of Europe - visiting galleries and museums.
He then settled in London, where he worked for an art studio for the rest of the year and spent his free time painting, sketching and visiting galleries.
Upon his return to Toronto, now a full-fledged professional illustrator, Lazare immersed himself in the business of illustration. He did work for all of Canada's biggest book and magazine publishers, as well as advertising clients.
Lazare also participated in organizing the Canadian Society of Illustrators. In 1995 the modern-day version of that organization, CAPIC, recognized his contribution to the field with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2007, more than 60 years after the teenage Jerry Lazare began his ambitious journey as a professional artist, he was inducted into the Canadian Cartoonists Hall of Fame by the Joe Schuster Awards committee.
Jerry Lazare continues to paint and create art to this day. His work can be seen at lazarestudio.com
* The Famous Artists School still exists to this day, albiet under new ownership. You can check out their website here.