Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Artists of the Canadian Whites: Avrom Yanovsky (1911-1979)

During WWII, with American comics unavailable due to a wartime embargo on "non-essential mail", homegrown Canadian comic books flourished. Guest author, Ivan Kocmarek takes a look at one of the artists who drew those comics...

Avrom Yanovsky was born in Krivoy Rog, in the southern Ukraine in 1911 and two years later his family emigrated to Winnipeg.


His parents were political activists and were involved in the Winnipeg general strike of 1919. During the twenties he began drawing cartoons for various labour union newspapers and in 1928 studied at The Winnipeg School of Art with LeMoine FitzGerald. In 1930 he moved to Toronto and in 1933 studied at the Ontario College of Art under Yvonne McKague HOusser, John Alfsen and Rowley Murphy. In 1938 he won a scholarship to study at the American Artists’ School in New York. Throughout his life he was a political activist, a unionist, and a communist.
In the late summer of 1945, after the war was over, Avrom Yanovsky began drawing stories for Bell Features Publications. His main creation was Major Domo and Jo-Jo in Joke Comics No. 21.


The singularity of Yanovsky’s creation is that Major Domo is an armless war veteran who now serves and an undercover agent for the “United Nations Investigation Bureau” with his pint-sized assistant (a former underground leader in occupied Europe).




Sometimes he signed these stories with the pen name “Armand” rather than his usual pen name “Avrom.” He also created a private detective named Hugh Dunnit that appeared in Dime Comics No. 26...


... and the Mr. Distracted Attorney in the last few issues of Commando Comics.


His style was angular and animated, untypical of main comic book fare and exceedingly effective.


During and after his comic book work, Yanovsky continued to teach, offer “chalk talks” at summer camps, and draw editorial cartoons for papers such as The Worker. He became editorial cartoonist for The Clarion and then The Canadian Tribune.






He also worked on murals, his most famous being the Norman Bethune mural (19ft. X 7 ft.) for the Norman Bethune-Tim Buck Educational Centre on Cecil St. in Toronto that was completed in 1965.


Yanovsky had been deeply moved by the murals of Rivera, Siqueiros and especially Clemente Orozco and had studied with American muralist Anton Refregier.

He also did illustrations for political plays such as Eight Men Speak which was originally banned in Canada.


Lucy Kaplansky chose one of Avrom Yanovsky’s painting for the cover of her Reunion CD released in September, 2012. It’s a painting of Lucy Kaplansky’s grandmother’s bakery in Toronto.

(Yanovsky worked at the bakery and painted himself into the bottom left-hand corner).

Avrom Yanovsky was also the father of perhaps a more famous son called Zal Yanovsky of the Lovin’ Spoonful and Kingston’s Chez Piggy restaurant.


Avrom Yanovsky died early in 1979 in Toronto.

* Ivan Kocmarek will be participating in A Canadian Comics Panel discussion being held at the Niagara Falls Comic Con this Saturday, June 8, 2013 from 12:00 noon until 1:00 PM in room 205 at the Niagara Falls Scotiabank Convention Centre. Topics will include “The History of Canadian Comics” and “What Makes a Comic "Canadian?” as well as "Where Canadian Comics are Today." The panel will also feature Hope Nicholson – Associate Producer of the upcoming Canadian Comics documentary Lost Heroes, Richard Comely – creator of Captain Canuck, and Kevin Boyd – Joe Shuster Award committee member and owner of Toronto’s Comic Book Lounge. This is a knowledgeable and lively group and they look forward to seeing you at the panel!


  1. One of my favourite artists from this fascinating period in Canadian comics. Thanks for posting this! I posted a few 1930s Avrom cartoons in an overview of lefty comics at Sequential.

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