Cartoonist of the Canadian Whites

The Toronto Star reports today on the death of Michael Riley two weekends ago. Riley created and drew Terena of the Jungle for an unnamed Canadian publisher sometime in the 1940s. (The strip is so obscure that when I was contacted by the Star for info I could find no reference anywhere, not in my admittedly tiny collection of 1940s black & White comics, not even in John Bell’s generally informative essay in Canuck Comics, which mentions many many 1940s cartoonists. If anyone has any more info about Terena of the Jungle, please let me know.)

As ad-man for most of his life, Riley also seems to have contributed to the look of Canadian post-war popular culture, creating graphics for many long-gone Canuck products.

I’m posting the bulk of the obit here because it may be the best information published on this creator:

Michael Riley, 81: Comic book artist
Helped to create this country’s superheroes

After WWII, designed graphics, logos for products
Aug. 29, 2006. 01:00 AM

Terena of the Jungle was a knife-wielding woman in a stylish polka-dot bodysuit whose tales of action and adventure delighted Canadian comic readers during World War II.

She also provided girls with a positive role model, something uncommon in an era of damsels in distress.

The character was created by Michael Riley, who was among a group who wrote and illustrated the first Canadian comic books, known as the “Canadian Whites.”

Riley, known as “Bud” to his close friends, died Aug. 19 at the age of 81.

“The beautiful, daring Terena, gallant queen of the jungle…. She sees a lone explorer in her kingdom about to be a victim of a blood-crazed headhunter and without hesitating, goes to his aid,” his son Craig, 50, chuckled as he read an original template of the comic book.

Riley’s name will likely never be mentioned in any art-history class, but he was an important part of this country’s comic-book history.

To stabilize the Canadian dollar, the federal government labelled American comic books a non-essential good and banned them in 1940. The move inadvertently led to the golden age of the Canadian comic book, as publishers and artists like Riley seized the opportunity to create this country’s own superheroes. The group included painter Harold Town and Leo Bachle, creator of Johnny Canuck.

The Canadian Whites got their name because they were printed on white paper with black ink, since coloured ink was rationed.

The golden age of Canadian comics ended in 1946, when the end of the war brought a resumption in the distribution of American periodicals.

Peter Birkemoe, owner of the Beguiling comic book store in Toronto, said that during the war, many artists like Riley realized the commercial potential of their comics.

“These were businesses, this wasn’t an art collective or art-driven,” he said.

But he noted that the comics still remain icons in the comic book industry.

Craig Riley said his father was always an artist at heart and devoted 30 years to designing logos and graphics for popular products, including Mad Hatter chips and Canada Dry Viva Orange drinks, until his retirement in the early 1980s.

“He was an artist. That’s what he did all his life. He became a commercial artist and then a graphic designer. But the important thing is that he freehanded everything,” he said.

He described his father as a quiet, unassuming and considerate man, who lied about his age to enlist early in the air force because it was “the thing to do.”

Riley, who was married to his wife Evelyn for almost 57 years until she died in 2004, never got over the death of his “life’s dancing partner,” his son said.

“Their marriage was fantastic. They really complemented each other and they loved to dance. More than 50 years later, he still stepped on her toes.”

Long-time Scarborough residents, the two used to dance at Balmy Beach when they were younger. They met during the war at a Legion dance.

Riley leaves two sons and four grandchildren. – Michael Riley, 81: Comic book artist