Joseph Hillenbrand

I’ve already discussed the work of Sid Barron, one of Educational Projects main artists, elsewhere and in this post I’d like to look at another, Joseph Hillenbrand, even though there is little information available about him apart from the comic book work he left behind.
Canadian Heroes Vol. 1 No. 1, the first Educational Projects comic
Canadian Heroes Vol. 1 No. 1, the first Educational Projects comic.

Educational Projects in Montreal seems generally to be regarded as a poor cousin to Maple Leaf Publications in Vancouver and Bell Features in Toronto and even to Anglo-American Publications (also based in Toronto) which themselves perpetually seems to sit third behind those top two when it comes to collectiblility. This probably stems from the “dry” mandate that the Quebec company had to present historic and educational content for its readers.

Back cover of Famous Adventure Stories No. 1 stating the Canadian Heroes content mandate.
Back cover of Famous Adventure Stories No. 1 stating the Canadian Heroes content mandate.

The other companies had the full fictional, “adventureland,” spectrum of superheroes, cowboys, explorers, spacemen, and pirates, Educational Projects comics wouldn’t have been out of place in the classrooms of the day.

I’ve already discussed the work of Sid Barron, one of Educational Projects main artists, elsewhere and in this post I’d like to look at another, Joseph Hillenbrand, even though there is little information available about him apart from the comic book work he left behind.

Joseph Francis Hillenbrand was born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1910 (about five years ahead of that other really famous Francis from the same city) to Joseph Francis senior, a manager of a printing office, and his wife Edna who were both from New York City. It seems that in the 1920s, Joseph senior established a branch office of ‘Autographic Register Systems Limited’ in St. Henri, a suburb of Montreal  and, in October of 1925 Joseph Jr. (now 15) and his mother moved from Jersey City (where the family lived at the time) and settled in the Westmount area with Joseph Sr.

Following his aptitude and interest in art, Joseph Jr. attended l’École des Beaux Arts de Montréal which had just been founded a couple of years before his arrival in the city. The late Kate McGarrigle (mother of Martha and Rufus Wainwright) was a graduate of “EBAM” as well. Here’s Hillenbrand at the bottom centre of the graduation announcement as it appeared in La Presse on Feb. 7, 1936.

Graduation announcement from La Presse on Friday, Feb. 7, 1936
Graduation announcement from La Presse on Friday, Feb. 7, 1936.

A half-a-dozen years later he was working for the newly founded Educational Projects Inc. which started publishing its war time comic Canadian Heroes in the fall of 1942. This publisher also put out a single issue of a title called Famous Heroes for the holiday season of that same year and a series of colouring books.

The first page of the Famous Adventure Stories one shot.
The first page of the Famous Adventure Stories one shot.

 

The paintbook version of the Three Muskateers.
The paintbook version of the Three Muskateers.

 

Centerspread from Canadian Heroes Vol. 3 No. 4 advertising the paint books.
Centerspread from Canadian Heroes Vol. 3 No. 4 advertising the paint books.

Strangely enough Educational Projects also appeared to be involved in the distribution of American Classics Comics in Canada and included copies of them as bonuses in their subscription offers.

This appeared on the inside back cover of Canadian Heroes Vol. 2 No. 2
This appeared on the inside back cover of Canadian Heroes Vol. 2 No. 2.
The back cover of Canadian Heroes Vol. 4 No. 3 with the Classics Comic giveaway.
The back cover of Canadian Heroes Vol. 4 No. 3 with the Classics Comic giveaway.

Though almost all American comics were banned during the WECA period, those deemed to have educational value (such as Classics Comics and True Comics) seemed to have been let in. Canadian Heroes and the single issue of Famous Heroes, emulated this concern for educational value in comics.

Hillenbrand worked on illustrating encapsulated biographies of famous Canadians or Canada related personages.

Biography splash from Canadian Heroes Vol. 2 No. 2
Biography splash from Canadian Heroes Vol. 2 No. 2.

 

 

The first splash from Canadian Heroes Vol. 2 No. 5
The first splash from Canadian Heroes Vol. 2 No. 5.

 

Historical piece by Hillenbrand from Canadian Heroes Vol. 1 No. 6
Historical piece by Hillenbrand from Canadian Heroes Vol. 1 No. 6.

He also illustrated and installment “History of Canada” series which was probably written by Harry Halperin who was the chief editor for Educational Projects and who wrote a good number of the features for Canadian Heroes and who appears to have often signed these features as “The Author.” The “History of Canada” series was originally drawn by an artist signing as Pietropaolo and was eventually taken over by and identified with Hillenbrand.

Pietropaolo's History of Canada installment 5 from Canadian Heroes Vol. 2 No. 2
Pietropaolo’s History of Canada installment 5 from Canadian Heroes Vol. 2 No. 2.

 

Hillenbrand's History of Canada installment 10 in Canadian Heroes Vol. 3 No. 1
Hillenbrand’s History of Canada installment 10 in Canadian Heroes Vol. 3 No. 1.

Early in 1944 Hillenbrand started a feature called “World of Tomorrow.” He both wrote and drew this futuristic look at the things that might exist decades from the time of the Second World War. This included flying cars, foods of the future, mobile phones, and even a colour television, imagine that, for example. Sometimes ideas were sent in by the readers and Hillenbrand drew them up.

From Canadian Heroes Vol. 3 No. 3
From Canadian Heroes Vol. 3 No. 3.

The first couple of installments were just a straight presentation of concepts and ideas but in Canadian Heroes Vol. 3 No. 3, Hillenbrand introduced a futuristically fitted female figure he called “Tomi” to act as moderator and guide through his presentation of inventions to come.

 

The first appearance of Tomi in Canadian Heroes Vol. 3 No. 4
The first appearance of Tomi in Canadian Heroes Vol. 3 No. 4.

 

From Canadian Heroes Vol. 3 No. 5
From Canadian Heroes Vol. 3 No. 5.

 

From Canadian Heroes Vol. 4 No. 4
From Canadian Heroes Vol. 4 No. 4.

This “World of Tomorrow” feature, along with the fictional hero concession called “Canada Jack” by George M. Rae, was a calculated move away from the staid historical and biographical mandate of the publisher, probably in a hope to win over some of the readership that was reveling in the fictional heroics presented in the books of the three other main Canadian comic book publishers at the time. It’s still interesting to see what the war decade thought would happen in the future.

Early in the Fall of 1945, the last issue of Canadian Heroes, Vol. 5, No. 6, the 30th issue of the title (published bi-monthly with six issues in each Volume) cover dated October, 1945 was on the stands. Educational Projects was the last of the big four WECA publishers to appear and the first to bow out.

Hillenbrand's business card.
Hillenbrand’s business card.

 

The wedding invitation to Joseph Hillenbrand's wedding in 1953.
The invitation to Joseph Hillenbrand’s wedding in 1953.

 

Joseph Hillenbrand seemed to continue to do commercial art and began to do portrait painting after this. He married Helen Stewart in Montreal in 1953 and had two sons: Ross in 1955 and Eric in 1959. Joseph Hillenbrand died in May of 1966 at the relatively young age of 56 from a heart attack after a history of heart problems.

Thanks to Ross Hillenbrand for his assistance.

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Ivan Kocmarek
Grew up in Hamilton's North End. Comic collector for over 50 yrs. Recent interest in Canadian WECA era comics.
Articles: 171

9 Comments

  1. Even if the Educational Projects comics were not the most popular with the kids I think they fulfilled their mandate to be educational. History and fact isn’t always as enjoyable than fantasy and fiction but they did their best to make it.

    For those who might not think of them as collectible need only look at what Mark Haspel got for his copy of Canadian Heroes V2_5 on Comiclink last night.

    A definite eye-popper. Someone thinks otherwise.

  2. Wow. Jim, $1225 US for a 9.0 of Canadian Heroes Vol. 2 No. 5 with a Canada Jack cover. We’re still on this ride into outer space with these WECA books. But I think a 9.0 Bell Features or Maple Leaf Book from the same year would place that in proper perspective.

  3. And to think a giant cardboard box of these gems were discarded when we moved in 1970! OMG! I still have a couple! Thanks Ivan for making the minor corrections!

    Ross Hillenbrand

  4. Ivan. Even if you knew that information you know that Stephen and Walt would be there the day before you got there.
    I think Ross’s phone is ringing right now.

  5. This is a wonderful “hobby,” isn’t it, Jim. I think that it might even make a great reality TV show along the lines of “Comic Book Men.” We could call it “Whites Men,” an engrossing quest for the colourless in the Great White North. We could all win Emmys and Geminis and get to hang out with the Pawn Stars and Snooki, and the Storage Wars people.

  6. The front lawn, so the trash collectors could pick it up…. In hindsight – dumb!

  7. Ross Hillenbrand has asked me to add the fact that Joseph Hillenbrand also served as a Professor of Fine Arts at Sir George Williams University, Montreal (now Concordia University) from c: 1950 – 1961 or 2. Thanks Ross.

  8. Have recently found 4 issues, along with a letter to the then Minister of National War Services, signed by H. J. Halperrin. I trust you might be able to direct these issues to their proper resting place. My father-in-law, William Edward Durant Haliday was an avid collector of many historical items. Can you help me?

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