50 Years Ago…

It was 50 years ago this week that the earliest article I know of on Canadian WECA comics appeared in the Sept. 19, 1964 issue of Maclean’s Magazine. It was written by Alexander (“Sandy”) Cameron Ross as part of a series called “A Maclean’s Flashback” and its title was “A Fond Portrait of those Wild Wartime Comics.” Ross was perhaps best known for founding Canadian Business magazine in 1977 and posthumously has had a national award ‘The Alexander Ross Award for Best New Writer’ given out by the National Magazines Awards Foundation.

John Bell

  John Bell is probably best known to you for his published work on Canadian comics. He was kind enough to take the time to answer a number of questions I sent him with a view to publishing his responses in this column and I include the questions and his responses below. IK: Comic-book...

WECA Price Guide

Now that the latest Overstreet Price Guide has included an article on the Canadian war-time comic books and now that the books themselves are beginning to realize handsome price ranges, is it time to put together a Canadian WECA Price Guide, or Canadian Golden Age Price Guide, or Canadian...

Collecting

As a collector of various things for more than 50 years and, specifically, as a collector of Canadian war-time comics for the last two years or so, I have had pause to step outside myself and take an up high and a little to the side look at myself and this activity, pastime, or, some (specifically wives) would say, a kind of pathology, that has echoed in us down through history. With Fan Expo looming, in this column I want to examine what has put the wind in my collecting sails over this past half century and hope that it makes some sense at one point or another.

Harry Brunt

Harry Joseph Brunt was born on Nov. 22, 1918 in Chicago but his family seems to have settled in the Toronto-Hamilton area a few years after he was born. Brunt started to work for Bell features as one of its artists while he was in his mid-twenties around the Christmas season of 1943. The nature of his contribution to these comics consisted of two or three page featurettes that were cartoony and goofy and invariably had an alliterative name.

Slam-Bang 7

This week I want to talk about a significant comic from the late WECA period, Slam-Bang Comics No. 7, with a cover date of May, 1946. (Jim Finlay informs me that his indicia for this issue has the date July, 1946 pencilled in, maybe with the May date whited out? Anybody else have a copy they could check?) It took the cover banner from Fawcett’s short live run of a same titled series of 7 issues from 1940, but why it began in Canada with an initial number 7 is still a mystery. Perhaps it was some sort of nod or licensing response to the Fawcett run, but who knows?

Saakel’s Satire

The Whites were not only about the cliffhanger dramatics of superheroes, spies, and soldiers taking on the Axis. Satirical strips like Steele’s Private Stuff and Saakel’s Spike and Mike, both in Joke Comics, were just plain tongue-in-cheek fun.

TAS: Masks, Calories, and Beavers

In late 1944, Steele seemed to have come up with the idea of doing cut-out masks of a few of the lead Bell characters on the inside covers of some of the Bell Features books. We modern collectors look back somewhat aghast on this because, just like Bell’s placement of cut-out coupons in similar locations, it must have led to wanton disfigurement of many of these books, but such were the ways of the world back then towards something that was seen as ultimately disposable and easily remaindered. Steele signed these “fathead” portraits with his shortened monogram “TAS.”

Canada’s Own Comics: a WECA database

Today is the launch day of our modest attempt to set up an online database of Canadian comic books from the WECA period (1941-46), better known to collectors as The Canadian Whites, at canadasowncomics.com. We were approached early on in our project to avoid the difficulty of creating an online index of these comics from scratch and simply upload our information to the Grand Comics Database. However, we felt it of utmost importance that the first real indexing of these comics be based in Canada. I’m sure that the information we put up there (and remember that this is the first real setting down of comprehensive data about a unique, rare, and arcane set of comic books) will often have holes and need amendment and tweaking, but this first effort is important. I’m sure that a lot of our information will be mined by sites such as the Grand Comics Database, I just hope that whoever ends up using our findings as published material will link back to our site or, at least, credit their find appropriately.

FECA

For this column I’ve chosen to step outside of my normal mandate and talk a little about that period that came after the WECA Period (Robin Hood Comics Vol. 1 No. 1 and Better Comics Vol. 1 No. 1 in March, 1941 to Robin Hood Comics Vol. 3 No. 34 Dec. 1946-Jan. 1947). After the end of...

Dates and Places

  I’m up at the archives again, flipping original Bell Features art pages and have just had time to put together a patchwork column this week. First of all, I’d like to share with you some dates and geography. My amateur research into the backgrounds of the creators behind the Canadian...

Nelvana

Because it’s Canada Day week I want to do a bit of a more involved special column about the figurehead of the Canadian Whites this time–Nelvana. This mini-skirted, semi-mortal, maid of the Arctic skies has firmly become the totem (the chosen emblem) of the Canadian war-time comics.

Jodhpur Jockeys

The WECA period had its share of capes, masks, and tights, but the most common heroic habit for the super-styled Canadian crime-fighter of the period was far more reserved fashion statement. This was the simple combination of jodhpurs and riding boots with a variety of top halfs.

Name-It Comics

By the time Name-It Comics came out, Maple Leaf’s first title, and Canada’s first comic book, Better Comics had already had eight issues out and its second title, Lucky Comics (at that time known as “Union Jack – Lucky Comics”) had had half that. The other title that came out concurrently with Name-It Comics was Bing Bang Comics with its lead and cover feature being the adolescent, Denis the Menace type of trouble maker, Pinky.

Bus Griffiths

  On the front cover of Canada’s first comic book, Better Comics No. 1 (March, 1941), Vancouver’s Maple Leaf Publications chooses a stylized maple leaf containing the words “Canada’s Own” to be its logo. These words broadcast the mission mandate through which Vernon Miller created his...

Clayton Dexter

Few people know, however, that Clayton Dexter is a pseudonym for Howard Buchanan Cowan; thanks to Howard’s son Glen for this information and other biographical details. He was born in 1918 in Toronto to a well-known Dentist Father, William A. Cowan, who practiced on Bloor Street. Howard received some art training at Humberside College and after graduating in 1939 wanted to pursue further art studies but received no support from his father who seemed not to see much of a future in this and ideally wanted his son to become a dentist.

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.

Bell Cover Stars

For this post let’s stick to the Bell heroes as they appeared on the cover of six of the seven titles; we’ve got to make an exception of The Funny Comics because it featured one central character, Dizzy Don, who got every cover appearance for the 20 issue run with Bell. Also, the first 13 issues of Commando Comics feature generic soldier covers as one would expect and there are a couple of more generic soldier covers in the runs of the other titles (e.g., Dime 18 and 19, Wow 21). So let’s just look at the covers for the runs of Wow, Triumph, Dime, Active, and Joke Comics and see which characters are most featured on their covers.

Tremblay meets Lazare

This makes me think that the only way to get a group of truly Canadian superheroes again is to follow that first and tested pattern: ban all foreign comics from entering the country, then we’d have a captive audience and a bunch of publishers dedicated to producing a set of characters and books for these Canadian readers that could really stand out as something different.

Mash-up

Sometimes people doing the kind of thing I am doing for this column get called “comic book historians.” I don’t like the term. The word “historian” has academic connotations and presuppositions and the sense of being an authority that I don’t wish to take on as a mantle. People who do “history” bring to bear a number of disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, ethnology, economic theory, religion, etc., on a particular event or series of events to offer their “take” on them. They then propose an explanation for how these events came to be and/or what resulted from these events. This is definitely not what I am doing. Besides how can comic books even have a “history” yet? They are not even a hundred years old.

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