Ross Saakel was a friendly rival to Ted Steele in terms of putting out comic book examples of satirical wit. Both had a wide streak of mischief running through most of their work. True Steele had his stalwart Speed Savage and Saakel his Big Red Cheese clone, Captain Wonder, both characters beginning in the first Bell issue of Triumph Comics (these two characters actually met in one of the few WECA era crossovers in Triumph Comics 18. Ted Steel drew Saakel, as well as fellow artist Leo Bachle, into a couple of his stories (the Private Stuff story in Joke Comics 16 and the Panthers story arc in Active Comics 19-21).
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.
Among the best of these were Saakel’s parodies. Both were of good friend Leo Bachle’s characters. The Noodle, who first appeared in Active Comics 7, parodied Bachle’s The Brain who appeared in the same title and Mild Will, who seems to have had only four appearances, the first in Active Comics 8 and then the last three in Dime Comics 12-14. Mild Will parodied Bachle’s Western “Wild Bill” strip whose vehicle was Dime Comics.
The Noodle was a pint-sized, diapered, toddler version of The Brain who always seemed to handle tricky situations with wit and aplomb. He sort of reminds me of a forties Herbie (The Fat Fury). He appeared in just over a dozen issues of Active Comics (7, 9, 10, 12,13, 16, 17, 19-21, 23-4, 26-7). He fought and vanquished characters such as Count Hackula of Brooklyn and a Frankenstein-like creature called Red Skeleton (Red Skull parody? Or more likely a parody of The Brain’s foe The Scarlet Zombie in Active Comics 9). The Noodle’s alter ego was called Jordan Chimes, a parody of the Brain’s secret identity which was Gordon Bell. The Noodle’s powers seem to be the ability to fly and some super strength but none of the psychic mind power of Bachle’s mustachioed hero.
His first adventure in Active Comics 7 provides a couple of the most interesting pages because offers small parodies of a number of Bell heroes at The Noodle’s love interest Henrietta’s costume party.
On this page you’ll see Henrietta as Nelvana and a Wild Bill, Saakel’s own Captain Wonder, Thunderfist, Corporal Dixon, and Dart Daring. It’s great to jump around in Saakel’s head.
In his very first adventure in Active Comics 8, Mild Will gets into a sticky situation with an Indian Chief and is facing being burned at the stake and who should come to his rescue but our favourite black-cowled dynamite tyke. After this, Mild Will leaves Active Comics and starts up again in Dime Comics 12 doing some bullfighting and continues through to Dime Comics 14, his last appearance.
It’s sad that some of these lighter, non-dramatic strips and characters will probably never get the benefit of a compilation reprint. There were so many good ones from almost all the comic publishing houses of the era.
The news item of the day is that there are two new Canadian Whites reprint projects on the immediate horizon, each one being initiated by a familiar face. Rachel Richey, who has obtained copyright permission to reprint Bell Features comic books, has chosen to compile and reprint the collected adventures of Johnny Canuck in Dime Comics (see Johnny Canuck Kickstarter), Hope Nicholson has chosen to reprint the collected adventures of Brok Windsor from the last half of the run of Better Comics see Brok Windsor Kickstarter).
I think that Rachel has a bit of the easier task here with 28 Dime Comics stories that are well-documented and readily accessible. Hope, though she has roughly half that number of stories to account for all of Brok’s appearances, there is a gap period that runs from April-July of 1946 where we haven’t yet established how many issues of Better comics and, therefore, how many Brok Windsor stories, were in fact published. There will be a lot of detective work ahead for her, but even if the volume must be realized without resolving this gap, I don’t think it will suffer. These will be two great books.
What I think that the girls have done that is a tremendous improvement over the Nelvana reprint is that they have enlisted the help of the best available authorities with respect to each character and creator. Rachel has tapped the shoulder of Robert Pincombe who has always been the go to guy on Leo Bachle/Les Barker and I’m sure he will add a great piece of informative text to the volume with all the creative flair he is known for. Similarly, Hope has asked aboard Peter Hansen, who is the leading expert on Maple Leaf Publications and John Stables as well as getting the support of one of John Stables’ sons, Jon Stables. I for one am eager to read what Peter has to share about John Stables and his creation Brok Windsor.
We’re all headed towards the 75th anniversary of the first Canadian comic book, Better Comics No. 1, in March of 2016 and this is the kind of building up that we need to keep going right up to and through that time to a special event we still need to dream up.