I called Tedd Steele one of the quirkiest of the creators of the WECA age in an earlier post . He and fellow creator Ross Saakel always seemed to exhibit a wide streak of mischief in their work. He also came up with the second superhero (after The Iron Man, and perhaps the first costumed superhero because The Iron Man’s outfit was little more than a pair of bathing trunks) in Canadian comics, preceding Freelance and Nelvana by a couple of months, with his creation of Wolf Savage .
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.”
The first to appear was a mask of his own character from Joke Comics, Private Stuff, in Commando Comics 14 and Wow Comics 24 just at the end of 1944 and the last was of Thunderfist on the inside covers of Joke 21 and Dime 21 at the end of the summer of 1945. All in all, there were 8 of these “wide heads” that ran on some Bell inside covers during the first half of 1945 and here they are:
In the summer before Hirsh and Loubert’s The Great Canadian Comics Books came out in time for Christmas, entrepreneur Tedd Steele had concocted a dieting scheme to make a little money. He seemed to involve the whole family in its development and I wonder if any of these Diet Dollars Wallets will ever turn up in collector’s hands?
The last item is from a dozen years later and represents Tedd Steele’s third place winning entry into the Toronto Star’s annual Short Story Contest. To me it looks as if Steele always wanted to be a writer and put up with illustrating because it put food on the table. I hope that the picture is big enough for you to read the great story that would have benefitted from a comic book adaption in one of the Atom Age crime books. The caption under the photo mentions a poetry book he was currently illustrating. Tedd Steele’s stories and illustrations have always been among my favourite from the WECA period.
I want to initiate a guest sub-text in this column and I invite readers to share with me their “take” on the Canadian Whites… what the WECA period means to them… just a “shortish” 250-400 words or so on how the Whites and the WECA world “hit” them. We’ll call it something like “Way of the Whites.” I’ll tap some of the contacts I have and any readers feel free to send in their musings and I’ll try to include them every other week or so. The first on deck is Waterloo’s Mel Taylor who has a solid collection of Whites, including a great copy of the 1945 Nelvana compilation book.
Way of the Whites – Mel Taylor
Growing up with comics in Canada in the 60s meant American comics. Marvel and DC led the way, with Classics Illustrated, Dell and Charlton pulling up the rear. If you mentioned Canadian comics back then, you usually meant Nipper or Doug Wright’s Family.
The comic specialty store had not yet reared its head and all of my comic purchases were taken from a spinner rack at our local drugstore or corner variety. Bags and boards? I stored my books in the bags that my Dad’s dress-shirts came in. They also had a handy cardboard backing! We didn’t even think in terms of acid-free or archival storage and many collections suffered accordingly.
All this was about to change though. In 1967, George Henderson opened Memory Lane Books on Markham Street in Toronto. Comic pilgrims responded with glee. On my first visit in the late 60s I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of materials for sale in Henderson’s store, including his own idiosyncratic publishing ventures, Captain George’s Whizzbang and Captain George’s Comic World, in which he reprinted classic strips from the turn of the last century to the present…with no regard whatsoever for copyright! While these reprinted the usual suspects from south of the border, I also caught my first glimpse of what would one day be referred to as the Canadian Whites (now, perhaps more properly, the WECA books). Too bad it didn’t make more of an impression at the time, because he also tossed the originals into a bargain box for a buck!
It wasn’t until the publication of Hirsh and Loubert’s The Great Canadian Comic Books in 1971 that I began to realize just what a rare opportunity I had missed. Here were actual Canadian comics which were the contemporaries of the likes of those early Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman comics. A year later a touring exhibiton mounted by the National Gallery of Canada, called Comic Art Traditons in Canada 1941-1946 made a stop at the University of Guelph and I was once more exposed to these rare and unusual examples of Canadian popular culture.
Not long after that my comic-collecting career was put on hold for university and…well…life. It wasn’t until 1982 that the bug struck again. We had moved to Kitchener, Ontario, home of Harry Kremer’s Now and Then Books. Once more I was initially drawn right back into the Marvel zombie mode I had lived throughout the 60s. But Harry had been in the game for quite a while at that point and had an incredible fund of invaluable knowledge about, not only Yankee funnies, but those oddball Canuck comics as well. It was through him that I began to slowly accumulate a small collection of WECA books and also began to research the period myself. It was also about this time that I realized just how very rare these books were.
With the publication of John Bell’s Canuck Comics four years later a whole new world of information was made available to the Canadian fan. By the time Bell’s follow-up book, Invaders from the North came out in 2006 the cat was out of the bag. The Canadian comics were finally coming into their own, especially with the knowledge that our smaller Canadian market assured that these books were ten times as rare as their American contemporaries.
So, where does that leave us today? With the recent reprint of the complete adventures of Nelvana of the Northern Lights (and more reprints to come), the Lost Heroes documentary, and the invaluable research of Bob MacMillan, Ivan Kocmarek and Stephen Lipson, among others, the lost history of these quintessentially Canadian publications is being restored and expanded for future generations to enjoy. The future has never looked brighter.