WECA comics collage

WECA comics collage

The use of this term “WECA period” or “WECA books” is probably unfamiliar to a lot of you. I use these terms to more accurately describe the First Age of Canadian Comics—those books more commonly and affectionately referred to as the “Canadian Whites.”

“WECA” is an acronym for the War Exchange Conservation Act brought into being by the parliament of Canada on Dec. 6, 1940 prohibiting the importation of “non-essential” materials into the country including magazines and comics from the U.S. This produced a comic vacuum in our country and before March (though the cover dates were indeed March, we well know that comics physically appear on newsstands at least a month ahead of their cover dates) of the next year a few enterprising young men in Toronto and Vancouver had Better Comics No. 1 and Robin Hood Comics No. 1 in the hands of eager kids across the land.

As long as the war was on, American comics couldn’t find their way into Canada legally and this First Age of Canadian Comics flourished, producing two more central publishing companies, Bell Features out of Toronto and Educational Projects out of Montreal, along with a few smaller ones that appeared in 1945-46. Roughly 30 or so titles were produced and probably just over 700 separate books were issued (I believe this is what the online database we are working on will show).

The War Exchange Conservation Act was repealed in stages after the war and, in spite of the wonderfully “garish” American quickly returning to our newsstands, our First Age Canadian Comics kept on being produced in a waning, swan song of an effort right up to the start of 1947. At the same time in this dénouement morphed into a reprint industry that remained solid right up almost to the time of the Comics Code.

Robin Hood Comics No. 6

Robin Hood Comics No. 6

 

Better Comics No. 1

Better Comics No. 1

The period I want to describe as the “WECA” period and its comics as “WECA” books is that period 1941-46, from the time of Robin Hood Comics No. 1 (this is a bit of a crazy book because it was tabloid size, much like a Newspaper Sunday Comics  supplement without a real cover and, up till now, not a single copy has surfaced) and Better Comics No. 1 to the last Anglo-American books, Freelance Comics 35, Grand Slam Comics 56, and Robin Hood Comics all bi-monthlies and dated in their indicia as December 1946 to January 1947. The other Anglo-American book, Three Aces Comics has indicia showing November to December 1946. In this way, the run of Anglo-American Robin Hood Comics, as the only title to be continuous from the start to the end of this period, represents best the length and breadth of this First Age of Canadian Comics.

Robin Hood Comics No. 34

Robin Hood Comics No. 34

 

Grand Slam Comics No. 56

Grand Slam Comics No. 56

 

Freelance Comics No. 35

Freelance Comics No. 35

So even though the War Exchange Conservation Act was likely de-toothed by the end of 1945, there was a relative and understandable inertia to the titles that were around in early 1946 that carried them through for another year until, in the face of the insurmountable onslaught of the returning American books, the Canadian Industry, in its existing form, became unsustainable and morphed into essentially a repack and reprint industry by 1947.

Because the War Exchange Conservation Act started the ball rolling for a truly Canadian comic industry and because the repeal of that act sounded the eventual death knell for that same industry, I feel that this First Age of Canadian Comics is most accurately called the WECA period and the comics it produced best called WECA books. For example, I would consider the 1946 Gilberton Classics Comics to be WECA books, even though they are little more than 15 cent price variant reprints. The only criteria for being included in the WECA group is that a comic be printed in Canada (including books for export to the UK) during this period of March, 1941 to the end of 1946 (a few copies of the later Anglo-American books such as Robin Hood Comics 32 were printed using American presses in Ohio in addition to the original copies printed in Toronto — for me these are American reprints of WECA books.) .

I welcome suggestions, refinements and comments on this WECA terminology.