Slam Bang Comics No. 7 cover

Slam Bang Comics No. 7 cover

There’s that significant moment in silver screen history when Judy Garland, as Dorothy, steps out of her black-and-white Kansas world, through the door of her tornado-transported farm house, into the rich, full-colour, munchkin-filled Land of OZ. This really didn’t happen in the WECA period of so-called Canadian Whites until their death throws in the final, closing months of World War II’s campaign in the Pacific. It’s important to note that the WECA “Whites” weren’t completely so, even from the beginning.

Splash page for the first Iron Man story in Better Comics No. 1

Splash page for the first Iron Man story in Better Comics No. 1

Canada’s first proper comic book, Better Comics No. 1 (March, 1941), from Maple Leaf Publications out of Vancouver, contained a full-colour feature with Canada’s first super hero, the Sub-Mariner-like, Iron Man smack in its middle. Maple Leaf continued to add a colour feature here and there for the next few months but then quickly became solely black-and-white.

Wow Comics No. 1 page 1

Wow Comics No. 1 page 1

 

Wow Comics No. 1 page 25

Wow Comics No. 1 page 25

Six months later, and in Toronto, Commercial Signs of Canada published the first issue of Wow Comics completely in colour but then gradually “bleached” by production costs defaulted to orange, blue, and black for issues 2-5, and then just orange and a dark blue for issues 6-8. By the summer of 1941 with issue 9 (one issue after changing its name to Bell Features Publications) its contents became and stayed purely black-and white. All other Bell Features titles, and all other WECA books in general had contents only in black-and-white up until the close of World War II.

Whiz Wallace blue, orange and black splash from Wow Comics No. 2

Whiz Wallace blue, orange and black splash from Wow Comics No. 2

 

Dark blue and orange scheme of Wow Comics No. 8 page 11

Dark blue and orange scheme of Wow Comics No. 8 page 11

 

Regular black-and-white of Wow Comics No. 9 page 1.

Regular black-and-white of Wow Comics No. 9 page 1.

War-time Canadian comic book publishers were a pioneering, cash-strapped lot and in the circumstances of a war-time economy that propelled them into existence hadn’t the funds or access to the technology that could consistently produce the same four-colour blasts that came out south of the border. Anglo-American Publications out of Toronto seemed to be the leanest of the lot, publishing its covers on stock that didn’t differ from the content pages and that displayed only a single colour at a time.

Cover for Freelance-Robin Hood 27

Cover for Freelance-Robin Hood 27

 

Cover for Grand Slam - Three Aces 44

Cover for Grand Slam – Three Aces 44

Crusaders splash from Grand Slam - Three Aces 44

Crusaders splash from Grand Slam – Three Aces 44

Anglo-American, though, seems to have been the first publisher to venture into full-colour production as the war ended by compressing its four original titles into two, Freelance – Robin Hood and Company No. 27 and Grand Slam – Three Aces No. 44, both which came out in July of 1945. It was able to do this because it obtained access to the newly acquired colour printing presses of The Globe and Mail newspaper.

Splash Page for Nitro story in Slam-Bang Comics No. 7

Splash Page for Nitro story in Slam-Bang Comics No. 7

Bell Features seemed to be a little later on the uptake. On page 8 of Dime Comics No. 27 (late 1945) there is a full-page announcement that includes the following: “On or about the 1st of the New Year [1946] all Bell Features Comic Books will be in full colour… The black and white Canadian comic has only a few weeks to live and then your characters will live in full colour.” An example of one of these Bell Features full-colour books is Slam-Bang No. 7 which came out in May of 1946 and featured full-colour stories of The Blue Raven (transformed from The Penguin), The Brain, Salty Lane, Polka Dot Pirate, Jeff Waring, Nitro, and Guy Powers. Even in full-colour these Canadian books (and especially those of the reprint period of 1947-53) have become notorious for the off-register quality of the colour printing.

Having been a high school teacher before my recent retirement, I found that students were particularly sensitive to avoiding the viewing of black-and-white film versions of the classics such as Wuthering Heights or The Hunchback of Notre Dame which we were studying. They protested strongly that whatever we view should, at the minimum, be in colour. The world of black-and-white carried no currency for these techno-saturated teenagers. Nothing could be farther from the truth when it comes to the cultural worth of the old black-and-white WECA books.