Canadian Comics Corner

Early Saturday at this year's Niagara Con
Early Saturday at this year’s Niagara Con.

After last Saturday at Niagara Con, which seems to have found a more than viable venue in our Southern Ontario tourist hub and appears to draw more visitors each year, a bunch of us went back to the new Big B Comics store on Lundy’s Lane for the launch of Walter Durajlija’s new Canadian Comics Corner.

These days, younger collectors are surprised to learn that the creators of some of their favourite comics and graphic novels are, in fact, Canadian. Take a look at each year’s Eisner Award winners and more than a handful of them will probably be Canadian. But generally fans and ironically Canadian fans don’t really know about them as Canadian or about the way that Canadian comics started and the way in which our Canadian comics industry has subsequently evolved. We need to trumpet our own horn more often and more loudly.

Walt has devoted one section of his store to a concentrated display of items from the history of Canadian Comics. This, as far as I know, is the first time this has been done. In effect, it’s a mini-Canadian Comics Museum located in the tourist Mecca of Niagara Falls alongside the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum and The Guinness World Records Museum and not too far away from Clifton Hill. Tourists entering the shop can learn a little about Canadian comics and maybe take away and issue of Captain Canuck or a copy of the new Brok Windsor or Johnny Canuck books. But as I’ve already indicated, it’s also a place where we Canadians can learn about our own comic book heritage and how we’ve gotten where we are today.

The centrepiece of the display is a showcase of Canadian war time comics (WECA books or, more affectionately, The Canadian Whites). These are the books that this column has always been about. You rarely get to see these originals first hand, even at cons, but here they are, a baker’s dozen of them on four shelves. Here’s a picture I took of this treasure trove unit:

The WECA ("Canadian Whites") display case
The WECA (“Canadian Whites”) display case.

You can see Canada’s first comic, Better Comics No. 1 (slabbed at 7.0, the best of the 4 or 5 known copies—this is Canada’s Action Comics No. 1) in the left hand corner of the top shelf with a copy of Dime Comics No. 1 flanking the write-up on this period. The next shelf a copy of Dime Comics No. 24 opened to the Nitro splash so that observers can actually see the insides of one of these “Canadian Whites” first hand. This opened copy is flanked on the left by a copy of Canadian Heroes Vol. 2 No. 5 which boasts the second Canada Jack cover and on the right by Freelance No.34, the second last issue in the run from late 1946.

The third shelf down starts with Triumph Comics No. 21 with its great Nelvana as her new alter ego, Alana North, cover then shifts over to three big first issues, Active Comics No. 1, Canadian Heroes Comics No. 1 and the impossible to find Lucky Comics No. 1. Finally on the bottom shelf, we have the important first book in the Bell Features line, Wow Comics No. 1, Dime Comics No. 10 with a great Rex Baxter cover, an Anglo-American Spy Smasher (Vol. 2 No. 9) with its “Colossus of Japan” cover, and a Canadian Heroes Vol. 3 No. 1 from late 1943. Where else in the world can you see this treasure trove of relatively undiscovered and under-appreciated Canadian cultural history? Not even the Library and Archives of Canada in Ottawa can offer up such a broad spectrum of all the major WECA publishers and its collection of the Bell books is far less accessible to the general public.

Granted all these high octane No. 1s were graciously put on exhibit from Walt’s own collection for the launch of this wonderful enterprise and may not be the actual ones on display when you make it down there, which is definitely worth the trip, but there will be over a dozen original WECA comics in that display case for you to see. Take the trip to Niagara if you can because you won’t see a collection of books like this on general display anywhere else.

Another highlight for me was the fact that James Waley, the main force behind the early seventies Canadian comics anthology magazine Orb, came in from Toronto for the launch and it was just earlier announced at Niagara Con that James was one of this year’s winners of a Joe Shuster Hall of Fame award. James was also the man behind many of Toronto’s earliest Comic Cons in the the late eighties and early nineties. Just having the chance to speak with James about these early years in Canadian comic fandom was a treat, but James brought along with him a surprise that he was donating to Walt’s Canadian Comic Corner display—the original artwork drawn by Gene Day and painted by Peter Hsu for the cover of Orb No 5. This is a glorious piece featuring Ken Steacy’s high-tech Samurai character called “The Electirc Warrior” (nod to Marc Bolan) and it comes across as way brighter and more forceful than the published cover. Soon to be framed and properly displayed it now hangs in a prominent place of the new mini-museum.

Gene Day original painting for Orb No. 3
Gene Day original painting for Orb No. 5.
Orb No. 3 cover.
Orb No. 5 cover.

The display case next to the WECA display case featured a great collection of rare and original Captain Canuck items donated by Richard Comely who has supplied careful written comments on each item. Included in the case are a couple of original art pieces for a short-lived Captain Canuck newspaper daily, an original for an ad for Captain Canuck vitamins, and a mock up for a Captain Canuck “Super TV Guide” and a great many other Captain Canuck rare goodies spread over four shelves.

The WECA display case and the Captain Canuck display case together
The WECA display case and the Captain Canuck display case together.

The display cases and original Orb cover painting are flanked by more original Canadian comic art and, close to the entrance of the store on one side, a multi-shelf display of graphic novels by Canadian creators and, on the far wall, more original art, take away Captain Canuck mugs and a shelf display of the three recent Canadian Whites reprint books, Nelvana (edited by Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey), Brok Windsor edited by Hope Nicholson, and the hot off the presses Johnny Canuck edited by Rachel Richey.

Short display case from front with Walt in background.
Short display case from front with Walt in background.
short display case from opposite angle with James Waley in background.
Short display case from opposite angle with James Waley in background.

On the floor in front of the WECA and Captain Canuck display cases are two shorter, three shelf, column display cases. Though I can’t remember much about the far one, the one in front of the WECA display case contains copies of Loubert and Hirsh’s The Great Canadian Comic Books from 1971 (Loubert and Hirsch were announced as winners of the T. M. Maple Shuster’s award for this year; see a contemporary review by Derek Carter here) and John Bell’s Canuck Comics from 1986 on its bottom shelf. The middle shelf contains copies of two Kitchener fanzines from the seventies, Harry Kremer’s store fanzine Now and then Times which was edited by Dave Sim and a copy of the great John Balgé and Dave Sim Comic Art News and Reviews (CANAR) fanzine No. 30 with a Captain Canuck cover.

Cover for CANAR No. 30
Cover for CANAR No. 30.

The top shelf has a copy of Captain Alcohol No. 2, part of a public service series put out by the government of the North West Territories in 1973 to contribute to fighting the problem of native alcohol abuse. On the same shelf is a copy of Orb Magazine No. 3 with the second Northern Light cover—featuring a red-and-white hero who predates Captain Canuck and a copy of New Triumph Comics No.1 from 1984 which features Mark Shainblum and Gabrialle Morissette’s red-and-white hero Northguard. However, one of the most significant items for me in this showcase is Vince Marchesano’s second issue of his Canada’s Best Fanzine done in 1968 when Vince was still attending Westmount high school in Hamilton. This is an excellent example of what was probably the only real new comic book hero work going in Canada during the sixties.

Vince Marchesano with his fanzine from 1968
Vince Marchesano with his fanzine from 1968.
Hope Nicholson at the event with Richard Comely in the background.
Hope Nicholson at the event with Richard Comely in the background.

Among the people in attendance were: Richard Comely, James Waley, Kevin Boyd, Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, Vince Marchesano, Jason Loo (Pitiful Human Lizard), Stephen Lipson, and Anthony Falcone. The team from Comix Asylum were also there to cover the event.  Let’s hope the Canadian Comics Corner in Niagara Falls is seen by as many comic book fans as possible and it might eventually grow into a full-fledged museum to the comic book in Canada. Let’s trumpet our own horn a little more loudly.

Group shot of some of the attendees, Richard Comely is hidden kneeling behind the small display case.
Group shot of some of the attendees, Richard Comely is hidden kneeling behind the small display case.

Last Friday, Rick Trembles, noted Montreal cartoonist and son of WECA artist Jack Tremblay, sent me a link to a Montreal Gazette article about his father. Let me share this piece with you.

Also Meaghan Scanlon, who oversees the Bell Features comic collection up at the Library and Archives of Canada in Ottawa, launched, at the end of last month, a new blog and the guests on the first show were Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey. Take a look here when you have a chance.

Canadian Comics Rule!

Ivan Kocmarek
Ivan Kocmarek

Grew up in Hamilton's North End. Comic collector for over 50 yrs. Recent interest in Canadian WECA era comics.

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mel taylor
mel taylor
9 years ago

I love the idea, in principle, of Walt’s Canadiana display, but I can’t help cringing when I see slabbed copies of these great books, knowing the contents are never likely to be seen again. But, I think I’ve already gone on at length about this odious practice which deprives us of the real reason these comics were made in the first place: to be read! Now, go ahead and tell me I’m crazy. : )

Walter Durajlija
9 years ago

Great piece Ivan, thank you for posting and thanks you for all your help in getting the corner ready in time!. It was a great event and so nice to see people leaning over reading the write ups on some of the unique items on display. This is only the beginning, so much more work still has to be done to get this premise right. Lets just call this our first big step.

Thanks to all who came out to support the event.

Stephen Lipson
Stephen Lipson
9 years ago

I was very impressed with the display. It was gorgeous and really speaks to the history of Canadian Pop Culture in sequential art. Ivan, you are correct in scanning the interiors of books prior to certification. I only yesterday had a chat with Walter about the possibility of slabbing my Canadian Whites collection in its entirety and we both agreed together that this would be counter-productive, as I have no intention of selling my books and need to have this material accessible for future research. So, in this respect, I also concur with Mel. Slabbing is for liquidity. That said, I have slabbed my prized/key books, just as Walter has. But out of 450 WECA books perhaps only 30 of my books are certified.

J i m Finlay
9 years ago

I love that center of the room display case. Thats where I would have put the Whites in for the most impact and maximum viewing for all.
Having the open book displaying the interior pages is what really draws my eye.

Matthew Rust
9 years ago

It’s very gratifying to see that fans still appreciate the amazing amount of effort that went into each issue of ORB Magazine!

mel taylor
mel taylor
8 years ago

It’s nice to hear that there are still people out there who don’t seal all their comics in plastic coffins. There is hope after all. These books have to be accessible to historians or a whole new generation of Canadians will forget them all over again, and we can’t ever let that happen.