I recently came across a copy of a newsprint comic put out in April of 1941 called Canadian Rocket. I’m sure that some of you have already seen it. This has no glossy or cardboard type cover and is simply a newsprint publication that is a little larger than a regular comic book. Perhaps this was also the format of Robin Hood Comics No. 1 by Anglo American Publications which appeared on the stands a month earlier along with Better Comics No. 1 from Maple Leaf Publications. The indicia attribute it to Victory Publishing Co. in Toronto:
It seems obvious that this is a WECA product just like the two books mentioned above that preceded it. Somebody was trying to make a buck out of the fact that American comics just started to be kept out of the country. Notice that the price is just 5 cents and, with the emphasis on text stories, it’s more like a bunch of pages from a British annual than a comic proper.
I had seen this cover before on the net and it was associated with Ted Steele. The artwork for the “book” does indeed seem to have been done by Ted Steele, though it’s not signed anywhere, and he would have been 18, just about to turn 19, when he did it. Especially convincing is the crudeness of the artwork that was typical of Steele at this period. In fact, what it reminds me of is the amateur fanzine art produced in the mid to late sixties or Ed Shecter’s work on Marvo, Espionage Agent in Joke Comics 10 and in Al Rucker’s Weekender Vol. 1 No. 2 (something Shecter improved on a little in his own three issue of Lighting Comics, but not by much).
Take a look at his cover for an issue of Uncanny Tales done by Ted Steele that appeared on the stands about a month after Canadian Rocket No. 1 and see what you think.
The name of the featured superhero also belies the fact that it is probably Ted Steele’s creation. His name is Wolf Savage and two of the main Bell Features characters created by Ted Steele were Speed Savage in Triumph Comics and Woody and the Wolf in Wow Comics.
This “Wolf Savage” was a mysterious Canadian from somewhere in the north. He had two giant timber wolves as companions, each with a studded collar that had a prominent “W” in the centre. He seems to have had the power of flight and an extraordinary amount of strength. He fights evil and crime in a wolf’s head mask, long cape and white gauntlets, and has a large wolf’s head over a white “W” emblazoned on his costumed chest. As a weapon, he brandishes a rapier that can emit a green beam able to melt machinery and directly eliminate enemies (at least like a giant weasel that appears in this first story).
When the evil mad scientist asks how Wolf Savage knows about him and his plans, Wolf replies:
“I know all things. I have a way of knowing about all things that work against humanity… Wolf Savage has pledged himself to fight for the forces of good and to destroy all they [sic] who seek to oppress the weak.”
This story also seems to have been written by Steele who, after the end of the WECA period gave up artistic endeavours to concentrate on a writing career which interested him much more. Afterwards, in his retirement, he seems to have come back to art through painting though mainly as a recreation and not professionally. Steele also seems to have done all the artwork in the publication as well as a couple of more fictional pieces. He may even have served as the editor for the book. Here is the editor’s message from p. 14 and note that, at the bottom of it, it clearly states that you should demand two ordinary comics in trade for a single issue of Canadian Rocket:
There are three other fictional stories in the issue and they were all probably also written by Ted Steele. The first called “Beware the Monster” gives the name Frank Ray as the author, but my inclination is to think that this is a pseudonym for Steele. This story tells us about Ace Canadian Detective Don Slade’s triumph over a giant robot.
The other story that could be Steele’s is “Little Thunder,” about young Martin Beamish’s trip to a local supply store where he rescues a young Indian boy, whose name serves as the title of the story, from an evil and cheating store keeper. This story ends in a cliffhanger and it’s indicated that it will continue in the next issue.
The last fictional story in the issue is entitled “Secret Agent” and is about a boy named Les Travers who visits Germany before the war and stays there as a secret agent.
I’ve never seen any other issues of Canadian Rocket Comics and with the knowledge that there were also comics on the shelf like Better Comics, Robin Hood Comics and quite soon after Freelance Comics, Canadian Rocket it doesn’t look like it could have survived against such competition.
Where and how should this little 14 page publication fit in the WECA scheme of things? Does it belong in that group of books affectionately known as The Canadian Whites, or is it just a newspaper type of publication outside the fold. Should this book be included in the online database of Canadian WECA comics that we are currently building (at a secret location somewhere under the Canadian Shield)? My own opinion is that it should be so included because it features a cool superhero and I think it really tries to be a comic in some sense. Above all it features one of the earliest works by a central figure of the WECA comic period who went on to give us Speed Savage in Triumph Comics and Private Stuff in Joke Comics, and who worked for periods on prominent features such as Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist in Active Comics.
As a piece of news, I received the following email from Mel Crawford’s wife Tuesday morning:
Mel was admitted yesterday to a long term care facility. I could no longer provide a safe environment for him. I am heading up today to set up a bulletin board if you have anything you might like to send I will make copies and put them on the board . I plan on changing the pictures, photos etc. often. Please keep in touch and if I can gather any further information on Mel’s career I will gladly share it with you.
My understanding is that Mel Crawford will be inducted into The Giants of the North: The Canadian Cartoonist’s Hall of Fame at the TCAF on May 10 for his work on the Whites. I am now of the opinion that it’s just as important to recognize those WECA era creators who are still with us in this year’s Shuster Awards Hall of Fame selections. I hope that Mel Crawford and Jack Tremblay find their place among the esteemed pantheon that currently resides there in this year’s ’election of inductees.
Please send any comments you may have about Mel Crawford to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will make sure they find their way to that bulletin board that Mel’s wife Ginni is assembling.