If you want to research, first hand, the Bell Features holdings of the Library and Archives of Canada (LAC) up in Ottawa, you have to go into an imposing solid block of a building located just west of Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court on Wellington Street. It’s covered in square, porthole-like windows that would imply a more sinister purpose such as the gathering of government intelligence rather than being our national repository for Canadian culture and history.

Library and Archives Canada.

You must make LAC aware of your intention to visit at least a couple of weeks in advance and indicate specifically which materials you want pulled from their off-site storage facilities by consulting their online database and filling out the proper online forms. It certainly isn’t a place you can walk in off the street and browse around in like a local library.

My first visit was during a cold late April week 2014 when I still hadn’t decided on the form of the book on old Canadian comics that I wanted to put together. An id badge/card on a lanyard that was waiting for me at the front desk and with that around my neck, I went up to the third-floor viewing room area. There, in that brightly lit room with windows far larger than the portholes that dotted most of the surface of the building and under the secure but polite scrutiny of the librarians/research assistants, I waited a few minutes until a squeaky library trolley was pushed out from a side room. On it were two tiers of large, pizza box-like containers, perhaps a dozen boxes in all, each filled with original Bell Features comic book art pages (50 or 60 pages in each box). I spent two-and-a-half days going through all 2000 pages plus in the collection and photographing the ones that were of interest to me. (It wasn’t until my second visit, two years later, that I looked through a similar trolley but this time filled with eight short boxes containing LAC’s collection of original Bell Features comic books.)

Trolley with LAC’s Bell Features comics collection.

It was on the afternoon of the second day that I left that large reading room for a smaller viewing area on the same floor where a single, small, brown file box was waiting for me behind the reception desk. This one didn’t need a trolley and I carried it through pods of other researchers and students lost in their laptops and their own brown boxes.

The Cy Bell textual box.

My box contained the Cy Bell textual material originally deposited, along with the comics and original art, by Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert in 1971. It comprises original letters from and to Cy, telegrams, contracts made with his creators (some signed and some not), certificates of copyright, trademark documentation, and other sundry textual materials—enough that I could mine for a half-dozen columns, really.

However, the thing that dominates the collection when you first open the container up is a large, green, ledger-sized book.

Cy Bell’s green ledger scrapbook.

In this over-sized “scrapbook,” Cy had pasted in the cut-off the back covers of almost one-hundred reprint era (1947-52) Bell Features comic books. Each of these back covers had on them a puzzle-type contest invitation for readers to tackle. These contests were a carry-over from those original Canadian comics that Cy put out during the war years. Those comics were crammed with various contest pages, club pages, and pen pal lists that connected kids from across the country and even some from abroad. With these contest back covers on the reprint books, I think Cy felt that direct connection to readership was important and wanted to continue it, even though the contents of the comics from 1947-53 were mainly American.

The first page in Cy’s scrapbook was the back cover featuring Contest No. 6 and underneath the pasted-in page were the winning (first, second, and third place)  cut-out coupons sent to the company. This time the winners were 15 year-old named Grant Plyley from Ontario, 8 year-old Heather Mills from New Brunswick, and 11  year-old Bruce McCulloch from Saskatchewan.

First page of Cy Bell’s back covers scrapbook.

Cy must have assigned the management of these contests to somebody else in his office, perhaps his wife Gladys who served as Secretary-Treasurer for the company because the handwriting accompanying the paste-ups is clearly not his. In any event, the handwriting notes that the prizes have been bought and what they are. A catcher’s mitt for Grant, a doll’s stroller for Heather, and a fastball for Bruce. So it looks like the contest winners were picked and then, what the manager of the contest thought were gender-appropriate prizes, were bought.

The handwriting also indicates that this particular contest (No. 6) appeared on the back cover of Bell’s reprint of Feature Comics No. 135. It’s highly likely that the Canadian reprints of the American issues came out a month to two months after the original copy. The American copy of 135 itself has an indicia date of June 1949 and probably appeared on the stands in August which would mean that the Canadian edition probably appeared on Canadian stands a couple of months after that, or around October 1949. So this being the sixth context available, Cy must have started these contests somewhere in the late summer or early fall of 1949. However, it doesn’t look like the appearance of these back cover contests was done in sequential or consecutive months, since Bell’s Feature Comics No. 137, just two issues later, has contest No. 77 on its back cover.

The last page of Cy Bell’s back cover scrapbook.

The last pasted-up page in the scrapbook contains a back cover featuring contest No. 100 and it’s important to note that this contest page contains the statement that “All prizes go to Canadian boys and girls and no prizes leave the country.” This time there is no indication what prizes were bought and won but the winners of this contest were 11-year-old Yvonne Burridge from Huntsville, Ontario, 13-year-old Donald Hall from Montréal, and 7-year-old Dorothy Kerr from Trail, BC. The page also tells us that this contest, which was the last in the scrapbook but not the highest number that came out (the contests run at least to No. 112) appeared on the back cover of the Canadian edition of Hollywood Diary No. 1.

Now, I bring attention to this Cy Bell scrapbook of back covers, not just for its historical and research interest, but also for the fact that it points to what could be a very interesting collecting strain—a complete run of all the Bell Canadian reprint issues that featured these contests on their back covers. It would be approximately a 112-issue run and probably a very difficult one, indeed, to complete.

Here is a chart of what I know so far, gleaning material from Cy’s scrapbook and my own collection:

Contest No.Canadian Edition Back CoverContest No.Canadian Edition Back Cover 
6Feature 13557Heartthrobs 2 
7Georgie 2458Wilbur 25
8Jr. Miss 3859Justice 17
9Li’l Willie 2060All True Crime 35 
10Tex Taylor 661Archie 39
11Wild Western 962Wild Western 9 
12Plastic Man 1863Secret Loves 1 
13Doll Man 2564My Love 2 
14Casey 165Hedy de Vine 35 
15Heartthrobs 166Love Letters 1 
16All True Crime 3467Hollywood Secrets 1 
17Lawbreakers Always Lose 968Two-Gun Kid 9 
19Best Western 5969Georgie 24 
20Amazing Mysteries 3370Darling Love 1 
21Marvel Comics 9371Amazing Mysteries 34 
22Patsy Walker 2372Darling Romance 1 
25Pep 7273Tex Taylor 7 
26Super Duck 2674Torchy 1
30Marmaduke Mouse 1375Range Romances 1 
31Li’l Willie 2176Flaming Love 1 
33Wilbur 2177Feature 137 
34Jr. Miss 3781Police 92
35Two-Gun Kid 882Susie 82
36Hedy of Hollywood 3483Modern 89 
37Spirit 1684Laugh 35
39Lawbreakers Always Lose 1085True Western 1 
40Candy 1186Romance Tales 7 
41Love Diary 187Marvel Tales 94 
42Blackhawk 2688Our Love 1 
43Doll Man 2489My Diary 1 
44Crime Fighters 990Diary Loves 2 
45Plastic Man 1991Love Romances 91 
46Laugh 3492Blackhawk 27 
49Pep 7394Lawbreakers Always Lose 11 
50Molly Manton’s Romances 196Justice 18
51Feature 13697Romances of the West 1 
52Marmaduke Mouse 1498Girl Comics 1 
53Spirit 1799Love Classics 1 
54Love Romances 8100Hollywood Diary 1 
55Casey 2104Cowboy Romances 2 
56Love Romances 1112Tex Taylor 8 
Contests on back covers of Bell Features reprint comics.

An addendum or subset to this would be those Bell reprint comics that have winners announcements on their back covers. Here are the few that I know about:

Winners for Contests NumbersCanadian Edition Back Cover
107-9, 111Active 96
 87-90Egbert 16
 107-111Feature Comics 140
 52-55Hickory 1
 48-51Joker 39
 78-80, 102Modern Comics 92
 64-68Pep Comics 74
 78-80, 102Range Romances 2
 103-106Wild Western 10
Prize winner announcements on the back covers of Bell Features reprint books.

You’ll quickly notice that there is a bit of overlapping and some comics feature the same winners announcements. Here is the winners announcement from the back cover of Active Comics 96. I wonder how many of these kids are still around today?

All in all, I’m on the lookout for any Bell reprint books that have numbered contests on their back covers but I don’t think I’ll come close to getting a complete set.

NEWS

I now have five episodes of my audio podcast now called Cataclysmic Comics Backpack because there was already another podcast from the UK called Comics for the Apocalypse. It’s a sort of Desert Island Discs for comics and my guests are personalities from Canadian comics culture. Episodes up are for our own Walter Durajlija, Kitchener’s Mel Taylor, Dave Darrigo, Ron Hobbs, and Ron Kasman. Coming soon are episodes featuring Rob Walton and Mark Shainblum. Take a short listen when it’s convenient here.