There are very few comic books that are truly scary and cause those fine hairs on the back of my neck to stand to attention but here’s one that’s a Canadian WECA book.
In the spring of 1942 a strange comic book came out of Vancouver published at 319 Pender St. West, just around the corner from the offices of Maple Leaf Publications and, as the indicia states, it was “…Published under the auspices of the COMMUNITY STANDARDS COUNCIL OF BRITISH COLUMBIA [their capitals, not mine]… in the interests of clean reading for Canadian Boys and Girls.” Its title was Your New World and it had two fair-haired pre-teens–the boy staring out a window at grand, golden edifice that reminds me of a Mormon temple without the spires, and the girl measuring out a blueprint for such a building with a compass. On page 4 we find out that their names are Joyce and Clive and that they are “…drafting the plans of a better world, their world of the future. With high heart and hope, they think of a world without war or cruelty and pride. They see a dawn when people will toil not for gain and glory, but to serve the needs of all.” Well Joyce and Clive, and Elmer we’re in your future now… how’d we do?
This comic came out just ten years after the publication of Huxley’s Brave New World, as ironic as that is, and the subtitle of the comic (perhaps even its original title), as it appears in the header of every other page of the comic, is Young Builders’ Magazine (the real theme of the front cover).
The chief individuals involved were Managing Editor Howard Hagar Hall (whom I know nothing about), Editor E. (Elmer) W. Reid, Principal of Sir John Franklin Elementary School in Vancouver and publisher of educational literature and textbooks and, finally, Art Director (and for that matter sole artist for the comic) Ernie Walker who had already been working on comics at Maple Leaf Publications for about a year already (since Better Comics Vol. 1 No. 3).
The comic begins with a letter to Princess Margaret (younger sister of our now queen Elizabeth—Margaret would have been 11 at the time), inviting her to become patron of this effort and helping in this “Children’s Crusade” to build a new Canada.
I wonder if she replied…?
All in all the comic has the looks of being a Maple Leaf Publication production. Its content reminds me of a Canadian Heroes comic but with a lot more text… ‘well intentioned,’ ‘edifying’ text. But note that this was a full six months before the first issue of Canadian Heroes was published out of Montreal. Did Harry Halperin see this comic before he started Educational Projects and that run of Canadian Heroes comics?
The book also contains a handful of paneled stories all drawn by Ernie Walker. The first is a three page story that relates Alexander Mackenzie’s exploration of the river in the north that was subsequently named after him. At the bottom of the second last page of the story, we’re promised a second installment called “Alexander Mackenzie to the Pacific” was promised (in a footer on the middle page of the story) for the next issue of Your New World which, as far as I know, never came out. The title lived and died with its first and only issue.
Then there’s a two-page, paneled retelling of the biblical story of the Good Samaritan titled “The Golden Rule.”
A little bit later on page 31 Ernie Walker brings back Joyce and Clive to illustrate how kids can help at home.
The final paneled story is a five-pager but this time about the origins of the Canadian flag and also features Joyce and Clive asking questions, but remember the flag that they’re talking about wasn’t the one adopted in 1965 with that big red maple leaf on it that we’re all familiar with, it was the red, white, and blue Union Jack which served as the flag of the Dominion and under which our troops fought in the Second World War. It’s probably something most of us don’t think of these days.
For me the highlight of the comic is the great map of Canada centre spread by Ernie Walker. It gives a coast to coast to coast idealistic and resource heavy snapshot of what Canada was about in the early forties.
So there you have it. A west coast comic that for all intents and purposes looks like it could be a Maple Leaf Publications comic and a non-fiction educational comic in the vein of Educational Projects Canadian Heroes Comics a full six months before the first issue of that title appeared. It promoted those “golden” Canadian values of the day but looking back on it more than seventy years later, it is truly a bit unsettling. Was this the way that the august Community Standards Council of British Columbia viewed the future transformation of Canadian society and the future of Canadian comics itself? Thankfully, it seems to have only survived for one issue though it promised more.
What may be the most important thing about it, though, is that since it was published by community council and not a regular comic publishing company, it is probably Canada’s first public service type of promotional comic touting the aspirations and indoctrination of our fair haired children into striving for a utopian vision of our budding country which at that time was only seventy-five years old and working out its own identity under the dominion of the royal British monarchy. Where were the First Nations in this vision? There are three Eskimos (as they were known then) in Ernie Walker’s centerspread map, one shaking the hand of a Mountie somewhere up around the Yukon and a couple Indians serve as useful guides in the Alexander MacKenzie story, but that’s about it. I suspect that a future issue, had it come out, may have had a feature on the progressive scope residential schools and how they were converting ignorant and non-Christian savages to fine, productive, and upstanding Canadian citizens. Where were the Japanese Canadian internment camps on Ernie Walker’s map of Canada? All in all this utopian vision of Canada filled with its shiny dime white bread people rings a little shallow and hollow, much like those Russian and Chinese communist propaganda posters that featured beautiful, stalwart peasants toiling in the fields while an while the country’s underbelly churned and twisted with indigestion.
Your New World is a somewhat singular comic from the WECA period. It foreshadows tide of “decency” that would lead to the banning of American crime comics at the start of the next decade and the Wertham initiative that produced the Comics Code a few years after that. Here is a little article from the December 12th 1949 edition of The Globe & Mail that names 25 Canadian edition comic titles that were banned and taken off Canadian newsstands after that date:
Your New World is a one shot WECA book that is extremely rare and, though it doesn’t have an inkling of a superhero (except maybe Churchill on the back cover) in it, it’s sure to become a very valuable comic. I myself am only aware of three existing copies.