Three Firsts

In this post I want to discuss three WECA firsts starting with a curiosity I take to be one of the first “horror type” stories in comics. “Grim Tales” was a brief two-story run in Wow Comics No. 12 (Jan.-Feb. 1943) and No. 13 (March-April 1943) by Don McKague (my dates for Bell books are all extrapolated estimates, since they stopped listing them in the indicia after the first early issues of their titles). For me, these two stories foreshadow the first true horror comics of the late forties and the horror boom that started with E. C. comics in 1950.

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In this post I want to discuss three WECA firsts starting with a curiosity I take to be one of the first “horror type” stories in comics. “Grim Tales” was a brief two-story run in Wow Comics No. 12 (Jan.-Feb. 1943) and No. 13 (March-April 1943) by Don McKague (my dates for Bell books are all extrapolated estimates, since they stopped listing them in the indicia after the first early issues of their titles). For me, these two stories foreshadow the first true horror comics of the late forties and the horror boom that started with E. C. comics in 1950.

The first "Grim Tales" feature in Wow Comics No. 12
The first “Grim Tales” feature in Wow Comics No. 12

The art, by the creator of the superhero, The Terror, in Joke Comics No. 5 (Nov.-Dec. 1942), was a little crude but showed promise and the idea of a horror story is all there and both stories even have an old witch front piece of the type that became the signature of E. C. horror books over half-a-dozen years later. McKague went on to become a nationally prominent portrait photographer in the fifties and was selected by the Queen to provide her portrait series to accompany her 1959 visit to Canada. Here’s the full, four-page second story, and it’s a werewolf story, so that you can form your own opinion.

The second and last "Grim Tales" feature from Wow Comics No. 13
The second and last “Grim Tales” feature from Wow Comics No. 13
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The second first comes from a clipped newspaper article provided to me by Doris Slater’s daughter Patti. It has no indication which Toronto paper it’s from, but I strongly suspect it could be the Telegram, but it’s clearly from 1941 when Doris, who was born in 1917, was 24.

An unsourced newspaper article from 1941 that talks about Doris Slater as the first woman in Canadian comics.
An unsourced newspaper article from 1941 that talks about Doris Slater as the first woman in Canadian comics.

Her first work was most probably on “Pat the Air Cadet” in Grand Slam Comics No. 1 from Sept.-Oct. 1941.  Now the only by-line that appears on “Pat the Air Cadet” stories is “MacDuff,” but the artwork is inescapably that of Doris Slater. “Pat the Air Cadet” also appeared in the first few issues of Three Aces Comics, called at the time, Aces Three Comics, along with Doris Slater’s own signed strip called “Martin Blake – Animal King” which was Doris’ first officially acknowledged credit in comics. Her best known work was probably her “Penny’s Diary” strip that appeared in later issues of Active Comics and, in fact she was the only woman artist to do a cover for Cy Bell on Active Comics No. 21.

Doris Slater's cover for Active Comics No. 21, the only Bell Features cover drawn by a woman.
Doris Slater’s cover for Active Comics No. 21, the only Bell Features cover drawn by a woman.
Part of Frank Chamberlain's Radio Column in the Globe & Mail for Nov. 4, 1944.
Part of Frank Chamberlain’s Radio Column in the Globe & Mail for Nov. 4, 1944.

Researcher Robert MacMillan first twigged me onto the fact that this strip was probably the work of Ted McCall and Doris Slater and the more interesting fact that Doris Slater was Ted McCall’s sister-in-law. This was confirmed when I had a chance to talk with Doris Slater’s niece, Nancy Lee, born Nancy Donaldson. Nancy’s mother was Minnie Slater, Doris’ elder sister, and she married Celtic Donaldson, who was the brother of Elsie Donaldson, who married Ted McCall. This connection with Ted McCall was probably Doris Slater’s door into comic work and Ted, with the knowledge that his sister-in-law was young artist, probably made the opportunity available to her by coming up with the idea of a female air cadet grab the girls in the Canadian comic book audience.

From Grand Slam Comics Vol. 1 No. 7
From Grand Slam Comics Vol. 1 No. 7

Here is a poem by a young female reader named Margaret Skaroff of Toronto which appeared on the inside front cover letters page of Grand Slam Comics Vol. 3 No. 11 dated Oct. 1944 at a time when some boy readers were writing in that “Pat the Air Cadet” should be one of the strips dropped by Anglo-American:

Pat the Air Cadet

It’s a change to read about a girl

Instead of always guys

And Pat the Air Cadet’s a whirl

To capture all those spies.

All of this would make Doris Slater the first woman creator in the WECA period and the first female creator in Canadian Comics in general. On top of this, if she started in Sept.-Oct. 1941, she would be among the earliest female creators in comic books period. For this reason, as well as her contribution to the WECA comic period, Doris Slater (Titus is her married name and the one she died with as a victim of a head-on car collision in bad weather on the highway near Stittsville in June, 1964) is my leading nomination for induction into the Joe Shuster Award Hall of Fame.

Doris Slater, probably in the late 1930s, in a dress that she made herself.
Doris Slater, probably in the late 1930s, in a dress that she made herself.

My last first is a list of the first appearances of 100 of the WECA period’s most famous feature characters. There are a number left off, particularly because I don’t have all the data for the Maple Leaf first appearances that came after their No. 1 issues, but here are the ones that came to mind on my first sweep of the books:

Character

1st WECA Appearance
Ace Barton Triumph #9
Ace Bradley Commando #1
Active Jim Active #3
Betty Burd Active #22
Black Avenger Triumph #11
Brok Windsor Better V. 3 #3
Canada Jack Canadian Heroes V. 1 #5
Capt. Daring Lightning Comics #10
Capt. Red Thortan Active #1
Captain Wonder Triumph #7
Chip Pipher Active #18
Chip Tucker Commando #15
Cinder Smith Active #22
Clift Steele Commando #1
Clip Curtis Wow #24
Clip Thomson Grand Slam #1
Colonel Braggart Joke #3
Commander Steel Grand Slam V. 3 #9
Cosmo and his White Magic Name It Comics
Crash Carson Wow #8
Dart Daring Wow #1
Derek of Bras d”Or Triumph-Adventure #2
Dixon of the Mounted Active #1
Dizzy Don The Funny Comics #1
Doc Stearne Wow #26
Don Shield Grand Slam #1
Don Swift Lightning Comics #10
Doodlebugs Joke #7
Dr. Blue and Blackie Active #18
Dr. Destine Grand Slam V. 3 #9
Drummy Young Dime #15
Flame Berns Commando #14
Flash Fulton Lightning Comics #10
Freelance Freelance #1
Guy Powers Wow #14
Invisible Commando Commando #1
Jeff Waring Wow #7
Jester Jones Bing Bang #1
John Henry Name It Comics
Johnny Canuck Dime #1
King Fury Active #13
Kipper Herring Better #4
Lucky Lucky #3
Lucky The Unbeatable Joke #2
Major Do Mo and Jo-Jo Joke #21
Marvo Espionage Agent Joke #8
Matt Morgan Joke #26
Michael Lee Aces Three #1
Mr. Distracted Attorney Commando #19
Mr. E Bing Bang #1
Nels Grant Triumph #26
Nelvana of the North Triumph-Adventure #1
Night Hawk Joke #17
Nitro Dime #14
Pat the Air Cadet Grand Slam #1
Penny’s Diary Active #19
Peter & Peggy and The Haunted Castle Lucky #1
Phantom Rider Wow #17
Pinky Bing Bang #1
Polka-Dot Pirate Commando #20
Private Stuff Joke #1
Red Rover Grand Slam V. 3 #9
Rex Baxter Dime #1
Robin Hood Robind Hood & Co. #1
Salty Lane Commando #18
Scotty McDonald Dime #1
Sergeant Canuck Bing Bang #1
Shorty Wow #19
Sign of Freedom Commando #1
Southpaw Wow #21
Spanner Preston Triumph-Adventure #1
Speed Savage Triumph #7
Spike and Mike Joke #1
Steve Storms Joke #21
Stompy Smith Joke #25
Super Commando Joke #12
Tang Triumph-Adventure #1
Terry Kane Three Aces V. 3 #8
The Black Avenger Triumph #11
The Black Falcon Wow #19
The Blade Joke #18
The Brain Active #1
The Crusaders Grand Slam #1
The Dreamer Wow #24
The Earth Torpedo Better #1
The Iron Man Better #1
The Penguin Wow #14
The Purple Rider Three Aces V. 3 #8
The Terror Joke #5
The Three T’s Joke #1
The Whistler Joke #13
The Wing Joke #4
Thunderfist Active #1
Tiger Tex Better #1
Tommy Tweed Commando #19
Warhawks Joke #16
Whiz Wallace Wow #1
Wild Bill Dime #4
Young Commandos Commando

Collectors are compulsively drawn to the “first of things,” the genesis, the birth, the earliest form…. This, they want to possess more than the others, perhaps because owning the first somehow gives you control over the whole run and certainly “control” (a small place above all those others who don’t have the first appearance) over other collectors. The “firsts” you have are talismans that you can wear proudly and even garishly like gangsta chains; the ones you don’t have become grails. Collecting is a small but crazy world.

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Ivan Kocmarek
Grew up in Hamilton's North End. Comic collector for over 50 yrs. Recent interest in Canadian WECA era comics.
Articles: 169

10 Comments

  1. And of course ol’ Doc Stearne first time in costume as Mister Monster in Triumph Comics # 31 – as I keep telling people!

  2. Of course you are right, Jim. There he is, in costume, gun drawn in that page-length last panel of the Doc Stearne story in that last issue of Triumph and doesn’t appear again until that well-known one-shot issue of Super Duper Comics in 1947 for his only full, 1940s story, and that one in full colour.

  3. And more importantly, thanks for the fun article and wonderful list! Really enjoy reading these

  4. It’s probably a just a typo Dan and you’re right, The Penguin feature did start in Wow Comics #15. The first feature in Wow #14 (where The Penguin’s stories usually were) is Guy Powers – Secret Agent.

  5. You guys are right. It’s a typo that should have read Wow #15 of course. Thanks everybody for setting the record straight. I don’t like slipping up like this but I did.

  6. That’s ‘first woman’ comic book artist if we’re only talking about women who stayed in Canada, Bryan. There’s also Ruth Atkinson who was born in Toronto and moved with her family to New York. She began her comic book career at Fiction House and was one of the creators of Patsy Walker at Marvel.

    Lots of people mention Superman’s co-creator as being Canadian, but never give a woman with a similar situation a mention at all, to our loss I believe.

  7. But Jim, Ruth was a year younger than Doris and didn’t start in comics at Fiction House until late 1942 or early 43 to the best of my knowledge and Doris’ work was already published by the end of 1941.

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