Having put Heroes of the Home Front and the first edition of the WECA Comic Book Price Guide to bed last summer and having the fall and winter to relax from the scramble of getting these two projects together and published, it’s just about time to start thinking about a new undertaking.
A project similar to Heroes, but about one of the other main Canadian WWII comics publishers, is a pretty big mountain to climb. Resource materials are just not there in the same way that they were for the Bell Features context of Heroes. There is no repository of comics and original artwork concerning Anglo-American, Educational Projects, and especially Maple Leaf Publications as there is in the holdings of the Library and Archives of Canada for Bell Features. Another four or five year slog through the minutae of the last century as they might relate to the production of comics in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver is not an investment I am drawn to make as I approach my seventh decade, especially if it seems that the rewards won’t be there in the same way that they were for the exploration of Bell Features.
Doing a collection of reprints of the run of a certain WECA character is interesting and I would consider this for such characters as Ed Furness’ Freelance, Ted Steele’s Speed Savage and especially Hall and Walker’s Lucky (which runs almost the whole of the WECA period as a continuous serialized graphic novel). However, these have been done a couple of times or so already and don’t, for me, have the appeal of something that might be a little more challenging and a little more data driven and therefore result in something more informative.
A checklist and possible price guide for the FECA comics that followed the WECA period from 1947 to 1956 fits the parameters I would want to have and is very appealing, but again, the challenge here is daunting since there are probably over 5,000 individual issues to be dug up and taxonomized. This is eventually doable and information is being gathered and sorted now, but it is still some way off in the distance.
What I am drawn to do, and I welcome your opinions, suggestions, and caveats on this subject, is to assemble a Gerber-type Photo-Journal for the 800 or so World War II comic book covers that were produced in Canada. This would be a book that creatively and expertly reproduces full-colour covers for each of the comics enumerated in the WECA Comic Book Price Guide. Underneath each cover reproduction would be a blurb offering some added details concerning that cover. Something like this could probably be accomplished in about a year with the stumbling block being locating the best reproducible covers for each book. There are three repositories of WECA comics here in Ontario with the Bell Features books at the Library and Archives of Canada in Ottawa and at the library archives of Ryerson University, while the archives of the D. B. Weldon Library of Western University in London hold Eddy Smet’s WECA comics collection.
In writing this column over the past half-dozen years, I have made friends with a network of major collectors of WECA comics that extends across the country. I’m sure that many, if not all, of these collectors would be willing and pleased to contribute scans of any needed scarce issues and they would, of course, receive credit for doing so in the volume.
I am confident that, with all these resources, we could easily get 99% of all the WECA comic covers produced, leaving maybe 8-10 covers (mostly Maple Leaf Publications issues) that would present a real struggle and might be unattainable, but that’s just informed speculation at this point. This project, therefore, has a tremendous amount of appeal for me.
Now, most of you older collectors will have copies of the original two-volume Gerber Photo-Journal Guide to Comic Books published in 1989 somewhere on your comics-related bookshelves—probably laying flat, because each volume measures 14.75” X 10.25”. I bought my copies at the Hamilton Silver Snail Comics store on King St. E. just across from Aram Alexanian’s flagship carpet and flooring store the same year they came out and they’re still sitting on my shelves in the very same store bags I to carry them out of the shop (there’s a collecting strain for you—old brick and mortar store bags—what memories they would bring back).
Here’s what the first volume looks like:
Each of the two volumes contained images of over 10,000 American golden age comic book covers. They were displayed across each page in a grid varying from 4 X 4 to 5 X 5 to 6 X 6. The 4 X 4 grid showing 16 comics on each page only occurs a few times with the 25 comics per page and 36 comics per page grids relied on far more often. For the 6 X 6 presentation, the covers look like large postage stamps. Here is the first listing page from Gerber’s book for A-1 Comics followed by a sample layout for some of the ‘Cap’ comics:
As the dust jacket flap explains, the book also attempts to provide a categorizing system, relative values, and a scarcity index for each comic shown.
The categorizing system assigns a number to each title followed by a dash and a second number for each issue of the run. Gerber’s relative value index (RVI) attempted to develop a system in which comics weren’t assigned an actual dollar value but a value based on the relative values of one golden age comic to another. Action Comics #1, for example, was given an RVI of 34,500 and Boy Comics 61-80 were each give an RVI of 16, meaning that a copy of Action #1 in a given grade was roughly worth about 2,150 times what a comparable copy of an issue of Boy Comics from that 61-80 run was worth. Gerber’s scarcity index (SI) was based on Gerber’s informed understanding of how many copies of any issue were in existence. After three decades the only one of these three systems that seems to have stuck is the Gerber scarcity index and this is what one generally thinks of when the Gerber golden age photo-journals are mentioned.
Here is Gerber’s scheme for indexing the scarcity of a given comic:
This does seem like a reasonable index and a useful one that we could easily transfer over to a WECA Photo-Journal type of book.
Here is an example of Gerber’s listing of indices for some of the Captain America books:
The “Ref. No.” means that this is the 313th title listed and the number after the hyphen is the issue. “RVI” is the relative value index to other comics in the volume and the “SI” is Gerbers ten-point scarcity index.
The size I’d propose for this photo-journal of Canadian war time comic would be the same as that for Heroes of the Home Front. That is 9” X 12” and I think that the optimal layout we could afford would be a simple 2 X 2 grid with four covers on each page. Each image itself would be about 2.5” X 4” or so in size and with 4 images per page, we’d need about 200 pages to display all the comic book covers and perhaps another 30 pages or so for additional text filler.
I used this 2 X 2 grid for the Gallery section of the WECA Comic Book Price Guide and it seemed fairly effective. Here is an example of a page from that Gallery:
There would just have to be a little more spacing provided at the bottom of each cover image to allow for an accompanying information blurb.
The information I’d propose to place under each cover image would include the following:
- Title and issue number
- Date or Date estimate
- Cover artist, if known
- Extra information such as first cover appearance, character featured, first cover by an artist, reproduction of an American cover, etc.
- Scarcity Index
The final item, the Scarcity Index, would probably have to be arrived at in consultation with leading collectors of these comics. Their consensus would be based on years of encountering these comics during their collecting experience.
The order of listing the covers would follow that of the WECA Comic book Price Guide and be alphabetical. Here is a mock up of a listing for the second issue of Better Comics with an initial attempt at a text box information layout for the book:
At this point, one question to consider would be whether or not to feature some select covers full-size or just to keep the 2 X 2 layout throughout the book. A couple of dozen select covers could be featured this way without adding too much to the overall size of the book and may add to the desirability of the collection.
Lastly, what would be the most effective background or field on which to present the 2 X 2 cover grid? My first thought is just a simple, blank, white background but, having a look at the impressive new L. B. Cole cover collection: Black Light: The World of L. B. Cole, solid black might be a consideration. Take a look at this Fantagraphics video. L. B. Cole’s primary colours really pop on this black background. I’m not sure that the Canadian covers would, but it’s a consideration. The other option here might be a background field of faded black-and-white or sepia-toned panels from the inside of the books being featured.
With this structure and layout in mind, the task would be to scan or photograph as many WECA covers as possible and select the best results for listing in the WECA Photo Journal. The reality facing us is that, for many issues, the best available cover may not be a high grade (remember that, for these first Canadian books, CGC 6-8 is a high grade with CGC 9 and up very difficult to find) so that even if the best cover we can find for a given book is a 2.0 or less, it should still be featured.
Obviously, we also mustn’t forget those few dozen remaindered coverless issues put out by Century Publications in 1946 which were intended for UK distribution. Even though they don’t have covers, they should be recorded as they were offered on the newsstands. Here is a sampling:
These are a hodge-podge of remaindered American reprints imprinted with a Century logo stamp and vague (no title, no date) indicia. It looks like Century/Superior was trying to squeeze the last drop of value out of these non-sellers overseas.
Another thing of interest that it might be worth considering would be a small appendix of stand-out back covers from the WECA period. These are sometimes quite interesting and striking and you never see them on the Grand Comics Database. Here is a gallery sampling of some:
There you have my ideas for a follow-up project to Heroes and it’s one that I’d hope would have more appeal to one of the established publishers so that maybe we wouldn’t have to rely on a Kickstarter though that would always be there as an option.
Again, I encourage and welcome your thoughts and suggestions on a Gerber-style photo journal presentation of all the WECA covers with the bottom line being: “Would you pick one up?”