Whites Mystery Artist

In doing my ongoing research into Canadian war time comics, I recently came across this Toronto Star article about a Whites artist named Michael (Bud) Riled who seems to have created a female jungle heroine called "Terena of the Jungle." It even has a quote from Peter Berkemoe, owner of The Beguiling about the period of The Whites.

In doing my ongoing research into Canadian war time comics, I recently came across this Toronto Star article about a Whites artist named Michael (Bud) Riled who seems to have created a female jungle heroine called “Terena of the Jungle”. It even has a quote from Peter Berkemoe, owner of The Beguiling about the period of The Whites.

The trouble is, I have never heard of this individual nor have I heard of the character “Terena of the Jungle”. This article is just over 7 years old but there’s something weird here. I want to throw this article out to everybody to see if anybody can shed any light on it or has a theory about it. The picture of the splash below shows some great WECA period art work that could belong in any of the Bell issues but I can’t seem to find a corroborating piece of work in a published comic of the time.

The closest I can get to a “White Jungle Goddess” Sheena type of heroine in the WECA period is Fred Kelly’s Betty Burd which appeared in some of the last issues of Dime and Triumph Comics.

Fred Kelly's Betty Burd splash from Dime Comics No. 28
Fred Kelly’s Betty Burd splash from Dime Comics No. 28

That is if you don’t count Piltdown Pete’s girlfriend Yot who parades around in a leopard skin bikini. Though her jungle was prehistoric.

Piltdown Pete's "girlfriend" Yot
Piltdown Pete’s “girlfriend” Yot by John Stables

I follow this up with an obituary article on Leo Bachle/Les Barker that is just over 10 years old. This is an article on a Whites artist whose contribution to Canadian war time comics can be verified and, in fact, is well known.

Artist part of the golden age of Canadian comic books – Helped to create this country’s superheroes After WWII, designed graphics, logos for products

Toronto Star, The (Ontario, Canada) – Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Author: Linda Nguyen, Toronto Star

Terena of the Jungle was a knife-wielding woman in a stylish polka-dot bodysuit whose tales of action and adventure delighted Canadian comic readers during World War II.

She also provided girls with a positive role model, something uncommon in an era of damsels in distress.

The character was created by Michael Riley, who was among a group who wrote and illustrated the first Canadian comic books, known as the “Canadian Whites.”

Riley, known as “Bud” to his close friends, died Aug. 19 at the age of 81.

“The beautiful, daring Terena, gallant queen of the jungle…. She sees a lone explorer in her kingdom about to be a victim of a blood-crazed headhunter and without hesitating, goes to his aid,” his son Craig, 50, chuckled as he read an original template of the comic book.

Mysterious "Terena" splash
Mysterious “Terena” splash

Riley’s name will likely never be mentioned in any art-history class, but he was an important part of this country’s comic-book history.

To stabilize the Canadian dollar, the federal government labelled American comic books a non-essential good and banned them in 1940. The move inadvertently led to the golden age of the Canadian comic book, as publishers and artists like Riley seized the opportunity to create this country’s own superheroes. The group included painter Harold Town and Leo Bachle , creator of Johnny Canuck.

The Canadian Whites got their name because they were printed on white paper with black ink, since coloured ink was rationed.

The golden age of Canadian comics ended in 1946, when the end of the war brought a resumption in the distribution of American periodicals.

Peter Birkemoe, owner of the Beguiling comic book store in Toronto, said that during the war, many artists like Riley realized the commercial potential of their comics.

“These were businesses, this wasn’t an art collective or art-driven,” he said.

But he noted that the comics still remain icons in the comic book industry.

Craig Riley said his father was always an artist at heart and devoted 30 years to designing logos and graphics for popular products, including Mad Hatter chips and Canada Dry Viva Orange drinks, until his retirement in the early 1980s.

“He was an artist. That’s what he did all his life. He became a commercial artist and then a graphic designer. But the important thing is that he freehanded everything,” he said.

He described his father as a quiet, unassuming and considerate man, who lied about his age to enlist early in the air force because it was “the thing to do.”

Riley, who was married to his wife Evelyn for almost 57 years until she died in 2004, never got over the death of his “life’s dancing partner,” his son said.

“Their marriage was fantastic. They really complemented each other and they loved to dance. More than 50 years later, he still stepped on her toes.”

Long-time Scarborough residents, the two used to dance at Balmy Beach when they were younger. They met during the war at a Legion dance.

Riley leaves two sons and four grandchildren.

Michael Riley, shown below in 1946, created the character Terena of the Jungle. He was among a group who wrote and illustrated the first Canadian comic books, known as the “Canadian Whites.”


Mike Riley in 1946
Mike Riley in 1946


Superhero creator aimed for justice – Couldn’t fight in war, so produced Johnny Canuck Later became beloved comedian and animator

Toronto Star, The (Ontario, Canada) – Monday, June 9, 2003

Author: Julet Allen, Toronto Star

It was the eve of World War II and a brash 15-year-old Canadian wanted to make a significant contribution to the cause.

Because his age prevented him from enlisting, he decided to take his dream to another level- creating a comic book superhero to right all the world’s wrongs and fight Nazi oppression.

Johnny Canuck was tall and strong but had no super powers. Instead, the fearless air-force captain had a strong right hook and freelanced as an agent for democracy.

He first appeared in the February, 1942, issue of Bell’s Dime Comics No. 1.

His creator, Les Barker, died last month in Toronto at the age of 79.

Born in Toronto in 1923 as Leo Bachle , Mr. Barker was educated at Danforth Technical School, from which he drew most of his inspiration for the comic’s characters. The young man was able to spin adventures that had Johnny Canuck battling the Germans and even coming face-to-face with Hitler himself.

Bell asked the young artist to join its freelance team when he impressed officials with a critique of their comics’ artwork. Amazed by his drawings, they asked him to come up with his own idea for the comic.

Mr. Barker went on to create other heroes, including Wild Bill, the Brain and the Invisible Commando.

In 1944, his artistic talents were noticed south of the border and he moved to New York City. But he found it difficult to make a living in the comic book market.

In the 1950s, he abandoned the world of comics to become a nightclub entertainer in the United States, changing his name to Les Barker. It was in this new line of work that he met enough interesting people to last a lifetime.

Les Barker the entertainer.
Les Barker the entertainer.

When Mr. Barker met his wife of 49 years, singer Lucy Loring, she had a policy against dating people in show business. “When I met Les, he was different, so calm and intelligent. Two weeks after I met him, I knew I loved him,” she said.

The couple had two children, Suzanne and Danny, who were their father’s audience before he went out to perform.

Mr. Barker eventually returned to Toronto. His act as a comedian and animator took him all over the world, performing with such stars as Marlene Dietrich, Eartha Kitt, Tony Orlando, Loretta Lynn and Mickey Rooney.

“Les Barker amazes everybody, including yours truly,” Rooney was quoted as saying in a promotional flyer. “One of the best entertainers I’ve ever seen and had the pleasure of working with.”

In 1995, he was recognized for his comic book work when Canada Post commemorated Johnny Canuck in its Superhero stamp issue.

“Les just wants to be remembered for all the things he has achieved in his life, and being acknowledged with that postage stamp made him happy,” said long-time friend and entertainer Ed Fernandez.

Mr. Barker loved life and lived it to the fullest, his wife said.

But that was especially difficult in his last days, when the SARS outbreak in Toronto left him at the Scarborough Grace hospital without visits from his family for two weeks as he suffered from diabetes- an illness he endured for 40 years.

“No one did what he did,” said Robert Pincombe, who has been working on a documentary of Mr. Barker’s life for the past two years.

“He was way ahead of his time and he was a storyteller who never let a fact get in the way of telling a story.”

Mr. Barker leaves his wife Lucy Bachle , children Danny and Suzanne, and five grandchildren.

Ivan Kocmarek
Ivan Kocmarek

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

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jim b.
jim b.
10 years ago

Something weird indeed. I think someone was mistaken here… (or possibly even a hoax) as I’ve never found a shred of evidence for a ‘Bud’ Riley, or a character called Terena ever being published in a Canadian comic book.

This always made me suspicious of that story in the newspaper. I’ll go out on a limb and say that it’s possible that Mr. Riley may have submitted the story to one of the publishers and it wasn’t printed, but I’d like to see more proof, or even just the name of the company that was supposed to have published this character.

Where did you get that splash page Ivan, I don’t remember it from the Star? But then I think I only saw the online version.

10 years ago

Try messaging this guy: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/canadiancomics/conversations/topics/3313

Looks like he’s the one that supplied the info about Terena to the people whoever posted the obit. Perhaps he’s since learnt more about the character?

jim b.
jim b.
10 years ago
Reply to  Carter

Bryan Munn? Yeah, he’s pretty good about posting information about Canadian cartoonists and related things to the Sequential blog site at http://sequential.spiltink.org/ and getting the word out.

10 years ago
Reply to  Ivan Kocmarek

That wouldn’t be this Terena, though. That story is from 2011 and this character (even if it is a hoax which I don’t believe) was already known by someone in 2006. I would still recommend messaging that Bryan guy for although he doesn’t add much, he does sound interested so probably would have kept looking.

10 years ago

I had contact with the writers of both of these stories regarding Leo and asking if I could identify what book the Terena story appeared in. The splash looks pretty legit, golden age art, unlike most hoaxes. I wondered it was case of someone doing samples or their pages, ala Jack Tremblay when he sent in work to Bell Features. But this is pretty fully realized art. Perhaps it appeared in a Maple Leaf book? I have owned fewer of those so there are gaps in my knowledge.