One aspect of the WECA comics (1941-46) that truly made them Canadian was the great effort they went to in order to engage their readers. One of these central ways was the almost monthly implementation of contests right from the inception of these books at the start of 1941. From my reading of American Golden Age books, I just don’t remember any such initiative to pull readers into each and every monthly issue, at least, not anywhere close to the way in which contests were used in these WECA books.
Take for example the very first Canadian comic book, Better Comics Vol. 1 No. 1 with the indicia date of March, 1941. On its last page and the inside back cover it announces five contests the last of which is to provide a name for cowboy detective Tiger Tex’s sidekick talking parrot that Tex refers to as just “Polly” in the first two issues. “Polly” gets the name “Echo” in the last panel of the Vo. 1 No. 3 issue of Better Comics. The editors announce 10 early winners of these contests in the second issue and then 50 more winners along with 15 honorable mentions. The first thought that comes to mind for me is that one of the main requirements of entering this contest was that you cut out the entry form which made up more than half of the back cover. This means that hundreds of copies of Better Comics Vol. 1 No. 1 were mauled by these eager young Canadians. Sadly, this seems commonplace for almost every contest held in these WECA books; you had to prove that you had bought a copy by taking a large bite out of it and mailing it in with your contest entry.
There is another piece of intriguing information in this contest announcement from the first issue of Better Comics. If you look at the sixth of the seven contest rules provided, you’ll notice that the deadline for entry submissions is February 28th. We all know that the indicia date of publication for the first issue of Better Comics is March, 1941. This is direct evidence of what we all suspect because all collectors know that comics appear on the stands a month or more prior to the indicia or cover date. In this specific case, the first issue of Better Comics must have actually been on the stands by the beginning of February and probably mid-January in order to allow sufficient time for readers to prepare a contest answer and ship it to Vancouver. It’s remarkable that this first issue of Better Comics was put together and on the stand just over a month after the War Exchange Conservation Act was enacted on Dec. 6th, 1940 stopping almost all American comics from being imported into the country.
Lucky Comics Vol. 1 No. 1 (known as “Union Jack”-Lucky Comics until issue 3) had a colouring the flag competition as one of its contests.
The first issue of “Name-It” Comics had a contest to give itself a title and Sheldon Kasner of Montreal came up with Rocket Comics, a title that started with issue number 2.
Hillborough Studios’ first issue of Triumph-Adventure Comics had a contest asking readers to send in letters describing what they liked about the book.
The first issue of Wow Comics had a contest on the inside back cover asking readers to send in letters telling the editors what readers would like to see in the title.
The inaugural issue of Dime Comics had a “What’s wrong with this Picture?” contest for its readers.
Something of note is the fact that at least two WECA comic book creators were recognized as artistic winners in a couple of these early contests. Al Cooper (who drew great airplanes and other war machines—see my earlier post: “Trains and Boats and Planes” from March 7th) has a prototype of his “Scotty MacDonald” strip appear as a winner in Better Comics Vol. 1 No. 3 about nine months before the strip appeared as a professional feature in the first issue of Dime Comics.
Similarly, Jack Tremblay was announced in Wow Comics No. 5 as one of the winners of a pair of roller skates for his art submission and three issues later his “Crash Carson” strip, drawn when he was still 15, was appearing professionally.
The irony is that, even in the face of all this palpable, almost desperate, reaching out (not only through contests but through promotional items such as sweater crests, through clubs such as the Active Jim club and the Canada Jack club, through solicitations for input and criticism) to connect with readership in an effort to ensure success and survival, the full-color tidal wave of American comics that hit Canadian shores after the end of the Second World War made the Whites WECA Tsunami look like a ripple in a bathtub. Still the legacy of these “Whites” survives and I think will flourish in the next few years.
Here are some random samples of additional contests from these WECA books (notice that the prizes offered in the contest from Active Comics No. 4 is original artwork–whatever happened to these pages?!?):
Here’s one last one… see if you can name all of them yourself: