The second edition of the Forest City Comic Con was held this past Sunday at the London Convention Centre. My day there began hosting an advertised panel with Patrick Loubert and Michael Hirsh. However, Patrick had apologetically written me midweek that circumstances had affected his ability to appear at the con and that he could no longer attend. Happily, Michael was still eager to participate. But there was another glitch… Our panel was booked to start at 10:30 am but organizers seemed to have failed to account for the size of the line-up waiting to be admitted and people were about half-an-hour late before they all got in so that we couldn’t start our presentation until 11 am. Most other scheduled events, including The Shuster Awards were also bumped by about 30 minutes.
Jammed into the 50 minute session we had with Michael Hirsh was a screening of the 24 min. documentary shown before only on the Oct. 5 airing on the CBC program “Telescope.” This contains the only known video footage of Adrian Dingle and Cy Bell talking about their work in comics as well as footage of Les Barker (Leo Bachle) giving us some of his stories of working in comics. I rushed through my power point presentation on the legacy contribution of Patrick Loubert and Michael Hirsh to Canadian comics culture with Michael commenting throughout and then we took about 10 minutes of questions from the audience.
A few of the attendees came up to me after the presentation and asked if the video was commercially available (which it isn’t) and this made me think that it might be time for a DVD that put the documentary video along with a digital copy of The Great Canadian Comic Books volume (which is very hard to find now) and a digital copy of the promotional package created by Clive Smith for the National Gallery travelling exhibit of original art pages all on one disc—further accompanied by ongoing interviews and/or commentary from Patrick Loubert, Michael Hirsh, and Clive Smith. It would be a fantastic addition to Canadian comic culture and it would make sure that a lot of the “back story” of the Loubert and Hirsh comic legacy is told and preserved.
One thing I did find out was that it was Capt. George Henderson who put Patrick and Michael in touch with John Ezrin who, it turned out had that great stash of Bell Features original comic books and over 2300 pages of original Bell Features comic book artwork. It’s amazing that when you look back that in just about one year Loubert and Hirsch were able to buy the collection of comics and original art, mine the contents for a documentary and a book and help organize a travelling exhibit of the artwork around the country. It must have been a blistering pace and, what’s most significant, this was accomplished by a couple of green young guys, really just fresh out of college, who had no real experience or a plan for what they were doing.
As for the Shusters, they really began for me when the nominating committee agreed to give one of the Hall of Fame awards to Doris Slater/Titus and her daughter Patti Thomas said she was coming over from England to accept it on behalf of her mother. After the death of her mother in 1964, Patti left Canada when she became 18 in 1987 to reconnect with her father, Russ Titus – who had changed his name to Larry Cross in England. She has lived there since but has kept her Canadian citizenship and, as she showed us, travels on a Canadian passport. Patti still has a large extended family in Canada and visits them regularly.
Robert MacMillan and I met up with Patti about a week-and-a-half ago in Brantford where she had lived with her mother and brother for most of the 1950s. Robert, being a long time Brantford resident, a collector of and expert on Canadiana and excellent researcher, was able to find out that Doris Titus came to Brantford to teach art at Brantford Collegiate Institute, that she probably first met Toni Onley in Brantford, and that she was heavily involved in the art community in the area running a weekly sketch club on the grounds of the Glenhyrst Art Gallery. Robert discovered that there was a painting at the Brantford Armories, done by Doris Titus in 1956, honouring the history of Brantford’s 56th Artillery Regiment and that the Glenhyrst Art Gallery had a pastel sketch of a young girl in their permanent collection. Robert was able to show Patti and myself both of these pieces. Patti also took us to see the house the family had lived in on Chestnut Ave.
As I have said, The Shusters ceremony itself began about half-an-hour behind schedule. Michael Hirsh had to catch the train back to Toronto and couldn’t stay for the actual presentation of the T. M. Maple Award, though he was given the actual plaques that were to be presented to him and Patrick Loubert before he left. Michael also left me with some words for his acceptance speech which I conveyed to the audience in his absence:
“When, around the age of 5, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered, ‘I’d like to grow up to be Superman or Walt Disney’–this award helps to make that wish come true. When we were doing these projects with the Canadian Whites, Patrick and I were encouraged by comic collectors to sell the archives as individual pieces but we were determined to place the comics and original art pages (which we acquired from John Ezrin, the original publisher who financed the Bell Brothers) into the National archives. We believed that if the collection was maintained by a large public museum, the story would survive. And in fact Hope Nicholson and Rachel Rickey did just that by republishing the complete Nelvana of the Northern Lights and Johnny Canuck by utlizing the archives we established.”
It was special for me to present the Shuster Award for Doris Slater/Titus to her daughter Patti who was in the back seat when she lost her mother and friend Jennifer Onley in that tragic automobile accident back in 1964. Patti had marshalled together 14 relatives in the first two rows to see the presentation. It clearly meant a lot to her and her family. It’s such a bonus when we can get the award, which is for work done over 70 years ago, into the hands of the artists themselves or back to the family. Invariably, the family is thrilled to have one of their own recognized, and the children of the creator especially so.
I also want to mention the other Hall of Fame inductee, James Waley, who perhaps is best remembered for producing and editing Orb Magazine and also for being a co-founder of the Shuster Awards themselves. James’ recognition and accomplishments were read off by friend and creator Ron Kasman but the plaque itself was presented to James by his daughter, Mary, herself involved in the Shusters for many years. It was a presentation of tremendous significance and deep irony.
These were the real highlights of the awards ceremony for me and it seemed to come off quite well even though it was crammed into about 50 minutes. Kevin Boyd tells me that the Shusters will become a travelling awards show annually moving from con to con across the country with Montreal in July of 2016 being the next stop. For a complete list of this year’s winners see here.