The Top Ten WECA Covers
A recent movement that has risen to the surface in comic book collecting seems to be a focus on impactful covers—especially impactful golden age covers. This focus can, of course, overlap with other collecting strains such as Good Girl Art (GGA), Keys, Seduction of the Innocent (SOTI) books, Nazi covers, runs of a specific character, title, artist, etc. Take a look at Walter Durajlija’s recent pop-up column “Covered 365” that suggests a great cover to match a specific issue number for each of the 365 days of the year.
In the context of cover collecting, I also need to mention the fairly recent trends in collecting variant covers. These include variant international covers, newsstand pricing variations, and the millennial trend for multiple variant covers (including sketch covers) for a given single issue. Cover collecting can even target factory-produced anomalies such as multiple (double or triple) covers and colour variance covers as well.
In this column I want to put forward some personal candidates for the most collectible covers in the WECA comic set (Canadian war-time comics 1941-46).
However, the irony is, that with the limited number (approximately 780 or so) issues that comprise the WECA comics set, compounded by their scarcity, collectors of these comics tend to grab them up whenever they can and don’t really enjoy the luxury of collecting any sort of subset. Also, if you look at the first thirty or so selections that Walt has made in his column, the thing that, above all, contributes to making a great collectible cover is the subject matter—the content. The more sordid the gore or depiction of female sensuality (GGA), the better. To a lesser extent, but still among the most popular, are political covers depicting Axis and Communist enemies in combination with American patriotic themes or just stand-alone American patriotic themes altogether. A tier below these are covers without the exaggerated energy of the previous themes. These are covers which are desired for their aesthetic merits as based on composition, colour, and draughtsmanship—they often bear some well-known signatures such as L. B. Cole, Lou Fine, Will Eisner, and Frank Frazetta.
Canadian war-time comics were generally devoid of the pronounced luridness of some of the best golden age American covers. Our books were generally toned-down, beige counterparts of the hype and energy of many of their contemporary cousins from below the border. We can find a number of Nazi covers (there was a war going on after all) and one or two covers that seem to be approaching Good Girl Art status. The best I can offer here is a subjective suggestion of some of the candidates that might be considered as the most collectible covers of the WECA period. This is a personal gallery of ten great WECA covers set in my order of preference and is meant as nothing more than a starting point for further debate and discussion.
When you talk WECA covers, you have to begin with the Nelvana compendium issued in the summer of 1945. This iconic, Dingle illustration serves as a totem for all WECA comic collectors. The central image has appeared on a Canadian stamp and the character was the inspiration for the name of one of Canada’s most successful animation companies (see here). This comic and this cover have to be one of the most sought-after items in the WECA collecting world.
From the feminine force of her leading fist to the ballet grace and elegance of her flight pose, this Canadian demi-goddess was more Mary Marvel than Wonder Woman. The gradient aurora in the arctic sky of the background echoes her source of powers and Adrian Dingle’s stamp of copyright below his signature on her cape emphatically states how important the character was to him and points to the future he hoped she would have. You can almost hear Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” as she arcs across the barrens to save Canada and the Inuit peoples from some Axis menace. I’ve never really figured out what those two wisps attached to her headband were. In early issues they’re clearly wings or a feathered headdress of some sort. She has them when she returns from her sojourn in Glacia in Triumph Comics 18, but after she takes on her secret identity of Alana North in Triumph Comics 20 she doesn’t don her fur-trimmed mini-dress and cape until issues 30 and 31 of the title, and the ‘feathers’ are missing there as they are in her full-colour erstwhile revival in Super Duper Comics No. 3 in 1947.
For my next most collectible WECA cover I have to stay with the same publisher and even with the same compendium-themed batch that came out in the summer of 1945. This time it’s Tedd Steele’s Speed Savage compendium. This one is slightly lurid with the death-skull and boney finger pointing to the number 13 race car on the track while Speed, as the ‘White Mask,’ straddles that track with Kirby legs and pops off a shot in the spectre’s ear. This is a dynamic cover and its swirl of motion is perhaps its greatest strength. As time went on after the comics, Tedd Steele moved more and more away from his illustration and tried to concentrate on his storytelling and writing but with this 1945 compendium cover he hit his illustration high watermark.
Not ready to leave Bell Features yet, because my next cover on the list contains the image I chose for the cover of my book Heroes of the Home Front. It’s Wow Comics 26, again with a Dingle cover that shows Gerry Lazare’s character, The Dreamer, sprinting out towards the reader with his cape unfurled. The background, which adds the metaphoric element of menace and evil that is The Dreamer’s constant nemesis, sports a skeletal death’s thumb and fingers holding a pat four-aces poker hand. This cover makes you want to find out what’s going on inside and who that costumed guy on the cover is. I settled on this ‘coming-at-you’ Dreamer image by Dingle for my book front cover over his better-known flying Nelvana because it was a little more obscure and, for me, a little more directly impactful.
For my next great WECA cover suggestion I jump to Montreal’s Educational Projects and their best draughtsman, George Menendez Rae. It’s another 1945 book and another compendium—this time the Canada Jack compendium. This is an explosive cover with the main character bursting out of a red background on a motorcycle and through a road danger sign. A crook and part of another crook, along with CJ’s German Shepherd sometimes sidekick, are choreographed into the whirlpool tumult around the explosion Canada Jack has punched through the front cover. Educational Projects and Menendez Rae showed what they could really do with this cover. It’s a shame that the company folded just a few months later.
Rounding out my suggestions for the top five collectible WECA covers is Ed Furness’ image for Anglo-American’s Freelance 33 with its iconic, fist-swinging hero in jodhpurs levelling a neo-Nazi trooper in the middle of an enemy munitions factory. This book came out in the late-summer of 1946, the final year of our WECA comics, and the war had already been over for a year. That’s a faux-swastika on the trooper’s armband. Note also that there were American printings of these late Anglo issues done in a Cleveland plant and the covers of these American printings are slightly more washed-out in appearance to the Canadian printings. Here we have a cover that best depicts the All-Canadian hero (whose origins weren’t really Canadian) levelling an enemy threat to Canada. It’s the pendulum of his fist anchored in that firm jodhpur stance that makes the image. This is cover is really just an increment below that iconic depiction of Paul Henderson scoring the last-minute winning goal against the Soviets in the 1972 Summit Series.
It’s hard to believe I’ve gotten this deep into the best WECA covers without stretching out to the west coast for a Maple Leaf book and a Jon Stables cover. Well, the next suggestion on my list is, in fact, the cover of Better Comics Vol. 3 No. 3 which contains the origin and first appearance of Brok Windsor. The run of Brok Windsor in Better Comics is among the best-drawn series in Canadian comics and this cover, features a hero who looks like a Canadian combination of Tarzan and Flash Gordon in a life-or-death struggle with a pair of weird horned lions. It’s a cover that has a dynamism and tension that would make me pick it up first out of all the other issues on the rack or the newsstand. Stables always produced great covers, and this was probably his best.
Some of you may have noticed that the covers I’ve suggested so far belong to the latter half of the WECA period, that is from 1944-46. For my next suggestion, I go back to that first year of these war-time Canadian comics, just a few months after the Canadian comics ‘Big Bang.’ My next candidate is the second issue of Hillborough Studio’s Triumph-Adventure Comics which features Nelvana’s first cover appearance and her second appearance overall. This issue has the same cover date, September 1941, as the first Commercia Signs/Bell Features comic, Wow Comics No. 1. Here, Nelvana is not the flying female fist she is on the 1945 compendium mentioned above. On this cover, she is more ‘demure and ladylike,’ elegantly sitting side-saddle on the back of her brother Tanero in the form of his Grate Dane avatar. Her downcast eyes signal an additional modicum of modesty, though if you follow them down through her extended index finger, you see that she is simply pointing out an enemy vessel. Strangely, her cape here looks more like a remnant from a bear skin than the cloth one she usually has. This only a two-colour cover, but it has tremendous eye-appeal.
The next cover I’d suggest is the first Rocket Comics cover though its indicia shows it as Rocket Comics Vol. 1 No. 2. This comic is dated Jan.-Feb. 1942 and was the result of the contest in Name-It Comics Vol. 1 No. 1 to give the new title a name. The featured character on this cover is Spike Brown’s creation Cosmo and the unsigned cover is probably drawn by him. On the cover, Cosmo deals a meteoric, glancing blow to the bridge of an enemy battleship and skims by an astounded crewman who is bathed in the glow from the explosion and from Cosmo’s defiant ‘look what I did’ grin as well. This is the sort of subtle propaganda and spirit boosting cover that Canadian kids growing up on the home front in the middle of a world war could lap up.
My penultimate suggestion is another early WECA book that appeared on the stands just a month or so after the previous cover. It too is a battleship cover and belongs to Anglo-American’s Three Aces Comics Vol. 1 No. 4 from April 1942. This is a stark two-colour cover depicting the open-water night encounter of two war vessels. It is impactful in its simplicity. It’s not made clear which of the two is the enemy war machine, but a surfaced sub in the foreground is connected by the cylindrical wake of a torpedo to the exploding hull of large battleship that has just come over the horizon. The battleship’s searchlights are slicing up a starless sky and make the surface waves glisten. No people, no superheroes, no insignias or flags… just metal and water. This may not be the choice of many, but I think it deserves a place in the top ten.
My final suggestion is from the Pacific coast and Maple Leaf Publishers again and it’s from right in the middle of the WECA period. It’s the great robot cover from Rocket Comics Vol. 2 No. 2 from May-June 1943. This is a fun cover that depicts a giant robot wreaking Godzilla havoc through a city scape. It’s wonderful 1940’s kitsch. The robot menace is more Wizard of Oz Tin Woodsman or basement boiler than the cgi stuff we’ve become accustomed to, but it is knocking buildings over and looks like it could pop one or two of the humans it’s got right into that grill just below its steaming nostrils. This is a classically simple golden age cover with all the elements, the flat primary colours, the masthead, the background, the central image, and the price container working together in just the right way. You want to have a photo taken of yourself reading this book to show that you are into golden age comics.
Well, those are my personal and therefore vulnerable suggestions for the top covers from the WECA era in the order I prefer them. I welcome readers to share their own personal preferences and their own sequencing. Only one or two collectors I know might have all of these. I am lucky enough to have three of them and aspire to get any of the others that might come my way without having to remortgage my house. Let’s also keep hoping that more of these WECA books come out of the woodwork in the year ahead.
Below is a selection of a dozen other stand-out WECA covers that could easily merit inclusion in the above top ten with their individual arguments.