This week I want to talk about a significant comic from the late WECA period, Slam-Bang Comics No. 7, with a cover date of May, 1946. (Jim Finlay informs me that his indicia for this issue has the date July, 1946 pencilled in, maybe with the May date whited out? Anybody else have a copy they could check?) It took the cover banner from Fawcett’s short live run of a same titled series of 7 issues from 1940, but why it began in Canada with an initial number 7 is still a mystery. Perhaps it was some sort of nod or licensing response to the Fawcett run, but who knows?
The Whites were not only about the cliffhanger dramatics of superheroes, spies, and soldiers taking on the Axis. Satirical strips like Steele’s Private Stuff and Saakel’s Spike and Mike, both in Joke Comics, were just plain tongue-in-cheek fun.
Today is the launch day of our modest attempt to set up an online database of Canadian comic books from the WECA period (1941-46), better known to collectors as The Canadian Whites, at canadasowncomics.com. We were approached early on in our project to avoid the difficulty of creating an online index of these comics from scratch and simply upload our information to the Grand Comics Database. However, we felt it of utmost importance that the first real indexing of these comics be based in Canada. I’m sure that the information we put up there (and remember that this is the first real setting down of comprehensive data about a unique, rare, and arcane set of comic books) will often have holes and need amendment and tweaking, but this first effort is important. I’m sure that a lot of our information will be mined by sites such as the Grand Comics Database, I just hope that whoever ends up using our findings as published material will link back to our site or, at least, credit their find appropriately.
I’m up at the archives again, flipping original Bell Features art pages and have just had time to put together a patchwork column this week. First of all, I’d like to share with you some dates and geography. My…
The WECA period had its share of capes, masks, and tights, but the most common heroic habit for the super-styled Canadian crime-fighter of the period was far more reserved fashion statement. This was the simple combination of jodhpurs and riding boots with a variety of top halfs.
By the time Name-It Comics came out, Maple Leaf’s first title, and Canada’s first comic book, Better Comics had already had eight issues out and its second title, Lucky Comics (at that time known as “Union Jack – Lucky Comics”) had had half that. The other title that came out concurrently with Name-It Comics was Bing Bang Comics with its lead and cover feature being the adolescent, Denis the Menace type of trouble maker, Pinky.
On the front cover of Canada’s first comic book, Better Comics No. 1 (March, 1941), Vancouver’s Maple Leaf Publications chooses a stylized maple leaf containing the words “Canada’s Own” to be its logo. These words broadcast the mission mandate…
Few people know, however, that Clayton Dexter is a pseudonym for Howard Buchanan Cowan; thanks to Howard’s son Glen for this information and other biographical details. He was born in 1918 in Toronto to a well-known Dentist Father, William A. Cowan, who practiced on Bloor Street. Howard received some art training at Humberside College and after graduating in 1939 wanted to pursue further art studies but received no support from his father who seemed not to see much of a future in this and ideally wanted his son to become a dentist.
I’ve already discussed the work of Sid Barron, one of Educational Projects main artists, elsewhere and in this post I’d like to look at another, Joseph Hillenbrand, even though there is little information available about him apart from the comic book work he left behind.
For this post let’s stick to the Bell heroes as they appeared on the cover of six of the seven titles; we’ve got to make an exception of The Funny Comics because it featured one central character, Dizzy Don, who got every cover appearance for the 20 issue run with Bell. Also, the first 13 issues of Commando Comics feature generic soldier covers as one would expect and there are a couple of more generic soldier covers in the runs of the other titles (e.g., Dime 18 and 19, Wow 21). So let’s just look at the covers for the runs of Wow, Triumph, Dime, Active, and Joke Comics and see which characters are most featured on their covers.
This makes me think that the only way to get a group of truly Canadian superheroes again is to follow that first and tested pattern: ban all foreign comics from entering the country, then we’d have a captive audience and a bunch of publishers dedicated to producing a set of characters and books for these Canadian readers that could really stand out as something different.
Sometimes people doing the kind of thing I am doing for this column get called “comic book historians.” I don’t like the term. The word “historian” has academic connotations and presuppositions and the sense of being an authority that I don’t wish to take on as a mantle. People who do “history” bring to bear a number of disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, ethnology, economic theory, religion, etc., on a particular event or series of events to offer their “take” on them. They then propose an explanation for how these events came to be and/or what resulted from these events. This is definitely not what I am doing. Besides how can comic books even have a “history” yet? They are not even a hundred years old.
Last week I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days at the Library and National Archives of Canada in Ottawa. It’s just a couple of blocks west of the Parliament buildings on Wellington and backs onto the Ottawa…
The last ComicLink featuring a collection of Canadian “Whites” was this past February and, in the end, commanded some eye-opening prices for these scarce books. There we had about three dozen books, most in mid-grade to better. In my opinion even 6.5 and up should be considered “high grade” for these scarce Canadian wartime comics, given that so few are found in this condition.
This month’s auction, even though it has almost double the amount of books (61), has them in mostly in lower grades. Almost a dozen of them are incompletes (0.5) because of a centerfold missing or a rectangular coupon cut out of the front cover. I’ve done a summary of the books on offer in a chart form anchored on condition, going from the lowest to the highest.
As a lot of you may know, I am working on putting together a coffee table-sized book that would feature the main artists of these WECA comics, that is, the Canadian Whites. I've got about 10 sections finished and I have submitted a package with the first three sections to Dundurn Publishing in Toronto. I really don’t hold much hope for seeing my cache of fairly arcane information being picked up by a publisher over the next few months, but I will try a couple more (such as Drawn and Quarterly and Fantagraphics). Most likely, my project will only be able to see fruition as a self-published e-book or a book for which a good deal of publishing funding could be raised through an online funding scheme such as Kickstarter.
“Thunderfist,” what a great name for a superhero. E. T. Leagault came up with this early in 1942 after having being the sole writer and artist for Cy Bell and his one title at that time, Wow Comics which featured two other Legault creations, Dart Daring and Whiz Wallace. The first issue of Wow Comics was cover dated September, 1941 and came out on the stands after half-dozen issues of Better Comics and a couple of issues of Lucky Comics issued by Maple Leaf Publications out of Vancouver had already been in the hands of lucky kids across the country.
It’s that time of year again when Canadian golden age creators are considered for inclusion in the Joe Shuster Awards Canadian Comic Book Hall of Fame. Certainly an august constellation of creators but who are the two additions that should be inducted this year?
The Wing was the creation of John G. Hilkert and first appeared in Joke Comics No. 4 (Sept./Oct. 1942) as the Wing, but if we look closely we can find an appearance of a character (not costumed or super powerful) named Trixie Rogers in a text story written by Hilkert and art by Murray Karn in Dime Comics 5 called “Death Casts a Vote” a couple of months before she put on the costume in Joke Comics.
Overall the documentary was a slick and informative effort. It reminded me a little of the recent PBS Superheroes three-parter because it made heavy use of talking heads in front of green screen projections. This allowed the film itself to take on a sense of comic book levity and healthy self-deprecation. A comic book doc has to be heavy on graphics from the books themselves and this one didn’t let us down in that respect.
The latest ComicLink online auction finished last night and on offer were three dozen slabbed Canadian comics with all but two of them WECA books. The biggest irony of the final tally for me was that the highest prices were commanded by essentially reprint material.