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.
Longtime readers know that we love us some Golden Age Canadian comics at CBD, and over the weekend I got a chance to sit down with Comics Historian and Publisher Rachel Richey to talk about her latest project, bringing back Canadian Hero and icon Johnny Canuck!
In late 1944, Steele seemed to have come up with the idea of doing cut-out masks of a few of the lead Bell characters on the inside covers of some of the Bell Features books. We modern collectors look back somewhat aghast on this because, just like Bell’s placement of cut-out coupons in similar locations, it must have led to wanton disfigurement of many of these books, but such were the ways of the world back then towards something that was seen as ultimately disposable and easily remaindered. Steele signed these "fathead" portraits with his shortened monogram "TAS."
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…
Because it's Canada Day week I want to do a bit of a more involved special column about the figurehead of the Canadian Whites this time--Nelvana. This mini-skirted, semi-mortal, maid of the Arctic skies has firmly become the totem (the chosen emblem) of the Canadian war-time comics.
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.
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.
This time there were 66 books on offer and most were of lower or very low grade. Would the auction for these books support the strong results of the last ComicLink Whites auction in February, or would the results fall flat because of the lower grades and not many really key books?
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.
I recently came across a copy of a newsprint comic put out in April of 1941 called Canadian Rocket. I’m sure that some of you have already seen it. This has no glossy or cardboard type cover and is simply a newsprint publication that is a little larger than a regular comic book. Perhaps this was also the format of Robin Hood Comics No. 1 by Anglo American Publications which appeared on the stands a month earlier along with Better Comics No. 1 from Maple Leaf Publications. The indicia attribute it to Victory Publishing Co. in Toronto.
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?
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.