by Jimmm Kelly
an introduction to canadian comics history
- TOO MUCH GEOGRAPHY:
- WLMK: Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to the House of Commons, June 18 ’36.–
If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography.
- Economies of scale: Canada has a relatively small population spread over the second largest nation in the world. The economies of scale are all wrong for publishing success–which accounts for the sparse history of comics publishing in Canada.
- H.A. Innis: Harold Adams Innis (b. November 5, 1894 – d. November 8, 1952) was a Canadian political economist and communications theorist. In his THE BIAS OF COMMUNICATION (’51), Innis remarked that the Western national economies emphasize consumer goods “characterized by communication industries largely dependent on advertising and by constant efforts to reach the largest number of readers or listeners.” Modern communication industries (which in Innis’ time were newspapers, magazines and broadcasting–and now would include the internet and smart phones) have a space bias–they are ephemeral and not meant to last, but they are useful in the expansion of empires.
- Parochial publishing: Early publishing within Canada tended to be parochial by nature, because Canada’s economy was always dependent on larger economies. As Innis observed, Canada is a staples producer–its economy continually shifts from one resource to another–and it depends on selling those resources to larger economies. Which means that Canada is always a satellite of bigger powers. This is not entirely a bad thing, in the view of Innis, because the hinterland being distant from the centre of communications can have greater independence. New ideas and innovations can develop freely in the hinterlands.
- Distinct societies: Where the American comic book industry had its origins in New York and its environs. Canada’s comic book industry has grown up in many distinct societies across the country. This fragmentation further reduces the audience for some publications; however, it accounts for the rich variety in comics that have been produced here.
- Diversity: Canada is a land of diverse geography and diverse people. It has always been so since the first peoples came to this land tens of thousands of years ago. The language families of the First Nations demonstrate their diversity. Linguists identify eleven language families among Canada’s aboriginal people. By contrast, one language family, the Indo-European language family, accounts for most of the languages spoken in Europe, the Indian sub-continent and other parts of Asia and Africa. The aboriginal language families must have developed independently of each other in the Americas, as the peoples were separated from each other by distance and geography.
- Early cartooning in Canada: Editorial cartoons were published in local newspapers across the country. These papers also sometimes published gag cartoons and comic strips by local talent, in addition to the features they imported from outside the country (most from the United States and Great Britain).
- Early funny books in Canada: There were some early humour magazines published in Canada which collected editorial cartoons and gag panels. But again these were usually local publications. One of these was the weekly GRIP, published by the Toronto cartoonist John Wilson Bengough, beginning May 24, 1873.
- Henri Julien: The Montreal caricaturist Henri Julien (b. May 14, 1852 – d. September 17, 1908) was a gifted illustrator. In 1874, he began contributing to L’OPINION PUBLIQUE and the CANADIAN ILLUSTRATED NEWS–followed by publication in LE MONDE ILLUSTRÉ and THE GRAPHIC. Julien became the first full-time editorial illustrator in Canada, when he was hired by the MONTREAL STAR in 1888.
- CANADIAN AMERICAN COMICS: It’s a common fact in Canada that people often leave the country to make their fortune. This was true in the early stages of comics history, as the big producers of comics were in the United States. Many creators of early comics, now celebrated in Canada as Canadian creators, were really, in fact, American citizens and worked in the U.S.
- THE BROWNIES: Palmer Cox was born April 28, 1840, in Granby, Lower Canada (in what would become the province of Quebec). When he was 23 years old he travelled to San Francisco, where he found employment as a railroad contractor and began to study illustration. Moving to Long Island, New York, he contributed editorial cartoons to the UNITED STATES TOBACCO JOURNAL. In 1879, Cox began THE BROWNIES which were featured in various magazines and gained in popularity. Cox combined text with illustration, but he didn’t create actual comic strips. However, THE BROWNIES were later spun off into their own comic strip format.
- OUT OUR WAY: J. R. Williams was born in Nova Scotia on March 30, 1888. When he was young, his family moved to Detroit. Williams worked as a catalogue artist, before his newspaper strip, OUT OUR WAY, began on March 20 ’22. A single panel cartoon series, it started out in small market newspapers, before being picked up for syndication in large markets. A Sunday comic strip feature was spun off from the single panel series–OUT OUR WAY: THE WILLETS.
- Hal Foster: Harold Foster was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on August 16, 1892. As a young man, Foster moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he got work illustrating the Hudson’s Bay Company catalogue, before bicycling to Chicago in 1919 to study there at the Academy of Fine Arts.
- TARZAN: Hal Foster’s comic strip adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ TARZAN began on October 20 ’28. The adventure strip would have an enormous influence on other comic artists and syndicated adventure strips.
- PRINCE VALIANT: After leaving TARZAN, Foster began his own adventure strip for the Hearst newspaper chain. Beginning February 13 ’37, PRINCE VALIANT gained in reknown.
- COMIC CUTS: In May ’34, Ike Geller, a Canadian businessman from Windsor, Ontario, published a weekly tabloid-size comic book in New York. COMIC CUTS lasted for nine issues, but the sales were underwhelming. Geller gave up on the idea and returned to Canada.
Joe Shuster: Born July 10 ’14, in Toronto, Ontario, as a boy Joe Shuster delivered newspapers for the TORONTO DAILY STAR. When he was around ten years old his family comic artist Joseph Shuster’s family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. At Glenville High School, he fell in good company with Jerome Siegel. Together, Jerry and Joe published a science fiction fanzine, SCIENCE FICTION.
¶In ’35, Siegel and Shuster got work at Major Malcolm Wheler’s Nicholson’s National Allied, where they created a number of features for funny books. Meanwhile, they were hoping to sell their co-creatiion, Superman, to one of the newspaper syndicates, with no luck. In ’38, they opted to sell their creation to National Allied, to be featured in the new title, ACTION COMICS. Shuster, who had failing eyesight, set up a production studio in Cleveland that hired many artists–such as Wayne Boring and Paul Cassidey–to work on Superman, both for the funny books and for (finally, at last) a syndicated newspaper strip.
¶Canadians tend to make a little too much out of Shuster’s Canadian-ness. Not to say that Shuster’s roots in Canada aren’t important to the creation of Superman (there are several Canadian elements in the character), but given that Shuster lived in the United States for most of his life, he should be recognized as an American.
¶Nevertheless, Shuster remains an enduring symbol for Canadian comics history. In addition, Joe’s cousin Frank Shuster was a genuine Canadian institution. Frank played straight man to Johnny Wayne’s funny man. Wayne and Shuster were a hugely popular comic duo in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s in Canada. Frank’s daughter, Rosie, also became an important comedy writer and she produced the SUPERMAN 50th ANNIVERSARY TV special in ’88.
- SUPERMAN: To say that the publication of Superman in ACTION COMICS No.1 (June ’38) changed the comic book industry would be an understatement. Superman created a whole new genre that the American funny books exploited with zeal. And this, in turn, would influence the Canadian comic books yet to come. An American institution, Superman fights for Truth, Justice and the American Way. Yet Canada continues to honour Superman as a Canadian hero to this day–as the recent issuing of a new line of stamps and coins attests. I suppose that Superman has become such an international star that every nation deserves a piece of him.
- 15c in Canada: Just prior to the publishing boom caused by the WECA, home-grown publishers could not survive in Canada against the competition of American publishers. The American comics on sale in Canada–all in colour for a dime–were usually priced at fifteen cents for Canadian consumers. That Canadians were willing to pay 50% more than their neighbours just over the border proves how popular the new funny books were.
Below: An example of the Canadian pricing on WINGS COMICS No. 3 (November ’40).
- WECA: WECA stands for War Exchange Conservation Act–an act passed in the House of Commons on December 6 ’40. In reaction to the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1 ’39, the Canadian parliament declared war on Germany on September 10 ’39. On September 15, the Foreign Exchange Control Board was established to ration foreign currency. The government passed the War Exchange Conservation Act mainly to control the supply of American currency, so it would not leave the country–the WECA restricted the importation of non-essential goods from the United States. Included among these goods were comic books and pulp magazines.
The WECA pulp publishers: The Toronto-based pulp publishers included Superior Publishing, the Norman Book Company, Classic Publishing, Daring Productions, Merchants House and Al Valentine’s Alval Publishers of Canada. Some of the pulp publishers would also be involved with Canadian comics publishing. And, in addition to the English-language pulps, there were the French publications based in Montreal from Éditions Populaires, Les Éditions Bigalle, and Police-Journal.
- Four Colour Printing: American comics by and large, with few exceptions, used four colour printing. This means there were four plates of colour printed on every page–normally black, yellow, cyan and magenta. Getting all four colours to print on register was a tricky thing and not something that the new Canadian producers could easily master. It was also costly and time consuming. So while there were a few trials at four colour printing and most publishers had covers in four colour, for interior pages the process was largely dropped by all Canadian publishers in their haste to get out product. As these comics had black and white interiors, collectors have taken to calling them “whites.” There were also some comics where the pages were printed in two colours–meaning they used a black plate plus another plate of a different colour.
- The WECA comics publishers. Four publisher rushed into production as soon as the WECA was passed and they got their comics out in ’41. Three of these publishers were located in Toronto and the other was located in Vancouver. Others would enter the competition later on.
- Maple Leaf: One of the first to come out with their own comic book, Maple Leaf Publications was the only publisher in Vancouver. Their BETTER COMICS came out in March ’41. [See: 31. THE MAPLE LEAF LINE.]
- Anglo-American: The other publisher to get their comic to the newsstand first, also in March’41, Toronto’s Anglo-American had an advantage in having a ready product to print: ROBIN HOOD. [See: 41. THE ANGLO-AMERICAN LINE.]
- Hillborough: The third publisher to get their comic on the stands, Toronto’s Hillborough would not last for very long; however, they contributed one of the most Canadian of characters: NELVANA. [See: 51. HILLBOROUGH, BELL FEATURES AND THE OTHERS.]
- Commercial Signs/Bell Features. The fourth to make it to market, Commercial Signs aka Bell Features was the most long-lived of the original four. [See: 51. HILLBOROUGH, BELL FEATURES AND THE OTHERS.]
- Late Arrivals: LIke late guests to a dinner party, other publishers contributed to the WECA explosion. Some stayed at the party, while others quit very quickly. [See: 51. HILLBOROUGH, BELL FEATURES AND THE OTHERS.]
- The Golden Age: The WECA explosion is sometimes referred to as Canada’s Golden Age of comics. In some ways it was similar to what is regarded as the Golden Age of American comics, but the analogy shouldn’t be stretched too far. While there were many publishers and titles during this period, they really can’t compare with the amount of material produced in the United States at the same time. And while super-heroes dominated the American comics market, Canadian funny books tended to follow the example of the Sunday funnies. There were some super-heroes–and outright copies of American super-heroes–but just as many fantasy adventure heroes, two-fisted detectives, plucky young thrill-seekers and funny folks populating the black and white funny books. As well, stories tended to be serialized, rather than self-contained in one issue. Of course, every publishing house had its own house style that set them apart from the others. back to contents list
- THE MAPLE LEAF LINE: Harry Smith, a magazine seller in Vancouver, invested in Maple Leaf Publishing, with its office headquarters downtown on Homer Street. Their first title was BETTER COMICS Vol. 1, No. 1 (March ’41), initially priced at fifteen cents and in full-colour. Later, Maple Leaf went to black and white interiors and dropped their price to ten cents. BETTER was followed by BING BANG COMICS Vol. 1, No. 1 (November-December ’41), LUCKY COMICS Vol. 1, No. 1 (circa December ’41) and NAME-IT COMICS No. 1 (November-December ’41). NAME-IT was renamed and became ROCKET COMICS.
¶While the early efforts didn’t always have great quality, Maple Leaf was always trying to produce better comics. As the war came to an end and the American comics returned to Canada, Maple Leaf tried to increase sales by going full colour again and exporting their product to Great Britain. But those efforts failed and by late ’46, Maple Leaf was done for.
Below: Covers for (left to right) BETTER COMICS Vol. 1, No. 1 (March ’41) by Vernon Miller; NAME-IT COMICS No.1 (November-December ’41); BING-BANG COMICS Vol.5, No. 1 (May-June ’45) by Jon St. Ables; BETTER COMICS Vol. 1, No. 2 (May ’41) by Vernon Miller; ROCKET COMICS Vol. 2, No. 5 (November-December ’43) by Ley Fortune; LUCKY COMICS Vol. 5, No. 3 (February-March ’45) by Ernie Walker.
- Vernon MIller: Born in February of 1912, and growing up in Winnipeg, before coming to Vancouver to attend Kitsilano Hight School, Vernon Miller was employed as a production designer by Maple Leaf Publishing. Instrumental in the launching of Maple Leaf, Vernon worked on many features for the publisher. Later, he was hired as a cartoonist by THE PROVINCE newspaper, as well as the VANCOUVER SUN and BOY MAGAZINE.
- IRON MAN: Among Miller’s creations was the super-hero Iron Man, who appeared in the first issue of BETTER COMICS and many issues to follow. The lone survivor of an advanced, subterranean civilization, Iron Man is summoned to the surface world to aid humanity. The super-hero had powers similar to those of the early Superman–great strength, speed and the abilty to leap vast distances. Iron Man was not one for wearing clothes–his outfit consisted of blue swim-trunks, while boots (red or blue) were optional.
Below: In the VANCOVER BOOK (’76) compiled by Chuck Davis, contributor David Grannis (proprietor of the now long gone Collectors’ Books and Comics, in Vancouver) recounts the history of Maple Leaf; pictured are two of Vernon Miller’s creations that appeared in the first issue of BETTER–Earth Torpedo and Iron Man.
- Ted Ross: An editor at Maple Leaf, Ted Ross also wrote some of the features, although his name didn’t always appear on the stories. In particular Ross was a writer on Circus Girl and Mono the Air Cobra (later called Bush Pilot) , both features illustrated by Ley Fortune. Ross compiled research for his scripts, keeping a file of clippings. He also seems to have written for magazines. When the book about the ’40s Canadian comics, THE GREAT CANADIAN COMIC BOOKS (by Michael HIrsh and Patrick Loubert) came out in ’71, Ross was angry that the book gave short shrift to Maple Leaf, favouring Toronto over other parts of the country.
- Jon St Ables: Born December 23 ’12, in Ulverston, England, John Stables moved to Winnipeg, Canada, when he was 13. He had been working in Victoria, B.C., for the wartime shipbuilding industry as a painter and sign writer, before coming to Vancouver, in ’42,, to work at Maple Leaf as a comic artist, writer and production designer (taking over this position from Vernon Miller). Known as Jack in his everyday life, he used various pen names on his work, but the one he employed most often was Jon St. Ables.
¶In terms of Canadian comic artists during the WECA explosion, there are few that can match him. He would have easily fit in at one of the big American publishers like Quality or Fawcett. His realistic illustrations were well-suited to Maple Leaf’s fantastic adventure heroes and special documentary feature pages (about Canadian history and war heroes). As production designer, his touch was visible throughout the comics. Work by St. Ables included Brok Windsor in BETTER COMICS, Bill Speed in ROCKET COMICS and Piltdown Pete in LUCKY COMICS.
- BROK WINDSOR: St. Ables’ best known creation was the fantasy-adventure hero, Brok Windsor. A man of science and an explorer, Dr. Brok Windsor discovered the Islands Beyond the Mists in the heart of Canada. Brok’s friend, Torgon, is one of a tribe of very tall people native to these lost islands–who refer to European settlers as “white dwarfs” [sic].
- PILTDOWN PETE: Although St. Ables excelled at the realistic adventure style, he sometimes worked on funny cartoon features like Piltdown Pete. For more on Pete and his girlfriend, be sure to visit the extra page–
The Yot Time F’got!
Below: Piltdown Pete, LUCKY COMICS Vol. 4, No. 3 (December-January ’44-’45), cover for LUCKY COMICS Vol. 5, No. 6 (
November-DecemberAugust-September ’45)–both by St. Ables.
- Ley Fortune: A student of reknowned Canadian artist, Jack Shadbolt, at the Vancouver School of Art in ’38 – ’39, Fortune’s full name was Shirley Fortune, but the name Shirley never appeared on the stories. Sometimes she used other names–working on the art for Bill Speed with John Stables (aka Jon St. Ables), they combined their names and signed the work as Stab Fortson [in ROCKET COMICS Vol. 5, No. 8 (9) (March-April ’46) and Vol. 5, No. 10 (May-June ’46)]. The two main features that Ley worked on were Circus Girl and Mono the Air Cobra, sometimes in collaboration with editor/writer Ted Ross or Hal Kerr [Hal Kerr could have been a Ross alias]. At the end of the war, the Mono feature morphed into Bush Pilot.
Below: Ley Fortune’s Circus Girl, BETTER COMICS Vol. 3, No. 7 (December-January ’44-’45); Mono the Air Cobra, ROCKET COMICS Vol. 2, No. 5 (November-December ’43); Bush Pilot, ROCKET COMICS Vol. 5, No. 10 (May-June ’45).
- Bus Griffiths: Gilbert Joseph Griffiths [b. 1913 – d. September 25, 2006] was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, but his family moved to B.C. when he was ten. Known as Bus, he worked as an illustrator for the Massey-Harris farm catalogue, before becoming a tree faller in the B.C. forests in the ’30s [which is where my Dad knows him from, since my father was also a lumberman in those days]. When Maple Leaf came along, Bus got work there as a cartoonist–including a logging feature for ROCKET COMICS. He also created an 8 page comic for the B.C. government to educate kids about forestry. After that Bus returned to logging, but was called back to cartooning decades later. More about that and NOW YOU’RE LOGGING further down the page. [See: 86. NOW YOU’RE LOGGING.]
- Other creators and features: According to Ted Ross, one Maple Leaf cartoonist, Bert Bushell also had work that appeared in the SATURDAY EVENING POST and COLLIER’S. Other artists and writers at Maple Leaf included Ernie Walker, Bill Meikle, Hall and Walker, Spike Brown, Peggy Wilson, E.G. Letkeman, Bill Benz and John MacKillop.
Below: Covers featurng Cosmo by Spike Wilson, ROCKET COMICS Vol. 1, No. 6 (September-October ’42); Lucky by Hall and Walker, LUCKY COMICS Vol. 5, No. 4 (April-May ’45); Sergeant Canuck by Spike Wilson, BING BANG COMICS Vol. 2, No. 5 (March-April ’44); inside panel from Peter and Peggy by Ernie Miller, LUCKY COMICS Vol. 1, No. 8 (June-July ’42); and a subscription form with Blackwell the Magician by Bert Bushell shilling for Maple Leaf on the back cover of LUCKY COMICS Vol. 1, No. 8 (June-July ’42).
- BING BANG COMICS features: Spike Brown’s Sergeant Canuck featured the adventures of a two-fisted Canadian soldier in BING BANG COMICS. But the star of BING BANG was Bert Bushell’s Pinky–a blonde kid who gets himself into all kinds of mishaps.
- LUCKY COMICS features: Kid adventures were quite popular at Maple Leaf and Lucky (also known as Roger) was the star of LUCKY COMICS. The Adventures of Lucky—the Tale of a Little French Refugee–by Hall and Walker–followed the travels of its boy hero through Nazi-occupied France. Other kids also appearing in LUCKY included Danny and His Magic Ring, by Vernon Miller, and the mystery solving pair, Peter and Peggy, by Ernie Walker.
- ROCKET COMICS features: A fantasy adventure hero Cosmo and His White Magic by Spike Brown was a long running star in ROCKET COMICS. A well-written procedural by Bert Bushell in ROCKET starred the flawed detective Callahan. Another detective in ROCKET was The Hand, Criminologist, by Ernie Walker. Also in ROCKET was Jose Turkey, a funny animal gag strip by Bill Meikle. A kid feature in ROCKET was Little Bill the Black Knight which had a Captain Marvel aspect to it, as the boy, Little Bill, would become the adult Black Knight.
- BETTER COMICS features: In addition to Brok Windsor, Iron Man, the Earth Torpedo and Circus Girl, there were many other features in BETTER, such as Senorita Marquita, Verier’s Rags the Marvel Dog and Hall and Walker’s Stuffy Boggs.
- THE ANGLO-AMERICAN LINE: Thomas H. Sinnott, John G. Baker, John M. Calder and Thomas H. Sinnott were the four investors who started up Anglo-American, the first Toronto publisher to enter the WECA market–coming out with the tabloid size ROBIN HOOD COMICS Vol. 1, No. 1 (March ’41) in the same month that Maple Leaf entered the field with BETTER COMICS.
- MEN OF THE MOUNTED: In ’33, the Toronto TELEGRAM newspaper began running a comic strip by Ted McCall and Harry Hall named MEN OF THE THE MOUNTED, telling adventures of the RCMP. These strips provided ready material for Anglo-American to reprint in their first title, ROBIN HOOD COMICS–which took its name from another McCall comic strip. New material was produced thereafter.
- ROBIN HOOD AND COMPANY: Ted McCall’s second comic strip adventure series also began in ’33, ROBIN HOOD AND COMPANY illustrated by Charles R. Snelgrove, and syndicated to several newspapers in Canada, the United States and Europe. In ’39, Snelgrove passed away and the adventure series stopped until McCall found a new artist–Syd Stein–and the strip resumed briefly in ’40, before Stein left for military service. When Anglo-American began production, Ted McCall came on board and brought Robin Hood and Men of the Mounted along with him. Running for several years, with new material, the Robin Hood and Company feature clearly shows the influence of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant.
- Two colour covers: The initial quality of Anglo-American comics was rather cheap, even by standards of the time. All interiors were printed in black and white, while the covers were printed in two colours–usually black plus another colour. Two-colur printing does allow for some creative liberty, since the colours chosen don’t have to be the usual four (black, cyan, yellow and magenta).
Below: Two colour covers for (top, left to right) ROBIN HOOD COMICS Vol. 2, No. 2 (May-June ’43); FREELANCE COMICS Vol. 1, No. 1 (July-August ’41); CAPTAIN MARVEL COMICS Vol. 1, No. 7 (July ’42); (bottom, left to right) GRAND SLAM COMICS Vol. 1, No. 3 (February ’43); THREE ACES COMICS Vol. 3, No. 3 [39} (April ’45); SPY SMASHER Vol. 1, No.1 (June ’42).
- Copy cats: Getting around the prohibition against American comics entering Canada, Anglo-American was able to get scripts from Fawcett, which the Anglo-American artists would draw for their Canadian publications. The quality on these redux versions varied, but they did achieve some good stuff. As well, the publisher was able somehow to produce a few comics with original pages from Fox Publications, in spite of the WECA rules against such practices.
Below: Pages from the original Fawcett version of Wings Over Dazaggar (art by Al Carreno), CAPTAIN MARVEL JR. No. 1 (November 18 ’42); and the same pages from the Anglo-American version, GRAND SLAM COMICS Vol. 1, No. 3 (February ’43)–both artists seem to depend on swipes from Mac Raboy’s Captain Marvel Jr. work.
- Originals: In addition to acqusitions from other sources, Anglo-American produced a number of original features. Ted McCall and Ed Furness were responsible for many of these new creations which included Freelance, the Purple Rider, Commander Steel, Red Rover and the Crusaders.
Below: The Crusaders and the Purple Rider were two of the features in THREE ACES–note the heavy Fawcett influence on the Crusaders, down to having a bald, criminal scientist foe who resembles Sivana. From (left to right) the Crusaders inside page and Purple Rider cover, THREE ACES 53 (July-August ’46); Crusaders inside page, THREE ACES 54 (September-October ’46).
- The Fawcett house style: Anglo-American’s dependence on Fawcett for some of their material gave the company a definite Fawcett look. This wasn’t just in the Fawcett features themselves but in the original features produced by Anglo-American–as in the pages above. As well, possibly because of the Fawcett influence, their stories tended to be self-contained rather than serialized like most other Canadian publishers at the time.
- Entering the American market: To keep the company going as the war came to an end, Anglo-American improved the quality of their comics–now printing them in full colour–and they tried exporting their comics to the United States, in hopes of increasing sales
- Death is temporary: The efforts to keep the company alive failed and the Anglo-American comic books died out, but not for long.
- Fawcett’s branch plant: When laws in Canada changed again, Ameircan publishers would need outfits like Anglo-American to publish Canadian editions of their comics. Anglo-Amerian’s pre-existing association with Fawcett would prove fortuitous and Anglo-American’s production would increase once more. back to contents list
- HILLBOROUGH, BELL FEATURES AND THE OTHERS: Bell Features would prove to be the other prominent publisher that arrived early in the WECA explosion and stayed for the duration; however, there were some other companies that briefly entered the field–chief among them being Hillborough. The inter-relationships between some of these publishers are very knotty and hard to untie.
- The Hillborough Studio: Two brothers, André and René Kubach, along with Adrian Dingle–all artists–broke into the comic book business, with the help of an anonymous investor, to publish TRIUMPH-ADVENTURE COMICS No. 1 (August ’41) under their Hillborough Studio imprint. This title lasted for only six issues (under the Hillborough imprint)–in addition they published the one-shot TOP FLIGHT COMICS No. 1 (February ’42). Like the early Anglo-American comics, all of the Hillborough comics had black and white interiors with two colour covers.
- NELVANA OF THE NORTHERN LIGHTS: While Hillborough didn’t last for very long or produce vey much, there was one feature in TRIUMPH-ADVENTURE COMICS No. 1 which proved very significant. Created by Adrian Dingle, Nelvana of the Northern Lights was partly inspired by an Inuit legend told to Dingle by the Group of Seven artist Franz Johnston, who had visited the north. The comic book version of Nelvana resembled other white queen/goddesses in exotic lands like H. Rider Haggard’s Ayesha in SHE: A HISTORY OF ADVENTURE and W.H. Hudson’s Rima in GREEN MANSIONS–in that though she lives among native people, she is not herself native, but something other. In fact, Dingle’s Nelvana is not dissimilar to the ’35 movie version of SHE, which transfers Ayesha’s lost land from Africa to the high Arctic. Although she precedes Wonder Woman, Nelvana occupies the same territory of fantasy-adventure–tangling with magical and alien beings. She had far more powers than Wonder Woman or most other super-heroes.
- Commercial Signs: The brothers Bell–Cy and Gene–had a Toronto commercial art company in the ’30s: Commercial Signs of Canada. In ’39, an artist named Edmund Legault had suggested they start up a comic book company, but this didn’t seem feasible at the time; however when the WECA came into effect, Cy Bell saw the potential and with Legualt and financial backing from John Ezrin, Commerical Signs was able to publish WOW COMICS No. 1 (September ’41). As with Maple Leaf’s early BETTER COMICS–the initial issues were all in colour for fifteen cents, but the colour was usually off-register, so they went to black and white interiors like the other publishers. The name of the company was eventually changed to Bell Features. And Adrian Dingle decided to leave Hillborough to join Bell–which put Hillborough out of business. Bell Features contined TRIUMPH-ADVENTURE COMICS as TRIUMPH COMICS, with Nelvana as a prominent feature. Adrian Dingle also created the Penguin–a masked mystery man, in the style of the Shadow or the Green Hornet.
- JOHNNY CANUCK: In addition to Nelvana, Bell had another poopular Canadian icon–Johnny Canuck. Just as American cartoonists had often used Uncle Sam as a symbol of America, Johnny Canuck (or sometimes Jack Canuck) was a symbol of Canada. Leo Bachle embellished on that idea for his Johnny Canuck, who first appeared in DIME COMICS No. 1 (February ’42).
- More from Bell: Other creations included Dixon of the Mounted by Legault, Phantom Rider by Jerry Lazare, Jeff Waring by Murray Karn, Doc Stearne by Fred Kelly and Penny’s Diary by Patricia Joudry and Doris Slater. Despite being the most successful Canadian company during the WECA explosion, Bell Features couldn’t survive the coming storm of American competition after the war. Yet they only folded their tent temporarily and would soon return to publication.
Doc Stearne by Fred Kelly: From (left) COMMANDO COMICS No. 21 (circa ’46) [reprinted in DOC STEARN…MR. MONSTER No. 3 (June ’88)]and (right) TRIUMPH COMICS No. 31 (circa ’46) [reprinted in DOC STEARN…MR. MONSTER No. 1 (February ’88)]; the promised full colour appearance of Mr. Monster would have to wait for another publisher.
Penny’s Diary by Patricia Joudry and Doris Slater: Cover by Doris Slater for ACTIVE COMICS No. 21 (circa ’45) and interior page for ACTIVE COMICS No. 26 (circa ’46). Around this time, Patricia Joudry went to the United States and wrote hundreds of radio plays (including THE ALDRICH FAMILY), as well as theatrical plays.
- SUPER COMICS: Another comic from around the end of ’41 was the one-shot SUPER COMICS published by Citren News (presumably based in Toronto). As with most Canadian editions, the interiors were black and white. It seems to have reprinted the contents of MLJ’s PEP COMICS 22 (December ’41) which went on sale approximately October ’41 in the United States According to the WECA restrictions, such a comic should not have been permitted and Citren doesn’t seem to have continued with the experiment. More SUPER COMICS–again featuring MLJ characters, including the Shield–were later published by F. E. Howard.
- Educational Projects: In late ’42, a publisher from Montreal entered the competition. This was publisher Harry J. Halperin’s Educational Projects: where the other publishers indulged in fantasy, Educational had a pedagogical mission and its main title reflected this purpose. CANADIAN HEROES was as exactly that–a comic devoted to telling stories about Canadians–Mounties, Prime Ministers, explorers–who accomplished some good deed for the nation. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so Educational decided it would boost sales if they introduced a fictional hero to their young readers and that’s how Canada Jack was born. Suggested to Halperin by freelance artist George M. Rae, his Canada Jack was a rough and tumble adventurer, in the style of Hillborough’s Freelancer and Bell’s Johnny Canuck. In addition, Canada Jack was assisted by the Canada Jack Club–a real club that kids could join–where real life members could hope to be spotlighted in an issue of CANADIAN HEROES.
- F.E. Howard: Entering the competition late in ’43, another Toronto company, F.E. Howard continued the SUPER COMICS title which Citren had published as a one-shot, again reprinting material from MLJ–which should have been against the rules imposed by the WECA. Howard’s SUPER COMICS Vol. 2, No. 1 (circa December ’43) reprinted the cover and contents of PEP COMICS No. 44 (December ’43)–including Archie and the Shield, with the Shield’s costume altered to look like the British flag. This run of SUPER COMICS lasted for six issues. A one-shot, CAPTAIN COMMANDO AND THE BOY SOLDIERS (circa ’45) was a mixed bag of reprinted MLJ material and new materrial from E. G. Letkeman [Letkeman got around–he had aslo contributed to Maple Leaf]. Among Letkeman’s new pages was the introduction of Zor the Mighty, a jungle man who would get picked up by other publishers. F.E. Howard was very nearly driven out of business by the end of the war, but they would make a brief comeback after the war.
- Others: More got into the game almost too late, as the war neared its end, which would spell doom for most Canadian publishers.
Feature Publications: By ’44, Edward Schecter, who had worked for Bell Features, had struck out on his own with Feature Publications (based in Toronto). The company published only one title–LIGHTNING COMICS. They swiped the font for COMICS from DC–perhaps in hopes people would mistake the comic for a genuine DC brand. LIGHTNING ran for a total of eleven issues–the last cover-dated October-November ’44–which was a rather impressive run considering the short life span of other Canadian titles. As usual, the covers were in colour, but the interiors were black and white. The cover featured super-hero was Captain Daring–with the usual sort of back-up features like Nemesis and Rover the Wonder Dog or Dr. Future and Pee-Wee.
Superior Publishers: Superior had already jumped into the pulp magazine business when the WECA opened up the opportunity for Canadian publishers, but they seem to have gotten into comics production later, around ’44 or ’45. A Toronto company, their publisher was William Zimmerman. Although Superior would prove to be a powerful force in years immediately after the war, there’s not much to be found about their wartime titles. By ’46, Superior was both producing original material and reprinting American comics. They published two issues of ZOR THE MIGHTY COMICS–the first issue reprinting the contents of F. E. Howard’s CAPTAIN COMMANDO AND THE BOY SOLDIERS (circa ’45)–while the second issue contained new material by E. G. Letkeman, Zor’s creator.
- Al Rucker Publications: Like Superior, just when the Al Rucker company started to publish comics is vague, but they had titles out in ’45 and ’46. One of their titles–THE WEEKENDER seems to have been intended as a comics section insert. Rucker tried to survive by publishing in full colour and exporting to the United States and Great Britain, but met with the same fate as all the other Canadian publishers that had tried the same thing. At least some of the material they were publishing looks to have been reprinted from earlier American comics, even though this would have been prohibited under the rules of the WECA.
Below: THE WEEKENDER Vol. 1, No. 2 (c.’45); THE WEEKENDER Vol. 2, No. 1 (January ’46); SCOOTER No. 1 (April ’46); BATTLE HEROES (circa’45); inside pages from THE WEEKENDER Vol. 1, No. 3 (September ’45) which reprinted material from the American Harry A. Chesler comics–it seems that THE WEEKENDER Vol. 1, No. 3 was itelf later re-issued or reprinted as LUCKY COYNE COMICS (circa ’48, by Super Publications) and exported to Britain.
- The Canadian Jewish Congress: Beginning in ‘January 44, the Canadian Jewish Congress prepared three issues of JEWISH WAR HEROES, the first cover-dated February ’44. These were giveaway informational comics–a form that woud become more common in the following decades.
Below: Front and selected inside pages from all three issues of JEWISH WAR HEROES (’44).
- CANADIAN AMERICAN COMICS: Even during the war, Canadian publishers succeeded by copying directly or indirectly from the American comics. Given the Canadian publishers were the only game in town, this was the only way that kids could read about their favourite American comic characters–unless they got a black market issue of an American comic smuggled over the border. For a brief period after the war, American comics were able to flow freely into Canada once again–which put most of the Canadian publishers out of business. However, the EECA would change that and open up a whole new opportunity for publising Canadian American comics.
- The EECA Explosion: EECA stands for the Economic Exchange Conservation Act introduced in late ’47. As with the WECA, the Canadian government worried about American currency leaving the country, because of their trade deficit following the war. Canadians, deprived of American consumer goods for so long during the war, were buying up too many American products and all the currency was heading south. However, unlike the WECA, the EECA allowed the publication of American comics and magazines, so long as they went through the middle man of a Canadian publisher. This opened up a world of opportunity for a multitude of publishers–not only the surviving publishers, Bell Features, Anglo-American and Superior–but new arrivals like Simcoe, Super, Publication Services, Gilberton and more. And given that publishers were prone to use several imprints or shell companies, a complete accounting for all the Canadian publishers is unwieldy if not impossible.
- SUPER DUPER COMICS No. 3: F.E. Howard was able to rally briefly in ’47 -’48, picking up properties from Bell Features–as Bell quit producing home-grown content and swiitched their production to reprinting American comics in Canada. An early example of a Bell reprint being [on the right] the oddball ASIA No. 14 (circa Spring ’48) featuring a reprint of Fox’s Rulah the Jungle Goddess [probably from ZOOT COMICS 13a (February ’48)].
¶Meanwhile, Howard produced comics that were to be sold in the U.S. and the U. K., as well as in Canada. This included two issues of DIZZY DON, one issue of CAROUSEL COMICS and one issue of SUPER DUPER COMICS. Fred Kelly’s Doc Stearne which had appeared in the Bell comics now appeared in Howard’s single issue of SUPER DUPER COMICS numbered 3 (cover-dated May-June ’47), although there never was an issue 1 or 2. It was the appearance of Doc Stearne, aka Mr. Monster, in this issue of SUPER DUPER, that would inspire Michael T. Gilbert’s creation of his own MR. MONSTER–iniitally in VANGUARD ILLUSTRATED No. 7 (July ’84). In addition, SUPER DUPER COMICS No. 3 featured other stars of Bell Features like Nelvana of the Northen Lights and Jeff Waring.
- Every Week: While many homegrown creations may have met their demise in the comic books, in the late ’40s new creations were being born in the comic features of Canada’s weekly magazines and newspapers.
- JASPER: Jim Simpkin’s Jasper (the Bear) was featured in single panel cartoons in MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE, beginning in the November 14 ’48 issue. The cartoon appeared in the magazine until ’68, when it was syndicated by Canada Wide Features, before Simpkins retired in ’72. During the entire period of its publication, Jasper was also collected into several books that were widely popular throughout the country. In ’62, the town of Jasper, Alberta–in the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by Jasper National Park–adopted the bear as its symbol and a larger than life statue was put up next to the train station. It is a tradition for visitors to stop and have their picture taken standing next to Jasper. A few years ago, vandals destroyed the old statue and a new one had to be made, which now stands a little further from the train station.
Below: The book cover of a JASPER collection (published by Rinehart); a typical Jasper cartoon; the new statue of Jasper in the town of Jasper.
- NIPPER: On January 8 ’49, Doug Wright’s wordless strip–which would later be titled Nipper–began appearing in the MONTREAL STANDARD, a weekly newspaper supplement carried in the MONTREAL STAR and in other newspapers across the country [later THE STANDARD became THE WEEKEND magazine]. The strip featured the antics of a bald little boy (the nipper of the title) and the tribulations of his long, suffering parents. As Doug Wright added sons to his own family, Nipper was blessed with a little brother, who proved equally capable of mayhem.
Below: NIPPER for May 16 ’64, reprinted in DOUG WRIGHT’S NIPPER: 1963 – 1964 (Drawn and Quarterly, 2010).
- JASPER: Jim Simpkin’s Jasper (the Bear) was featured in single panel cartoons in MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE, beginning in the November 14 ’48 issue. The cartoon appeared in the magazine until ’68, when it was syndicated by Canada Wide Features, before Simpkins retired in ’72. During the entire period of its publication, Jasper was also collected into several books that were widely popular throughout the country. In ’62, the town of Jasper, Alberta–in the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by Jasper National Park–adopted the bear as its symbol and a larger than life statue was put up next to the train station. It is a tradition for visitors to stop and have their picture taken standing next to Jasper. A few years ago, vandals destroyed the old statue and a new one had to be made, which now stands a little further from the train station.
- Superior’s BLACK DIAMOND WESTERN: The usual paage count for an American comic book at the time was 52 pages–if you include the cover–whereas, most Canadian publishers adjusting for costs, and usually selling their comics for ten cents to stay competetive, could only manage 36 pages, including the cover. Pages needed to be cut. During the time that Superior was carrying American titles–like Lev Gleason’s BLACK DIAMOND–they simply cut some stories out of their editions. Other publisher would find different ways of cutting. However, the quality of production from Superior was otherwise very good when compared with some of the other Canadian editions of the day.
Below: Splash page by William Overgard and the back cover for Superior’s BLACK DIAMOND 12 (circa June ’49)–a partial reprint of Lev Gleason’s BLACK DIAMOND WESTERN 12 (June ’49)–it looks like Superior had a lot of back stock they were willing to unload for very little money in their prize packages; front cover by Charles Biro for Superior’s BLACK DIAMOND WESTERN 14 (circa August ’49)–from Lev Gleason’s BLACK DIAMOND WESTERN 14 (August ’49)–note that the original cover advertised 52 pages, but the Superior cover advertises only 36 pages.
- Simcoe’s BATMAN: On the heels of the EECA, National Periodicals (DC) established their own branch-plant operation in Canada: National Comics Publications of Canada, Ltd., headquartered at 372 Bay Street, in Toronto. This lasted for some months, before another publisher of record took over producing DC’s Canadian editons. This was Simcoe Publishing and Distributing, with their offices at 70 Mutual Street, in Toronto. Simcoe published several National Periodical titles between ’48 and ’50. Their production values were very good, but again they had to cut out stories for their 36 page format.
Below: Simcoe’s BATMAN No. 56 (January – February ’50) reprinted from DC’s BATMAN No. 56 (December ’49 – January ’50)–with cover art and interior page from Ride, Bat-Hombre, Ride by Dick Sprang and Charles Paris (story by David Vern). One Batman story (Riddle of the Seven Birds) was cut. A Captain Compass story took its place. The two page text feature was moved from the interior pages to the inside front and inside back cover of the book.
- Bell’s PLASTIC MAN: Bell Features had published the greatest volume of comics during the WECA explosion, but that output was dwarfed by the amount they were publishing during the EECA explosion. They were contracted by several American companies–including Quality, Timely/Marvel and Archie/MLJ to reprint their material in Canadian editions. Yet for all their success, the quality of Bell’s product was unpredictable–their publications included the good, the bad and the ugly.
Below: Bell’s PLASTIC MAN No. 24 (circa December ’50)–with a cover and interior art by Jack Cole from Quality’s PLASTIC MAN No. 26 (November ’50). This is the Canadian editions at their worst. The printing is bad–with colours often wildy off register. Worse yet, pages of the stories in this issue have been left out to squeeze in more stories. To fill in the gaps, a brief blurb of the missing action is stamped onto the bottom of the page–and the printing of that blurb is also so bad that it’s hardly legible. One good thing–the inside front cover (as well as the inside back and back cover, not shown) advertise a series of colouring books (also called paint books) featuring Willy and Wendy Wylie–presumably also published by Bell. At least with colouring books, if the colours are outside the lines, the fault is your own.
- Super Publishing’s BOY ILLUSTORIES: The Canadian editions of Lev Gleason comics were taken over by Super Publishing from Superior Publishing. It’s possible these were the same company–just with two different names, as happened a lot at the time (Superior had several imprints)–but it doesn’t appear likely, as the quality of Super’s editions seems poorer than that of Superior’s.
Below: Super’s BOY ILLUSTORIES No. 63 (circa March ’51) from Lev Gleason’s BOY COMICS 63 (March ’51)–cover art by Charles Biro, interior art by Norman Maurer. The first page of the story is printed on the inside front cover in black and white–which wouldn’t be so unusual, since other publishers did the same, but Super also prints other parts of the book in black and white. Like Bell Features, they cut pages and panels out of stories to make them fit–although they do a better job of printing a summary of the missing action.
- British North American Acts: The idea of free enterprise relies on a large and affluent consumer base to buy the products being produced. With too much geography and too few people, laissez faire capitalism does not always work in Canada, without some regulation to assist domestic producers. The WECA, and to a lesser extent the EECA, put in place artifical conditions that helped publishers corner the market. But now several publishers were all vying for the same finite number of consumers. Their supply was greater than the demand in Canada. They needed to expand their consumer base to stay alive, which is what many of them tried to do, by distributing their funny books to the United States and Great Britain. Superior was somewhat successful, at least in the U.S. They and others tried to make a go of it across the pond, but never got very far.
- The EECA Implosion: By ’51, the EECA had already been relaxed to allow some American comics to be imported and then, with the Korean War, Canada’s economic position istrengthened and there was no need for the EECA. The floodgates were opened and American comics came pouring in. It was the end for all the Canadian publishers–almost all . . .back to contents list
- DAWSON CREEK ASSASSINS: It was a lazy day in November of ’48 and not much worth doing in Dawson Creek, B.C.–a rural town of a few thousand souls in the Peace Rivier Country, off the new Alaska Highway that they put through during the war. Looking for some distraction from the ho-hum, two boys–aged eleven and thirteen–got their hands on a rifle which they hoped to use for sport. Going up to the highway, they laid in wait, just like you would do in a story, until finally a car came up the road. Something to shoot at. The shot from the rifle at the passing vehicle mortally wounded a passenger–James M. Watson. The Department of Health and Social Welfare’s subsequent investigation into the senseless crime and the two juvenile assassins turned up the fact that between them they read some eighty crime comics a week.
- The Fulton Bill: The province was in an uproar over this murder by the two youths. At trial, the comic books were seen as the real culprit. Judge C.S. Kitchen recommended a ban on all such magazines. There was already a cohort of citizens who believed comics were polluting the minds of the young–and here was their proof. The anti-comics campaign swept nationwide and fuelled a bill in the House of Commons, put forward by the Member of Parliament from Kamloops, B.C.–E. Davie Fulton. Bill 10 on the order paper became known as the Fulton Bill and was finally passed into law on December 10 ’49.
- House of Horror: One of the prime offenders, according to the moral police of the day, was Superior Publishing. Not only did they publish crime comic books, but lurid pulp magazines, as well. And while most other publishers were content to reprint American material, as mere branch plant operations, Superior–headed by William Zimmerman–was publishing all new material, as well as reprint editions. Granted most of this new material was likely produced by the Iger Studio in the United States, but still Superior was a growing Canadian enterprise. Not only were they a leading seller in Canada, but they had their eyes on the markets in the U.S. and Great Britain–shippng their titles there. Even after the Fulton Bill was passed, Superior thumbed their noses at the prohibitions in the bill and went ahead with a line of horror comics. The first such horror anthology was JOURNEY INTO FEAR No. 1 (May ’51), followed a few months later by STRANGE MYSTERIES No. 1 (September ’51). Two years later they added a third horror with MYSTERIES [WEIRD AND STRANGE] No. 1 (May ’51).
Zimmerman’s War: Before the Fulton Bill was passed into law, it went to the Senate. The Canadian publishers wanted to make their case before the Senate and a standing committee was struck to interview witnesses. William Zimmerman appeared before the Senate committee to plead his case. At that point, not everyone was on side with censorship, which seemed against certain Canadian principles of fairness and freedom. But Zimmerman failed to win his case when he presented samples of these funny books to the committee, which only served to sway the hold-outs to condemn what they considered garbage.
¶Despite the Fulton Bill, Zimmerman continued to reprint American crime comics, including those from EC. While the other Canadian publishers were swept aside when American comics were allowed back into the country, Superior continued on, even as censorship campaigns mounted and the American publishers came under a similar threat. Fredric Wertham’s SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT (’54)–which included a chapter on the Dawson Creek murder and the Canadian censorship movement–promoted a national campaign to rip these comics out of the hands of children. With his comics selling well in the U.S. and Canada, Zimmerman would not back down, yet he could not withstand the tide against him. The last horrors came out at the beginning of ’55–MYSTERIES [WEIRD AND STRANGE] No. 11 (January ’55) and STRANGE MYSTERIES No. 21 (January ’55), leaving Superior with G.I. WAR BRIDES, MY SECRET MARRIAGE, SECRET ROMANCES and UNITED STATES FIGHTING AIR FORCE. Meanwhile, across Canada, as in the United States, public burnings of comic books were being held. The last Superior comics came out in the fall of ’56–UNITED STATES FIGHTING AIR FORCE No. 29 (October ’56) and the great era of Canadian comics came to an ignoble end.
- The American Empire: In ’54, to prevent government legislation against comics, a cohort of publishers organized the Comic Code Authority which would regulate comic book content. Not every publisher signed onto the deal and some publishers–like EC–were driven out of the funny book trade. [EC survived by publishing MAD magazine, which turned out to be a good deal for them.]
¶For the generation that came after Canada’s great comic book dominion, we never knew anything but the American comics that were all around us. The American icons were ours and we never suspected that Canada had once had a wide array of its funny books to entertain and enlighten. American culture hung over us constantly–and we liked it, But still, we wondered why it had to be. Oh we had Jasper the Bear and Friendly Giant, Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, Chez Helene and Rocket Richard–but to the south of us were the cities of Gotham and Metropolis, Duckburg and Tinytown. Those places were not here. And if we were not American, who were we then?
- Mounties and Snow: Even though the United States now had free access to Canadian readers–which one might conservatively estimate as adding 10 % more consumers to their total “domestic” sales–the American publishers took these readers for granted, rarely acknowledging the existence of Canada. When they did, they usually completely ignored the large cities close to their own borders and gave attention instead to some mythic northern land that was always covered in snow and patrolled by Mounties dressed in red serge.
DOLL MAN: Darrell Dane heads to the frozen North on the trail of the Undertaker, in FEATURE COMICS 94 (January ’46). A Mountie has failed to get his man, but redeems himself in the end [art by Dan Zolnerowich].
BATMAN: Batman of the Mounties from BATMAN 78 (August-September ’53), was reprinted in the giant-size BATMAN 222 / G-73 (July-August ’70) [story by David Vern; pencils by Lew Sayre Schwartz (with Bob Kane); inks by Stan Kaye]. The cover for the original BATMAN 78 was by regular Batman artist and Canadian WW II veteran, Win Mortimer, while Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson provided the international themed cover for the giant reprint. The Dynamic Duo visit the North and end up tracking down a pair of no goods who are, of course, French-Canadians from Quebec.
Information, please: Canadian comic book publishing didn’t go away completely. There were the odd Canadian editions of American comics and there were the giveaways. These were small pamphlets usually sponsored by the government or industry, given away for public education or commercial promotion. There were two organizations that specialized in the production of giveaways: Ganes Productions in Toronto, run by Orville Ganes; and Comic Book World in Halifax, run by Owen McCarron. A comic book fan himself, McCarron also contributed to fanzines and even had work published in the first issue of CAPTAIN CANUCK.
¶And while American strips dominated the funny page in our newspapers, some space was left for educational strips and features, like the CANADIENS comic strip–not a feature dedicated to the Habs but a French feature about the history of francophone Canadians and ultimately the history of our country. It seems like the only use that the establishment could conceive for Canadian comics was as a pedagogical or propaganda tool.
- 1967: The one-hundredth year of Confederation, the ’67 Centennial, was a time of nation-wide celebration. Government, schools and community groups all got behind festivals and pageants to honour our great Domininion. As well, in Montreal, Expo ’67 was a year-round celebration that invited the world. These events put into focus the question: What is Canada? Were we simply a confederation of collective interests or were there symbols and shared histories we could point to as giving Canada its nationhood?
¶An experienced cartoonist, Gordon Johnston took inspiration from the excitement surrounding the Centennial to begin a newspaper feature in the style of RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT. Johnston’s brainchild was IT HAPPENED IN CANADA which would run in newspapers for many years.
¶In ’67, Doug Wright moved his popular wordless strip, NIPPER, from THE WEEKEND magazine (a national newspaper supplement) to THE CANADIAN magazine (another national newspaper supplement), where it was re-titled as DOUG WRIGHT’S FAMILY.
Below: DOUG WRIGHT’S FAMILY for July 1 ’67–Canada’s 100th Birthday. Reprinted in DOUG WRIGHT’S NIPPER: 1967 – 1968 (Drawn and Quarterly, 2012).
- CAPTAIN POETRY: In the midst of the ’60s tumult. Quebec had a Quiet Revolution which changed the cultural landscape in that province. And while governments were trying to impose a national identity upon the country, young new artists were creating their own identities. Among these young artists were a number of poets: Michael Ondaatje, bill bissett, Margaret Atwood, bp nichol, George Bowering and others. Many of them were also interested in comics–not Canadian comics, since those didn’t exist anymore, and not really underground comics as those were just starting to be invented–but American mainstream comics.
¶Among these poets, bp nichol was perhaps the most adventurous with the form. A Vancouver poet (b, September 30 ’44 – d. September 25 ’88), he produced several small press collections of poetry-comics–sometimes with the help of his friend and fellow Vancouver poet-artist, bill bissett. Together, in ’67, they created GRONK–a magazine dedicated to concrete poetry that ran for one hundred issues. One of bp’s poetic conceits was Captain Poetry and in ’70, bill bissett published these poems in a small press edition as THE CAPTAIN POETRY POEMS COMPLETE. In the same year, Michael Ondaatje directed his short film about bp nichol, THE SONS OF CAPTAIN POETRY.
- HARALD HEDD: In the late ’60s, Vancouver’s GEORGIA STRAIGHT was a weekly hippy newspaper that championed radical causes and challenged authority. It has now become a part of the establishment instead of advocating the overthrow of the establishment–although my mother still believes it must be a sordid rag that good people don’t read. In school, someone would sneak a paper into class and we would pass it around, looking at the comics mostly. There were some good comics in the STRAIGHT. In particular, Rand Holmes was a regular cartoonist for the paper. His most notable creaton was Harald Hedd–a hippy anti-hero. The GEORGIA STRAIGHT would also publish a couple of underground comix one-shots–featuring Haral Hedd and others: WHITE LUNCH COMIX (’72) and ALL CANADIAN BEAVER COMICS (’73). Subsequently, Rand Holmes was published by Pacific Comics and Kitchen Sink Press.
Below: Panels [about the only ones without any expletives or adult content] from Harald Hedd in THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT (’72); cover by Rand Holmes, WHITE LUNCH COMIX (The Georgia Straight, ’72).
A SECRET IDENTITY: Against the backdrop of Quebecois and aboriginal aspirations for self-determination in the ’60s and ’70s, the quest for identity became a national obsession. Cultural nationalism was a matter of public policy and the CRTC (the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission established in ’68) mandated a certain amount of Canadian content on television and radio. Can-Con, as it’s called, bound radio broadcasters to play some Canadian music–and the result was an explosion of Can Rock on the airwaves. In the other arts, similar federal and provincial initiatives, like the Canada Council for the Arts (established in ’57), lent support to cultural groups and individual artists.
¶As Canadian comics were almost non-existent, there was no government program to give them a leg up. If Canada’s comic book creators were going to publish (without going to the Untied States), they would have to do it on their own. Given that these were artists not businessmen, most of these valiant efforts failed, yet they kept on trying. And the early ’70s would see not one but three red and white costumed characters vying to be Canada’s national superhero: the first, Captain Canada, a parody super-hero created by Peter Evans and Stanley Berneche, for the ribald, political humour magazine, FUDDLE DUDDLE, which lasted for five issues in ’71 – ’72; the second, the Northern Light, debuting in ORB No. 2 (July ’74); and the third, the star of his self-titled comic, bursting on the scene in CAPTAIN CANUCK No. 1 (July ’75).
ORB: Edited by James Waley and published by variously named imprints, the ORB magazine bridged the gap between Canada’s underground comics, the fanzines and the American professional comics and magazines. American publications like HEAVY METAL, STAR*REACH, and the Warren magazines were a source of inspiration. But also the underground CAPTAIN GEORGE’S WHIZBANG, by Toronto’s George Henderson and Henderson’s other underground comics served as a forebear to ORB. And then there were the fanzines coming out of Hamilton, Ontario in the late ’60s and early ’70s–ORB would draft much of its talent from their ranks. Going on sale circa ’74 and Initially only available in the Toronto area, the ORB magazine had an anthology format featuring science fiction, fantasy, horror–with some martial arts, war, and crime drama thrown in.
¶By issue 3 (December ’74), the publisher had succeeded in getting distribution to the rest of Canada and into the U.S. Every issue was mostly black and white, but issues 2 – 6 all had a colour section, wheareas issue 1 did not. The first issue was magazine size, but issues 2 and 3 went down in size, before returning to the magazine size with issue 4. Some of the leading artists who worked on ORB were Gene Day, Ken Steacy, Jim Craig, Vince Marchesano, and Ronn Sutton. Steve Skeates and Mary Skrene co-wrote a story for issue 3. Besides the Northern Light, there were other notable characters featured:
- KADAVER: Jon Cole, a down on his luck former Toronto cop now middle-aged, finds a magic book that opens a portal into another dimension where he is revitalized and empowered. Yet a malevolent lord of this other dimension curses Cole, so that when he enters our realm, he becomes the ugly Kadaver., Or at least, he’s supposed to be ugly, but this isn’t apparent in the artwork. Kadaver looks like a glitter rockstar. Now Cole/Kadaver is unable to feel pain unless on the verge of death. But every time he dies, he comes back to life. Jim Waley initially was the writer-artist on Kadaver in issues 1 and 2, but other talents helped him out on the third and fourth parts in issues 4 and 5.
- GYK THE BARBARIAN: A Conan type (looks just like him), Gyk first appears in issue 3 (December ’74), in The Rescue of Raniff the Fair, written by Steve Skeates and Mary Skrene with nice art by Ronn Sutton. They leave him captive in a prison, awaiting the next chapter of his adventure. But this creative team doesn’t return to the character. Instead in the colour section for issue 6 (March-April ’76), a completely new creative team chooses to bring this adventure to a conclusion (Matt Rust/John Sech/Paul McCusker–with Gene Day doing the colours).
THE DARK NINJA: Given a one page colour origin story in issue 4 (October-November ’75), the Dark Ninja doesn’t see full action until issue 5 (January-February ’76). Harumi No grew up and was trained in modern day Japan to be an enforcer for the Chunin family, becoming a jonin. Dissatisfied with his life in Japan, Harumi relocated to Canada and hired himself out to the highest bidder as a freelance assassin, the Dark Ninja. Vince Marchesano does the origin, and he’s assisted in the next issue by inker Bill Payne and scripter Russell Wallace. While in issue 6, Jim Waley does the plot, John Sechs scripts, and Gene Day inks Marchesano’s great pencils. Issue 6 also adds a new wrinkle to the Dark Ninja’s origin saying that he is possessed by the demon spirit of Majui, which has passed from host to host over the centures since 3800 B.C. in Japan.
- THE ELECTRIC WARRIOR: Apparently no relation to DC’s character of the same name, Ken Steacy created the Electric Warrior in ORB 4 (November-December ’75)–and strangely enough, Steacy did the cover for DC’s ELECTRIC WARRIOR 10 (February ’87). In ORB’s previous issue, Steacy had created Super Student–a feature that looked like it might have been intended for a student newspaper at a university or college (and maybe it was). Electric Warrior had a similar vibe–being set at a university and involving university nerds like in the previous story. Jeff and Steve Tanaka are twin brothers at this university and they have invented an electric powered sword. But Steve and two of his friends are killed by thugs and Jeff must avenge them using the sword while wearing a super-heroic version of a samurai costume. Instead of Steacy, a different creative team continues the story in issue 5 (January-February ’76)–Nick Donaldson, writing and pencilling, with Gene Day inking.
- Miscellaneous: In addition to these recurring characters there were many other stand alone stories, as well as features that never went anywhere. The trends of the time–the counter-culture, anti-Americanism, drug-use, spirtitualism–inform the yarns. After putting the maple-leaf on the first issue’s cover, the publisher declares they aren’t going to do that again–deploring Canadian parochialism and advancing a cosmopolitan agenda for the magazine. There are some other great gems–like one story where a man’s live show consists of someone chopping off an arm or a leg at each performance. That’s the act. He does this to sold out crowds in Ontario and Quebec, but for only five shows. Two arms, two legs–and then for his fifth and last performance–the head! Now that’s entertainment!
Below: Two examples of the variety of art and the quality of colouring In ORB–The Horror of Harrow House in ORB 4 (November-December ’75)–story, art and colours by Gene Day; Man O’ Dreams in ORB 5 (January-February ’76) scripted by George Henderson, art by Don Marshall.
- THE NORTHERN LIGHT: A patriotic hero for the ’70s made his debut in ORB No. 2 (July ’74)–but the Northern Light owed his existence to another super-hero. All together there were three Northen Light stories. the first spread over issues 2 and 3, the second over issues 4 and 5–and a third ought to have been in issue 7, had there been a seventh issue of ORB. The Northern Light would have appeared in a 20 page story for a colour mini-comic insert in issue 7–as it happened, this story found a home in an American publication: POWER COMICS No. 4 (November ’77). Here’s a run down of the stories:
The Guardian of Mars: On spec, T. Casey Brennan had come up with a story for a new Charlton Comics super-hero title–E-MAN. Created by Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton, E-Man was a space-born energy being who took human form as Alec Tronn on Earth and started hanging out with an exotic dancer/university student named Nova Kane. Brennan’s script was never used for Charlton’s E-MAN, but the good folks at ORB decided to use the story, with a few name changes, in issues 2 and 3–both parts in the colour section of the magazine. John Allison did the full art for the first part, while Jim Craig did the same for the second part. It’s easy to see how this could have been an E-Man story if we imagine that Ian Davis is Alec Tronn and Lana is Nova.
¶Ian, aka the Northern Light, is at his girlfriend’s apartment and they are both watching Earth’s mission to Mars, when it’s reported that the landing module is having trouble. Lana suggests that Northern Light should do something, given he’s had so much experience in outer space, and with that E-Man–I mean Northern Light–is speeding across the heavens. Once arriving on Mars, the Northern Light is able to use some kind of absorbascon power to fill in all the history of Mars, where a humanoid race of people live below the planet’s surface. An organization called the High Council select a Norrin Radd type of character named Dervius to be their Guardian. They transform him into a super-powered sentinel and send him out to stop the Earthlings from landing on Mars–as the High Council don’t trust the people of Earth.
¶Most of the attention in this story is given to the Guardian–who has a blue and white costume that complements the Northern Light’s red and white costume. We never really get to know who the Northern Light is and why he does what he does. Which makes sense, because the Northern Light was just supposed to be E-Man.
Below: Cover by Richard Robertson, ORB 2 (July ’74); The Guardians of Mars, Part One, ORB 2, art by John Allison; Cover by Bill Payne (coloured by John Allison), ORB 3 (December ’74).
The Origin of the Northern Light: Finally in issue 4 and 5’s two parter [in sepia tone for No. 4 and grey scale for No. 5–not colour], we get the scoop on who the Northern Light is and why he does what he does. Jim Waley and Matt Rust write this one, with Jim Craig again doing the art–Craig’s art resembles Joe Staton’s E-MAN art. It turns out that Ian Davis was a brilliant architect who had grown tired of the urban landscapes and uprooted his wife and son to live with him in the hinterland of Canada’s north. Their bucolic existence was short-lived as aliens abducted the family for their tests. Davis’s wife did not survive their vivisections and doubtless the same tests would have killed Ian, as well, had not he been rescued by Alert–an elite team of specialists who monitor outer space for just such alien invasions.
¶Meanwhile, the aliens absconded with Ian’s son and Davis was taken to an Alert medical facility, where it was expected he would soon die. But his strong will to live drew on the energies within him to revive and supercharge himself. Now Davis had immense strength, the ability to control and become light energy, and could travel on beams of light–thus he became the Northern Light to seek retribution for the killing of his wife and to find his abducted son. There’s never any explanation of how Northern Light met Lana, or how she became his girlfriend.
- POWER COMICS 4: The Power Comics Company in Lansing, Michigan, published the short-lived POWER COMICS, a black and white comic which provided a spotlight for creator owned characters. Waley and Craig picked up the story of the Northern Light where it left off in ORB No. 5. for POWER COMICS No. 4 (November ’77) This story was originally supposed to appear in a colour mini-comic in issue 7 of the moribund ORB magazine, but it appears here in black and white with added tone.
¶Ian Davis continues his pursuit of the alien villains who killed his wife and kidnapped his son. Along the way, the Northern Light changes his costume and Lana shows up though her appearance is brief–and Ian retcons her as not his girlfriend (even though she clearly was that back in ORB No. 2)–until the Northern Light confronts the Conquermind. Conquermind looks like he was modelled after Kirby’s Galactus. The whole purpose of Conquermind’s extraterrestrial conspiracy is to allow alien students to use Earth for field studies. In a text piece on Northern Light, James Waley announces that there will be a NORTHERN LIGHT newspaper strip–but nothing ever seems to have come of this.
JOHN WARD SECRET AGENT: On sale in ’75, JOHN WARD SECRET AGENT was an amature affair published in black and white, except for the cover, by Delta Publications in Vancouver. The quality of the art and story was rough. Like most Canadian comics of the day, it was not terribly original–in fact the uncredited artist and writer borrowed heavily from James Bond. And there’s nothing especially Canadian about it–Ward is British and most of his adventure takes place in the U.S. But the book showed a lot of potential–the artist might have been swiping but he or she was swiping from the best. I looked forward to more issues of this magazine but none materialized.
- CAPTAIN CANUCK: Wearing its national identity on its chest, the first issue of CAPTAIN CANUCK was cover dated July ’75. Originally set in what was then the future year of 1993, Captain Canuck (aka Tom Evans) was a special agent working for Canada, which had become a major world power. Co-created by Ron Leishman and Richard Comely, CAPTAIN CANUCK was initialy published by Comely Comix, headquartered at 1854 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba. At this time, Winnipeg became the hub of independent comics production. The early issues of CAPTAIN CANUCK have very good colour printing and paper quality, but the art and writing by Comely is much like JOHN WARD or other independently produced Canadian comics of the period–full of creative energy but lacking in professional accomplishment.
Below: Cover and inside text–explaining the creative genesis of Captain Canuck–by Richard Comely, CAPTAIN CANUCK No. 1 (July ’75).
¶After three issues, the title went on hiatus, before finally returning with issue 4 (July-August ’79). The first printing of No. 4 was a limited edition, over-sized, in black and white, before the colour second printing mass markte edition. George Freeman was now the main illustrator–he had worked on earlier back-up features in the comic–with Freeman and Jean Claude St. Aubin providing beautiful colour work. Although covers still carried the Comely Comix logo, the title was in fact published by CKR Productions in Calgary, Alberta [CKR was owned by Comely, Ken Ryan and an anonymous investor]. Quality continued to improve with each issue thereafter–with Freeman and St. Aubin doing amazing work–including a CAPTAIN CANUCK SUMMER SPECIAL in ’80. The 14th issue (March-April ’81)–written by Freeman–shows a major change in direction as Tom Evans has time travelled back to the early ’80s. For us it’s the present, but for him it’s the past. Unfortunately, CKR stopped publishing at this point, despite having gained a loyal fan following [I was a charter member of the Captain Canuck Club].
Below: Art by George Freeman (with J.C. St. Aubin colours) for CAPTAIN CANUCK No. 13 (January-February ’81) and 14 (March-April ’81).
¶There were a few different back-up features in CAPTAIN CANUCK, including the super-hero Catman, a fantasy adventure series called Jonn and finally another fantasy series, Beyond, by George Freeman and Jean Claude St. Aubin, which appeared in issues 9 – 12 and 14.
Below: Freeman and St. Aubin’s Beyond from CAPTAIN CANUCK No. 14 (March-April ’81).
- NOW YOU’RE LOGGING: Bus Griffiths’ work for Maple Leaf in the ’40s was discovered in the ’60s by the Provincial Museum of British Columbia, which used them for their archives. The editor of B.C. LUMBERMAN magazine saw these and reprinted them in that magazine, asking Bus if he could provide new material. This sparked Griffiths to return to NOW YOU’RE LOGGING and later he sold the collected work and completed story to Harbour Publishing which printed a hardcover edition in ’78.
- NEIL THE HORSE: Katherine Collins is a transgendered person born Arnold Saba, in ’47, in Vancouver. In ’75 she created the character of Neil the Horse and went around B.C. to local weekly newspapers to get them to pick up the comic strip. Her vast knowledge of comics and cartoons is reflected in the strip–showing the influence of early Disnery cartoons. Neil the Horse was picked up by the Great Lakes Publishing syndicate and Arn Saba moved to Toronto in ’77.
Below: An article about Arn Saba and her attempt to syndicate Neil the Horse, along with two strips for that week, from the weekly free newspaper, BELOW SEA LEVEL Vol. 3, No. 7 (May-Jume ’76), published in Richmond, B.C.
¶Subsequently, the feature appeared in CANADIAN CHILDREN’S ANNUAL (’80), POTLATCH PRESENTS THE 1980 COMICS ANNUAL (’80) and CHARLTON BULLSEYE No. 2 (July ’81), before Arn Saba’s NEIL THE HORSE COMICS AND STORIES was launched in its own title from Aardvark-Vanaheim, beginning with the February ’83 cover-dated issue No. 1.
Below: Panels by Arn Saba from CHARLTON BULLSEYE No. 1 (June ’81) and No. 2 (July ’81).
CEREBUS: Dave Sim was born May 17 ’56, in Hamilton and grew up in Kitchener, Ontatio. When he was 17, he began submititing work to fanzines and produced a newsletter in ’72, NOW & THEN TIMES for Now & Then Books (a Kitchener bookstore). In ’76, Highway Bookshop published his comic, THE BEAVERS. When the publisher went out of business, Sim and Gene Day turned THE BEAVERS into a newspaper strip for the KITCHENER-WATERLOO RECORD. Meeting Deni Loubert in ’76, she and him planned to produce a fanzine to be called CERBERUS (except that they got the spelling wrong) this idea turned into the parody comic CEREBUS THE AARDVARK, which began with the December ’77 issue No. 1 and would run for 300 issues, the last cover-dated March 2004.
¶It started out as a funny animal send-up of sword and sorcery comics–like CONAN THE BARBARIAN–but it soon became a vehicle through wihich Sim could explore any subject he had a mind to. The stories were organized into arcs, which allowed them to be collected in thick trade paperback editions–pioneering a marketing concept that has now become the standard for North American comic books [something that had already been done in other parts of the world]. In black and white, CEREBUS THE AARDVARK was published under Loubert and Sim’s imprint Aardvark-Vanaheim, with Deni Loubert as publisher. Loubert became Sim’s wife, but they subsequently divorced, which would have consequences for the Aardvark-Vanaheim imprint–that had started to publish other creator-owned work besides CEREBUS.
Below: An ad from CAPTAIN CANUCK No. 14 (March-April ’81) promoting the appearance of Cerebus the Aardvark in a projected summer special in ’81 from the Captain Canuck publishers, CKR–they seem to have gone out of business before this special could be published.
- Renegade Press: Denise Loubert was born September 30 ’51, in Montreal. When Deni and Dave Sim divorced in ’84, Loubert left for the United States, where she established Renegade Press, which took over publishing all the titles from Aardvark-Vanaheim–including NEIL THE THE HORSE–and excepting CEREBUS.
- David Boswell: Another GEORGIA STRAIGHT cartoonist was David Boswell. Born in ’53, he grew up in Ontario, but moved to Vancouver, B.C., in ’77, where he contributed to THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT. His first big comic work for the paper was HEARTBREAK CITY in ’77, followed by REID FLEMING in ’78. Boswell then self-published the one-shot comic book, REID FLEMING, WORLD’S TOUGHEST MILKMAN (’80). Not much came of that, until ’86 when Eclipse in the United States picked up REID FLEMING for a limited run and specials. In ’96, Canada’s Deep Sea Comics reprinted the self-published and Eclipse work and then continued with new issues for a total of nine, plus a few one-shots, including HEART BREAK COMICS.
Below: Heart Break Comics by David Boswell, in THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT for October 13-20 ’77; cover of REID FLEMING, WORLD’S TOUGHEST MILKMAN (’80) one-shot by David Boswell. back to contents list
- INDEPENDENT: In the ’70s and ’80s, in all the major metropolitan areas of Canada, independent creators developed and sold their own comics. As the market for American comics shifted away from the mass market and toward a niche market, the economies of the Canadian independents were favourable for growth. In the distant past, Canadians had to go to the United States to enter the comic book business, by the ’70s it became possible for a creator to live in Canada but work for one of the major American publishers and then, by the ’80s, creators could work for themselves or for a small press in Canada.
¶This growth of the independent comics in Canada and the United States accompanied the speculator boom of the late ’80s and ’90s. Speculators were buying up, often in multiple copies, any new funny book in the hope that it would increase in value. Soon there was a glut of comics from the independents and the major publishers–and a lot of it was substandard. Around ’94, speculators realized that the large stocks of comics they owned were not worth the paper they were printed on and the bubble burst.
- BUB SLUG and BETTY: Back in the early ’80s, a local comic strip had caught fire with the readers of the EDMONTON JOURNAL. That a major daily would carry a locally produced comic was unusual in itself, but BUB SLUG had a lot of hometown flavour. Created in ’76, by Gary Delainey and Gerry Rasmussen, BUB SLUG ran for many years in the JOURNAL, before Slug’s family became a prominent feature of the strip. Bub’s wife, Betty didn’t start showing up regularly until the mid-’80s, when the JOURNAL started running a full-page colour Sunday for the strip. But Bub and Betty’s family soon became a popular part of the feature and she was spun off into her own series, BETTY, in ’91. Picked up by the United Feature Syndicate, BETTY has been going strong for many years now.
- FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: Meanwhile, in another part of the country, another Canadian family, the Pattersons, started their daily adventures on September 9 ’79. Set in the fictional Toronto suburb of Millborough, Lynn Johnston’s FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE chronicled in real time the lives of Ellie and John and their children, Michael, Elizabeth and April, as well as their dog, Farley. We see the children grow up into adults themselves and experience the death of the family dog, too. The strip was carried at different times by the Universal Press Syndicate and United Feature Syndicate, but new episodes in the lives of the Patterson family ended on August 31, 2008. The strip is now carried in re-runs.
- Colin Upton: Born April 2 ’60, in Winnipeg, Colin Upton grew up in Vancouver. An independent cartoonist, he self-published a lot of work in the mid to late ’80s. In ’90, Ed Varney published COLIN UPTON’S BIG THING and in ’96, Aeon Publications, an imprint of MU Press (an American publisher based in Seattle), published Upton’s BUDDHA ON THE ROAD as a six issue series.
- Chester Brown: Born May 16 ’60, in Monrtreal, Brown grew up within a predominantly English-speaking community, in the suburb of Châteauguay. He went to New York in search of comics work with DC or Marvel, but faced rejection. Moving to Toronto, Brown produced his own comic books and received encouragement from a small press publisher and poet, John W. Curry–who had been one of bp nichol’s associates. In July ’83, Chester Brown began self-publishing the first seven issues of YUMMY FUR.
¶In ’86, Vortex Comics picked up YUMMY FUR, reprinting the original run and then continuing it for several more issues (a total of 24). From YUMMY FUR, Vortex published Brown’s ED THE HAPPY CLOWN in collected editions. But with the failure of Vortex, Brown moved over to Drawn and Quarterly, which continued the YUMMMY FUR series and then published others by Brown, both in series and collected edition form. Brown’s most significant new work for D&Q was LOUIS RIEL, which was published as a series of ten issues between 1999 and 2004, before being sold as a collected edition in 2004. LOUIS RIEL became a national bestseller and, with its historical lessons, the book suits the pedagogical purpose that has often defined Canadian comics.
Below: Pages 20 – 21 and 40 – 41 from LOUIS RIEL: A COMIC-STRIP BIOGRAPHY [TENTH ANNIVERSARY EDITION] by Chester Brown (Drawn and Quarterly, September 2013). Brown’s repeated use of the static six panel grid and restrained compositions heightens the dramatic tension and the internal conflict in his story.
- Vortex Comics: Bill Marks started up the Toronto independent publisher, Vortex Comics, in ’82, which went on to publish comics like MISTER X (’84) by Dean Motter, STIG’S INFERNO (’84) by Ty Templeton, TRANSIT (’87) by Ted McKeever and the controversial BLACK KISS (’88) by Howard Chaykin. In the early ’90s Vortex suffered setbacks and could not survive the collapse of the speculator market boom.
- Seth: Born Gregory Gallant on September 16, ’62, in Clinton, Ontario–the cartoonist called Seth contributed to MISTER X published by Vortex Comics, beginning in ’84, before leaving to pursue other interests. He returned to comics in ’90, to create his own series, PALOOKA-VILLE for the new Montreal publisher, Drawn and Quarterly.
- Julie Doucet: Born December 31 ’65, in Montreal, Julie Doucet began cartooning in ’87 and self-published twelve issues of DIRTY PLOTTE in ’88 and ’89. DIRTY PLOTTE became the first feature to be published as a stand alone comic by Drawn and Quarterly, in ’91. Subsequent to this she moved to New York, then Seattle, then Berlin, before returning to Montreal in ’98. Other works of hers include MY NEW YORK DIARY (May ’99), L’AFFAIRE MADAME PAUL/THE MADAME PAUL AFFAIR (2000) and 365 DAYS: A DIARY BY JULIE DOUCET (2007).
D&Q: Montreal’s Drawn and Quarterly publishing empire, which is now a leading producer of alternative comics, began as a small comics anthology magazine, DRAWN & QUARTERLY [a pun on its original quarterly publishing schedule], self-published by Chris Oliveros in Montreal. Issue No. 1 (Spring ’90) came out in April ’90, including material from Oliveros, as well as American cartoonists, Peter Bagge and Joe Matt–with a cover by Anne D. Bernstein. Oliveros soon realized that some content deserved an extended format that would not fit the magazine and he began to branch out into publishing long form books and collected editions. Drawn and Quarterly became the publisher of notable Canadian creators like Chester Brown, Seth and Julie Doucet, as well as cartoonists from around the world.
- Gone South: Not to be ignored is the huge contribution made by Canadians and expatriate Canadians south of the border [good idea for a blog of its own, eh]. From Win Mortmer to Gene Day, from John Byrne to Todd McFarlane–Canadians have been busy creating four-colour heroes for foreign markets and no doubt will continue to do so far into the future.back to contents list
- AND , , , ? This introduction to Canadian comics history has–of necessity–omitted a huge amount that deserves further discussion, but that will have to wait for other blogs. As well, I have only lightly touched on the many contributions in French language comics and from other language cultures in Canada.
¶I have relied heavily on a lot of sources in putting together this overview and I encourage readers to seek them out. Here are some of those sources that I consulted and that I recommend for further reading on these subjects . . .
- City of Vancouver Archives
- Comic Book Daily
- Comic Book Plus Free and Legal Public Domain Books
- Comic Syrup A Blog About Canadian Comic Books
- Comics, by David Grannis, THE VANCOUVER BOOK, ed. Chuck Davis (JJ Douglas ’76), pp. 424 – 425
- GCD Grand Comics Database
- THE GREAT CANADIAN COMIC BOOKS by Michael HIrsh and Patrick Loubert (Peter Martin Associates ’71)
- INVADERS FROM THE NORTH: HOW CANADA CONQUERED THE COMIC BOOK UNIVERSE, by John Bell (Dundurn, November 11, 2006)
- Lambiek Comiclopedia
- Library and Archives Canada http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/
- Muck Sticks, Whistle Punks, and Donkey Punchers, by Brad McKay (November 28, 2011), THE COMICS JOURNAL [online review of NOW YOU’RE LOGGING by Bus Griffiths]
- University of British Columbia Library http://www.library.ubc.ca
- Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia
OUR NEXT ISSUE IS THE 13th . . .
it’s going to get
8 More Days Louise! of September it’s nice to remember. . .
September 1 ’53 Harvey rolls out its own 3-D funny book, ADVENTURES IN 3-D No. 1 (November ’53).
On September 1 ’66, with Carmine Infantino out sick, Murphy Anderson has to go it alone on two covers for the November ’66 dated issues of BATMAN 186–where a little person named Gaggy one-ups the Joker–and THE FLASH 165–where Barry Allen finally marries Iris West if nobody objects!
At your newsstand September 9 ’42, Uncle Sam gets ready to take out the trash on Reed Crandall’s cover for NATIONAL COMICS 26 (November ’42).
Drones of the Queen Bee (Fox/Sekowsky/Sachs) JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA 23 (November ’63) on sale September 12 ’63.
September 17 ’48. The horse trading doesn’t stop there, as ALL-AMERICAN COMICS becomes ALL-AMERICAN WESTERN with issue 103 (November ’48)–gone are Doctor Mid-Nite, the Black Pirate and Green Lantern–as the cowboy Johnny Thunder is joined by the Minstrel Maverick, the Overland Coach and Foley of the Fighting Fifth–cover by Alex Toth and Joe Giella.
Lex Luthor gets a new look and sets out to capture the Man of Steel’s scalp in issue 282 of SUPERMAN (December ’74), on sale September 17 ’74.
Deborah Anderson assumes the editor chair for the November ’72 issue of YOUNG LOVE (No. 101, on sale September 21 ’72) from Dorothy Woolfolk before giving it over to Rober Kanigher. [In COMIC BOOK ARTIST 16 (December 2001), Jeff Rovin says that Deborah Anderson was working as Dorothy Woolfolk’s assistant–before Anderson went off to get married and Rovin assumed that position. Anderson is also listed as editor on LOVE STORIES 147 and FALLING IN LOVE 138.]
STAR TREK 33 (December ’86) is a special issue celebrating the 20th anniversary of the television series–and no, there isn’t a photographic cover–at the comic shops on September 11 ’86.
. . . for the first week in October, break on through to the other side of dimensions in time and space . . .
October 1 ’41. The Shining Knight serves as a consultant on a movie set, in ADVENTURE COMICS 68 (November ’41).
October 2 ’73. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 128 (January ’74).
Samson and the Super Wizard Stardust are just two of the spectacular heroes making their premiere in the first issue of Fox’s FANTASTIC COMICS (December ’39), on sale on or about October 1 ’39.
When Jimmy jilts Miss Gzptlsnz [the would-be girl friend of Mr. Mxyzptlk from the 5th dimension], she turns him into a human porcupine, in SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN 65 (December ’62), coming out October 4 ’62.
The first installment of the Seicherl and Struppi comic strip by Ludwig Kmoch appears in the October 5 ’30 issue of Vienna’s DAS KLEINE BLATT newspaper [see OTF 03.09.13 for more].
Samson and the Super Wizard Stardust are just two of the spectacular heroes making their premiere in the first issue of Fox’s FANTASTIC COMICS (December ’39), on sale October 5 ’39.
THE SPIRIT SECTION for October 5th ’47 tells its own version of the Cinderella story by Will Eisner and crew.
October 6 ’42. Wonder Woman works on a movie set in SENSATION COMICS 12 (December ’42) but comes under attack from Baroness von Gunther.
October 7 ’75, Jim Aparo is forced at gun point to make Sgt. Rock kill the Batman, in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD 124 (January ’76).
. . . for the second week in October, drive, ride, fly, run or shamble to get these new currents . . .
Busting right through your newsstand on October 8 ’43, the Batmobile accelerates from BATMAN 20 (December ’43-January ’44), while inside of the funny book, Bruce Wayne loses the guardianship of Dick Grayson to relatives who are only in it for the money–Dick Sprang is responsible for the mayhem on this issue’s cover.
On October 10 ’47, DC launches GANG BUSTERS No. 1 (December ’47-January ’48), the comic book adaptation of the long running radio series. GANG BUSTERS originally debuted on radio as G-MEN in July of ’35, but gained its new title in January of the following year–as it adapted stories from the files of the F.B.I. in consultation with J. Edgar Hoover–remaining on the air until ’57.
From Gem Publications (a Timely/Marvel imprint), Patsy Walker and Hedy Wolfe co-star in their own magazine when PATSY AND HEDY No. 1 (February ’52) goes on sale around October 9 ’51.
Shamble shamble MAN-THING shamble shamble finally shamble gets his own shamble shamble shamble funny book shamble shamble first issue (January ’74) shamble shamble on October 9 ’73 shamble.
October 10 ’51, it’s THE FOX AND THE CROW No. 1 (December ’51-January ’52). Fauntleroy Fox and Crawford Crow began their association with Screen Gems in ’41 and their first DC funny book feature gig was in REAL SCREEN FUNNIES No. 1 (Spring ’45). See October 26, Flippity and Flop.
For the first time, as she recovers from the amnesia she has suffered all these years, the true identity of the Catwoman is revealed, in BATMAN 62 (December ’50-January ’51)–remember to get it on October 11 ’50.
Ride, Bat-Hombre, Ride–is what you’ll be chanting after you read the cover story for BATMAN 56 (December ’49-January ’50), when the Dynamic Duo travel to a Latin-American country in hopes of training someone to don the mantel of the masked rider, but meet with a greater challenge than they bargained for–at your newsdealer on October 12 ’49. [Simcoe’s BATMAN No. 56 (January – February ’50) reprinted from DC’s BATMAN No. 56.]
Shiera Sanders dresses up as Hawkman for a costume party but gets involved in fighting a real crime–in her first appearance as Hawkgirl–in FLASH COMICS 24 (December ’41)–winging your way on October 14 ’41.
All on sale dates might be approximate, as provided by Mike’s Amazing World of Comics (The Newsstand) and by other sources.
All characters, logos, and images are owned and © 2013 by current copyright holders. They are used here for educational and review purposes.