by BK Munn
Growing up, I pored over the ads in old comic books, looking for clues to other stories of my favourite characters. I loved to read things like Stan Lee’s Bullpen Bulletins which hyped coming attractions in Marvel Comics. Before the direct market of comic shops evolved, I couldn’t be sure my local variety store or drugstore spinner rack would even stock the next issue of the titles I collected and sometimes these old advertisements were my only link to the wider world of the various comics universes.
The same goes for even older comic books, like the ones published in Canada in the 1940s and 50s. These comics are so rare, and sometimes so poorly documented, that just figuring out things like how many issues were published and what the cover price was often involves a ton of detective work. The three ads below are a case in point, directing us to some scarce gems from the land of the “Canadian Whites” (so-called because they were mostly published in black and white).
This is the page that ends the shirtless tyro Johnny Canuck’s first appearance, and features cameos by Winston Churchill and Hitler. The next issue features the famous “punching Hitler” story hinted at here, in this handsome pin-up by teenage creator Leo Bachle aka Les Barker (1926-2003).
Rex Baxter debuted in the same issue of Dime Comics #1 as Johnny Canuck. This ad from companion title Joke Comics hardsells the artistic virtues of creator Edmond Good. Good (1910-1991) left Canada in 1944 for work in the American comics industry. He worked on the Scorchy Smith newspaper strip, following in the footsteps of illustrious predecessors, creator John Terry, Noel Sickles, and Frank Robbins. Good moved on to a series of western-themed newspaper strips, including Red Ryder, before settling back into comic book work, including a long tenure on the Monte Hall comic for Fawcett Comics. Good co-created the long-running Tomahawk character for DC in 1947. Additionally, he started his own publishing company (“Good Comics”, natch!) and created several titles, including Johnny Law, Sky Ranger and Rusty the Boy Detective before the comics business collapsed in the mid-50s. He later reportedly moved into writing for radio, tv and film before becoming an art director for Tupperware advertising in the 60s and 70s.
Besides those who published original material, there were a number of Canadian publishers who essentially reprinted U.S. comics, either by redrawing original scripts by American writers or repackaging/printing U.S. comics in their entirety. The practice became more common into the late 1940s and 50s until the repeal of the War Exchange Conservation Act and the flood of actual U.S. comics and magazine imports resumed. This ad is from the back cover of such a publication, which essentially reprints the Timely Comics title with Canadian ads. This ad is our first peak at one of the most valuable Canadian comic books, a hardcover collection of U.S. reprints. Canadian publishers often bound together massive collections of unsold comics as a sort of annual (I have one called Vacation Comics that the first two ads above appeared in). The gigantic 500 page Treasure Chest of the World’s Best Comics reportedly was made up of whatever comics the packager (in this case Herald Publishing aka Superior) had lying around and could include random 1940 and 50s issues of Captain America, Millie the Model, and other Stan Lee-edited titles (how did we end up with Stan Lee again?).
by BK Munn