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Finally Accessible: Rare Canadian Comic Books from World War II

by BK Munn
Library and Archives Canada has begun to digitize its extensive holding of so-called Canadian Whites comic books from the 1940s. The Archives has one of the best collections of this material anywhere, having received many of the holdings of one of the leading publishers of the era, Bell Features, several decades ago. To date, the Archives have digitized almost 200 of the 382 comic books (known as “The Bell Features Collection”) in their possession and made them available on their website in an awkward but still accessible (readable and browsable) format. You can access the page here.
The collection includes almost complete runs of Active Comics, Commando Comics, Dime Comics, The Funny Comics [with Dizzy Don] Joke Comics, Triumph [Adventure] Comics Wow Comics, The Brain Comics, The Doodlebugs Comics, F.B.I. Comics, Jet-Man Comics, Johnny Canuck Comics, Red Hot Comics, Slam-Bang Comics, Smasher Comics, Terrific Comics, and Unusual Comics.
These comics were mostly published during what is sometimes known as the “WECA” period, referring to the War Exchange Conservation Act which banned the importation of luxury goods like magazines and comic books from the U.S. and as a result created a short-lived home-grown industry of comic book publishers to fill a demand for this newly-popular product. The new comics featured mostly stories by Canadian writers, artists and cartoonists in a variety of genres but the ones that have received the most attention over the years feature Canuck variations of superhero and adventure concepts first popularized in the U.S. Characters like Adrian Dingle’s Nelvana of the Northern Lights and Leo Bachle’s Johnny Canuck were published under the Bell Features banner. Although the covers and some interiors of these comics from Canada’s “Golden Age” were published in colour, most of the interiors were printed in black and white on poor quality paper, leading to the sobriquet “Canadian Whites” bestowed on the books by collectors to distinguish them from their four-colour cousins to the south.
A concise history of Bell is included on the Library and Archives site so why not check it out and start reading!
(top image: E.T. Legault’s Dixon of the Mounted from Active Comics #1, 1942)