When I am researching one topic I often come across random historical tidbits that I think might be interesting to research one day. These tidbits sometimes end up as full-fledged stories and sometimes they just stay as random historical tidbits. I have collected quite a few, so I thought it might be fun to present them in the form of “treats” for a local history advent calendar. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Vancouver history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.
Day 11: Vancouver was home to the first true Canadian comic book (and comic super hero)…
The Maple Leaf Publishing Company, headquartered at 849 Homer Street in Vancouver, was the third largest of Canada’s wartime comic companies and the only one located outside of Eastern Canada. During World War II, U.S. comics were deemed “non-essential” imports under Canada’s War Exchange Conservation Act in 1940, so four Canadian companies decided to get into the game and a home-grown comic book industry was born.
In fact, Maple Leaf is generally viewed as the publisher of the first true Canadian comic book. Their Better Comics Vol.1, No. 1 came out in March ’41 and was initially full-colour and priced at 15 cents. Later, to save production costs, Maple Leaf produced comics with black and white interiors, known as Canadian Whites, this move allowed them to drop the price to ten cents an issue.
Better Comics also introduced the first Canadian superhero – artist Vernon Miller’s Iron Man – who appeared in the first issue of Better Comics. Iron Man was the “lone survivor of an advanced, subterranean civilization”, and was “summoned to the surface world to aid humanity”. His powers – “great strength, speed and the ability to leap vast distances” were similar to those of the early Superman. Iron Man’s costume was minimal, consisting of “blue swim-trunks, while boots (red or blue) were optional”. [ Not to be confused with Marvel Comics’ Iron Man, who was first introduced in 1963. Therefore, it could be said that Vancouver is the birthplace of the first “Iron Man”!]
Other super heroes like Brock Windsor, Deuce Granville, Senorita Marquita, Bill Speed, Stuff Buggs, and the Black Wing were introduced to Canadians on the pages of the comics published by Maple Leaf.
In addition to Better Comics, Maple Leaf published Bing Bang Comics, Lucky Comics and Name-it Comics (later renamed Rocket Comics).
After the war ended, American comics were once again available for sale in Canada. Unable to compete, sadly, by late 1946 Vancouver’s Maple Leaf Publishing was out of the Canadian comic business.