MEANWHILE... JEFFREY MORGAN’S MEDIA BLACKOUT #382!
I don’t have time to write a column today because I’m busy spending Sunday visiting
Alice Cooper in Toronto at Fan Expo, which is nothing less than Canada’s largest comic book convention; more about that
next week. Meanwhile, this seems as good a time as any to take a look back and remember the man who created one of the world’s
first comic book conventions back in 1968.
Comic World Reprint (B&W) – This magazine, and several others with similar titles, contained bootleg reprints
of famous old comic strips and illustrations, all published by “Captain George,” a Canadian with more aesthetics
than scruples. The only Spirit story he ran was lifted, without regard to copyrights, from Harvey Kurtzman’s Help!,
complete with intro!”
-- cat yronwode, The Spirit Checklist, 1979
“Comics historian Captain George Henderson provided an invaluable
service to fans around the world when he reprinted a Spirit story from Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! in Captain’s George’s Comic World but,
aside from that one benevolent bone, the pickings were slim.”
-- Jeffrey Morgan, CREEM, 2005
ladies and gentlemen, is a perfect example of what happens when someone (the lower-cased cat yronwode) with a vested interest
in protecting someone else’s legacy (Will Eisner’s) comes up smack dab against someone else (the upper-cased Yours
Truly) with an equally vested interest in protecting someone else’s legacy (Captain George Henderson’s)—and,
of course, we’re both right.
Now as much as
I’ve loved cat’s Eisner-related work over the years, I just gotta set the record straight about yronwode’s
benign besmirching of the good Captain. Did Captain George reprint old comic strips “without regard to copyrights”
as cat says? You bet he did. However, George was genuinely under the mistaken impression that the copyrights had expired
on the strips he was reprinting—something that King Features Syndicate corrected when they served George with an injunction
for reprinting KFS strips without their permission.
That may have put the kibosh on Captain George’s Comic World, but it certainly didn’t put George out
of business. That’s because George’s business was running Memory Lane, which was nothing less than Canada’s
first nostalgia store that specialized in selling old movie posters and comics.
Prior to George’s setting up shop at 594 Markham Street on Mirvish Village in the Toronto of the
mid ’60s, George ran an earlier proto-nostalgia store called Viking Books at the corner of Queen and University.
It was there that I used to buy old DC comics for a nickel a pop, as well as a copy of Superman number 60, in good
condition, for the then-unheard of price of a whole dollar—big money for 1966.
Actually, I was going to buy an early issue of Batman instead, but George changed
my mind when he handed me the issue of Superman and told me that the Man of Steel had been co-created by Joe Shuster.
“He’s a Canadian, you know,” George added with a smile.
In 1968, George organized Triple Fan Fair, which was Canada’s first comic book convention.
True to its name. Triple Fan Fair was a celebration of comics, old movies, and science fiction. No less a personage
than Stan Lee was the guest of honor—and Stan brought with him literally dozens of pages of original Marvel art for
display, from Kirby’s Fantastic Four to Steranko’s Nick Fury, some of which had yet to be published.
It would prove to be the first time I’d meet Stan—and if you don’t know what big a deal that was to a 14-year-old
card-carryin’ member of the MMMS, then you have no right reading this.
In 1971, George opened up The Whizzbang Gallery, Canada’s first art gallery devoted exclusive
to comic book and cartooning art. George’s first guest of honor? None other than legendary EC and MAD Magazine creator
Harvey Kurtzman. I got Kurtzman to sign some of my vintage ECs, but when he saw my Canadian edition of MAD number 3, he proceed
to do an enlightening in-depth technical critique of Canadian printing practices in the ’50s as compared to those in
America. It was just another example of the kind of learning environment that Captain George fostered over the years.
So yeah, if you wanna make a federal case out of it, Captain George Henderson did
unknowingly print some old comic strips illegally. But because he did, hundreds of young comic books fans were provided
with their first real education in the field of comic books and comic art—an education that ran the complete
aesthetic gamut from Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo to S. Clay Wilson’s Checkered Demon. Besides,
it’s not like George ever made any money with his monthly reprints. On the contrary, Captain George’s Comic
World and Captain George’s Whizzbang both lost money, as did his weekly Captain George’s Penny
Dreadful. It was Memory Lane the store that paid for memory lane the experience.
Harvey Kurtzman knew that Captain George had reprinted that Spirit story from his
magazine Help! and you know what? He didn’t care. Kurtzman was smart enough to understand that Captain
George was providing an educational service and he approved of it. Had he not, do you think for a moment that Kurtzman would
ever have come to Toronto for the opening of George’s Whizzbang Gallery? Of course not.
As a teenager, I had the pleasure of working for George at Memory Lane for several years
during the summer, and it was truly an education in the history of comics and movies. George Henderson was a stand-up guy
who didn’t think twice about giving me the run of the store while he was away organizing another convention—such
as the one that was attended by the likes of serial Superman Kirk Alyn and writer Isaac Asimov. This time around,
Stan lent me original Marvel art to display.
Back in the late ’60s
I once described George’s Memory Lane store and his Vast Whizzbang Organization publications as being the Grand
Central Station of comics fandom: a place where all styles and eras converged in harmony. And even though George is no longer
with us, that depiction still rings true today because his influence lives on. Ask anyone in Canada of a certain age who has
made their mark in the field of comic books and comic art, and they’ll tell you the undisputable and undeniable fact
that Captain George Henderson is the pioneering founding father of comic book fandom in Canada.
He’s a Canadian, you know.
Be seeing you!