Monday, August 25, 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

George & Norman Munro

I have had a long interest in the brothers George and Norman Munro of Nova Scotia. Oddly except for a few mentions in histories of Canadian Literature they are barely acknowledged in the country of their birth. The cause of this neglect may be that in the minds of millions they would forever be associated with the publishing of cheap literature for the masses. The Munros and other Canadian publishers disrupted the American book trade by publishing mass editions of English fiction at 5, 10, and 20 cents in paper covers. This cheap competition caused American publishers to compete with 10 cent libraries.

George is the brother with the better reputation, he was a staunch liberal Presbyterian, Dalhousie College in Halifax, N.S., New York University, and various churches benefited greatly from his largesses. Norman, on the other hand, seems to have been a bit of a scamp.

George Munro was born at West River, Nova Scotia, on November 12, 1825. He became a mathematics instructor at the Free Church College in Halifax . At the age of twelve he entered the office of the Observer in Pictou, to learn the printing business. He attended Pictou Academy for three years. He was head master of the Free Church Academy of Halifax, where he taught mathematics and completed a theology course in preparation for the ministry.

George moved to New York in 1856 and was employed by the American News Company at a small salary. In 1863 Irwin Beadle, who had co-founded the Beadle Publishing House with his brother Erastus, broke with his brother and established a rival publishing house with George Munro under the old firm name of Irwin P. Beadle & Co. Their first series was Irwin P. Beadle's Ten Cent Novels for five numbers, with No. 6 the title was changed to Munro's Ten Cent Novels. The firm of Irwin P. Beadle and Co. became George Munro in 1864.

In 1867, he began the publication of the Seaside Library and the Fireside Companion (1867-1903) providing cheap reading for the masses. The first cheap numbers printed were East Lynne, John Halifax and Jane Eyre. In 1872 Old Sleuth first appeared in the New York Fireside Companion in a serial Old Sleuth the Detective; or, the Bay Ridge Mystery. Old Sleuth was the first mass-marketed, popular fiction detective to appear. In a few years he was joined by Old Cap Collier, and Old King Brady. At his death on April 24, 1896 at age 78 of heart failure his sons took over the publishing business.

One of the most popular of the cheap periodicals published by George Munro featured Harlan P. Halsey’s Old Sleuth. The first Old Sleuth story published by George was titled "Old Sleuth The Detective; or, The Bay Ridge Mystery," by (supposedly) comedian Tony Pastor. Lawsuits were eventually to fly over the use of the name 'Sleuth' involving George, the Beadles, and Norman the usurper. Norman tried out numerous detectives with variations on Old, Young, Sleuth, and Badger. One story announced by Norman L. Munro was "Sleuth, Badger, and Co., the Bay Ridge, Wall Street, and Custom House Detectives; or, "Piping a Mysterious Crime." Bay Ridge was of course the property of George and eventually recourse to the law led to the Old Pink, Old San, and Old Cap Collier (who were really old compared to Sleuth.) Halsey, an esteemed member of the Brooklyn Board of Education and organizer of trust companies, adapted the nom de plume “Old Sleuth” and wrote over 600 detective stories. It was said that he earned a salary of $20,000 a year for his serials for George Munro.

Harlan P. Halsey was born in New York in 1835. He was employed by Frank Leslie in his early days and at age 16 wrote a 300 page novel which he self-published. Some of his early stories and poems were published in the Brooklyn Eagle. In addition to the blood and thunder tales he also wrote several historical novels. His last book was Only a Photograph.

The Brooklyn Eagle reported that ;

“When he first began to turn them out for Munro he would write with his own hand at a marvellous rate of speed and in such a way that only an expert could decipher his writing. As he finished each pagge he would throw it on the floor and go in for the next. When the story had been finished it was the work of some member of his family to collect the sheets and put them together. This, Mr. Halsey used to say, with a laugh, was the “hardest part of the job.”

Later he took to dictating to a stenographer from his berth on the sofa. Ideas often came from the crime columns of the daily newspapers. The Bay Ridge Mystery was based on the Charley Ross abduction.

“His dream had been to form a publishing company which would be unique to his character, and though his scheme, which was as wonderful in its way as the stories he wrote, never was fully realized, he never tired of discussing it with his intimate friends and he finally carried it partly into execution by publishing his own works.”

He died in his home at 111 McDonough street of cerebral hemorrhages on December 16, 1898. “Old Sleuth’s” estate was estimated at $500,000. Not bad for a man whose “stories were not at all bad in their way and should not be associated with the usual Wild West Indian tales.” He was survived by his wife, (they had been married by the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher) a daughter, Belle, and two sons, Louis and Harry, who were involved with him in the publishing business.

George Munro’s younger brother Norman Munro was born at Mill Brook, Pictou County, Nova Scotia on April 8, 1844. He had an ordinary schoolhouse education and was put to work on his fathers farm as a plough-boy. When he turned 25, in 1866, he moved to New York where he worked at various small publishing companies. and engaged in publishing business under the name of the Munro Publishing Co. Norman founded a publishing house to rival that of his brother.

A former Beadle employee, Norman Munro was interested in detective stories and achieved great success with the publication of Old Cap Collier Library, a series featuring the adventures of an ingenious, aging sleuth. Norman Munro's New York Family Story Paper began on “Black Friday,” September 1873, and ran until 1921. Norman Munro began Boys of New York in 1875, taking from his brother editor George Small, and starting a bitter feud between the brothers.

A fire in February1876 destroyed Norman’s plant and he sold Boys of New York and Our Boys to Frank Tousey, who merged the titles with the New York Boys' Weekly. Norman L. Munro published it from its beginnings on August 23, 1875 to July 13, 1878, Volume III No. 152. Tousey and Small took over with No. 153, July 20, 1878 and carried it through to 1894, although Small’s name eventually disappeared from the masthead. When Tousey’s Boys Weekly was incorporated in the Boys of New York, Boys Weekly serials were continued from No. 153 on. Many of the contributors, Paul Braddon, Corporal Morgan Rattler, E. H. Kellogg, and Police Captain Howard also worked on the short-lived Boys Champion (1881-1883) which also seemed to have something to do with Tousey.

In England BNY was published as The Boys of London and New York, as Francis Hitchman said in 1890, in the Quarterly Review ; “from stereotyped plates, which are obviously manufactured in America.” B. G. Johns had this to say in the Edinburgh Review in 1887 ; “if Fagin the Jew, Baron Munchausen, and Jack Sheppard had set to work as joint editors of a ‘Thieves Library’ they might well have been proud of the whole series now before us.”

In 1888 Norman L. Munro published Golden Hours which introduced Young Tom Edison. The Houses of Munro and Beadle enjoyed great commercial success until the early 1900s when the popularity of dime novels declined, replaced by the cheaper “nickel libraries.

The New York Family Story Paper made Norman a millionaire. He spent loads of his money on his passion, steam yachting. His yachts included The Norman, the Henrietta (named for his wife), Now-then, Say When, So So, Our Mary, the Jersey Lily, Vamoose, and the Norwood, the swiftest craft afloat at 32 miles an hour.

Norman Munro died in his wife’s arms on February 24,1894, his death following a surgical operation for appendicitis. The Washington Post claimed his operation was “necessitated by fatal poisoning.” His son Henry was also reported dangerously ill, suffering from the same complaint at Dobbs Ferry. He apparently survived the ordeal. His estate was shared between Mrs. Henrietta E. Munro and their two children, “soon to come of age.”

*Many thanks to Joe Rainone for the portraits.
*A handy reference guide to publishers of cheap libraries of the railway age on both sides of the Atlantic can be found in John Spiers’ Serious about Series: American Cheap ‘Libraries’, British ‘Railway’ Libraries, and Some Literary Series of the 1890’s HERE

Henri Julien (1852-1908)

In addition to his work in Montreal Henri Julien's drawings and illustrations appeared in English language publications in the US and Britain in Harper's, The Century Magazine, and The Graphic.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Albert Chartier (1912-2004)

Cartoonist and illustrator Albert Chartier’s best known work is "Onésime," a monthly, full-page strip that appeared in Le Bulletin des Agriculteurs from 1943 until 2002. Other strips were “Séraphin,” “Les Canadiens,” and “Suzette.” His work appeared in La Presse, the Montreal Star, the Montreal Gazette, Le Samedi and the Weekend Magazine. Albert Chartier died at age 91 and was buried in St. Jean de Matha, the small town near Joliette where he lived which was also the setting for the comic strip Onésime.

Top > "Al" Chartier, Weekend Magazine May 14, 1960

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jacques Le Flaguais (1921-1986)

Jacques Le Flaguais was a cartoonist born in Tours, France in 1921. A tour as a cabaret singer with Edith Piaf brought him to New York and then Canada in 1948. He stayed in Montreal and worked in a hotel before taking on work as a poster-artist and advertising cartoonist.

He had a cover for the New Yorker. Covers and drawings were reproduced in the Reader's Digest and he contributed cartoons to the Montreal Weekend Magazine. These cartoons were drawn for the May 14, 1960 Edmonton Journal Weekend Magazine. Jacques Le Flaguais' story is online here in
French .


In February 1957 Canada's CBC television network responded to the popularity of Disney's Davy Crockett with our homegrown hero Radisson. Among the many marketing ploys were the Radisson coonskin hats which were merely unsold Davy Crockett coonskins with the tails removed and a white feather added. The show was canceled before the run of the scheduled 39 weeks but was shown in England, Australia and the United States under the title Tomahawk. In elementary school history class in the fifties we were taught to remember Radisson and his sidekick Groseilliers by word association, to wit: "radishes and gross ill ears."

*Topix Comics, source of the Radisson comic above, was a Catholic supplement given away in Sunday Schools between 1942 and 1952. This story was from 1950.

Ben by Daniel Shelton

Ben is a delightful family strip by Montreal cartoonist Daniel Shelton. English language dailies can be read HERE.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Captain George Henderson (1930-1992)

Captain George Henderson was the proprietor of the Memory Lane nostalgia shop on 594 Markham Street, Toronto. He "had excessive facial hair, a twinkle in his eye and a desire to provide anyone who entered his shop with their most desired item." as one fan wrote on her blog.

Henderson was also one of the earliest kings of the comic strip reprint business until King Features took him to court and put him out of the business. Henderson was apparently unaware that Alex Raymond's work was still under copyright. His piracies cost him from 4,000 to 10,000 dollars in fines, sources disagree on the exact amount.

In a very short Macleans article (more of a squib) of April 1969, "Got a vintage "Batman"? See the King of Camp," it says,

"At 39 he is Canada's King of Camp and an ardent comicollector (sic) who got that way by chance three years ago, when he whimsically decorated his book-store with old comic books he had found in his sister's basement. "A man came in and picked up a Batman from the display and peeled off five $20 bills from his money clip. I immediately closed the store and went down to the States to find out what the business was all about." Now he's selling 15,000 used comic books a month, including surprising quantities to newly hooked youngsters."

Captain George had a worldwide reputation with his various reprints selling for for 25 cents in Canada, the US and Europe. his international reputation was not surprising, few people had ever seen the comic strips Little Nemo or Krazy Kat, they seemed to be irrevocably lost to history. Hell, most boomers had never even seen a Captain Marvel comic book.

Henderson launched three fanzines in 1968: Captain George's Whizzbang, Captain George's Penny Dreadful, (a free weekly still running in 1982), and Captain George's Comic Book World. Huib van Opstal* kindly provided content listings for a few of the titles >

-- COMIC WORLD #3 (undated, 1968/69, b/w)

Titled: 'The Magic of Winsor McCay'.

(An issue dually published with language periodical 'grOnk', edited by b p Nichol, of Ganglia Press, Toronto.)

16 pp., 39.5 x 29 cm,

in which: 12 pp. of Little Nemo reprints

5pp. of Rarebit Fiend reprints

1 p. of Pilgrim's Progress reprints

1 p. of Little Sammy Sneeze reprints

(and 1 p. editorial text on grOnk)

-- COMIC WORLD #4 (undated, 1968/69, b/w)

Titled: 'Krazy Kat by George Herriman'.

16 pp., 43.5 x 29 cm,

in which: 30 pp. of Krazy Kat reprints

1 p. Biographical Note on Herriman

Huib also noted that "at least 29 issues of COMIC WORLD were published. From issue 5 it was titled: CAPTAIN GEORGE'S COMIC WORLD."

I found this link to an SF magazine which has a piece on his death on February 10, 1992 by a Canadian writer on Pulps, Don Hutchison >

SOL Rising (I couldn't freeze the link at the Henderson entry but there is a link on this page.)

In this CBC television clip from May 20, 1970, Captain George discusses his store and the emergent hobby of comic collecting.

*1994. Essay RG. Het fenomeen Hergé, Huib van Opstal, Hilversum: Delange.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hal Foster in Winnipeg 1910

A short story titled Saved by Grace, by W. G. Shepherd, was published in the February 1910 issue of Western Home Monthly, a Winnipeg, Manitoba fiction magazine with illustrations signed "Taylor." In 1910 Hal Foster, future Tarzan cartoonist, was working on the Eaton's catalogs for Brigdens of Winnipeg Limited.

Taylor's artistic style is so similar to Foster's work, and his signature in the spidery Foster style, that I'm inclined to think that either Taylor was Foster, moonlighting under an assumed name, or he was Foster's artistic mentor. Although there is no proof that Foster worked for the Western Home Monthly a photograph exists showing Foster and two unknown commercial artists posed with a large cover painting and paste-up for the Western Home Monthly circa 1912. The photo is reproduced in Brian M. Kane's 2001 book Hal Foster Prince of Illustrators.

On the bottom of the page I have uploaded a sample of Foster's Eaton's work from roughly the same period, February 27, 1911, which shows his Prince Valiant style of drawing woman was already in evidence at this early period of his career.

W. G. Shepherd was probably William Gunn Shepherd (1878-1933) author of Confessions of a War Correspondent, Harper & brothers (1917). Shephard was a reporter on the New York World.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Maple Leaf Comics

On one of my periodic eBay searches for Canadian wartime comics I hit pay-dirt. The earliest cover features Canada's first superhero The Iron Man created by Vernon Miller from Volume I no. 8, 1941. The undated Fishmen cover immediately below that is from the pen of lumberjack cartoonist Bert Bushell. Next a cover from Better, Volume VI No. 2, 1945. Last is what looks like a Jon St. Ables cover for Better Volume IV No. 3, 1945.

Note to eBay scanners please post larger scans and leave out the disfiguring marks in the corners for the archivists amongst us. A cover post listed on a blog in a timely manner may draw more buyers for your comics and gain a larger price. I would also like to invite any blog readers with Canadian comic cover art to send me scans. Simply scan at 150 dpi in color and post it to my email on the right.

Claude Fruchier

Claude Fruchier's Puff Puff was another series running in Mainmise in the seventies. "Don't bogart that joint mon ami, hand it over to me!" Is that Thompson and Thomson I spy in the background?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Prince Vollant by Poissant

A long comix story by Poissant in the style of the Last Gasp cartoonists, Greg Irons, Rich Corben and Jack Jaxon from Mainmise. I don't know for certain but I believe this was Yves Poissant who wrote and illustrated a biographical comic book about French-Canadian strong man Louis Cyr in 1978. As a long time Foster fan this striking comic came as a pleasant surprise.

For the most part Hal Foster avoided close-ups of violence. His usual method in his panels was to freeze violent scenes the moment before or the moment after the action took place.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Rand Holmes (1942-2002)

The Harold Hedd comic above is a reprint from the Quebec underground newspaper Mainmise which ran 76 issues from 1970 to 1978. Mainmise was full of the usual preoccupations of the counter-culture, hallucinogenics, pot, free love and revolution, but soon began stuffing the pages with reprints of underground comix from Crumb, Ron Cobb, Trina, Corben, S. Clay Wilson, even Jeff Jones' Idyll from the pages of The National Lampoon.

The Harold Hedd comics by Rand Holmes were borrowed from the pages of Vancouver B.C.'s Georgia Straight. Mainmise started out digest sized, printed on cheap newsprint, then for a period was printed in full-colour on slick paper with impressive covers borrowed from the underground comics. It changed size again , magazine-size, before ending up as a newsprint tabloid alternative newspaper (as did the Georgia Straight) in 1977-78. In the latter years Mainmise became an important outlet for Montreal's numerous underground cartoonists.

Holmes obituary can be found here, from Cannabis Culture magazine.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Captain Canuck

A promo card for Richard Comely and Ron Leishman's comic hero Captain Canuck from 1993. For his story I'll refer you to Black Market Pies blog HERE.


August 23, 1958. Vahan Shirvanian's Montmorency comic strip appeared in the Toronto Star Weekly magazine. Shirvanian was born in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1925 and found regular employment with the Saturday Evening Post.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Walter Ball (1911-?)

Walter Ball's Rural Route appeared in the Toronto Star Weekly from 1956 until 1968 when the Star Weekly ceased publishing. Walter Ball was born in Cookstown, Ontario in 1911 and began his career on the Toronto Star in 1932.* This sample is from October 4, 1958.

Comic historian and archivist Bill Blackbeard mentioned that Rural Route appeared in a few newspapers in the Midwestern United States. A 1982 interview with the cartoonist appeared on the CBC and can be heard HERE.

*Introduction to the Canadian Newspaper Comic by Kenneth S. Barker (INKS, May 1997)

Comic Advertising: Doug Wright

Top > Star Weekly Magazine July 18, 1959.
Bottom > Edmonton Journal Weekend Magazine May 14, 1960.