BELL FEATURES AND PUBLISHING Co. Location: 165 York Street, Toronto, Ontario. Owner: Cy Bell. Secretary: Mrs. Bell. Art Director: Adrian Dingle.
Contributor: Ed Alton, Alex Anian, Leo Bachle, Marc L. Borgatta, Harry Brunt, “CAL”, Al Cooper, Adrian Dingle, Pat Dingle (wife), Manny Easson, Fred Griffen, Murray Karn, Frank Keith, Fred Kelly, André Kulbach, René L. Kulback, Gerald Lazare, E.T. Legault, Kurly Lipas, Hy Moyer, Mickey Owen, Ross K. Saakle, Lou Skuce, Theodore “Tedd” Steele, Doris Slater. H. Thomson
Character: Ace Bradley, Active Jim, The Brain, Captain Red Thortan, Captain Wonder, Chip Pipher, Cinder Smith, Clift Steele, Dart Daring, Dixon of the Mounted, Dizzy Don, Dr. Blue & Blackie, Drummy Young, Invisible Commando, Jeff Waring, Johnny Canuck, King Fury, Nelvana, Nitro, The Noodle, The Panthers, The Penguin, Penny, Phantom Rider, Rex Baxter, Scotty MacDonald, Speed Savage, Sign of Freedom, Spike & Mike, Super Commando, Tang, Thunderfist, Whiz Wallace.
Feature: The Panthers: The story of Bell Feature’s sponsorship of a hockey team. See THE PANTHERS and ACTIVE CLUB – ACTIVE JIM CLUB as well as below. History: “Revolt.” Car., Ross Saakle. Active Comics, 20, no date.: 31-33.
Cy Bell’s printing company called Commercial Signs of Canada launched WOW Comics September 1941. It was the third company in Toronto, after Anglo-American Publishing and Hillborough Studio, to enter the comic book field. Later Bell spun off his graphic periodical publishing business into Bell Features & Publishing Co. Better Comics of Vancouver and Anglo-American are virtually tied as the first to get their product on market. Educational Products of Montréal the last of the major publishers launched Canadian Heroes Oct. 1942.
It attempted to publish its first title Wow in colour but this was not successful.
Approximately February or March 1942, Bell Features took over the rival Hillborough Studio when that company broke up. Cy Bell did more than simply absorb a rival. He greatly enhanced his competitive position against Anglo-American. He at least doubled his staff of accomplished artists as Dingle, René and André Kulbach and probably others joined Lou Skuce, Edward Legault and recently arrived Edmond Good on the Bell Features staff. He gained an Artistic Director, Dingle, who was an experienced artist. He gained two established serials “Nelvana” and “Tang” plus an addition title Triumph. All of this greatly strengthened Bell’s company against his real competition which was Anglo-American who had one experienced writer Ted McCall and a group of illustrators with training but very little experience in cartooning.
The absorption of Hillborough established that Bell Features would be characterized an artist centric operation. From its very beginning the art work was strong if uneven. As the decades have passed Bell has become the Toronto symbol of Canadian wartime comic book achievement. The reality is more complex. At its beginning Anglo-American had a very shaky start dominated by the rather crude attempts of inexperienced artists, its only real asset being the strong story telling of Ted McCall. Ed Furness had been made into a layout artist and was no longer a finish artist. As time passed, Anglo-American illustrators improved their craft and their illustrations reached an overall attractive if not spectacular standard. From the very beginning, Anglo-American named two of their comics after their two principal characters, Freelance and Robin Hood, establishing a mutually reinforcing recognition between comic book and the character a practice standard in the U.S. but not in Canada. As the war started to wind down, Anglo-American shed its licensed products and turned exclusively to in-house originated stories and characters, at the same time Bell was moving from in-house originated material to importing material from U.S. cartoonists. Anglo-American led the way in reintroducing full colour into Canadian comic books, a practice Bell has initiated at its beginning but had abandoned. Bell followed but the other companies never made the jump.
Bell Features never capitalized on its extremely strong initial start seemingly contented with the status quo. In contrast Anglo-American, apparently content to operate under the radar, worked at improving its product over its entire corporate lifetime. Indeed as Bell Features in its final years was regressing from its strong start Anglo-American was still strengthening it competitive position. With full in-house originated product containing 2 very recognizable characters, and full colour printing by a competent printer, Anglo-American of all the Canadian publishers had the best chance of surviving, but the conditions against the Canadian industry were just too great. For more on this subject see: ANGLO-AMERICAN PUBLISHING.
Most if not all the cartoonists were freelancers. Each Monday afternoon they brought their finished work to the Bell Features offices on York Street, Toronto. There the work was checked by Adrian Dingle the Artistic Director for story content, spelling, reproductive clarity etc. He rejected any that didn’t measure up. They were given their cheques by Mrs. Bell the attractive and personable blonde wife of Cy Bell. She handled the secretarial end of the business and acted as receptionist.
As for the atmosphere around Bell Features Dingle recalled, “… we were living this stuff and were part of it. And we felt very depressed when we couldn’t get the hero out of a tight spot for next month. Bell was the same way. He was living them all himself too. He was living in a world of fantasy.”
There were a lot of kids trying to get into comic books. Dingle remembered that: “We had a lot of young kids coming down who didn’t stand a Chinaman’s chance. … and then occasionally one had a spark and we’d cultivate that spark.” “Jerry Lazare, for instance, was quite young. And he, of course, has become a first rate illustrator.”
From the beginning of its existence, Bell Features was selling merchandise through its periodicals. Active Comics ,2 , March 1942, advertised a model aircraft which could be bought through Trans Canada Mail Order Co. which was located at the same address as Bell Features. Was it a retail subsidiary of Bell?
Probably during the 1943-1944 hockey season Bell Features sponsored a hockey team, the Panthers, in the Toronto Hockey League, a forerunner of the present day Greater Toronto Hockey League. Advertisements to join, information on and a graphic story of this venture and its association with the Active Club all appeared in Active Comics 19 to 21.
According to Dingle in the final years of Bell Features, it was attempting to go to colour. Cy Bell had purchased a rotary press which cost Dingle thought about $250,000. He had to bring in and commute between Cleveland and Toronto men from Cleveland to assemble it at its new Jarvis Street location. Bell actually did manage to get a few issues out in colour before it collapsed.
Apparently also according to Dingle there was also a contract with Fawcett Publications to imprint their comics. This is a strange assertion since Fawcett had a very close relationship with Sinnott News which owned Anglo-American Publishing Ltd. which licensed Fawcett characters like Captain Marvel and Bulletman.
The end eventually came as described by Dingle: “We were all pretty well in on it, we knew how it was going. I don’t think there were any secrets held back from the artists at all. We all knew that it was pretty close. And suddenly he [Bell] came in and said, ‘No good, the bottom has dropped out of the American market and Fawcett has broken the contract.’.”
BOOK GRAPHIC ANTHOLOGY:
Colossal Comics. No publishing information. Contains Triumph, 25; WOW Comics, 26; Dizzy Don, 15; Dime Comics, 23; plus parts of Joke & Commando).
Colossal Comics Giant Issue No publishing information. Contains Commando Comics, 15; Active Comics, 20; WOW Comics, 25; Triumph Comics, 24, plus parts of Dime, and another Commando.
BOOK GRAPHIC COLLECTION:
Amazing Adventures in the Life Of Nelvana. No publishing information. Contains “Nelvana” stories by Adrian Dingle.
Spike & Mike. No publishing information. Contains “Spike & Mike” stories by Ross Saakel.
Tang: The Wonder Horse & Baddy
BOOK TEXT & GRAPHIC ANTHOLOGY:
Thrilling Stories For Boys. No publishing information. Contains illustrated stories:
- “Sparks Sails The Seven Seas”, Writ., Vic Griffin. Illus., Murray Karn.
- “Hunger Trail.” Writ., Edmond Audré Good. Illus., Edmond Good.
- “Buried In The Skies. Writ., Vic Griffin. Illus., Adrian Dingle.
- “The Pipes of Death. Writ., Edmond & Audré Good. Illus., Murray Karn.
- “Drums Of The Leopard Men.” Writ., Edmond Good. Illus., Murray Karn.
- “U Boat Z4.” Writ., Edmond Good. Illus., Murray Karn.
- “Death Casts A Vote.” Writ., John Hilkert. Illus., Unident., probably Murray Karn.
- “Nocturnal Madness.” Writ., Edmond C. Kenny. Illus., Murray Karn.
- “The Case Of Dr. Lazarr. Writ., E.T. Legault. Illus., Murray Karn.
- “Dusty Drives A Bargain.” Writ., John G. Hilkert. Illus., Ross Saakel.
- “Famous Sports Incidents.” Writ. & Illus., Murray Karn.
- “Unfinished Business.” Writ., Pat Hamilton [Dingle?]. Illus., Adrian Dingle.
PERIODICAL GRAPHIC ANTHOLOGY:
|Active Comics, Colour covers, Black and white interiors. Commercial Signs of Canada|
|1, Feb.1942.||2, Mar. 1942.||3, no date.|
|Active Comics, Ed., Adrian Dingle. Issues 4 to end no date. Colour covers.., B. & W. interiors. Bell Features & Publishing Co.|
Active Comics, 28, July/August 1946 (?) either reflects extensive renovations or turmoil. Dr. Blue & Blackie, Cinder Smith, Penny’s Diary were gone as were the features, “The Brain”, The Noodle”, “Capt. Red Thortan”, and Thunderfist “, that had been with Active Comics since its beginning. Even “Active Jim” and the “Active Club” had disappeared. Ross Saakle was gone along with Leo Bachle and André Kulbach. Indeed, none of the talent found in the earlier issues were still with Active. They were replaced by transfers from other Bell periodicals like Gerald Lazare, Paul Dak, and Ross Mendes and new comers like Boddington and Bob Young. It appears as if Bell Features’ largest problem was a talent drain. In an interview. Leo Bachle mentioned that while in New York himself looking for opportunities, he accidently met Cy Bell looking for material to import.
Active Comics, 29, August 1946. Colour interior. U.S. cartoonists.
Active Comics, 106, no date. Colour interior. U.S. cartoonists.
|Commando Comics, no date. Colour cover, black & white interior.|
|Dime Comics, Issues 2 to end no date. Colour cover, black & white interior.|
|1-1, Feb. 1942.
|New Dime Comics, no number, no date. Colour interior. U.S. cartoonists.|
|The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, no date.|
|Dizzy Don Detective: The Funny Comics, no date.|
Dizzy Don Comics (colour), 4, Sept./Oct. 1947.
Heroic Comics, 60, no date. Published either as a reprint or under license from Famous Funnies (A U.S.A. company that existed from July 1934-July 1955).
|Joke Comics, no date. Colour cover, black & white interior.|
|Triumph Comics, no number is first issue published by Bell Features no issues have a date.|
|WOW Comics, Colour cover, black & white interior. n.d.=no date.|
|22, n.d.||24, n.d.
Crests: Some advertisements for crests. Also see below under GALLERY.
“Would you like to have a FREE Sweater Crest of your FAVOURITE COMIC BOOK CHARACTER??? —“ Writ., & Illus., Adrian Dingle. Active Comics, 10, n.d.: 24-25, 46. Print.
“Would you like to have a FREE Sweater Crest of your FAVOURITE COMIC BOOK CHARACTER??? —“ Writ., & Illus., Adrian Dingle. Active Comics, 11, n.d.: 24-25, inside front cover.
“A conversation with Adrian and Pat Dingle and Bill Thomas.” Writ., Dave Sim. Now and Then Times, vol. 1 no. 2, Oct.1973: 27+.
“Truth, Justice, and The Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics Of Bell Feattures Publications.” Writ., Ivan Kocmarek. Canadian Review Of Comparative Literature, 43-1, March 2016: 148-165.
“Whatever Happened to …?” Writ., Peter Harris. Globe and Mail, 23 Oct. 1982: Fanfare 7.
“World of Canadian Whites.” Writ., Bill Thomas. Now and Then Times, l-1, Summer 1972: 22.
An advertisement showing sweater crests of Bell characters. from Active, 12: 9.
Active Comics, 11, Back cover.
Active Comics, 13, Back cover.
Advertising Bell collections. WOW Comics, 29: Back cover.