McCALL Edwin (Ted) Reid
A family photo circa 1942.
“McCall was: “the founding giant of Canadian comic books…” George Henderson”
More than simply “the founding giant of Canadian comic books …” Edwin Reid (Ted) McCall is the father of the graphic adventure story in Canada. While no one else in Canada was attempting adventure cartoon strips in the period between the two World Wars he introduced two: first “Men of the Mounted”, then ‘Robin Hood and Company’. When World War 2 broke out he originated one of Canada’s earliest and probably its most successful wartime comic book hero: “Freelance”.
McCall was born December 20, 1901 in Chatham, Ontario. The Donaldsons, his in-laws, described him as a very social person. For Ed Furness, his partner on “Freelance”, he “… was a sheer delight to work with.”
First and foremost, McCall was as a journalist. His career began with the Chatham Daily News. Probably at this time he began writing adventure stories. Boy’s stories such as “Excitement” and “The Black Pool” appeared in The Boy Scout Rocket issues May 1 and July 1 of 1923. The Rocket was the newsletter of the Chatham Boy Scout Troop. An adult story “The Rum Runner” appeared in Canadian Magazine February 1924. These, so far, are the only glimpses we have of the full extent of these efforts which lie hidden in the vanished Canadian magazines of the period.
However, we do know that as a journalist McCall moved from the Chatham Daily News to the North Bay Nugget, then to the Brantford Expositor. (In Brantford, he married Elsie Donaldson whose sister in the 1980’s would provide much of the information in this account.). He moved on to the London Free Press, where he was Special Correspondent to the Ontario Legislature, and finally to the Toronto Evening Telegram.
It was through his work as a journalist there that the idea for “Men of the Mounted” emerged. Reporting on the exploits of the RCMP, he seems to have decided that this was material for a cartoon strip and so with Harry Hall, an illustrator and fellow employee, he launched “Men of the Mounted” which first appeared in The Evening Telegram on February 11, 1933.
The following year McCall succeeded in entering the U.S. market when Whitman Publishing brought out a Big Little Book, Men of the Mounted in 1934. In this book one gets the clearest look at McCall as a writer. The pace of his narrative was at break neck speed. His characters barely got out of one life-threatening situation before they were into another. But, it was the underpinnings of his stories that are the most interesting. His focus was on the mounted police as an institution. His stories were about the individual frontline men, the constables and the corporals but he never let you forget they were part of a larger organization and that they worked as a team. Corporal Rand is saved by Constable Lanky Booth. Rand in turn saves Booth. They are both saved by the Indian guide. In turn the guide is saved by Rand. Although McCall uses the famous phrase “Get your man.” (invented in Hollywood), in the story he emphasizes the “Mountie” as a protector and an upholder of the RCMP motto “Maintiens le Droit”. Rand and Lanky are hunting cattle rustlers but they set this pursuit aside and to save a family of settlers from a prairie fire and to defend a horse thief from cowboys looking for vengeance.
As told by the Donaldsons McCall came to a realization that the Canadian market alone was not large enough to support a cartoon strip and so he attempted to get “Men of the Mounted” syndicated in the United States. He submitted his idea to King Features who told him they already had an idea from Zane Grey and they weren’t interested. However, McCall always believed his idea was stolen by King Features. He had justification for his suspicions. He had no copyright protection in the U.S. “King of the Royal Mounted” didn’t appear until February 1935 two years after “Men of the Mounted” had begun with the Evening Telegram and about one year after it had appeared in the U.S. market as a Big Little Book. Even then ‘King” appeared only as a Sunday page. It did not appear as a daily strip until March 1936. If as King Features told McCall they already had a story, it took them a long time to get it into the newspapers. Without U.S. syndication McCall ended “Men of the Mounted” in the February 16, 1935 edition of the Evening Telegram exactly the same month that his competitor debuted their Sunday page.
His next effort was clearly aimed at the international market. He created a new strip “Robin Hood and Company” for which he partnered with Charlie Snelgrove, another Evening Telegram illustrator. “Robin Hood and Company” first appeared in the Telegram September 23, 1935. McCall and Snelgrove became the first Canadians to break into the international cartoon strip market. At one point it was in 80 newspapers. It apparently didn’t appear in the U.S. market. This time the Second World War intervened. As paper supplies to newspapers dwindled they cut back on unnecessary features like the strips. McCall suspended “Robin Hood and Company” February 16, 1939.
He was determined to keep it going with apparently the intention of reviving it after the war.. He approached and convinced Sinnott News to republish his “Robin Hood and Company” strips. They organized Anglo-American Publishing Company and through this organization a tabloid of reprints appeared in March 1941 it was quickly followed by the comic book format.. Once the reprints ran out he wrote new stories. He followed the same pattern with “Men of the Mounted”, reprinting the newspaper strips then producing original material. They began in Three Aces September 1942.
But his greatest contribution to the fledgling Canadian comic book industry was “Freelance” which first appeared July 1941. For “Freelance” he obtained the services of Ed Furness a commercial artist with an interest in cartooning. McCall wrote the stories at his desk during his night shift at the Toronto Evening Telegram. They were then taken to Furness at Anglo-American to be broken down. The finished art was done by others.
“Freelance” along with “Robin Hood and Company” were the only characters in Canadian wartime comics to each have an entire magazine devoted to their adventures. Consensus seems to be that Freelance was the best-selling comic of the period. Some have estimated that Freelance sold about 60,000 copies per month. Ed Furness himself estimated (January 15, 1983) that in 1944 the print run was 48,000 copies with about 42,000 sold. He added that McCall had told him, Freelance was outselling the competition. McCall who received a royalty of a quarter of a cent for each copy sold likely had a fairly accurate idea of the sales volumes.
Probably McCall was responsible for two other creations. “Pat the Air Cadet” has the name “McDuff” as credit for its creation. But, the story is typical McCall and it appears to have been drawn by Ontario College of Art graduate Doris Slater who was related to Ted through marriage. Mr. Donaldson being Ted’s brother-in-law and Mrs. Donaldson being Doris’ sister. The other feature was “Martin Blake The Animal King” the only signature appearing is that of “Slater” but it appears to be more connected to the visuals, and again the style looks like Ted’s.
In 1945, Anglo-American streamlined its operations, eliminating all of its out of house material and reducing its production to four titles, all in colour. McCall was the author of half this output. “Freelance” occupied one title and “Robin Hood” and “Men of the Mounted” filled another.
At the same time McCall and Furness were attempting to transform the “Freelance” character into a detective to appear in a newspaper strip. Some test strips were actually drawn. Negotiations were conducted with McClure Syndication in the U.S.
As Furness remembered, “They were impressed by the success in a relatively short time that “Freelance” had enjoyed … and they thought it might take off down there. The idea as I remember now was they were going to turn “Freelance” into some sort of a private eye … they did not have a private eye among their comics at the time, at least not one that was significantly popular.”
Unfortunately the contracts were never signed and Freelance died with Anglo-American.
After Anglo-American there is no evidence that McCall ever wrote either comics or fiction again. He was now about forty-five and all three of his creations were out of publication. He knew that the Canadian market which was fragmented by inexpensive imports of both strips and comic books from the U.S. couldn’t support his efforts. He had already learned from his experiences with King Features, the “Robin Hood and Company” newspaper strip and McClure Syndication that it was virtually impossible for an outsider to break into the U.S. market. Furness summed it up in an interview in the 1980’s. “… there was some talk – I never placed much credence in it – that they were going to take on “Freelance” down there [U.S.] … under our license. But why would they? They had lots of stuff of their own.” McCall had tried to produce graphic adventure stories and had found the market incapable of rewarding his efforts. It was only logical he would have focused on his more lucrative career in journalism which was already well advanced. He became Managing Editor at the Toronto Evening Telegram in 1948.
After working there 27 years, he retired from the Telegram in 1960. He had had two heart attacks that year. He died in his sleep in November 2 1975.
In a time when most Canadian comic book cartoons were highly derivative, McCall stood out as an original. One can detect no comic book sources in McCall’s work. Indeed one can detect no U.S. popular culture sources at all. He seems to have relied almost entirely on his own imagination based on his perception of the teamwork and the fight for justice (as opposed to simply catching bad guys) at work in both the RCMP and the Robin Hood legend. Ted McCall brought to Canadian newspapers and wartime comic books the beginnings of a distinctive voice. Indeed McCall’s voice in the much underrepresented adventure story category was making a significant contribution to Canadian cartooning. Unfortunately before its full impact could be felt, that voice was silenced.
BOOK TEXT & GRAPHIC:
Men of the Mounted: Adventures of the Canadian Royal Mounted, Illus., Harry Hall. Whitman Publishing Co., 1934. A Big Little Book.
PERIODICAL GRAPHIC: All published by Anglo-American Publishing Co.
|Freelance…: Illus., Ed Furness. Black & white.|
|1-1, July/August 1941.
1-2 ,Sept./Oct. 1941.
1-3, Nov./Dec. 1941.
1-4, January 1942.
1-5, February 1942.
1-6, March 1942.
1-7, April 1942.
1-8, May 1942.
|1-9 July 1942.
1-10, Sept./Oct. 1942.
1-11, Nov./Dec. 1942.
1-12, Jan./Feb. 1943.
2-1, March/April 1943.
2-2, May/June 1943.
2-3, July/August 1943.
2-4, Sept./Oct. 1943.
|2-5, Nov./Dec. 1943.
2-6, Jan./Feb. 1944.
2-7, March/April 1944.
2-8, May/June 1944.
2-9, July/August 1944.
2-10, Sept./Oct. 1944.
2-12, Jan./Feb. 1945.
Freelance/Robin Hood, 3-1, Mar./Apr. 1945. “Freelance” Illus., Ed Furness & Anglo-American team. Black & white. “Men Of The Mounted” & “Robin Hood” also appear in this periodical.*
Freelance, 3-2, May/June. 1945: “Freelance” Illus., Ed Furness & Anglo-American team. Black & white. Only “Freelance” stories.
Back to Freelance/Robin Hood and a new numbering system.* All three of Ted’s creations are again brought together under this title.
|Freelance/Robin Hood…: “Freelance.” Plus “Men Of The Mounted” & “Robin Hood”. Illus., Ed Furness & Anglo-American team: … Colour.|
|3-27, July/Aug. 1945: 1-12.
3-28, Sept./Oct. 1945: 1-14.
|3-29, Nov./Dec. 1945: 1-16.||3-30, Jan./Feb. 1946: 1-14.|
“Freelance” and “Robin Hood” plus “Men of the Mounted” return to separate titles.
|Freelance, Illus., Ed Furness & Anglo-American team. Colour interiors.|
|3-31, April 1946.
3-32, June/July 1946.
|3-33, August/September 1946.
3-34, October/November 1946.
|3-35, December1946/Jan. 1947|
“Men of the Mounted”:
|3 Aces Comics…: “Men of the Mounted”, (Telegram reprints)., Black and white.|
|1-8, September, 1942: 28-39.||1-9, October, 1942: 28-39.
2-1, February, 1943: 33-44.
2-2, March, 1943: 35-44.
|2-3, April, 1943: 33-44.
2-4, May, 1943: 34-45.
Robin Hood Comics, 2-1, March/April 1943. “Men of the Mounted”, now called “The Scarlet Sentinel.”
Transferred to Robin Hood Comics.
Robin Hood, 2-3, July/Aug.1943: “The Scarlet Sentinel.” (Still Telegram reprints): 29-53.
Robin Hood, 2-5 to 2-9: Unknown.
Robin Hood, 2-10 Sept./Oct. 1943: Does not appear.
Robin Hood, 2-11 Nov./Dec. 1943: Does not appear.
Robin Hood, 2-12, Jan./ Feb.1945: “Men of the Mounted” Illus., Ed Furness & Anglo-American team: 29-47. Black & white. (New material & back to “Men of the Mounted” title.
Freelance/Robin Hood, 3-1, Mar./Apr. 1945: “Men of the Mounted”, Illus., Ed Furness & Anglo-American team: 42-47. Black & white. “Freelance” & “Robin Hood” also in this periodical.*
|Freelance/Robin Hood …: “Men of the Mounted featuring Kip Keene.” Illus., Ed Furness & Anglo-American team colour.*|
|3-27, Aug.1945: 26-33
3-28, Sept./Oct. 1945: 25-32.
|3-29, Nov./Dec. 1945: 27-32.
3-30, Jan./Feb.1946: 15-22.
“Freelance” and “Robin Hood” plus “Men of the Mounted” split to separate titles again.
|Robin Hood…: “Men of the Mounted featuring Kip Keene.” Illus., Ed Furness & Anglo-American team, colour.|
|3-31, June/July.1946: 27-39: 40-49.
3-32, Aug./Sept.. 1946: 1-14: 32-42.
|3-34, Dec./Jan.1946/47: 1-12: 34-45.|
|Robin Hood Comics…: “Robin Hood & Company.” (Telegram reprints). Black & white.|
|1-6, Dec./ Jan. 1941/42: 1-63.||1-10, Aug./Sept. 1942:1-63.|
With issue 2-3 new “Robin Hood” stories begin.
Robin Hood Comics, 2-3, July/Aug. 1943: “Robin Hood.” Illus., Ed Furness. 1-26. Black & white.
|Robin Hood Comics…: “Robin Hood.” Illus., Ed Furness & Anglo-American team:… Black & white.|
|2-10, Sept./Oct. 1944: 1-31.
2-11, Nov./Dec. 1944: 1-44.
|2-12, Jan./Feb. 1945: 1-28.|
Freelance/Robin Hood and Company, 3-1, Mar./Apr. 1945: “Robin Hood.” Illus., Ed Furness & Anglo-American team: 29-41. Black & white. “Freelance” & “Men of the Mounted” also in this periodical. *
|Freelance/Robin Hood…: “Robin Hood.” Illus., Ed Furness & Anglo-American team, colour.*|
|3-27, July/Aug. 1945: 13-23.
3-28, Sept./Oct. 1945: 15-22
|3-29, Nov./Dec. 1945: 17-24.
3-30, Jan./Feb. 1946: 25-32 .
“Robin Hood” plus “Men of the Mounted” split to separate titles again. and “Freelance return to separate titles.
|Robin Hood …: “Robin Hood.” Illus., Ed Furness & Anglo-American team, colour|
|3-31, June/ July 1946: 1-14: 15-22.
3-32, Aug./Sept. 1946: 18-29
|3-34, Dec./Jan. 1946/7: 16-28.|
*To clarify the numbering sequence for Freelance and Robin Hood periodicals as they switch to colour.
|Freelance, 2-12, Jan./Feb. 1945.||Robin Hood Comics, 2-12, Jan./Feb. 1945|
|Freelance/Robin Hood, 3-1, Mar./Apr. 1945:|
|Freelance, 3-2, May/June. 1945|
|Freelance/Robin Hood, 3-27, July/Aug. 1945.|
|Freelance/Robin Hood, 3-28, Sept./Oct. 1945|
|Freelance/Robin Hood, 3-29, Nov./Dec. 1945|
|Freelance/Robin Hood, 3-30, Jan./Feb. 1946|
|Freelance, 3-31, April 1946.||Robin Hood Comics, 3-31, June/ July 1946|
Content cartoon strip:
Evening Telegram [Toronto], Feb.13, 1933 – Feb.16, 1935: “Men of the Mounted.” Illus., Harry Hall.
Evening Telegram, Sept. 23, 1935 – Dec. 16, 1939: “Robin Hood & Company.” Illus., Charles Snelgove.
Evening Telegram, February 5, 1940 – August 10, 1940: “Robin Hood & Company.” Illus., Syd Stein.
The Boy Scout Rocket, 1 July 1923: “The Black Pool”.
The Boy Scout Rocket, 1 May 1923: “Excitement”.
Canadian Magazine, LXII, no. 4, February 1924: “The Rum Runner”: 266-271.
The World Encyclopedia of Comics, Ed., Maurice Horn. Chelsea House Publishers, 1976: “Freelance (Canada).” Writ., Peter Harris: 265.
The World Encyclopedia of Comics, Ed., Maurice Horn. Chelsea House Publishers, 1976: “Robin Hood and Company (Canada).” Writ., Peter Harris: 585.
The Toronto Sun, 3 November 1975: “Ex-Telegram chief dies in his sleep”: 2
The Toronto Sun, 9 Nov.1979: “The all-Canadian comic book: Thrilling days of yesteryear.” Writ., Connie Woodcock: 36.
With Ed Furness and Mr. & Mrs. Donaldson.