(Married name Titus)
Doris Slater about the time she was working with Anglo-American
She was described by her sister, Minnie Donaldson, né Slater, as temperamental, but also gutsy, two ingredients that defined her life. Doris Slater was one of only two independent female artists to leave their mark on the World War Two Canadian comic book industry. Later she became an extraordinarily effective educator. Without exception the students I interviewed held her in high regard and for some she altered their lives. Just before her life was tragically cut short by an automobile accident, she was one of the few Canadian artists exploring the possibilities of abstract painting.
Doris was born March 6, 1917 on a farm near Chatham, Ontario where her family was well acquainted with another farm family the McCall’s. It would prove significant in the future. In 1929, at the age of 12 years, she moved with her family to Toronto. We pick up the story again when she was a student at the Ontario College of Art. Her family maintains she financed her education through scholarships, and this is substantiated by a letter from Mrs. R.S. McLaughlin, wife of the auto industrialist, in which she states that this is the second scholarship Doris had received from the family. A comment in her letter is worth looking at. “One piece of advice may I give you? Don’t let your work obsess you to the extent that no one can bring you other happiness.” It gives us an insight into Slater’s single minded focus on her art, but one wonders if Mrs. McLaughlin would have given that piece of advice to James Morrice or Tom Thomson?
Doris graduated from OCA in 1938, after which she began an eclectic career making a living in portraiture, stage sets, costume designing (she made her own clothes as well) and teaching. According to Minnie, she set up shop at fairs and carnivals, apparently to the chagrin of the family, doing quick sketches of patrons. Indeed, it has been remarked by several family members that it was Doris’ habit to be sketching where ever she went. About a year after she graduated, she moved to Miami Florida, apparently she had relatives there. She continued to make her living through art. She said little about her endeavours in her letters home, but her comments about lifestyles in Florida and their contrast to lifestyles in Ontario, reveal a keen sense of observation. Perhaps, she would have stayed there but World War Two erupted and she returned to Canada around the end of 1940. Perhaps she wanted to be with her family in wartime, but there could have been another reason.
The war caused dislocations, but also opportunities for writers and artists. It almost eliminated the markets for non-essentials like fine art, but the War Exchange Conservation Act, passed December 2, 1940, and designed to shift imports to war materials, opened periodical markets once dominated by U.S. corporations. The comic book company Hillborough Studios was created by Adrian Dingle and other fine artists who could no longer find a market for their work nor enter the already overflowing ranks of wartime artists.
Ted McCall was another who responded to the situation in which he found himself. Years earlier, in the mid 1930’s, McCall, an editor with the Toronto Telegram and a writer of boys stories had teamed up with illustrator Harry Hall to create Canada’s first adventure cartoon strip, “Men of the Mounted.” For this he can claim to be the father of the Canadian adventure cartoon. He had followed up this serial with “Robin Hood & Company” first with illustrator Charles Snelgrove, then Sid Stein. The war brought on paper shortages. Cartoon strips were expendable, and “Robin Hood & Company” was cancelled. Undefeated, the resourceful McCall convinced Sinnott News to organize Anglo-American Publishing Ltd. to publish first reprints of his strips. In turn Anglo-American needed more comic books, and so there was a push to produce more characters. McCall at this point teamed up with Ed Furness (Sid Stein wanted to return to commercial art) to create “Freelance” arguably the most popular character of the wartime comics. Meanwhile, Les Gilpin an Anglo-American employee was creating “The Crusaders”, but much more was needed.
McCall had another story idea, a female air cadet, aimed no doubt at attracting female readers, but who could illustrate it? Ted McCall’s wife Elsie was the sister of Don Donaldson who was married to Minnie, Doris Slater’s sister. Here was a family connection who was also a talented and experienced artist. Was an invitation from Ted McCall another reason why Doris returned from the U.S? “Pat The Air Cadet” (See PAT THE AIR CADET)appeared in Grand Slam 1-1, October 1941, under the signature Macduff, although family members have confirmed it was a partnership between McCall and Doris. The stories revolved around Patricia Scott and her twin brother Jerry; both air cadets. Patricia was a pilot and an air mechanic, no retiring female here. The early stories were firmly embedded in the military, but as the serial progressed they evolved into espionage and finally detective genres possibly in preparation for the postwar market.
Doris’ signature does appear on a second feature “Martin Blake, The Animal King” (See MARTIN BLAKE )but the feature also bears the marks of having been written by Ted McCall. It first appeared in 3 Aces Comics. Set in Africa, “Martin Blake” and his servant “Juba” along with neighbours “John” and “ Joan Newcombe” battle the villainous “Red Fagan”. “Joan Newcombe” had a hero worship for “Martin Blake” reminiscent of “Natasha’s” hero worship for “Freelance”. The serial had a freewheeling imagination. The first adventure occurred in a prehistoric lost world. World War Two was hardly mentioned.
From her work in these early issues, we know that Doris was one of the founding artists with Anglo-American. Although, “Martin Blake” disappeared at the end of 1942, “Pat The Air Cadet” and Doris continued with Anglo-American till November 1944, at which time she switched to Bell Features Ltd.
Like Ted McCall who never left his job as an editor at the Telegram, Doris was an independent artist rather than employee. She didn’t really fit into the factory system of cartooning at Anglo-American. Whether she was let go because of incompatibility with the corporate structure, or whether she quit we don’t know. We do know from Frank Chamberlain’s “Radio Column” in a 4 Nov. 1944 Globe & Mail, she had already sold the “Penny’s Diary” (See PENNY’S DIARY )concept to Bell Features, before the last episode of “Pat The Air Cadet” appeared in the November issue of Grand Slam.
“Penny’s Diary” had begun as a radio series on CFRB in Toronto about 1941, written by Pat Joudry who later became a well established playwright for radio, stage and television. Sometime in 1944, the series had been dropped. Doris and Pat somehow got together (it has been said they were living in the same apartment building) to create a graphic serial which it was hoped would revive the radio show. The serial seems to have done this.
Doris’ transfer from Anglo-American to Bell was accompanied by a remarkable change in her illustrating style. It is hard to believe that the person who drew “Pat, The Air Cadet” is the same one who drew “Penny’s Diary”. In “Penny’s Diary” the visual portion of the story simply soars. Three years experience in drawing “Pat, The Air Cadet” cannot adequately explain the transformation. Rather it would appear, Anglo-American did not give Doris the latitude for self expression that matched her abilities. In contrast, it seems that Adrian Dingle who had become the Art Director for Bell Features after Hillborough Studios collapsed, did give Slater that freedom and perhaps the encouragement she needed to put on the page what she was capable of achieving. “Penny’s Diary” is without a doubt Slater’s finest work and is among the best illustration work to come out of the war time comic book industry. Another interesting innovation for “Penny’s Diary” was the cross media advertising where the graphic story in Active Comics advertised the revived radio play. Did the reverse happen? Did the radio series advertise the graphic story? We don’t know, but we do know that Doris displayed cutting edge entrepreneurship.
Nowhere is Doris’ independent nature better revealed than in her involvement in the graphic periodical industry. One must remember that at that time working in comic books was considered to be somewhat disreputable. Betty Mercer who worked in the Anglo-American factory system was asked by her family not to tell anyone she worked there. Jean McMaster, who received an Order of Canada for her later work, astonished her art instructors and fellow students by accepting a job with Anglo-American. Some practitioners wanted to distance themselves from it after they left the industry. Doris not only did the work but proudly signed her name to it and advertised her achievement in it.
“Penny’s Diary” ended after only eight issues. The war was winding down. American imports were returning to the market. The economic disadvantage the Canadian industry had in relation to the America giants ensured it could not survive. Employees like Ed Furness returned to commercial art tightening that job market. Fine artists like Adrian Dingle and the Kulbach brothers returned to fine art increasing the competition there. Returning soldiers tightened the job market further. Women were encouraged to return to family life so that the returning soldiers could have jobs. Perhaps most important, in 1944, Doris had married Russ Titus a professional singer and in the process inherited a son, Kenny, from Russ’ previous marriage. On 13 November 1946, Doris and Russ had a son Robin. In 1949, Patricia was born. Was Patricia named in remembrance of “Pat the Air Cadet”? Doris’ focus necessarily shifted to family life at a time when an increasingly competitive art market demanded all of her attention. During this period, we catch only glimpses of Doris working professionally. A book Small Types Club Stories: Baby Bee’s Book written by Bying Whittaker and based on the CBC Radio children’s program was published in 1950. The family remembers her doing illustrations for Canadian periodicals and her sister recalled that Doris did a mural at Sick Children’s Hospital. If this was the case, it has been long obliterated by the extensive renovations there.
Sometime in 1950, the marriage broke up and Russ Titus left for England. Doris now had to not only look after her two children but support them and herself. Kenny, Russ’ son, had left with him, but remained in Montreal when Russ left for England. Doris began teaching art at the Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School in the 1952/53 teaching year. To add to the family’s problems, Patricia contracted and was crippled by polio. Doris took the time needed to take Patricia to a new therapy called physio, in spite of being advised against it. To make time for this new crisis, she sent Robin to boarding school. This experience proved so unpleasant for him that he left the school and hitch hiked back to Brantford. Doris’ mother Hattie who was in her seventies at the time, came to Brantford to help, but the burden still must have remained heavy. In spite of this load, in the 1953/54 school; year, she organized the Sketch Club which involved oil painting, etching and crafts as well as sketching. Its members went on field trips to graphics companies, like the Rolf-Clarke-Stone Commercial Art Company, and to art galleries in Hamilton and Toronto. Portrait painting one of Doris’ strengths was a favourite. In the 1957/58 school year the Sketch Club began meeting every fourth Sunday at Glenhyrst Gardens, Brantford’s Public Art Gallery, which suggests that Doris had connections with the Brantford Art Council, a group prominent in its day but now virtually forgotten.
Among her students, everyone I was able to interview held her in high regard. John Dargie described her as a small person “Triple A+ very energetic always on the move”. Another noted she stood for no nonsense in her class room. She had a ring with a large turquoise stone in it and whenever the buzz in the classroom got too loud she would thump the desk with this ring. Another former student, described her as someone who always seemed to be looking to help individuals interested in making art their career. Betty Molloy né Panter recounted how she was having extreme difficulty with an art history course she was taking. She had always been a “visual person” and was unable to make the spoken lectures stick in her mind. She talked with Doris. Doris made her a proposition that if she would babysit Doris, children Robin and Patricia after school (probably Doris needed the time for the Sketch Club), Doris would tutor her. Betty recalled that on the first night, Doris took a roll of paper and uncoiled it through the house from the back to the front. She then would mark a year along a time line and ask Betty what was significant in that year. Betty remembered that during the exam, in her mind’s eye she saw that mural unfurl as she moved from one question to the next. “I always wished I had gone back to tell Doris how important she was in my life, how she inspired me to become a teacher and to keep up my art, but I never got the chance.” Betty would later remark in an interview.
Doris Titus is center in the first row.
While she was teaching Doris continued to practice her art. In 1956 she painted a mural for the 56th Field Artillery Regiment RCA in the Officer’s Mess in the Sergeant William Merrifield V.C. Armory in Brantford, Ontario. It has survived to the present. Her cartooning background is very much in evidence in this mural, but is completely absent in her portraiture. About this time Doris met another artist Toni Onley and his wife Mary. Patricia recalls that she and her brother often played with the two Onley daughters, Lynn and Jennifer. It was through this acquaintance that Doris began exploring abstract painting.
In 1957/58, Doris experienced a setback. She was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown. It doesn’t seem surprising since she was handling a full teaching schedule, looking after her family which included a daughter who was still suffering the results of having polio, and pursuing her commitment to fine art, of this at a time when supports for single parents were conspicuous by their absence. Some of the pressure was taken off when Patricia went to her cousin’s for a few months, and Doris appears to have completed her teaching duties for that year.
The school year, 1959/60, was Doris’ last year with the Brantford Collegiate Institute. She transferred to the High School of Commerce in Ottawa where she was in charge of the art department. They were planning a new building, and she was involved in assessing the department’s needs. Robin remembered she rented a studio in a strip mall on Richmond Road, Patricia remembered her mother taking her to the studio while Doris worked on her art. It is from this period that the abstracts we have are dated.
In June 26 1964 Doris was killed in a car accident near Stittsville Ontario while driving from Ottawa to Toronto. Killed with her was Jennifer, Toni Onley’s daughter who was travelling with Doris to meet her father and his new wife, Gloria at the airport. After Toni’s previous wife Mary had died, he had an opportunity to study art in England in 1963/4 and so he left Jennifer with Doris and her family. Patricia who was in the back seat of the car, received a concussion and a broken collar bone. At the time of the accident Doris was travelling to Toronto to conduct a summer course teaching other art teachers at her old alma mater the Ontario College of Art. Patricia remembered, “As we set out for our mother/daughter experience of living in Toronto, [Robin would be apprenticing in a theatre company in Port Carling] mum was at her happiest. She was going to be doing something she was really looking forward to and she was also going to teach me to sew and make my own clothes that summer.”
Doris successfully engaged in three careers. She was a notable artist in Canada’s wartime comic book industry. She was an educator of repute. She was one of the few artists and even fewer female artists to be working out the challenges of abstract art. As far as can be determined, she was the only fine artist involved in the World War Two comic book industry to attempt this field. She died at a point when her powers had recovered from a post war hiatus and were carrying her into new realms of achievement. One can only speculate what she would have achieved if she had lived longer.
Small Types Club Stories: Baby Bee’s Book. McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 1950.
Small Types Club Stories: Baby Bee’s Book. Writ., Bying Whittaker. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 1950. Print.
PERIODICAL GRAPHIC ANTHOLOGY:
Illus: probably Doris Slater. 3 Aces Comis,1-3, March 1942. (Martin Blake Animal King). Anglo-American Publishing. Co. Ltd.
Active Comics, 21, no date. (Penny’s Diary). Bell Features & Publishing Co
“Jerry Scott: Air Cadet.” Illus., Unidentified. Grand Slam Comics, 1-5, April 1943: 63. Black & white interior. Anglo-American Publishing. Co. Ltd.
“Martin Blake Animal King.” Contributor unidentified. 3 Aces Comics, 1-2, Jan./Feb. 1942: 20-35. Black & white interior. Anglo-American Publishing. Co. Ltd.
|“Martin Blake Animal King…” Car., D. Slater. 3 Aces Comics. Black & white interior. Anglo-American Publishing. Co. Ltd.|
|“…Savages and Diamond Smugglers.” 1-3, March, 1942: 23-42.
“…The Leopardmen Try Voodoo.” 1-5, May 1942: 23-37.
|“Martine Blake Animal King…” Car., Doris Slater. Three Aces Comics. Black & White interior. Anglo-American Publishing. Co. Ltd.|
|“…The Rock of Doom.” 1-6, June 1942: 13- 27.
“…Jungle Defenders in the City.” 1-8, September 1942:12-27.
“…The Land of the Golden Lion.” 1-9, October 1942:12-27.
Between issues 1-9 and 2-1 “Martin Blake Animal King” was replaced by Fawcett Publications characters “Bulletman and Bulletgirl”.
|“Pat The Air Cadet: …” Car. Macduff. Grand Slam Comics…. Black & white interior. Anglo-American Publishing. Co. Ltd.|
|“….”1-1, Oct. 1941.
“… Pat Catches A Raider”: 1-4, March 1942: 28-37.
“… The Haunted House”: 1-5, April, 1942: 48-61.
“ … Adventures on Active Service”: 1-6, May, 1942: 26-38.
“… Sabotage at Sea”: 1-8, July 1942: 38-51.
“…Escape for Freedom”: 2-2, Jan. 1943: 41-54.
“…Mystery at Black Manor”: 2-3, February 1943: 42-55.
“…The Hermit of Windy Ridges”: 2-4, March 1943: 41-54.
“…Torpedo Squadron”: 2-5, April 1943: 41-54.
“…The Dagger of Dergla”: 2-7, June 1943: 42-55.
“… The Spirit Spy Returns”: 2-8, July 1943: 41-53.
“…The Mad Monster of Hollywood”: 3-1, Dec. 1943: 42-55.
No story: 3-2, Jan. 1944.
“…The Idol of Moobi”: 3-10, Sept. 1944: 45-47.
“…Dr. Sinistra Tries Again”: 3-11, Oct. 1944: 45-47.
“Pat the Air Cadet: Gets the Shock of Her Life.” Unidentified. Grand Slam Comics, 3-12, Nov. 1944: 45-47. Black & white interior. Anglo-American Publishing. Co. Ltd.
|“Penny’s Diary.” Adapted from Pat Joudry’s radio series by Doris Slater. Active Comics, no date. Black & white interior. Bell Features & Publishing Co.|
“Sketch Club.” Writ., Laurel Hexamer. The Hello, 1954-1955, the Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School Year Book.
“Sketch Club.” Writ., Laurel Hexamer. The Hello, 1955-1956, the Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School Year Book.
“Sketch Club.” Writ., Irene Kogut. The Hello, 1956-1957, the Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School Year Book.
“Sketch Club.” Writ., Audrey MacPhee. The Hello, 1957-1958, the Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School Year Book.
“Sketch Club.” Writ., Laurel Hexamer. The Hello, 1958-1959, the Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School Year Book.
“Sketch Club.” Writ., Vicky Seraganian & Sandy Waters.. The Hello, 1959-1960, the Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School Year Book.
“Crash at Stittsville in Violent Storm: Ottawa Teacher, Girl, 13, Killed.” Writ., Bob Lisoway. Ottawa Journal, 27 June 1964.
Letter from Felicity Steele of Steele and Steele, Box 78, St. Denis Saskatchewan, S0K 3W0, 20 June 1986
From Lt. Col. (Retired) E.M. (Ed) Pancoe Oct. 12, 2014, Oct. 15, 2014
With Mrs. Donaldson sister of Doris Slater and sister-in-law to Ted McCall, at the Donaldson home in Ajax Ontario, on May 27, 1984.
Telephone with Laurel Wells né Hexamer, October 2014.
Emailed by Ivan Kocmarek who received it from Patti Titus.
.The Dramatic World of Patricia Joudry. Writ., Aviva Ravel..A doctoral thesis McGill University, June1984.
See MARTIN BLAKE ANIMAL KING. PAT THE AIR CADET & PENNY’S DIARY
Mural shown courtesy of the 56th Field Artillery Regiment RCA., Brantford Ontario.
A sketch of her daughter Patricia that Doris included in a letter.
An abstract painting housed at the Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brantford, Ontario.