The Long Journey

I was born in Belgium in 1943 and moved to Canada in 1950. I accumulated my first, and much loved, collection of four hundred to five hundred comics in the 1950s.


From the 1950s to the early 2000s, I also continuously collected airplane magazines. On one of my trips to a magazine shop in late 1971, some comics drew my attention, and my second phase of comic book collecting began. At this time, I collected not only most of the American comics being published but also books about comics and back issues, especially those related to my original collection. New comics were poorly distributed at the time. My wife and I opened London, Ontario’s first comics shop in 1979 and operated it until 1987, when we sold it to a customer. I stopped collecting in 2014.


Two stories from the Second World War-era Canadian title Wow Comics that I saw reprinted in Patrick Loubert and Michael Hirsh’s The Great Canadian Comic Books (1971) appealed to me. In 1972 or 1973, I also saw the travelling exhibit of artwork from wartime publisher Bell Features at the London Public Library. Thus I became interested in collecting at least some Canadian wartime comics, but they were very scarce. I strongly felt that these comics should be preserved so that they would not be lost in time. Therefore, I started collecting whatever Canadian wartime comics I could find and afford to buy, not for my own collection but for eventual donation to some public archive.


Of the first six published Canadian wartime comics, four were black-and-white reprints of then current American comics, and Robin Hood no. 1 was a reprint of a daily comic strip. Better Comics no. 1 was the only one of these comics that consisted of original material, and thus it is the real first Canadian comic. In July 2001, a copy of Better Comics no. 1 was listed on eBay for US $1,500 (CAD $2,314). I had never before nor have I ever since paid so much for a single comic. However, this was such an important comic that I could not let the opportunity pass. My wife and I went to Toronto to pick up the book. It was truly a marvellous day.


Part of my collection was used as stock for our store and part was sold on commission by the new owner in order to help him survive after he took over. These were mainly Marvel and DC superhero comics.


Western University has a special aviation collection. In 2002, I approached the university to see if they were interested in adding my aviation collection. I also mentioned my comic book collection. Western was interested in the aviation collection, but I did not pursue the matter again until 2007, by which time I had retired for health reasons from my mathematics teaching position at Huron University College. At this time, I donated a significant part of my aviation collection. More importantly, we began to discuss the donation of my Canadian wartime comics and possibly even the rest of my comic book collection.


I had reservations about donating to a public archive. The biggest reservation was my fear that perhaps the institution might decide that a comic book collection was not worth the resources that it took to maintain it and might thus dispose of it badly. Another reservation concerned how the material would be handled and stored, since comics are inherently quite fragile.


I had an excellent meeting with two faculty members and the head of Special Collections at Western. The meeting made it clear to me that the university recognized the value of the collection and I decided to go ahead with the donation. I began contributing the collection in parts. The first four donations occurred in 2008 and the most recent in 2021. To date I have made thirty donations totalling almost 10,800 comics and 1,800 books, magazines, and other such materials.


I collected comics much, much faster than I had time available to read them, and health matters dashed my hopes of reading the bulk of them after I retired. Donating the comics as I did gave me the time to look at them somewhat. Making the donation in parts over several years also meant that I received a number of smaller tax credits, rather than a single large tax credit. This allowed me to space out the tax benefit in a more effective way. I donated them roughly in the order that I could bear to part with them. The only comics I have yet to donate are those related to the ones I treasured most when I started collecting in the 1950s.


The Canadian wartime comics were part of a 2015 donation, and they were subsequently certified by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board. This was the most significant part of my collection, and the cultural property designation is very important since it means that the university cannot arbitrarily dispose of the comics and, importantly from a donor’s perspective, that any capital gains due to the appreciation of the books’ value need not be reported as income.


Eddy Smet is a retired math professor and long-time comic book collector.

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