CBC Digital Archives

Canada's first comic book store

From the wholesome wartime heroics of Johnny Canuck to the exploits of a three-foot-tall aardvark named Cerebus, Canadian comics are anything but dull. Though comics got their start south of the border, Canada has become home to an eclectic roster of cartoon talent from the Pulitzer Prize-nominated strips of Lynn Johnston, to the world-renowned comic art of Seth and the multi-media phenomenon of Todd Mcfarlane's Spawn. The CBC Digital Archives takes an in-depth look at the history of our homegrown comic strips, comic books and graphic novels.

George Henderson lived, ate and breathed comics - years before it would be popular to do so. A lifelong fan of superhero comics, old adventure strips and science fiction, in the 1960s he parlayed a dead-end writing career into a successful life as a bookseller and retailer. Established in downtown Toronto in 1967, Memory Lane Books became a mecca for generations of comic fans and is considered Canada's first comic book store. In this clip from 1970, Captain George discusses his then young store and the emergent hobby of comic collecting. 
. George Henderson was born in Stratford, Ont., around 1929 and raised in Montreal. At the age of 18, both his wife and child died during childbirth. Following this he enlisted in the armed forces.
. Trained as a paratrooper, he served for 12 years in Germany, Korea and Indochina. After leaving the army he worked a string of odd jobs, including trucker and carnival stuntman, before launching a career as a writer of soft-core sex novels.

. After three years, Henderson ditched his writing career in the mid-1960s to open a bookstore on Toronto's shabby Queen Street West. Though he sold all types of books, Henderson specialized in his passion: pulp novels, movie magazines, silent film ephemera and Big Little Books.
. In 1967, Henderson relocated his shop to Markham Street and renamed it Memory Lane Books. It was around this time that he took on the nickname "Captain George" - a nod to a famous humour magazine Captain Billy's Whizbang.

. A larger-than-life personality who brimmed over with stories about old movies and superheroes, Henderson quickly earned the unofficial title of the "Patriarch of Canadian Comics" from his customers.
. In addition to his popular store, Henderson also supervised a mini-publishing empire that specialized in the interests of his customers. With titles like Captain George's Comic World, Captain George Presents and Captain George's Penny Dreadful, the self-made publications included stories on old movie serials, comics, sci-fi and featured reprints of classic newspaper strips.

. Copyright issues eventually brought an end to his books, but in retrospect they seem to have laid the groundwork for "zine" movement of the early 1990s.
. Henderson was also responsible for Canada's first comic art gallery, The Whizzbang Gallery, located a few doors from his store.
. Well-spoken and poised, Captain George became something of spokesman for the burgeoning comics community thanks to his frequent appearances on television and radio.

. To many fans, Henderson will be best remembered for nurturing - and legitimizing - interest in comic books as art. In July 1968, he produced the country's first ever comic convention the Triple Fan Fair, which celebrated comics, science fiction and classic cinema.
. Over the years the event drew the likes of Stan Lee, Isaac Asimov and Kirk Alyn, the first actor to play Superman on film.
. Henderson died in Toronto on Feb. 10, 1992 at the age of 63.

. Captain George inspired many other comic fans to explore their own ventures. The most prominent of these being Now & Then Books, a Kitchener, Ont., comic specialty store opened by Harry Kremer in 1971.
Medium: Television
Program: Metro News
Broadcast Date: May 20, 1970
Guest(s): George Henderson, George O'Schlevsky
Reporter: Stan Rantin
Duration: 2:24

Last updated: January 19, 2012

Page consulted on March 4, 2014

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