Over the years, Eddy Smet’s comic book collection grew so fast, he couldn’t keep up with it. Of the thousands he once owned, he’s only read a small portion.
“I had my first comic book collection when I was a young boy in the mid-1950s. I don’t know how many I had, but eventually my mom gave about half of them away. I went back into collecting around 1972, and then got carried away. I tried to buy every comic book that came out for a while. It piled up very quickly; I amassed quite a lot,” said Smet, BA’66, MA’67, PHD’73, a professor emeritus at Huron University College.
Smet, an award-winning professor who taught math at Huron for more than 30 years, has given away much of his lot in the recent past, with somewhere in the neighbourhood of 8,000 hard-to-come-by comics, books and magazines going to Western since he first started donating in 2009.
That first donation, which established the Dr. Eddy Smet Comic Book Collection at Western Archives, included Silver and Bronze Age classics like rare Batman appearances from the 1970s and 1980s written by Denny O’Neil, Frank Miller’s revolutionary run on Daredevil, Alan Moore’s complete runs on Watchmen, Miracleman and Swamp Thing, and the first 14 issues of Captain Canuck, arguably Canada’s most popular and important superhero comic.
Among his most recent donation to Western Archives is a rare collection of ‘Canadian Whites.’ For collectors, these are books produced and published in Canada as a result of the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) which banned the import of American comics during the Second World War. Implemented by the Canadian government in December 1940, WECA was repealed in 1946. Once U.S. imports resumed, the Canadian industry soon died.
“I got the very first Canadian comic book – called Better Comics No. 1. It’s got a cover date of March 1941 and when I got that, I didn’t know how many copies were in existence. I know now it’s maybe another four or five copies. It’s very rare. So I had in mind with those, they should go to an archive,” Smet noted.
He bought Better Comics 14 years ago, on eBay, for more than $2,000.
His current donation is comprised of 125 Canadian Whites, including the famed Triumph-Adventure Comics No. 2, featuring the first appearance of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, one of the earliest female superheroes, debuting months before Wonder Woman; a Montreal Educational Projects single issue called Famous Adventure Stories, featuring animated tales of the likes of Marco Polo, Robin Hood and The Three Musketeers; as well as first and early issues of era favourites like Lucky Comics and Wow Comics.
“They (the Canadian Whites) are not my love in the same way my Tarzans are, but I realized those comics are scarce and as I collected more of them, I realized they should be archived,” he added.
From the day he set out to grow his comic book collection more than 40 years ago, Smet was ardently dedicated to the task. London wasn’t an ideal spot for collectors at the time, he said, so he and his wife often hit the road, looking for new additions and driving as far as Hamilton, Ont., visiting variety stores and scouring the region for new releases.
“I had piles of comics; that takes up a lot of space. We thought of selling some out of our apartment, but I was still getting new comics. London was not well served if you collected comic books. It was very difficult in the city at the time; they weren’t that well distributed,” Smet said.
“I loved books, always did, and I wanted to open up a comic book store. When you combine the difficulty of getting comic books in London, that I was selling them privately, with my love of books, it led to my wife and I opening a comic book store, which we did in 1979. It was really the first standalone comic book store in the city,” he said of The Comic Book Collector, a shop that still stands on Dundas Street, near Adelaide.
Smet and his wife operated the store during his tenure at Huron; they sold it in 1986 to a customer, not looking to make a large profit but instead hoping to foster his love of comics.
But the years spent collecting comics were about much more than growing his stock pile. In comics, Smet said he encounters a different era – one that endures in the medium and still has an impact on the world of today.
“They’re entertaining, but as much as anything, it takes me back to a different time. It takes me back to the 1950s when life was much simpler. But I love everything from the period,” he explained.
“Comic books now dominate the world, maybe not directly, but your biggest movies are things that are spinoffs form comics. They’re a tremendous source of material for pop culture, even if they don’t have big readership now,” Smet continued, adding while it may be difficult to part with items he worked so hard to collect, he is happy his collection will prove a good resource for students and faculty at Western.
“I was a completist. I’ve been collecting for more than 40 years now and I just stopped buying them. This means I would have had a complete set of Star Trek comics from when it first came out, right up until two or three years ago. I had the complete set of a character called Vampirella, that started off as a black-and-white magazine, not restricted by comic book codes. The complete set spans 40 years, so you’re talking about a female character, not even in mainstream comics, that was represented and lasted more than 40 years, and is still going on,” he said.
Women’s Studies might have an interest in this, and students from various backgrounds can now examine his collection and pop culture as it’s been represented over the years, added Smet.
“We’re at an age now where it’s more important to have everything comfortable and accessible – I can’t deal with things being crammed. I’ve been giving my comics away, bit by bit – went from the easiest to get rid of, then worked down. I’m left with about 2,500 I don’t know if I’ll ever give away, some Conan (The Barbarian) and my Tarzans,” he noted.
“But most of my life was teaching. I taught all first-year courses – some of those students were afraid of math, some were really good, a lot of them needed it for their program. And I put myself into teaching. If they didn’t get the math course, it would seriously affect their chances of pursuing their goals, the college appreciated me for it.”