Fred Kelly (1921-2005)
Frederick George Kelly was born in 1922 to aviator Robert Huntington Kelly and his wife Margaret. At the tender of age of twenty Fred found himself living in the snowy Bruce Peninsula drawing sample comic pages then riding his Harley down to Toronto to try to sell them to Bell Features. Art director Adrian Dingle, creator of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, would critique the young artist’s work and tell him to come back once he’d improved. Fred returned week after week, showing Dingle his determination to improve. It paid off when Fred was finally hired. He proved to be a workhorse that Dingle could count on for action-packed, well-drawn pages to fill Bell’s extensive comic book line-up.
Fred’s first strip was The Blade, a 19th century buccaneer who falls into suspended animation and wakes up in 1945 to fight the Japanese. Fred too took over established Bell characters like Red Thortan and Active Jim but also added a slew of his own creations to the Bell line-up like Betty Burd, Steve Storms, Cinder Smith and Clip Curtis. In addition to his work for Bell Features Kelly contributed numerous historical strips to the Montreal-based Canadian Heroes comics, which published educational comics for Canadian youth.
Kelly’s most famous creation is Doc Stearne, a soldier of fortune who, in his final, 2-part adventure, dons a mask and a silver and scarlet costume to fight supernatural beasts as Mister Monster. But no sooner had Doc donned his goggles than Bell Features stopped publishing original material. After an attempt to break into US comic strips Fred left the comic biz to work in medical illustration and later on, real estate. Eventually he rediscovered his art through painting.
Years later, the young American artist Michael T. Gilbert stumbled across a coverless copy of Super Duper Comics #3 featuring Mr. Monster’s first and last appearance. Intrigued by this lost character, Gilbert revived Doc and his beastie-battling alter ego in a series of hilariously over the top supernatural adventures. Gilbert even lured noted Captain Canuck artist George Freeman into the mayhem as a collaborator. Ironically, Gilbert’s version Mr. Monster has helped to make him one of the most well known characters of Canada’s “lost” history. Fred Kelly passed in 2004 a week after his 83rd birthday. But with the publication of Kelly’s entire Doc Stearne run later this year by Comic Syrup Press, we can all enjoy the robust, high octane thrills of Fred’s original Mr. Monster.