The cover of the first issue of The New Jr. Jays Magazine, Spring 1993.
In 1993, CPG (Community Programs Group) began publishing The New Jr. Jays Magazine, an eclectic mix of baseball, sci-fi, health and safety tips, and overt product placement. The magazine was designed to develop the Jays’ younger fan base, and featured comics, baseball articles, interviews with fans and players, and movie, book, and video game reviews. For only five dollars a year, Jr. Jays club members received four issues, a personalized membership card, and several Topps baseball cards. In the words of Ed Conroy, the publisher of The Magazine, a monthly magazine for kids, and a former Jr. Jays writer, “You couldn’t make something like this today.”
The bulk of the magazine was devoted to the Jr. Jays comic. The strip starred Dr. Jay, a Galaxian robot from the future who used his time machine, nicknamed the Pop Flyer, to go back to 1990s Earth and form the Jr. Jays club for kids. When they weren’t playing baseball, Dr. Jay and his team often encountered strange phenomena, like time warps and space aliens. “Dr. Jay was supposed to be like Doc Brown from Back to the Future,” Conroy told Torontoist, “and the Pop Flyer was sort of a rip-off of Doctor Who’s telephone booth.”
The magazine featured three kinds of stories: the main strip that continued the Jr. Jays’ adventures, short ad-centric tales, and PSA-style comics on topics like drugs, tobacco, racism, nutrition, and the environment. Toronto was usually the setting for the Jr. Jays’ adventures. In one issue, BJ Birdie, the Blue Jays’ former mascot, was birdnapped by Dr. Jay’s evil doppelganger, the Green Nemesis, and in another, the Jr. Jays had to stop a group of aliens who freeze Toronto. Blue Jays players were even occasionally brought along, courtesy of the Way Back Hat, a device that age-regressed the wearer. In the magazine’s first issue, Roberto Alomar was transformed into a child, though thankfully, he’s well-behaved, and doesn’t try to spit on Dr. Jay.
Does anyone remember Domer the Turtle?
In typical ’90s fashion, ad placement permeated almost every part of the magazine. The Jr. Jays’ dog was named Crunchie, after the Cadbury chocolate bar, and in some of the comics, the plot deviated so that characters could go for lunch at McDonald’s. Unlike the product-centric comics that were usually a page, the PSA ad comics tended to be longer and more in-depth. In one strip sponsored by Ducks Unlimited, the Jr. Jays save Toronto’s eco-system, and in another sponsored by Health Canada, a random team of smokers challenge the Jr. Jays to a baseball game. The smokers, of course, lose, while learning a valuable lesson about the evils of tobacco. For what was often a free magazine, the ads aren’t terrible; in fact their obviousness is almost quaint by today’s standards.
The Jr. Jays aren’t being very sportsmanlike.
While most of the articles and interviews were pretty standard, the magazine did have a few interesting quirks. For instance, in the winter 1995 edition, the Blue Jays organization issued a bizarre apology to its fans for the team’s lackluster 95′ performance:
We thought we knew it all. We’d had the best record in baseball since 1981. We had won five pennants, two championships and a pair of World Series. Then this year turned out to be an all new ball game…Too often, when it seemed like we couldn’t help but win, we lost. But as you find out, through your school life, in sports, at home with your family, or just hanging with your friends, life doesn’t turn out the way you want it. You have to work at it. Hoping isn’t enough. All of us at the Jays didn’t work hard enough this season…
Imagine if the Jays issued a press release every time they had a bad season nowadays.
Although subscriptions were available, Jr. Jays Magazine was designed to be distributed by police officers at schools and baseball games. In fact, Jr. Jays owes its creation to CACP (Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police). In the late-’80s, CACP was looking for a new way to deliver information about safety and drug awareness to kids. Police officers had been handing out typical safety brochures in classrooms, and they knew that kids were just dumping the materials in the trash after they left. So with Marvel’s blessing—something that would probably never happen today—CPG, CACP, Health Canada, and the Alliance for a Drug-Free Canada produced a series of anti-drug comics where Spider-Man visited Canada.
In the first issue, “Skating on Thin Ice,” Spider-Man travelled to Winnipeg to stop Electro’s scheme to smuggle drugs in hockey pucks (perhaps the most Canadian plot we’ve ever heard). In another issue, Spider-Man battled the Green Goblin in the middle of an Expos game, and in Toronto, Spidey brawled with Ghost Rider. In total, three million Spider-Man comics were handed out to kids across Canada. Despite their social lessons, the comics were well-produced; the cover of one was even drawn by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, and others were written by Justice League Unlimited producer, Dwayne McDuffie.
“The Spider-Man program was really successful,” explained Conroy, but it was eventually shut down after “some teachers complained that Spider-Man was too violent and that he was American—they didn’t think it was a good idea for the police to be bringing the comics in.” Rather than co-opt another comic character, CPG, Health Canada, and CACP decided to team up with the Blue Jays to create their own series. According to Conroy, “the Blue Jays were really receptive to the idea of the Jr. Jays program,” despite its bizarre sci-fi leanings.
Finally, someone puts the Toronto Sun to good use.
During its reign in the early to mid-’90s, Jr. Jays was one of the most popular kids’ magazines in Canada, with over 1.2 million magazines distributed annually. In 1994, YTV even produced a live-action Jr. Jays show starring PJs Phil and Aashna, and the comic was dubbed in French for readers in Quebec, though the Jays logo was swapped for a Canadiens logo, and all the references to baseball were removed.
“Things didn’t fall apart until the baseball strike,” said Conroy. “That was the beginning of the end for the Jr. Jays.” After the 1994 walkout, the Blue Jays’ priorities shifted. Although Jr. Jays continued to run as a magazine until 1998, and as a comic until 2000, the writing was on the wall. “The Blue Jays organization changed after the strike,” explained Conroy. “They stopped involving young people and shifted to their hardcore fan base.” By the late-’90s, it was hard for police officers to even give Jr. Jays magazines away. In Fall 1998, CPG replaced Jr. Jays Magazine with a new publication, The Magazine – Not For Adults, which focused on movies, television shows, and music, rather than baseball. “We had the infrastructure in place to produce another magazine, so we just dropped the Jr. Jays,” stated Conroy. “It’s sad that we don’t run comics anymore.”
The cover of a Jr. Jays comic that was issued by Esso Canada in 1997. The comic was part of a six-part contest series, where kids could fill in blank word bubbles to complete the story.
While Jr. Jays may have been simplistic and at times tacky, the magazine managed to mix sports, sci-fi, and life lessons into an entertaining package. Although The Magazine has no plans to resurrect the strip, Conroy plans to eventually make what remains of the Jr. Jays collection available online.
All images courtesy of Ed Conroy.