Johnny Canuck

In celebration of the Johnny Canuck Kickstarter Campaign to reprint! Support before it's too late!

In celebration of the Johnny Canuck Kickstarter Campaign to reprint! Support before it’s too late!

Throughout 1941, Canadian comic book readers experienced a boom in Canadian produced comics. It wasn’t until late in that year that Johnny Canuck was slated to appear.

In December of 1940, American luxury goods (including comics) were forced out of the Canadian market. Without the heroes that Canadian children had come to know and love like Batman and Superman, Canadian publishers got a clear shot to produce Canadian ones. Foremost of these heroes was none other than Canada’s answer to Captain America, Johnny Canuck.

leobachle1Johnny originally appeared in the first issue of Dime comics, which likely appeared on news stands in late December 1941 or January 1942, but whose publication date is February. Johnny’s creator, Leo Bachle, was just 16 at the time he created the comic for Cy Bell and John Ezrin. Despite Bachle’s youth, Johnny Canuck would go on to be one of Bell Feature’s biggest characters, and indeed, one of the biggest and most lasting characters of the Golden Age. The comic itself is just over 230 pages of comics spread across 28 issues and 7 arcs. The first and last issue are the only issues to be one shots.

Although Leo Bachle created the character and worked on the comic for most of the series, he left Johnny Canuck and Bell Features to take a position in New York. Subsequently, Johnny was handled by Andre Kulbach from issue 24 to 27, and Paul Dak took the last issue.

LeoBachleJohnny’s character was kind of a Jack of all trades, a flying ace and fighter, secret agent, and officer in the Canadian military. Most of the time, Johnny was saving “foreign beauties” and fought the axis on almost every war front. He met up with Hitler no fewer than three times and was trained in trapeze and boxing! Throughout his comics he travelled to Yugoslavia, Russia, Germany, Libya, Tibet, and China. It wasn’t until the final issue that Johnny’s story took place in Canada, and just off the coast of Halifax! Interestingly, this story also had a science fiction feel, as this last comic took place after the end of the war, and essentially, after Johnny’s biggest villain was out of the picture!

Recently, like Nelvana of the Northern Lights, I’ve been privileged with the position of collecting, restoring, and publishing Johnny Canuck! It’s never been reprinted in the seventy years since the last issue hit the rack! But I need your help! I’m raising the funds through kickstarter, a crowd funding website! Preorder the book here and get all kinds of other cool stuff like prints, posters and even original art by some of todays top creators! Let’s read Johnny’s adventures again!

Arcana

Issue one of Arcana by T.S. Wells and Rob Clark.

Issue one of Arcana by T.S. Wells and Rob Clark.

Arcana is a comic book series original appearing in 1994, written by T.S. Wells with art by Rob Clark. The independent fantasy comic was published under the creators’ names, “Wells & Clark”, out of Grimsby, Ontario.  The first issue in the series is a double sized issue at 72 pages and in black and white and contains two parts.

Clark and Wells continued the series for three more years, publishing issue eleven as the final issue in June of 1997. The comic remained in black and white including the distinctive black and white covers, at 24 pages each.

Arcana stars three anthropomorphic characters including the con artists, Flagg (a raccoon) and Foxglove (a fox), and later a third character, Clorinda (a tiger). The story follows the petty criminals and the haunted Clorinda as they travel on their journey to find Clorinda a new beginning from her mysterious past while discovering more about each other in every village and adventure.

  • Arcana #1 – 1994
  • Arcana #2 – March 1995
  • Arcana #3 – May 1995
  • Arcana #4 – July 1995
  • Arcana #5 – September 1995
  • Arcana #6 – January 1996
  • Arcana #7 – April 1996
  • Arcana #8 – July 1996
  • Arcana #9 – September 1996
  • Arcana #10 – January 1997
  • Arcana #11 – June 1997

Arcana was distributed throughout the US and Canada at around 3000 books a print run.

Katherine Collins (Arn Saba) and Neil the Horse

NeilArnold Alexander Saba was born in Vancouver in February of 1947. He was born into a wealthy family and the eldest of four children. He began drawing comics at a young age, having had a very fertile environment in which to develop his skills. His mother, Allison McBain, was a cartoonist and comics enthusiast herself, and granddaughter of Mary “Dolly” Collins, a Manitoba cartoonist. Predominantly raised on newspaper strips and collections of Caniff and Barks, most of Saba’s earliest renderings are in a similar vein.

In 1965, Saba attended the University of British Columbia for Journalism and Print Production. During Arn’s time in school, he involved himself in theatre in both performance and writing. He also practiced cartooning for the school paper which, he explains, “eventually devolved into a story that featured songs.” This is not unlike a comic he created in highschool about dancing and singing garbagemen.

However, it wasn’t until 1975 that he first published Neil the Horse, the comic that dominated his cartooning career. Stylistically, the comic is most reminiscent of early Disney cartoons, but because of the mélange of characters, styles and forms, it transgresses any real comics tradition. Saba experimented with many forms of pop culture not normally associated with comics such as paper cut outs, musicals and dances.

In 1977, Saba moved from Vancouver to Toronto to be immersed in the Canadian comics scene and he continued to develop Neil the Horse, publishing it in a multitude of forums.

Oddly, I didn’t really think about or plan anything musical when I started Neil. I mean, there never had been any such comic, and my eye was firmly on “the great traditions” when I got going. And I wanted to find my place amongst those greats. But I could tell right away that I had to find my own footing. Every great cartoonist and great strip, those who really projected a unique voice, had done so by gradually finding that voice. And it had to be the creator’s own genuine voice, whatever that may be. Herriman could not have envisioned in advance Krazy Kat’s sweet mystery. Barks never planned to make Donald an everyman. Foster likely never imagined that his chivalric adventure strip would grow to include domestic soap opera. Caniff, essentially a hayseed, probably never sat around imagining he would write sophisticated male-and-female repartee. And so on. They all followed their noses, and developed what they did best, a day at a time.

The comic found its footing, because in 1980 Saba published one of these stories with Potlach Publications in the 1980 Comics Annual.

Then again in 1982 with Dave Sim and Deni Loubert in the “Unique Story” section of Cerebus No. 41, 44 and 45. In February 1983, Neil the Horse graduated and was featured in his own book published by Sim and Loubert’s company Aardvark-Vanaheim.

Neil Horse 3Saba was even deeper in the comics community as he was also developing a five-part radio documentary on CBC, The Continuous Art, which explored the cultural position of comics. He conducted many interviews including those with Milton Caniff, Floyd Gottfredson, Hugo Pratt, Will Eisner, Jules Feiffer, and Russ Manning. His interview with Hal Foster is famous for being Foster’s last interview. Also on the radio at this time was Saba’s radio musical called Neil and the Big Banana which did very well.

Although Neil survived the separation of Aardvark Vanaheim titles, it only lasted 15 issues, the last of which came out in 1988. This did not mean the end of Neil.  Between the years of 1988 to 1993, Neil the horse was optioned in Hollywood and Saba began taking Neil in all possible directions.

Saba was pursuing three avenues of publication: the stage musical, the graphic novel and the TV series. In September of 1993, all three were rejected. It was at this point Saba decided to abandon hopes of developing Neil the Horse and began to pursue other options. During this time he had been living in San Francisco for five years, and had begun to realize his transsexual transition. By the end of 1994, this transition was completed, and Saba began a new life as Katherine Collins. During the rest of her new life, she no longer pursued comics, either as a journalist or creator until recently. In August 2013, Collins was inducted into the Shuster Award Hall of Fame and Hermes picked up the rights to reprint the collection in its entirety.

Currently, Hermes Press is suffering from financial problems and they’re trying to raise the funds in Indiegogo. The restoration complete, these funds will go toward actually printing the book.

Nelvana of the Northern Lights and Triumph Comics

On September 10th, 1939 Canada joined the war effort and made its first independent declaration of war. It maintained its status and position in the war effort but by late 1940, preservation of the Canadian dollar became a priority. In December of 1940 the legislation known as the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) was passed and the prohibition of importing luxury goods from outside Canada commenced.

Also during this time, the American pulps and comics industry was booming. Some of the most famous current superheroes were well into their own story lines, and children in North America were reading them religiously. However, with the introduction of WECA, American comics were quickly removed from Canadian new stands as they fell under the non-essentials banner.

In the spring of 1941, two Canadian publishers sprang up to fill the void left by American comics which were Maple Leaf Comics and Anglo-American Comics and in the summer of that year, Hillborough Studios and Commercial Signs of Canada (later Bell Features).

Triumph #1Hillborough Studios was created and launched by Adrian Dingle with the assistance of the Kulbach brothers, Rene and Andre. Its only title, Triumph Adventure Comics, debuted in August of 1941 and contained the first appearance of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, also created by Dingle. She continued to be featured in all of Hillborough’s Triumph Adventure Comics up to issue six when Cy Bell of Bell Features purchased the title and the company and merged them with his own. Since then, Bell began publishing the comic from issue seven onward as Triumph Comics. Adrian Dingle was hired as art director for Bell Features but continued to work on the series as sole creator.

Nelvana of the Northern Lights was featured in the first 31 of the 32 issues of Triumph comics. It ran from 1941 to 1947, ending just shortly after the WECA ban was lifted. Two stories appear outside this run including a colour story in Super Duper Comics No. 3 published in May of 1947 and the Death Dealing Double story published in the collected Nelvana of the Northern lights. Nelvana is most famous for predating Wonder Woman and being part Inuit and goddess, her father being Koliak the Inuit god. Her story was loosely based on an Inuk elder the Group of Seven’s Franz Johnston brought back from his travels in the North and restylized to fit comics by Dingle. In 1970 when Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert purchased the rights to Bell Features, they named their animation studio after her, Nelvana Limited.

Nelvana GlaciaNelvana’s most famous adventures are that of her battling the Axis, with evil characters like Toroff and Mardyth and the Dictator! Subsequent storylines included Vultor, Queen of Statica and Knuckles, among others. She was assisted by her brother Tanero as both dog and human and her friend Corporal Keene, the RCMP officer. Although no Canadian Golden Age comics have been collected or reprinted since they were first published almost 70 years ago, my associate Hope Nicholson and I have obtained exclusive reprint rights and are crowdfunding the project until November 1st. Donating to this project will not only get you a copy of the complete collection of Nelvana, but funds will also go to promoting her and creating the highest quality product possible. The ultimate goal is to make Nelvana a household name!

Vernon Miller

vernon-millerAlthough Vernon Miller is now recognized for his great accomplishments in Canadian comics, his beginnings were much less auspicious. He is well known in the industry for having created one of the first Canadian comics publishing companies and subsequently the first Canadian superhero.

Miller was born in Winnipeg in February 1912 to Gerald and Ethel Miller. He was the second born in a family of three boys and one girl. Mr. Miller supported the family by working as a real estate agent in Vancouver, while Mrs. Miller stayed at home with the children. Vernon spent the better part of his childhood in Winnipeg before moving to Vancouver in his early teens. It wasn’t much later that he began his career as an illustrator in local newspapers such as the Vancouver Sun and The Province. He did so until the early part of WWII when the Canadian government introduced legislation that lead to dramatic changes in print culture in Canada.

In December 1940, the War Exchange Conservation Act prohibited most American periodical publications from being sold in Canada. Miller, seeing the opportunity to capitalize on this market, decided to take advantage of the now vacant industry in Canada. In 1941, with Harry Smith, he co-founded Maple Leaf Publishing, one of the first four original publishers of comics in Canada.

The first issue released by the company, Better Comics, appeared on newsstands in the spring of that year, beaten only by Anglo American’s oversized melange of reprints and original material. Alternatively, Better Comics was published in the traditional size and format and featured all original material. Among the stories was the first appearance of Iron Man, better known as the first Canadian superhero. So not only is Miller responsible for creating the one of the first Canadian comics publishers and comic book, but also creating and executing Canada’s first superhero.

The premise of Iron Man is that, at the beck and call of the two children Jean and Ted, and the Major, Iron Man would depart from the depths of his watery home in the South Seas to fight the Axis or any other number of topical villains. Ignoring the discordance between his name and home, Iron Man was of a race of evolved, super powered humans that were prematurely destroyed by an earthquake. He is well known for mourning the loss of his people, which was only broken by his trips to the surface.

1941 was a busy year for Miller. During this time he also married his wife Lillian. They later had two children together named Richard and Karen.

Maple Leaf Publishing expanded to four titles including Better, Lucky, Rocket and Bing Bang comics shortly after the success of Better. They expanded to include other great heroes and characters such as Black Wing, Senorita Marquita, Brok Windsor, Derry Dreamer, Bill Speed, Callahan, the Adventures of Peter and Peggy, Honourable Freddy and Circus Girl.

Directly, Miller worked on several of the books in all aspects as both creator and producer, but as his staff of artists grew he began to do more writing and editing rolls, working on such titles as Danny and his Magic Ring, Mr. E and Tiger Tex among others.

During Canada’s golden age period from 1941 to roughly 1946, Maple Leaf publishing was not only a prolific but also quality comics publishing company. They produced several distinctly Canadian pieces with many successful artists on staff such as Bert Bushell, Jon Stables, Ernest Walker, Shirley “Ley” Fortune and Ted Watson. Unfortunately, in the spring of 1946, as the ban was lifted, Maple Leaf was forced to cease publishing as American comics again flooded the market.

This was not the end of Miller’s illustrating career, though. He continued to do work for newspapers and periodicals including the popular Canadian Boy Magazine in the 1960s. Vernon Miller passed away in 1974 at the age of 62 years old. You can read one of his Iron Man stories below.

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Vernon Miller is being given a Lifetime Achievement Award this year at the Joe Shuster Awards on Saturday, August 25th at the AGO. You can read more about Maple Leaf Publishing and comics on my other post here.

Gene Day’s Black Zeppelin

First cover by Gene Day.

First cover by Gene Day.

In 1985, Deni Loubert’s newly founded publishing company Renegade Press published the first issue of Gene Day’s Black Zeppelin. The comic, a mix of science fiction, fantasy and horror comics, was predominantly a collection of Gene Day‘s work published posthumously, but also featured regular contributions from Dave Sim, David Day, Dan Day, Mark Shainblum and Gabriel Morrissette as well as other contributors such as Charles Vess, Augustine Funnell and Gordon Derry.

The series never exceeded five issues and was relatively irregular. It featured colour covers, by either Gene or David, with black and white interiors. The first three issues were 24 pages, the latter two being 32.

Issue 1, April 1985, Ed. Gale Day, Joe Erslavas

  • The Strip: Gene Day (A, S), Dan Day (I), Susan Thomas (L)
  • Priest: Charles Vess (A, S)
  • Winged Jupiter: Gene Day (S), Dan Day (A), Joe Erslavas (L)
  • Adriene All Alone: Dave Sim (A, S,)

Issue 2, June 1985

  • The Bizarre and the Fantastic: Gene Day
  • E. Pluribus Unum: Gene Day (S) Dan Day (P) David Day (I) Joe Erslavas (L)
  • Slaughterhouse Passing: Gene Day (S), Larry Dickison (A)
  • Quiet in the Green: Gene Day (S, A), David Day (Rendered), Susan Thomas (L)

Issue 3, August 1985, Ed. Joe Erslavas, Gale Day

  • It Waits: Gene Day (S, A)
  • Occurrence on a December’s Morning: Gene Day (S), Bruce Conklin (A), Dave Sim (L)
  • The Eaters: Augustine Funnell (S), Gene Day (P), David Day (I)
  • God’s Good Children: Gene Day (S), Dan Day (A)

Issue 4, March 1986, Ed. Joe Erslavas, Gale Day

  • The Infinite Man “Who Shall Cry For Damocles” Chapter One: Mark Shainblum (S), Gabriel Morrissette (P), David Day (I), Ron Kasman (L)
  • An Evil Cause: Dave McCarthy (S), Dave Sim (A)
  • Sequence: Gene Day (S, P), Dave Sim (S), Joe Erslavas (I)
  • Harry: Ronn Sutton (S, A)

Issue 5, October 1986, Ed. Joe Erslavas, Gale Day

  • “Who Shall Cry for Damocles” Chapter Two, Questionable Acts: Mark Shainblum (S), Gabriel Morrissette (P), David Day (I), Ron Kasman (L)
  • Life’s End: Dave Sim (S, A), Gene Day (A)
  • Gravedigger’s Banquet: Dave Sim (S, A), Gene Day (I)
  • Between Two Worlds: Gordon Derry (S), Barry Blair (P), David Day (F)

True Patriot

True Patriot comicIf you know anything about Canadian comics, you know how invaluable the anthology has been to Canadian creators. This website alone is a testament to that by the sheer quantity of comics anthologies released over the last 70 years! Anthologies allow creators to get their work into the public eye who might have otherwise struggled to do so. This is usually due to lack of funds, distribution, or publicity in general and is the problem that has always plagued comics publishing in Canada. Here is the opportunity, again, to change this! It’s history in the making with the project True Patriot!

True Patriot is a “comic book anthology featuring Canadian superheroes written and drawn by some of your favourite Canadian comic book creators.” The advantage this anthology has is an already quite public and well-known cast of creators that will be working on it such as Ramon Perez, J. Torres, Adrian Alphona, Scott Chantler, Jack Briglio, and Faith Erin Hicks! Projects like this are so important to the cultivation of Canadian popular culture, and needs the public support! Please check out the indiegogo page and consider purchasing a copy. Cheers!

Orion: The Canadian Magazine of Space and Time

I know subject of my last few posts blur the areas I’m trying to cover, but I really want to state the importance of including all related and important material on the subject for future reference.

In 1981, a Science Fiction fanzine was published, a publication hand in hand with the comics industry at the time. Orion Magazine: The Canadian Magazine of Space and Time was first published in the summer of 1981 by Discovery Publications in Montreal, Quebec. This exceptional magazine was published and edited by a young, 18-year-old Mark Shainblum. His intent, very clear not to alienate other nationalities, was to provide a fanzine that fairly examined most English speaking science fiction and comics output, but of course, Canadian based. That said, the magazine was definitely Canadian content heavy. 

Accompanying letter.

The first issue is perhaps most noted for Shainblum’s article on Captain Canuck and an interview with Richard Comely. Sadly, the inaugural issue of this series was already printed and ready to be shipped around the same time CKR Productions ceased publishing. In order to remain topical, Discovery included this letter also provided here by Mike Sterling.

Orion #1 contains several other timely references including a rare article on small time zine publisher Kenny Moran Comics out of Winnipeg, Manitoba and a comic entitled Captain Chinook by Captain Canuck artist Claude St. Aubin. Otherwise, the fanzine is 36 pages, oversized, black and white with colour cover and mostly a compilation of reviews, interviews, poetry, etc. at .

The second issue was almost double the length at 64 pages and slightly larger than the first. As far as luck goes though, it didn’t fair much better. Shortly after giving a long, in depth interview to Shainblum for the magazine, Gene Day passed away at only 36. Fortunately, Orion wasn’t already printed and Shainblum was able to explain that it was one of Day’s last interviews. Like the first issue, the second contains several excellent supporting pieces including a comic by Geof Isherwood called White Thunder and a Captain Canuck parody comic called Captain Canduck.

Orion only saw two printed issues before retiring in 1982. This was not the end though. In 2004, Shainblum resurrected Orion digitally with Comicopia for six more issues, all of which can be read here. Should you want a copy of the earlier Orion issues, you may be able to aquire copies directly from Shainblum himself.

Until then, here is the content of the first and second issue.

Orion #1

  • Quantum (Editorial) – Mark Shainblum
  • The Definitive Batman – James J.J. Wilson
  • Broadening Horizons: First Encounter with The Spirit – Mark Shainblum
  • Captain Canuck: The Triumphant Return of the Canadian Hero – Mark Shainblum
  • World of Elzon: Imaginitive but… – Mark Shainblum
  • Update (News from the World of SF) – Michael Gilson
  • The Wager – Michael Gilson
  • Ode to a Super Hero – Mark Shainblum
  • “Orion Interview” A Conversation with Richard Comely – Mark Shainblum
  • “Viewpoint” Commentary – Michael Gilson
  • Software: Harlan Ellison reviewed – James J.J. Wilson
  • The Ubiquitous Captain Chinook – Jean-Claude St. Aubin
  • “MediaViews” Galactica: What Happened? – Michael Gilson
  • Books: North By 2000 – Review by Mark Shainblum
  • Pharma – Mark Shainblum
  • The Riddle – Rhonda Kert
  • Afterburn: Closing Commentary – Mark Shainblum

Orion #2

  • Quantum (Editorial) – Mark Shainblum
  • Orion Response (Letters)
  • Comicswatch (Reviews)
  • An Interview with Marv Wolfman – Mark Shainblum
  • Another Interview – Gabrielle Morrisette
  • The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer – Lesley Choyce
  • White Thunder – Geof Isherwood
  • The Last Interview: A Conversation with Gene Day Mark Shainblum
  • Fanwatch (Fanzine Reviews)
  • Captain Canduck – John Bell (Words) Owen Oulton (Art)
  • …And the Canadian Way? – Christine Kulyk
  • Books (Reviews)
  • Brass Orchids (Column) – Lisa Cohen
  • Afterburn (Closing Commentary) Mark Shainblum

Doug Wright Awards: Awards and Comics

In 2011 American cartoonist Dustin Harbin created a short comic celebrating the Canadian Doug Wright Awards inspired by the event he initially attended in 2010. The awards ceremony was developed by Brad Mackay and Seth in 2005 and was created to promote Canadian comics culture and work.

The comic is an interesting perspective into the relatively new awards ceremony, which, considering the few that Canada boasts on the subject, is exclusively Canadian. After the 2011 ceremony, Harbin created his comic The Doug Wright Awards 2011: An Essay in Comics, by Some American which was featured on The Comics Journal website. This was Harbin’s contribution as diarist to the magazine as part their Cartoonist Diaries initiative. It was also later published in hardcopy and can be purchased on Harbin’s  site.

The comic is an excellent look at the Doug Wright Awards from an outside perspective, and was featured in the program of the 2012 DWAs as well, where Dustin Harbin was a guest and presenter.

To see more about Harbin’s opinions on award ceremonies including responses from both Brad Mackay and Kevin Boyd, go here.

Comic Book Confidential

If you are a fan of comic books as a art form, then chances are you’ve come across Comic Book Confidential. This documentary illustrated the history of comics with a special focus on the more recent developments at the time. The documentary, released in 1989, excellently highlights many of the milestones in American comics history and continues to be a relevent reference.

Comic Book Confidential was co-written and directed by Canadian documentarian Ron Mann of Sphinx Productions. In 1988, Sphinx Productions released a promotional comic as a companion to the film under Sphinx Comix. The majority of the 16 page comic is devoted to biographies of the creators referenced in the film, but there are quite a few small aspects of this comic that make it a gem. To begin, the comic is immediately recognizable by Chester Brown’s cover art. He also does a single page comic just inside the front cover. This is one of his many pieces that seem to pop up all over the place during this time.

Another aspect about the book that I love is that it included some work by bpNICHOL in the last year of his life. He worked as a consultant on the book along with Mark Askwith and is credited with writing the narrative captions. And last but not least, the lettering was done by forever true and consistent Ron Kasman. I didn’t have many problems finding my copy, and although it was originally free, you’ll have to pay a bit for it now.