Corbo

“To my parents, for their patience, and to Will Eisner, for the dreamers in all of us.” Patrick R Hamou

This post is an extension of one of my previous posts on Roger Broughton and Charlton Media Group. Although the company produced a lot of reprint work, Corbo stands as some of the only known original material published by the company and was published by one of Roger Broughton’s many imprints Sword in Stone Productions.

The story takes place in 1936 and follows Jonathan Proud, “a freedom fighter, a mercenary or a terrorist, it depends what newspaper you read or what politician you listened to”. Fighting for social causes in other countries, Proud returns home to learn he is not only wanted but that his own country is in need of his attention and expertise. Hence, Corbo the vigilante is born.

Corbo Stats

Corbo stats at the back of the comic.

Corbo was published in February of 1987 out of Genevieve, Quebec at the height of the black and white comics boom. A full 32 pages it was written by Roger Broughton himself, with lettering was done by A. Kroy. The art was done by Patrick Hamou with assists by Errol Burke and Geof Isherwood with cover art by Mike Kaluta. Although the second comic was scheduled for May, it was never released along with a comic entitled Sun Warrior, also credited to Broughton.

Interesting to note, the dedication of the book, while thanking Isherwood and Burke for their work also especially spotlights Bernie Mireault. The comic hails Mireault’s work for its originality and encourages the reader to check out The Jam. It is also one of the many comics to thank Gene Day in memoriam.

An especially interesting comic for it’s position in Canadian comics history. There seems to be a lot of intrigue and mystery around Roger Broughton and the current status of his company. I definitely recommend picking one up if you have the opportunity.

Murray Karn

Murray Karn began his career with Bell Features in early 1942 while the publisher was still under the name Commercial Signs of Canada. Only 18 at the time, much of his original work was done for the Thunderfist and Jeff Waring storylines.

Karn worked on ‘Thunderfist’ in Active comics and was the most consistent artist for the line. His talents were not overlooked at Bell Features; he also did several covers for Active Comics as well as working on the ‘Jeff Waring of the Amazon’ storyline of his own creation. It was released about a month after ‘Thunderfist’ in March of 1942 and was run in Wow Comics, Bell Features’ first comic title.

Karn continued to work regularly for Bell Features for the next two years as artist on these and other lines including Captain Red Thorton, Rex Baxter and Scotty MacDonald. He even contributed artwork to the narrative shorts in Triumph Comics, all under Bell Features. Within a couple years, Karn went into the Medical Corps but continued cartooning for the wounded troops to raise their spirits.

murray karnAs Bell Features continued to gain prominence in Canada’s comic book industry, Karn was easily accepted back into the ranks just shortly before the end of Canada’s Golden Age and finished the last two issues on Jeff Waring. Shortly after, Karn went to New York to pursue other opportunities.

His classic and realistic style make his comics very easy to spot and a pleasure to view. His characters, nothing short of perfection, are elegantly composed, both on the paper and in character. Karn’s style at this time was almost reminiscent of a twenties chic with his big eyed beauties and his men modeled much like Clark Gable. Specifically, Karn’s style was distinctive in such a way that his comics were of a much higher caliber.

Murray Karn currently resides in New York and is a part of the Southampton Artists Society. Find out more on his work in the upcoming documentary Lost Heroes.

Canadian Superhero Webseries

For the most part, my blog covers any and all kinds of Canadian comics. On this post I’d like to take a step back and look at another form of the genre: webseries. Recently there have been a couple of great Canadian products in this format regarding superheroes, here is a VERY brief glance at each.

Heroes of the North: Based out of Montreal, Heroes of the North is an award winning series spread across many forms including webisodes, comic books, a novella, among other mediums. One of the purposes of this web series was to bring attention to some of the great heroes in Canada’s history. One of these is Fleur de Lys from my last post about Northguard! The story takes place in present day alternate Canada, and revolves around the legacy of scientific development under Hitler.

Tights and Fights Comic Book.

Tights and Fights: Tights and Fights is another transmedia series focused on superheroes. This one, based out of Toronto, is more of a comedy about Canadian superheroes and has been running since 2010. They’re currently on their second season and a pretty big hit.

The Undrawn: The reason that I write this blog now, is that another webseries is in production, but desperately needs funding. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, Canada’s history of comics is riddled with underfunding. Let’s not see this happen again! This series, while perhaps a bit more crass that the above two, is definitely hilarious and looks w. The series plans to release 6 episodes. Check out the fundraising campaign on kickstarter here! And watch more teasers in the updates tab!

Northguard

Issue three of the original series.

 New Triumph Featuring Northguard will be one of the most remembered comics in Canadian history. This is not only because the hero dons the national flag, or the book’s preoccupation with Canadian acceptance of national heroes, but because it was created and published by two very talented men, Gabriel Morrissette and Mark Shainblum. Morrissette and Shainblum published the comic through their own publishing company, Matrix Graphic Series, based in Montreal. They are also responsible for publishing Canuck Comics and Mackenzie Queen.

New Triumph was published irregularly for five issues from September 1984 until the summer of 1986, and all except the first book were forty pages long with an added mini-comic of Bernie Mireault’s The Jam. The comic featured consistent black and white art by Morrissette with art assists by Bernie Mireault, Geoff Isherwood, Jacques Boivin and Jan Harpes.

However, 1986 was not the end for Northguard. In 1989, in cooperation with Caliber Press, the first five issues were re-released as a trade under the imprint “Matrix and Caliber Press”. The book was 144 pages in black and white. Importantly though, it included a foreword by John Bell which again addressed the issues surrounding Canadian national heroes and the even greater irony of the comic’s publication being resumed by an American publisher.

For resume it did! In the same year they published the trade, Caliber Press published three final issues entitled Northguard: The ManDes Conclusion. These were published between 1989 and 1990, and, like the title suggests concluded the series.

Fleur De Lys appeared on some special edition stamps in the 90s.

The story follows 20-year-old Phillip Wise and his part in a private corporation’s plan to defend Canada from American radicals. You can see a greater description here, although be wary of spoilers. What the comic prides itself on is its superhero realism. Wise’s powers are not magical or supernatural, they’re technological. They come from an attachable device. Likewise, Northguard’s partner, Fleur-De-Lys, is a Tae Kwon Do instructor and Steel Chameleon has a built-in holographic disguise tool. This same idea can be applied to their enemies which are political and religious radicals and not superheroes. This superhero comic could almost be described as science fiction.

This brings me to another aspect of the comic I really enjoy which is the interchangeable English and French. The story uses both as it takes place in Montreal. It also references separatist politics but addresses the desire for an amicable relationship between French and English Canada through Northguard and Fleur-De-Lys (Manon Deschamps). The comic has great depth, giving the reader many ideas to consider. An excellent read and not terribly hard to find, but can also be purchased as e-comics.

I’m going to go ahead and take this opportunity to plug Lost Heroes, an upcoming documentary on Canadian superheroes. It will include this and so many more of Canada’s superheroes from the past to the present. Here is their website, Facebook page, twitter.

The 1980 Comics Annual

One of my greatest regrets is that there are not more easy to access resources regarding Canadian comics. Some of these would not only include historical information but also sample work. This is perhaps one of the reasons why I so love anthologies. They are a testament to the range and variety of comics, artists and writers that were published at the time.

Ian Carr, a Canadian who has done a bit of everything in the comic book industry, is a man after my own heart. In 1979, Carr edited a book called The 1980 Comics Annual published by Potlatch Publications. Carr’s original goal was to put out an anthology like this yearly, featuring many top artists but unfortunately that did not happen. Had it been more successful, I would probably not be needing to write this blog, but I’m so happy he took the initiative anyway. The book, weighing in at 128 pages, half of which are in colour, feature work from great Canadian creators. Here is a list of the contents:

  • Return of the Magician: Arn Saba (Script), Lois Atkinson (Script assistance), Don Inman (Art)
  • Blarg the Swordsman: John MacLeod
  • The Intergalactic Depletion Machine #21
  • Stareway
  • Tales of King Arthur: Bill Slavin
  • Street Noise: Ken Steacy
  • Sir Rolaid and the Black Knight: Bill Slavin
  • The Believer!
  • Haab the Luckless: Steve LeBlanc
  • Totter of the Mounted: JOT
  • Last Chance!: Bob Smith
  • Neil the Horse: Arn Saba, D. Roman
  • The Revenge of Yukon Tom!: Richard Cordoba
  • Malcolm and Eric: Ian Carr
  • The Hunter: Martin Springett
  • Wirely L. Wiremire: Tom Nesbitt
  • Wirely L. Wiremire in Wired Again, Part I: Tom Nesbitt
  • Cave-in: James Simpkins
  • Dust Bowl Sanction: Jim Craig (Art and script), Bill Payne (Inks and Lettering)
  • Wirely L. Wiremire in Wired Again, Part II: Tom Nesbitt
  • The Gauntlet of the Gods: John MacLeod (Art and script), Steve LeBlanc (Assist)
  • Tommy Whitehawk: Don Inman
  • Cave-in: James Simpkins
  • Danger Squad: Ian Carr
  • A Dick Mallet Adventure: Michael D. Cherkas
  • Flying Eight Ball: Tom Nesbitt
  • Neil the Horse Goes to Hell: Arn Saba, D. Roman
  • Spud: William King (Plot), Paul McCuscker (Art and script)
  • Bubblegummers in The Cat’s Night Out: Jeff and Carol Wakefield
  • Little Feller: Ron Van Leeuwen (Script), Franc Reyes (Art)
  • Space Cat and the Flaming Commandos: Tom Nesbitt

The book also has that very distinct feel of the seventies with the science fiction fascination at the time, while there is also a very strong influence of underground comics, especially with MacLeods already satirical style. But most importantly, it shows a broad range of talents from more mainstream styles like Ken Steacy and Jim Craig to cartoonish spoofs by Bill Slavin and Tom Nesbitt. It even has Neil the Horse, a comic that successfully bridges the gap from the seventies to the eighties. As sited above in the Potlach Publications link, this book is still for sale by the publisher, but it’s also available on ebay or Abebooks if you look.

Penny’s Diary

Holy Cats!! Happy Valentine’s day everyone! In celebration of the occasion I’m posting an excerpt of the talk I’m giving later today on romance comics. Here it is, details of the talk are at the bottom.

Penny’s Diary was introduced around 1945 and is a cornerstone in Canadian comics history. Similar to Archie comics in style and content, the romance and drama In Penny’s Diary is targeted towards mainly teen girls. The story revolves around consistently lovesick Penny and her less than savoury, but levelheaded best friend, Jeanie.

Penny’s diary is a very interesting comic. Cyril Bell must have recognized the need to appeal to little girls when he published the comic but unfortunately not enough so that he created another line of comics targeted only for girls. Penny first appeared in number 19 of Active Comics. Laughably, Active Comics is generally what you’d expect, specializing in action heroes and sports. Also, during this time no stories were much longer than three or four pages of a book, and most books ranged from about 48 to 64 pages. This meant that poor Penny was wedged between Active Jim and Thunderfist and unfortunately the poor little girls who read them probably either paid a dime for one story or were forced to nick the comic from a brother.

Although Penny’s Diary is by no means a forward thinking comic, that it exists in itself is important. Penny’s diary is a comic for girls written by women, some of the first in the industry, Patricia Joudrey who wrote the script and Doris Slater who did the art. The series was short lived concluding with issue 26, and only marginally preceded the end of the Golden Age of comics in Canada.

If you’re interested in hearing more about Canadian romance and erotica comics, I will be giving a talk on this and more at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. The address is 395 Wellington and the talk begins at 7pm. Alternatively, I have given an interview to CBC radio which will be posted online.

Shane Simmons’ Money Talks

The middle ages of zine culture produced some fantastic works out of Montreal. The most well known is probably Julie Doucet, but another great creator of comics and zines is Shane Simmons, a master of experimental comics. A writer of screenplays and TV scripts, his early career produced several short zines, including one major series entitled Angry Comics. This series ran until issue #12 before it was discontinued.

A real gem in Simmons’ career is his five part comic series Money Talks published by Slave Labor Graphics. The first issue came out in June of 1996 and the series was published bi-monthly until February 1997. This concluded the first volume of Money Talks, but sadly the series was not continued.

Simmons, an extremely skilled writer, paired his scripting with characters from American, Canadian and British monetary bills and notes. Although perhaps a little off-putting to begin with, the style becomes quite comical, especially when Simmons further experiments with how to impose facial gestures and action using only the bust of characters.

Albert, Ellie and Abe.

The story begins in Evansville with the death of Edward Warfield. It soon comes to light that Edward’s death was at the hands of his rival tycoon played by George Washington. The story follows the mob style activities of both of the rivals and related characters such as the Bowes family, a mother and her three daughters, all played by different versions of Queen Elizabeth. At the hands of Simmons, the comic has expert comedic timing and character dialogue.

Simmons can now be found at Eyestrain Productions where he and his other work is available to look at or order.

Canadian Comics References in Print

The back story is that Canadian comics came into existence because of the war-time ban on American publications. They flourished during the war because they were the only comics available to Canadian youth, and they were very good, but they suffered no competition. I sometimes think this kind of rule should be applied more often, especially in regards to Canadian pop culture, but let’s not open up that can of worms.

Anyway, after the war ended, the ban was lifted, and this was basically the end of Canadian comics as a flourishing industry until about the early nineties. There’s more to it, and here’s where you can find it.

Basically, nothing really happened until 1971. Canadian comics were being produced in different ways, educational, underground, etc., but the first reference book on the subject that talked about superheroes and proper mainstream comics from Canada was Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert’s The Great Canadian Comic Books. This book is basically a look into perhaps the most successful, and most Canadian, comics produced during the forties and includes histories and excerpts on almost all facets of the Bell Features collection including Nelvana, The Penguin, Johnny Canuck and popular genres. It was published kind of as a companion to an exhibition that was happening at the time.

The introduction by Alan Walker should be taken with a grain of salt as not all of his facts are accurate. The other chapters include The National Gallery of Canadian Heroes, Sports, The Surreal World of Secret Agents, Comic Book Covers, Humour, Western Action, Miscellaneous, The War Spirit, Youngsters Only, Jungle, Adventure, A Stable of Costumed Heroes, Detectives and an Afterword by Harold Town.

Unfortunately, this book is rare. Published in 1971 by Peter Martin and Associates Limited, it had a smaller print run. Being about comics, Canadian comics even, especially in the seventies, didn’t automatically mean great sales. It was published with two editions, but the only difference is that the second edition has a different cover. You can find it online, but it’s not cheap. The good news is that it was republished in Alter Ego #71. The other good news is that, if you’re on a budget, you can buy a digital copy for cheap, but they do have back issues as well. The bad news is that the republication does not include all of the Bell Features excerpts that the original does. You’ll find a link near the end to purchase these online.

And then nothing again. Well, almost nothing. At this time, the makings of the next great book on the subject were being collected by John Bell. An archivist with Archives Canada since 1975, John Bell had his own archives of comics with everything from fanzines, to underground comics, to one shots and comic anthologies. In 1989 he published the first Canadian comic price guide called Canuck Comics with Matrix Graphics Comics, which is not a complete listing of all the comics up to that time, but some of the more common or popular ones. The book also includes:

  • A Publisher’s Preface by Mark Shainblum entitled “Of Canadians and Comic Book People”
  • A foreword by Harlan Ellison entitled “Dreams of Joy Recaptured”
  • A humourously titled introduction by John Bell called “Yes, There Are Canadian Comics”
  • Also by John Bell, “A History of English Canadian Comic Books”
  • “The War Years: Anglo-American Publishing Limited” by Robert Macmillan
  • Luc Pomerleau’s “Québec Comics: A Short History” in both English and French (La BD Québécois: Bref Historique)

Shortly after the release of this comic, Bell, who had been a curator of the Canadian Museum of Caricature in Ottawa, wrote and published Guardians of the North: The National Superhero in Canadian Comic-Book Art. This small book was released as a program or companion to the 1992 exhibition of the same name, and focuses more on Canadian superheroes. Good luck finding this one. Your best bet is probably a library again, but there are a few available for purchase at a sharp price.

In May 2004, TwoMorrows Publishing released its first issue with a feature on Canadian comics, (I’ve done this a bit backwards) Alter Ego #36 and includes some fantastic pieces. In this issue is:

  • “The Golden Age of Canadian Comic Books and Its Aftermath” by John Bell
  • “Living in a World of Fantasy” in which Dave Sim talks with Adrian Dingle, Pat Dingle and Bill Thomas
  • “My Teacher Was Just Alex Raymond Strips” which is an interview with Jerry Lazare
  • “Comic Crypt: Fred Kelly – An Appreciation” by Michael T. Gilbert
  • “Les Barker, a.k.a. Leo Bachle” by Robert Pincombe

Like Alter Ego #71, Alter Ego #36 can be purchased in both print and, somewhat cheaper, digitally. Another benefit to having both copies is that issue #36 includes extra pictures (in black and white) and samples of Golden Age comics that #71 does not. 

Finally, the real treasure trove of information can be found in John Bell’s Invaders From the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe. This was released in 2006 by Dundurn Press in Toronto. It features a concise history of comics in Canada from the man who essentially put it together. Since its publication the book has been remaindered, and is quickly becoming another rare book on a  long list of rare books about and of Canadian comics. This is, generally, the height of publications on Canadian comic books. But more information is obviously always available online. A great resource is always Sequential if you check out the blog roll and links section to the right, and I try and keep updated with reliable online references.

Sources

Bell, John, ed. Canuck Comics: A Guide to Comic Books Published in Canada. Montreal: Matrix Books, 1986.

Bell, John. Invaders From the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe. Toronto: The Dundurn Group, 2006.

Hirsh, Michael. Loubert, Patrick. The Great Canadian Comic Books. Toronto: Peter Martin and Associates, 1970.

Lost Heroes. Pascoe, Will. Wosk, Tony. Toronto: Far Point Films. Middle Child Films, 2014.

Mackenzie Queen

Cover of Issue 4 by Stephen Bissette.

Mackenzie Queen is a five issue limited series written and drawn by Bernie Mireault. Although much of the story was completed in 1983, it wasn’t published until 1985 when Grabriel Morrissette and Mark Shainblum’s Montreal based publishing company Matrix Graphic Series picked it up. The five issues ran irregularly until 1986.

Although the title suggests otherwise, the story is actually science fiction, reminiscent of A Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Mackenize Queen is chosen by “the brotherhood” to save the world against the Ice Men who, having destroyed their own planet, would take Earth for themselves. Queen is assisted by an seven-foot tall alien called Ududu, who is a friendly carnivore and who also provides much of the comic relief for the story.

Interestingly, this series has lots of fun bits including a bathroom copy Love and Rockets, published letters from John Bell and Rick Taylor, and some great comic shorts from Jacques Boivin. Also, I loved seeing advertisements for Renegade Press’ Wordsmith and Ms. Tree, the support of which is very characteristic of Canadian comics. In issue three there are pictures of the supporting cast with accompanying comical blurbs for each including Mireault, Morrissette, Shainblum and Boivin, who was apparently 333 years old at the time.

Although the first issue has slightly awkward scripting, Mireault recognizes this citing “It has some rough edges, but keep it anyway”. Stephen Bissette also contributes with some great cover art on books four and five and Jan Harpes also contributing art in book three. Mireault’s art is wonderful and consistent and the final product, all five issues, make an excellent series. Mackenzie Queen is a really great, original story and one of the few that actually got published through to the end, so grab it if you see it, you won’t be disappointed!

FIB Chronicle

FIB Chronicle was created by writer and artist Nemo Balkanski of Vancouver, BC and formerly of Blegrade, Serbia. It was published by Vancouver based and recently launched multi-media publisher, The Publishing Eye, whose mission is to produce “visual culture for the conscious mind”.

This is certainly evident in FIB Chronicle which is a collection of comics featuring thinly veiled spoofs and criticisms of political and socially recognizable figures as well as the failings of society itself. Each comic features a distinctive character and is usually no longer than two or three pages. By the end of the book there is a large collection of heroes and anti-heroes. Mostly anti-heroes.

Although many adult comics have been described as gritty, Nemo’s writing style definitely creates a real friction. The yellow tape across the front cover repeats “This is not for children” and for good reason. Many of his most villainous characters are made up of distinctly human characteristics causing them to be all the more loathsome. The comics, meant to expose and to educate, incite feelings of sadness, irrationality, fear and dark humour that are common within the human psyche, and are therefore more effective in creating the dark and shocking tone Nemo is aiming for. For example, a man graciously holds the elevator for a woman with groceries. When they are inside he pulls out a knife an tells her about his unstable behaviour.

Despite the hard stories within the comics, it is hard not to be impressed by the breathtaking artwork which is mostly done in ink and water colour. Balkanski’s stylistic creativity is showcased throughout the book and his compositions complement his stories fantastically.

The book is also produced with very a high production quality which adds to the glamour but contributes to the shock of the offensive but excellent stories within. To get a sampling of the book, check out this trailer. But be careful, child or not, these stories will turn your head.