Aircel and Nightwynd

This Logo for Aircel was established some time in 1986 and was used until about 1989.

For those those of you who are already familiar with Canadian comics, you’ll know all about Aircel. For those of you who don’t, it was one of the most successful and well known publishers of the Canada’s eighties alternative comics inside Canada. Hopefully this post will be informative either way.

Officially founded in September of 1985 by Barry Blair and Ken Campbell, the roots of Aircel had long since been established. Campbell, the owner of an insulation installation company (Aircel Insulation) had lost his contract with the government at which his enthused employee wasted no time in trying to persuade him to move in the direction of comics. It worked, and Aircel Insulation then became Aircel comics.

Samurai, officially their first title, had been in print long before Aircel was producing comics, as was Elflord and Dragonring. These were the house titles Blair published under Nightwynd productions which had been publishing since the beginning of the eighties. Interestingly, many of these featured the work of a very young artist by the name of Dave Cooper. Some of the other artists featured in Nightwynd at this time were Mike Burchill, Donald Lanouette, Ron Fortier, Tim McEown, and Guang Yap, the latter two which continued to work with Aircel for a very long time. The majority of these comics were black and white, oversized and were somewhere between a small press comic and a fanzine. The quality improved greatly when they were moved over to Aircel which made the comic in the traditional size with colour covers and newsprint interior.

The comics did very well. After a short first volume of black and white interiors they introduced the second volume in full colour. Blair, having grown up all over Asia, was very familiar with manga and applied this to his own style despite its absence in a predominantly North American style industry. He later became known for popularizing the manga style despite its weak North American market.

Aircel successfully produced comics until late 1988 when the company merged with Malibu comics in exchange for support through their financial difficulties. Because of this and other changes including staff, shortly after the merger Aircel ceased publishing its house titles. It was around this time that it began to publish erotic or sex themed comics, most notably Blair’s Leather and Lace, and change the Aircel logo. In 1990, Men in Black, which later became the hugely successful movie. Finally, in 1991 Aircel broke even, and Blair formally handed the company over to Malibu before moving on to other projects. Aircel continued under Malibu until 1994 when Marvel bought it, after which it ceased publishing.

Public Service Comics

Binkly, Doinkel, Sniffer the dog and R. Pugsley de Pugh.

Just about any major institution needs to connect with its people. This holds true for the Canadian government, and what better way than to create public service or promotional giveaway comics that are horribly awkward and so straight edge that no one wants to read them? I guess they’re not all bad, but here are some of the ones I’ve come across thus far.

The Adventures of Binkly and Doinkel. The three issues that were released were meant to teach kids about the dangers of household substances like cleaning solutions. Initially Owen McCarron did the art based on Noreen Young’s design and Robin Edmiston did the writing. For 1974, the colour comic was pretty appealing, despite the fact that it was sponsored by the government and educational.

Does not do it justice.

It impressively took one issue to screw up. Technically two, as the second issue made no reference to the first for continuity’s sake, or just general tastefulness, labelling the aliens “Binkley” and Doinkel. To make it worse, the art in the second issue was inconsistent to say the least. It was like the artist, Diane Demerais, was nine and was not shown the original cartoon. The comic was so different from the first it almost doesn’t merit being called the second issue.

The third, as you can see, looks a lot like the first. I’m unsure who the artist was, it could have been McCarron, but there was definitely an effort made at continuity. The comic makes reference to Noreen Young’s character designs as they did in the first and the story is greatly improved. Although it doesn’t give credit on the actual comic, it looks as though this comic was produced by Comic Book World as well.

As you can see, there are only slight differences.

As for the storyline, it remains relatively the same. The aliens are getting into trouble with the household products and the dog, Sniffer, attempts to teach them about how dangerous chemicals can be. The issues were released in 1974, 1978 and 1981. As much as I give this comic a hard time, it’s important to remember that is was released in a period of relatively little Canadian work done for children and it had a purpose other than creativity or entertainment. Really, one and three were pretty good.

Next, the Amazing Spiderman. The series was funded and produced under the direction of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police with the cooperation of the Alliance for a Drug Free Canada. This is a pretty big one, and well funded, so needless to say, the government of Canada cut a deal with Marvel to make the educational comics appealing.

The only cover McFarlane did for the series.

Released from 1990 to 1993  was a series of 5 comics in which Peter Parker makes his way to Canada time and again to cover Canadian events like the stampede and science fairs, all the while gracefully teaching young Canadians valuable life lessons about drugs, bikes, and honesty. Sometimes the lesson isn’t very well hidden. Issue number four sees Parker at the stampede battling the Frightful Four. The lesson is located in a couple of one page comics interspersed throughout the main story, and they have about as much to do with spiderman as spiderman has to do with bicycle safety.

I would have loved to have received one of these as a kid. The cover of number one, pictured left, features the work of none other than Todd McFarlane and you can see one of the kids is wearing an Oilers jersey. On issue three, the Blue Jays. It’s this kind of stuff that is just enough Canadiana without being too patriotic or cheesy.

Batman: A Word to the Wise

Finally, DC will not be left behind. Here is a comic sponsored by Zellers to support and promote the cause for literacy in Canada. All funds from this comic went to ABC Canada. Basically, Batman chases the Joker from Montreal to Toronto and there is a lesson in there somewhere about reading. Again I find myself, wishing I had this as a kid, just to link my favourite superhero to Canada. This might just be a hangover of me wishing vainly as a child that not everything came from the US.
Either way, here was the first part to my entry on some public service comics.