Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Golden Age of Canadian Comics

Happy (Early) Canada Day everyone! What better way to celebrate then taking a look at a piece of obscure Canadian history! Grab some Tim-Bits and settle in for the Golden Age of Canadian Comics, EH!

So in my constant need for information, I tend to come across some little known facts. For instance, Marvel owns the rights to one of the most badass humans in the transformers universe. Squirrel Girl once took down doctor doom single-handedly (and it’s still in continuity!). And in the 1940s, Canadian Artists and writers exploded into the comic book market, creating it’s very own Golden Age, completely unassociated with the US. I ended up doing a little report on it on college... hence why we suddenly have style change with this weeks pictures...

Oh, what? I’ve been sitting on these for a year, so sue me.

Anywho, Canada has had an interesting history with comics. Today, when the majority thinks Canadian Comics, they most likely think newspaper comic strips, and political cartoons. Incorrect! Canadians do delve into the Comic book industry, even if we're a bit of a minority. Today we're usually published by US companies or found on web comics. But it wasn’t always like that.

Around the beginning of world war two, US artists had begun to experiment a comic book format, and writing more, shall we say, patriotic heroes. Heroes that would fight the Nazi threat and inspire those that read them. This is the era that created The avengers, Superman, Wonder Woman and more characters that have survived today.

Canada on the other hand, was unable to compete with the US’s already huge market. It actually wasn’t until the War Exchange Conservation Act. The Act banned several materials from being traded to and from the US, comics included. Suddenly, US comics weren’t coming into the country, and Canadian companies took full advantage, popping up with full force. And just as the US created Captain America, Canada got it’s own characters that became heroes identities for the War...

...Inspiring those on the home front...

...And the War front.

As the comic books evolved, they became much more styled after US comics, with one issue containing stories from various comics. The only major difference was that Canadian comics were of a different quality and printed in black and white (nicknamed the Canadian “whites”)

Companies tested the waters slowly, republishing adventures strips such as Men of the Mounted and Robin Hood and Company, in this new mysterious form known as “comic books”.

Among these companies was Ango American. Along with adventure strips, they bought comics scripts of US comics, such as Captain Marvel. That’s right people. At one time, DC’s Captain Marvel was actually a Canadian product. However, the company wasn’t that popular, and didn't focus much on Canadian Nationalism. Not the greatest move for a company during WWII.

But with the war going on, the call to arms begun, as creators began working on more “national” comic heroes to fight the Axis powers. Iron Man, (different Iron Man) who was literally a man made of Iron, from a lost civilization. And Freelance, created by Anglo’s Ed Furness: a man without powers, but was raised by a... uh... different lost civilization. Huh.

But neither of them had any Canadian qualities.

And then from Hillbourough Studios, run by Adrian Dingle and Rene and Andre Kulbach, and the creation of Nelvana of The Northern Lights! The first National hero and one the the first female comic heroes! She even beat out Wonder Woman on the timeline!

Her origins were loosly based on Inuit myth with Nelvana getting her goddess-like powers from the Northern Lights. She was teamed up with her brother, Tanero, who could transformed into a dog (just go with it) and together they battled scifi styled enemies on the homefront.

There was also Maple Leaf publishing, one of the earliest companies, publisher of Better Comics, Luckily Comics, Grand Slam and 3 Aces, some of the more well known comics today. They published comics from Ley Fortunes (one of the earlier female comic artists Burt Bushell, Ernie Walker and John St. Ables, who created the action hero, Brok Windsor some time later.

But there was still something missing. They needed heroes in the punching Nazi business. And once that came, business was a-boomin’!.

Enter Johnny Canuck, “Canada’s answer to Nazi oppression” and Canada Jack. These guys were probably like Captain America crossed with Batman. Canadian heroes that fought Nazis, but didn’t need any special powers.

Johnny Canuck’s stories were much more action packed and even went up against Hitler a few times. He created by Bell Industries, probably one of the most famous of the publishers. It was run by Cyril Bell, who hried Adrian Dingle and others from Hillborough studios after the company closed down, as well as creators such as Leo Bachle (Creator of Johnny Canuck), and Edmo Good.

Canada Jack’s stories were much more realistic, and took place on the home-front. He was published by Education Products of Canada (There’s a mouthful for ya). They were much more educational, teaching children about Canadian figures and creating historical comics. And the “Canada Jack club” a real club for kids that made appearances in the comics.

There were a few Smaller companies: Feature Publications for Toronto was one of the last, creating Lighting Comics and Superior Publishers near the end of the Golden Age. There were a host of other genres as well. Westerns like the Purple Rider, the Clue Catchers’ mysteries, Spanner Prestion’s adventure and Dizzy Don’s gag cartoons. The only ones not to participate in the comic boom was Quebec, who only put out religious illustrations and strips.

The end of the War thankfully came, but suddenly, there wasn’t much need for national heroes. There were no more Nazi’s to punch. The US was able to transition and remake their heroes into the Silver Age with more sci-fi styled villains and heroes, but... Canada didn’t exactly get that chance.

Frankly, when Trading begun once again between borders and Canada once again couldn’t compete with the US. The paper was a lower quality, people wanted full color comics to just black and white and new expenses dealing with trading across borders created monkey wrench after monkey wrench.

Those that stayed in the business had to move to the US to work. And companies that didn’t change products went bankrupt. Not exactly a happy time.

Bell Industries stuck it out the longest. And honestly, given what they had, they might have been able to make it work. Belle considered selling to both the US and UK, ordering higher quality of supplies, and planning on fully printed comics. But fate intervened, and he was denied the printing paper he needed and instead only sold US comics.

All the Canadian created heroes fell into obscurity after the end of the Golden Age. There was no internet, so their was no way for a legion of nerds to swoop in to defend their heroes!

It was an end of an era. But Canada would be back in the 70s with a new Silver Age of comics. But that’s a research project for another day.

So the question remains... where are our heroes today?

I... honestly have no idea.

I’ve tired to find who owns the rights to the characters today, but all my sources have been dead ends. It’s possible that Nelvana might be owned by Nelvana Animation, but if that’s so, they haven’t done anything with her. I can only guess that they are all wandering somewhere in Comic Book Limbo.

But luckily, traces of them can still be found in little pockets of the internet if you know how to find them *coughGooglecough*. And there are a few books out there, specifically Invaders of the North and Canuck Comics which goes into Canada’s history of Comics.

There are even few site with you can go and download some of the comics of the different eras, including a hand full of Nelvana of the Northern Lights...who has pretty much made it onto my favourites list.

Oh, come on. She’s practically Thor crossed with Wonder Woman. Of course I love her.

And, y’know, maybe it’s time for a come back! Canadian Comic creators are still rarer then American ones, but you don’t have to live in the US to be published by Marvel, DC or any other large companies. There’s digital publishing and web comics now.

Kate Beaton, ladies and gentleman!

And Nerds have proven how much they like the oldies. And I know there’s a least a few out their who would love to get their hands on a few issues of Better Comics.

Kay, I better wrap this up before I really start gushing. But I really only grazed the surface of this era. If you want to check out more information, I’ll have a list of sites and books I used for research in the credits, including where you can find some free comics!

Anywho, hope everyone has a great Canada day this weekend! Try not to over do it with the Maple syrup and fireworks.

Tegan Dumpleton aka SlugLady28

Oh! By the way, the next couple of posts will be regular reviews again. Haven’t really given Marvel any attention, so over the next month, I’ll be looking at one of my favourite and one of my most hated comics of the X-men.

Until then, Sihal Novarum Chinoth!



Hhhhooooh my gosh, it's finally done @_@. I apologize for my tardiness. Even though most of these images are old, I had to redo the coloring on almost every one due to some weird quality issue.

Anywho, here are websites where you can check out more info about Canadian Comic history (and free comics!)

Free Comics!
Digital Comic Museum
Digital Comics Museum- Canadian Comics

Canadian Comic History
The Canadian Encyclopedia-- Cartoons and Comic Strips
Garudians of the North
Golden Age of Canadian Comics
Canadian Whites
Punch In Canada
US/Canada Comics at TV Tropes
Heroes of the Canadian Comics
Golden Age Canadian Comics at Catspaw Dynamics
Historicist: Toronto Golden Age of Comic Books at Torontoist
Beyond the Funnies
Canadian Comics on Wiki
Cartooning a New Canada
History of Canada

Leo Bachle
Ted McCall
Adrian Dingle
Ed Furness
Ed Furness again
Vernon Miller

Nelvana of the Northern Lights
Johnny Canuck

And the paper texture I used on the images are from Sycha

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