Canada, here to save the day

(Heather Davidson -- Photography Manager)

(Heather Davidson — Photography Manager)

A growing collection of Canadian artists, writers and filmmakers are bringing back a group of people that a generation has forgotten: Canadian superheroes.

It may come as a surprise to some people that there are Canadian superheroes. But for a brief time in the 1940s, and again in the ‘70s, Canada experienced a surge in men and women in tights. Johnny Canuck beat up Hitler to the delight of children on the home front in World War II, and Captain Canuck premiered in 1972 while the nation stood on the brink of divide as Quebec debated separation.

Will Pascoe, the director of the upcoming documentary about Canadian superheroes Lost Heroes, was growing up in Montreal in the 1970s when he got an issue of Captain Canuck.

“I was living in this time where I felt like my country was coming apart yet I had this comic book,” he said. “For me it was a little bit of a touchstone saying my country was going to be okay because we had our own superhero.”

Pascoe, along with a diverse group of comic creators, sat on the Canadian superhero renaissance panel at last month’s Fan Expo – Canada’s biggest comic book convention – to talk about the emerging interest in Canadian heroes. The growing popularity of comic books in general has increased interest in characters whose stories take place in more familiar settings.

It’s not just the popularity of comics in general that have increased the demand for Canadian content. While American superheroes are considered a point of national pride, Canadians national modesty complex has gotten in the way of celebrating heroes too loudly. “We don’t talk about ourselves,” said Pascoe. “We don’t revel in our own history.”

But the cool cache Canada has cultivated has also helped encourage homegrown pride.

“We’re interesting somehow,” said Ramon Perez, a cartoonist who currently works on Wolverine and X-Men titles for Marvel Comics. The success of indie comics like the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Essex County by Jeff Lemire have shown there is certainly a market for stories set in Canada.

J. Torres, a writer who has had long runs at both Marvel and DC Comics, banked on the growing popularity of Canadian comics to crowdfund his own comics anthology, True Patriot. The book is entirely Canadian created, and features the stories of heroes big and small.

One of the heroes of the book comes from Canadian mythology: The ogopogo, a monster similar to Nessie who supposedly lives in a lake in Okanagon Valley, B.C.

Writer Howard Wong and artist Adrian Alphona were eager to play with something that was a mythical Canadian archetype. “We talked about all the cryptids,” said Wong, “like bigfoot and ogopogo.” For them, the desire to tell a story about a Canadian hero – even a large amphibious one – was simple. “We should have Canadian heroes because we grew up without them.”

Torres believes that crowdfunding models like Kitckstarter will make a huge difference for Canadian creators, especially because there are no Canadian publishers specializing in comic books right now. “If it tracks the same way as it has for a lot of my American friends I think it’s going to be pretty huge,” he said.

At the panel, many of the creators agreed that the more Canadian heroes there are, the better we can establish our own identity, much the way Americans can get behind the patriotic intentions of Captain America. “We need anchors to remind us who we are,” said Hope Nicholson, the producer of Lost Heroes. They may be on to something – for the first year ever, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had a recruitment booth at Fan Expo.

The combination of growing Canadian cool, the popularity of comics and more online resources for creators to distribute their works for popular consumption. Pascoe noted that many of the artists he spoke would only write Canadian comics if they could pay the bills doing it. “There’s an interest there and a demand,” he said. “Someone has to pull the trigger on it.”

A dummy’s guide to Canadian superheroes

Wolverine

The Ol’Canucklehead is widely considered one of the best Canadian superheroes because he’s a hero who just happens to be Canadian. He made his first appearance when then Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief decided they needed a Canadian hero to break up a fight between the Hulk and the Wendigo.

Captain Canuck

Probably the second-best known Canadian superhero, after Wolverine, Captain Canuck is as relentlessly patriotic as his American counter part. He first appeared in 1975, and since then has been the star of several independent series and a web series that premiered in 2013.

Alpha Flight

This Canadian version of the Avengers premiered in the late seventies. Though they’ve since appeared sporadically, they did include Wolverine as a member of the team for a short while. Several Canadian creators have expressed interest in reviving the team.

Northstar

This mutant carried on in several titles – most notably X-Men – after Alpha Flight ended in the eighties. Last year, he made headlines when he became the first openly gay superhero in the Marvel Universe.

Nelvana

Nelvana has the notable distinction of being one of the first female superheroes (she hit news stands a year before Wonder Woman). She was also notable in her time for being an Inuit woman – her roots come from an Inuit legend. Sadly, Nelvana hasn’t appeared in print since 1947.

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