Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 53: A Discussion About the Work of Jeff Lemire

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I discuss the work of Canadian comic book author and artist Jeff Lemire. Jeff Lemire has written for DC comics, working on titles such as Animal Man, Justice League Dark, and Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. Lemire combined his writing and ilustration abilities for the comic Sweet Tooth, a post-apocalyptic tale of human-animal hybrids and the spread of a pandemic. Lemire also wrote and illustrated the graphic novel Trillium about time travelling, pandemics, and encounters with the alien. 
I explore Lemire’s use of intertwining narratives, the relationship between image and text, his use of pandemic narratives, his exploration of notions of humanity and the animal, the dangers of science, and his examination of the human potential for cruelty. 

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

  

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

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Golden Age Superheroes in Modernity

Golden Age Superheroes in ModernityA Review of Epic Canadiana Volume 1 by Cloudscape Comics, edited by Bevan Thomas.

By Derek Newman-Stille
Epic Canadiana volume 1 delightfully connects the golden age of Canadian comics (the origin of the Canadian superhero comic) with modernity, creating a link through Canadian comic book history. Epic Canadiana re-introduces readers to an aged Johnny Canuck, modelled after Leo Bachle’s WWII era Canadian golden age comic hero, creating a parallel between these two ages of comics by imagining that the character was part of Canadian history and art of an early age of superheroes who withdrew from the superhero business. Possibly drawing inspiration from Darwyn Cooke’s DC New Frontier comic which envisioned a McCarthyist witch hunt on superheroes, Epic Canadiana imagines a period if time when the population became suspicious of superheroes and turned away from them. Superheroes in Canada are now called upon to return to the business and begin fighting against villainy in the nation. 
Epic Canadiana is told as though it is a persuasive argument to Johnny Canuck to encourage him to return to superheroism and is structured as a series of mini comics (each with different authors and writers) that each showcase a certain hero’s tale. These tales are historically diverse, with comics set at various periods in Canadian history, and serve to create his link between Canadian comic book history and the present by featuring characters scattered across that time frame. Several of the characters also pay homage to golden age comic characters. The character Ikniqpalagaq, for example, is a modern-day re-envisioning of the Golden Age comic character Nelvana of the Northern Lights, maintaining her connection to the Northern Landscape, her Inuit heritage and her role as a demi-goddess. Yet this homage also allows for adaptation and Ikniqpalagaq more closely connects with Inuit cultural imagery than Nelvana (who was often assumed by onlookers to be white). Ikniqpalagaq provides the character with an Inuit name, a costume inspired by inuit regalia, and Inuit facial tattoos, more closely identifying her with her cultural location. Similarly, the golden age comic character The Penguin (not to be confused with the DC comics villain of the same name) is re-envisioned as The Loon, a character who still has the bird-like mask of The Penguin, but instead identifies with the loon, a bird that has a Canadian connection (where penguins do not). The Loon also becomes a mantle that people at various points in history assume, taking on the character’s identity to battle crime and this use of the figure of The Loon at different points in history similarly expresses the idea that Epic Canadiana is creating a thread of the superhero myth through Canadian history, reminding readers that the concept of the Canadian superhero is not a new one and underscoring the importance of being aware that the Canadian superhero has been part of the Canadian imagination since WWII. 
At the same time that there is a connection to these historical figures, there is also an acknowledgement that these early imaginings were products of their time and were texts that erased a diversity of Canadian experiences (particularly those of Canadians from groups who were not in positions of privilege). Some of the stories in the collection try to provide some further cultural diversity to their character by, for example, re-imagining Canadian historical figures like Canada Jack as a closeted gay man and the inspiration for a new LGBTQ superhero Jacque de Canada, who takes on an activist role as well as superheroism by battling against the forces of homophobia. 
The use of different authors and artists for each of the superhero tales in the collection lends it an eclectic feel, letting the reader feel as though they are experiencing each superhero’s narrative with a distinct voice and expression. 
Epic Canadiana represents an elaborate historical and expressive tapestry of Canadian comic imagination, winding a thread of history through diverse imaginings of what a Canadian superhero could be. The heroes in these pages are born of magic, mutation, a call to action… but more importantly, they are born of a Canadian imagining of what it means to be heroic and speculation about what a Canadian superhero would consider worthy of battle.
To discover more about Cloudscape Comics and Epic Canadiana Volume 1, visit their website at http://www.cloudscapecomics.com/comics/ .

The Outsider School for Outsider Youth

A review of Jillian Tamaki’s Supermutuant Magic Academy (Drawn and Quarterly, 2015).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In Supermutant Magic Academy, Jillian Tamaki takes on the recent cultural trend of portraying children just finiding the right school for their outsider status and then finally fitting in with all of the other students – a theme that has been played out in cultural phenomena like Harry Potter, which Tamaki heavily spoofs. Tamaki blends ideas from the Harry Potter universe with ideas from the X-Men universe (Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters). These ‘outsider schools for outsider kids’ phenomena that continue to be popular unwittingly project the idea that the best method for inclusion of diverse youngsters is to create a school environment where they are not diverse, where everyone shares some trait with them, whether it be mutation or magical ability. This unintentionally suggests that what works best for kids is to keep the current system intact with all of its ideas of forced normalcy and associated exclusions, but to create special schools for those who don’t fit into norms so that they can finally find a place to be normal. This cultural trend favours maintaining the status quo of the school system, but imagining other schools with other norms to push on children – whether it be control of their magical abilities or their mutant powers. The message is still one of conformity.

This is what makes Tamaki’s Supermutant Magic Academy so clever. It challenges the idea that we can just create special schools for each person’s diverse qualities without changing the school system itself. Her characters, although learning about magic and their abilities are still teens. They are still just as disaffected as other teens about the school environment and the superstructure of controlled learning. No matter what they are learning about, the system still fails them in diverse ways and they still challenge and push the boundaries of that system. This is the particular power of Tamaki’s work, her ability and desire to push boundaries, to challenge the status quo and intentionally subvert it from the inside – by creating a story that is nominally about a school for diversity of magical and mutant abilities and then playing with the attitudes of the teens that attend the school and ensuring that they still engage with the school in their own ennui-shaped framework.

Tamaki illustrates that even when a school suggests that its curriculum is inclusive (in this case, of mutants and magicians), it still fails students when it fails to make changes to the ideas that underly that curriculum. 

Tamaki’s fun, brilliant, savvy critique of supernatural school lit is filled with students who don’t use their powers to fight epic battles and fight for all of the rules of normalcy of society… instead they continue being teens and use their powers in ways that real teens would – to get rid of acne, deal with the tribulations of attraction and sexual identity, deal with people misunderstanding them, and cope with school until they can get out at the end of the day and do something that isn’t state sanctioned. Like most teens, they recognise that the things that are the most fun are the ones that aren’t part of a state prescribed curriculum. 

To read more about Supermutant Magic Academy and see a few online images from this graphic novel, visit http://mutantmagic.com 

You can also visit the Drawn and Quarterly website to find out more at https://www.drawnandquarterly.com/supermutant-magic-academy 

Interview with Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey about Nelvana of the Northern Lights

An Interview with Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey About Nelvana of the Northern Lights
By Derek Newman-Stille

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, and Rachel Richey.

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, and Rachel Richey.

I met Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey at the recent Fan Expo Canada where they revealed that they were working on an archival project about the Canadian comic book character Nelvana of the Northern Lights, one of the world’s first superheroines in a field that was largely dominated by male superheroes. Nelvana predated Wonder Woman and paved the way for the inclusion of women in heroic roles in comic books.

Rachel Richey and Hope Nicholson revealed that they were seeking to resurrect Nelvana of the Northern Lights, re-publishing some of these Canadian comic book history gems. I am fortunate that they were willing to share some of their insights with us here on Speculating Canada. 

Spec Can: Hope and Rachel, could you tell us a little bit about yourselves to begin this interview?

Hope Nicholson: Sure, I’m a producer for the upcoming documentary film Lost Heroes (directed by Orphan Black and Bitten writer Will Pascoe) and work fulltime in the media industry. I have a BA in communications and film studies from York U, but I’m from Winnipeg originally.

Rachel Richey: I have a background in English and Journalism, and have worked in communications. I worked for Library and Archives Canada on the John Bell collection of Canadian Comics, and write a history blog referencing Canadian comics as well called Comicsyrup, and I did research for Lost Heroes as well. I currently manage a comic shop in Toronto, and work with the Doug Wright Awards and the Joe Shuster Awards.

Spec Can: What is the history of Nelvana of the Northern Lights?

Hope Nicholson: Nelvana of the Northern Lights was inspired by a story told to Group of 7 artist Franz Johnston during his travels up north to different Inuit towns. He then relayed the bones of the story, about a female protector of the North who was the daughter of a god, to his illustrator friend Adrian Dingle. When WWII started and US comics were banned from entering Canada, Adrian Dingle decided to start up his own comic book series, headlined by the adventures of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, who he changed from a crone to a ‘doll in a miniskirt’. After 31 issues headlining the series Triumph, the series came to an end and Nelvana faded from history. At the time, she had her own graphic novel and merchandise available for purchase, making her one of the more recognizable characters of that time period. She was brought back in the 1970s by a group of ambitious animators named Michael Hirsh, Patrick Loubert, and Clive Smith, who purchased the rights and collections to the entire Bell Features catalogue, including the Nelvana issues. They then formed their own animation company which they named Nelvana and travelled around Canada to showcase the original artwork. Nothing has been done with her since, sadly (until now!)

Spec Can: Could you tell us a little bit about what got you interested in Nelvana of the Northern Lights? What inspired your passion about this comic series? 

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada. Copyright Corus Entertainment

Hope Nicholson: Around 6 years ago, even though I was obsessed with comic books, I had no idea that Canada had its own history with the medium. Finding out about the Canadian Golden Age, thrilled and angered me. These comics are amazing, why were they been pushed into an obscure part of history, they sold millions of issues across Canada! Nelvana was the most compelling of the bunch. You can’t look at the artwork of these issues and not see the skill and talent behind it. The stories were fairly sophisticated for a comic book, but never dragged on. The villains were colourful and charmingly eccentric (ether people, Queen of Static, mammoth men). It was just a fun read and beautiful to look at, even though I had to read badly scanned copies on microfiche!

Rachel Richey: Mine is a similar story to Hope’s, actually. About 3 years ago I discovered the same thing and had the same reaction. When I found out what the Archives had I essentially begged them to let me catalogue it. They didn’t actually even know what was in there! Luckily they let me do it (Best job ever) and since then it’s been my prime directive to make people aware of Canada’s comics industry. Nelvana in particular is a favourite, how could it not be? She’s righteous and intense. She’s a babe! She’s tough and interesting, not a run of the mill hero. She’s honest. This comic is quality work and confidently, awesomely, distinctly Canadian. Something that should be within reach to anyone growing up reading comics.

Spec Can: What got you interested in digitizing Nelvana of the Northern Lights and making the comics available to the public?

Hope Nicholson: As soon as I saw the comics I knew I had to share them with the world, it wasn’t fair that Adrian Dingle doesn’t get the respect he deserves for creating this wonderful character. When I first had access to the microfiche I would go to the library every day after work and copy as many pages as I could to a digital drive before the library closed. I did this until I had the complete run of Triumph comics (32 issues at roughly 60 pages each!) digitized for my own interest. While working on Lost Heroes I discovered who the current copyright holders were and my interest was renewed. With the rise of Kickstarter I realized that the financial burdens of getting these comics digitized, printed, and distributed could be lightened and we could actually do it. So we are.

Rachel Richey: During the time Nelvana was published, American comics were off limits to Canadians, as they were not allowed to be imported into the country. What is so amazing about Nelvana is that she had Canadians’ attention to be anything she wanted. Nelvana had an eager audience, and she was never overshadowed by American culture which has never since been the same. Kids could participate in the contests and see the names of Canadian cities in the letter pages. I think what was cultivated both tangibly and intangibly in these pages is something that should have been passed on ages ago, and we’re so desperately excited to do so.

Spec Can: What is different about Nelvana of the Northern Lights from other super heroes or heroines?

Hope Nicholson: Her connection to the Northern people is the most prevalent theme in her issues. I won’t say that Adrian Dingle always does the best in his representation, but it’s rare to find representations of the north in comic books today. Even though her powers can be used to injure, she’s a pacifist and is strongly sympathetic to the horrors of war as mentioned a few times in the series. It’s also striking how the series isn’t quite sure what genre it’s supposed to be. It blends elements of crime, sci-fi, adventure and humour comics. Luckily it stays away from romance for the most part. Nelvana has a male companion, the RCMP officer Corporal Keene, but there’s no romantic attachment there.

Rachel Richey: I agree with Hope, but my favourite thing about Nelvana is that she is independent. Perhaps given the extra 65 years to develop story line Nelvana would have been swayed romantically, but for the 31 issues, she’s pretty much business and I really think this is a positive role model for women reading comics, and also young girls, who are presented with a singular role model unhindered by excessive romance and more about positively caring for other people and the environment. She’s got her priorities.

Spec Can: What do you feel are some of the most important features that a comic book series should have?

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada. Copyright Corus Entertainment

Hope Nicholson: I prefer a strong serial narrative. I love comics in a way that if I was a different person, I could have loved soap operas. I want to tune in and be on the edge of my seat to find out what happens next. Character interactions with each other and development of personality is more interesting and compelling to me than action scenes, or even elaborate plots. Of course, if they look good that’s always nice too.

Rachel Richey: Yeah, I would say that I love dialogue/character interaction and art best. And like most comics during this period, they only got better with age. Dingle’s brush stroke later in the series is to die for.

Spec Can: What is particularly Canadian about Nelvana of the Northern Lights? Is there something about her that speaks to the Canadian experience?

Hope Nicholson: I like that it doesn’t stick with one genre. We’re a nation where our literature often blurs the lines of expectations. We usually can’t do superheroes unless they’re parodies, because of the strict superhero genre is confining and inaccessible to us. American based creators do strict genre very well, and we’re all pleased to read their superhero comics, and watch their procedural cop shows, but it’s not a format that most Canadians has been comfortable creating in. Nelvana succeeded and is so interesting precisely because it doesn’t need to stay within the confines of the superhero genre.

Rachel Richey: Great answer, Hope. Nelvana is around the RCMP. Nelvana is around snow. Nelvana is associated with the North. Fur trim. She’s not glamorous. She doesn’t need recognition. She’s good because why wouldn’t she be if someone else is suffering and she can do something about it?

Spec Can: How did Nelvana represent underrepresented groups and how does this differ from most comic book representations of women, aboriginal people, and other underrepresented groups, particularly those of the time?

Hope Nicholson: The fact that there is representation of Inuit people is amazing. Adrian Dingle does venture sometimes into either over-romanticizing the ‘tragic northern people’ as was common at the time, and vilifying the Japanese in a way that’s quite jarring to read now. On the whole though, the Inuit people are an integral part of the early Nelvana storylines, which is impressive. I wouldn’t necessarily say it is the most positive representation, since it’s not terribly nuanced or varied. As a woman, Nelvana to me is a great representation. Admittedly, she does get bound in her first few issues and needs to be rescued from her brother, but from that point on she takes control of the story fully. To the point where she tells her one-arc love interest Prince Targa that she doesn’t need to be saved by him. She’s acknowledged as being beautiful, but her attractiveness has little to do with any storylines and isn’t the focus of her character.

Rachel Richey: Nelvana is a woman who gives the inuit people a presence in comics in the 40s. I would say gender played about as much role in Nelvana as it did in say, Superman or other Golden Age comics. It was more about the adventure, it was committed to the story. There was no subtext or other purpose than to have this story with these people because it was a good story, which to me is a good enough reason. Like Hope said, in the beginning it wasn’t a perfect portrayal but it was pretty impressive relative to other comics in the 40s.

Spec Can: What is the importance of remembering Canadian comic book history?

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada. Copyright Corus Entertainment

Hope Nicholson: We [Canadians] don’t do a great job of remembering our own history or spreading it. The few of us who are fascinated by it sometimes feel alienated by our interest and so the information stays with us and our like-minded friends. We need to stop that and start bothering people in the world even if they seem bored by it! We need anchors to our past, to our history, so we don’t make mistakes that we have in the past, and so we feel connected to a culture that we’ve all worked hard to create.

Rachel Richey: Comics are a beautiful form of literature and storytelling. Beyond the fact that these comics are so original to Canada, they are part of an extremely interesting time in Canadian history. But they’re the foundation of Canada’s comics history and after so many years in the dust they need support.

Spec Can: How would you feel about the idea of doing a new run of Nelvana of the Northern Lights  comics… a new series or revisioning/ revamping of the comics for a modern audience?

Rachel Richey: I would love it! Who knows what the future holds!

Spec Can: In what way do you think Nelvana may have inspired the women in comics who came after her?

Hope Nicholson: I don’t think she inspired anyone. No one knows about her! But I’m hoping after this project she will inspire some creators. If fans think that modern comics must be more open-minded and progressive than they were in the past, this should open their eyes a bit. Since the Canadian comic industry faded off after the 1950s, there were few enough children who grew up reading Nelvana who actually went into the comic book industry afterwards, even though millions of children at the time did know who she was.

Rachel Richey: This is what I meant before. She is part of an amazing foundation of comics that was essentially lost after 1946. Our culture and industry pretty much HAVE YET to be inspired by her.

Spec Can: What do you hope will happen with the Nelvana of the Northern Lights project?

Hope Nicholson: I hope that when I say Nelvana of the Northern Lights, the vast majority of comic fans will instantly understand who she is and what significance she has to our history, and to the history of comics in general.

Rachel Richey: Yep, Hope pretty much hit the nail on the head. I want to make her AT LEAST a comics household name.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to this interview?

Hope Nicholson: We were lucky to discover Nelvana because collectors and researchers made hints of information available about her. But who knows what comic characters and history is still hidden? Be modern day adventurers, ask your grandparents what they read, look into old publishers! Curiosity is the strongest motivation for us to get as far as we have.

Rachel Richey: Another one, and one that I can’t stress strongly enough, is support small press. You never know what great gems you will find there and you’ll be supporting Canadian produced comics and, I’m sure, inevitably a healthier indigenous comics industry.

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada. Copyright Corus Entertainment

I want to thank Ms. Nicholson and Ms. Richey for this fantastic interview and voyage into Canadian comic book history, and, particularly, the history of female figures in Canadian superhero comics. I hope everyone else is as excited as I am about the re-release of the Nelvana of the Northern Lights comics and I think that after this interview I am even MORE interested in reading the Nelvana comics.

I particularly enjoy the fact that Nelvana seems to appear in this interview almost like another participant – she has become so intense, so powerful, so REAL for Ms. Richey and Ms. Nicholson that she is almost voicing herself in this interview. One can easily see the mythic potential of Nelvana of the Northern Lights based on the way she has evoked such a strong response and LOVE from these two researchers. Thank you to both of these researchers for a fascinating interview and for bringing Nelvana alive for us out of the depths of history.

If you are interested in Rachel Richey’s Canadian comic book history blog Comicsyrup, you can explore it at http://comicsyrup.com/ .

You can check out information about the Canadian comic book history documentary Lost Heroes  that Hope Nicholson is producing at their Facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/LostHeroesMovie .

You can explore information about Nelvana of the Northern Lights and Rachel Richey and Hope Nicholson’s project to republish this classic comic book figure at their Facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/NelvanaComics

Upcoming Interview About Nelvana of the Northern Lights with Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey on Friday September 27th

Have you ever heard of Nelvana of the Northern Lights? Did you know that Canada had one of

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada

the first superheroines, predating other women in superheroic roles like Wonder Woman, and paving the way for women in comics? Since so few people know about the history of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey were inspired to do some archival research and resurrect Nelvana like so many characters from the comic books themselves who are brought back out of the darkness into life.

Rachel Richey and Hope Nicholson were inspired by their research to re-release the classic Nelvana of the Northern Lights comics, and since Nelvana is such a fascinating character, I asked them if they would be willing to share some of their insights with us.

Check out our upcoming interview on Friday September 27th and hear about the connection between the Group of 7 artists and Nelvana’s creation, the portrayal of Nelvana’s connection with northern indigenous people in Canada that were rarely depicted in comics of the time, the potency of a pacifist superheroine at a time of war, and the power of this series to blend sci-fi, crims tories, adventure, and humour comics. Ms. Richey and Ms. Nicholson went through a similar excitement at the discovery of Canadian comics to what those of us who love comics have gone through when suddenly they discover that Canada IS INDEED part of the comic book world, and they took steps to bring that joy to others by resurrecting this figure from Canadian comic history.

Rachel Richey: “It’s been my prime directive to make people aware of Canada’s comics industry.”

Hope Nicholson: “After 31 issues headlining the series Triumph, the series came to an end and Nelvana faded from history. At the time, she had her own graphic novel and merchandise available for purchase, making her one of the more recognizable characters of that time period.”

Rachel Richey: “When I found out what the Archives had I essentially begged them to let me catalogue it.”

Hope Nicholson: “Around 6 years ago, even though I was obsessed with comic books, I had no idea that Canada had its own history with the medium. Finding out about the Canadian Golden Age, thrilled and angered me. These comics are amazing, why were they been pushed into an obscure part of history, they sold millions of issues across Canada!”

Rachel Richey: “Nelvana in particular is a favourite, how could it not be? She’s righteous and intense. She’s a babe! She’s tough and interesting, not a run of the mill hero. She’s honest.”

Rachel Richey: “What is so amazing about Nelvana is that she had Canadians’ attention to be anything she wanted.”

Hope Nicholson: “Even though her powers can be used to injure, she’s a pacifist and is strongly sympathetic to the horrors of war.”

Rachel Richey: “My favourite thing about Nelvana is that she is independent… For the 31 issues, she’s pretty much business and I really think this is a positive role model for women reading comics, and also young girls, who are presented with a singular role model unhindered by excessive romance and more about positively caring for other people and the environment.”

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada

Hope Nicholson: “I like that it doesn’t stick with one genre. We’re a nation where our literature often blurs the lines of expectations. We usually can’t do superheroes unless they’re parodies, because of the strict superhero genre is confining and inaccessible to us.”

Rachel Richey: “Comics are a beautiful form of literature and storytelling. Beyond the fact that these comics are so original to Canada, they are part of an extremely interesting time in Canadian history.”

If you are interested in the history of Canadian comics, women in comics, or the awesomeness of superheroic figures, you will definitely not want to miss this interview on Friday September 27th!

Nostalgia for the Stars

A review of Steven Appleby’s The Captain Star Omnibus (Sybertooth, Inc., 2008).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Image courtesy of the publisher

Image courtesy of the publisher

Society tends to disregard humour as less significant than other forms of social discourse, but humour contains within it a mechanism for piercing status quo barriers and interrogating issues that people may prefer not to look at critically. Humour pushes boundaries, breaks down walls, and pokes fun at the entrenched ideas of our society. When humour and science fiction pair up, amazing things can happen since both offer a form of abstract social critique, distanced somewhat from the subjects they examine.

British-Canadian comic/graphic artist Steven Appleby uses the power of the absurd and bizarre in the Captain Star comics to question ideas that have become entrenched in our society regarding age and normalcy. The aged figure of Captain Star sits on a planet with his shipmates from the starship Boiling Hell waiting for a return to duty. He has been pushed to the fringes as he aged, disregarded by a society like our own that associates ideas of competence with youth. This is further complicated by the fact that he is arrogant, self-centred, and misanthropic (well misSPECIESic since he doesn’t like non-humans any better). Like many comic artists, Appleby gives his readers no easy answers, but rather complicates things, making his readers ask themselves questions.

Captain Star is a man trapped in patterns of nostalgia. He misses his past, misses the significance he attached to his past, rocketing around the cosmos naming planets after himself and small astronomical bodies after members of his crew. He embodies the image of the retired sports hero, pining after his glory days while generally hating the world that has seemingly forgotten him. He sees monotony around him and pushes through the motions of life while generally frustrated by the people around him that remind him simultaneously of those glory days and of the boredom in which he is now trapped.

Captain Star is trapped in the lives of his former crew: polycephalic Atomic Engine Stoker “Limbs” Jones, proving that 9 heads are NOT better than one with his 9 heads and 6 arms; doctor and medical expert First Officer Scarlette, proving that generally the medical is more malicious than the military; and Navigator Black whose penchant for mutated piscine cuisine is matched only by his incompetence at determining the ship’s location.

Image courtesy of the publisher

Image courtesy of the publisher

The figure of Captain Jim Star pokes fun at the Captain Kirk image of the explorer, instead blundering through space with bluster until he is put out to pasture. “Discovery” in Appleby’s universe is a product of accident rather than intention. It happens in spite of leadership, not because of it.

You can explore the Captain Star Omnibus at http://www.sybertooth.ca/publishing/Captain_Star_Omnibus.htm .

Author photo of Steven Appleby by Jon Barraclough

Author photo of Steven Appleby by Jon Barraclough

Canadian Comics

Thanks to my friend Sean, I have just recently discovered a National Archives link for Canadian comic books (particularly of the superhero variety). I was surprised to find out about the rich history of comic books in Canada and the influence of Canadians and Canadian ex-patriots on the comic book industry. This site is definitely worth looking at:

http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/index-e.html

Remember, after all, Joe Shuster, the co-creator of Superman, was a Canadian. You can check out the Canadian Heritage Minute about this at:  https://www.historica-dominion.ca/content/heritage-minutes/superman?media_type=41&media_category=