Radical Acts of Beauty

A review of Daniel Heath Justice’s “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” in Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 2” (Edited by Hope Nicholson, Alternative History Comics, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Daniel Heath Justice’s “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is a comic about resilience and transformation, highlighting the desire of a two-spirit boy to change the world around him through acts of beauty. Despite homophobia, environmental degradation, and all forms of hate against each other, Strange Boy seeks to heal others by bringing beauty into the world. Like many people who seek to bring healing and beauty into the world, especially if they are marginalized, Strange Boy experiences violence. He discovers that a lot of the violence from the people around him is an externalized form of self loathing, their hatred of themselves projected outward toward anything beautiful, anything that represents a reminder of joy that they can’t imagine themselves having.

“The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is an act of beauty in a harsh and close-minded world, it is Daniel Heath Justice’s act of transformative magic, sharing a story of transformation with a world that needs beauty. It is a tale that reminds us that no matter how much violence the world inflicts on us, we can speak back by bringing beauty into the world. Our acts of art can be transformative, remaking the world and opening up others to express their beauty. 

Beautifully illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre, “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is filled with images of movement and light. It is a comic that can show the interiors of bodies and make even our bleeding, organic insides things that can be filled with a certain magnificence and wonder. Alvitre is able to capture the etherial quality of hummingbirds, their darting magnificence.

The intwined arts of Daniel Heath Justice and Weshoyot Alvitre add to the message of the story, emphasising the focus of the story on collaborative arts and the ability of one form of art, one story, to resonate in another.

To discover more about Daniel Heath Justice, visit http://imagineotherwise.ca

To discover more about Weshoyot Alvitre, visit https://www.facebook.com/Weshoyot/

To find out more about Moonshot Vol 2, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1350078939/moonshot-the-indigenous-comics-collection-volume-2

Weaving Tales in Word and Image

A Review of Hope Nicholson’s (ed) “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection” (AH Comics Inc, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo for Moonshot

Cover Photo for Moonshot

The comic book industry has generally had an exploitative relationship with indigenous peoples. Generally indigenous peoples have been portrayed in comics as villains or sidekicks and their character development limited to cultural stereotypes and one-dimensionality. In superhero comics, generally even the superpowers of indigenous superheroes have been expressions of cultural assumptions – communal relationships with animals and trees and special connections with nature. Indigenous people have often been portrayed as extensions of the landscape. Hope Nicholson’s “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection” tries to open up a space for indigenous stories that come from indigenous peoples. The collection features the work of 30 authors and artists expressing diverse stories that render indigenous voices into image and written word.

Often when asked to contribute to collections that interact with cultural and artistic expressions, indigenous people are encouraged to talk about the past, which problematically structures indigeneity as something of the past rather than a vibrant, current culture. This collection emphasises the vibrancy of indigenous culture, including tales from the past, but also modern adaptations of these tales, new tales of the present, and science fictional tales of the future. These are tales of superheroes, animal spirits, dark figures from the water depths, space travellers, futuristic inhabitants of other worlds, encounters with otherworldly and sometimes extraterrestrial beings, encounters with possession, tales of robbery and recovery, robopocalypses, and environmental travesties.

David Mack plays with the interaction of indigenous identity and Deaf culture in his superhero character Echo, who explores her understanding of herself as a Deaf indigenous woman. David Robertson and Haiwei Hou play with light and colour as they play with the Cree tale of Ochek the Fisher and opening the world to new light. Dayton Edmonds and Micah Farritor use animal and anthropomorphic animal spirit forms to tell the story of the gathering of bright stones to become the stars and Coyote’s accidental scattering of the stars across the canvas of the sky. Sean and Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsely and mention3 tell the story of the Qallupiluk, a figure from Inuit tales who rises out of the cold water. Arigon Starr and David Cutler tell a cross space future version of “The Young Man Who Turned Into a Snake”. Elizabeth LaPensee and Gregory Chomichuk use only visuals to tell the tale of a hunter encountering the Star People. Michael Sheyahshe and George Freeman tell a tale of two brothers with special gifts who seek to solve the disappearance of their mother on an alien world. Tony Romito and Jeremy D. Mohler tell an arctic tale of an inuit hunter who encounters otherworldly beings from under the arctic ice. Ian Ross, Lovern Kindzierski, Adam Gorham, and Peter Dawes explore the impact of anthropology on indigenous cultures and the robbery of indigenous artefacts by anthropologists. Richard Van Camp, Rosa Mantla, and Nicholas Burns explore the interaction between the traditions of The Night the Spirits Return among the Dene and the Celtic-originating tradition of Halloween. Todd Houseman and Ben Shannon tell a tale of the future where pollution has destroyed much of the North American continent and a war between humans and robotic life forms has meant widespread devastation. Jay and Joel Odjick examine a first hunt and the interaction between the human and animal world. Elizabeth LaPensee, Claude St. Aubin, and Andy Stanleigh explore the impact of mining and the attempt to connect to the Memegwesiwag, a people who love copper and can only be seen by the pure of heart. These tales weave together in a fabric of intwined words and images, and also a twining of multiple worlds and worldviews.

The art styles vary in “Moonshot” between mixed media art, ink on paper, pencil crayon on paper, watercolours, fractal-influenced digital art, traditional comic panels and frame-breaking violations of the ‘gutter’ space between panels. They use word bubbles, text-free comics, or large swaths of text, illustrating the potential for expressing the idea of ‘story’ through multiplicity. This is a collection as diverse as the indigenous peoples who contributed to it. No longer relegated to the role of sidekicks or villains, the indigenous characters in these comics are able to tell their own tales, rich in complexity and multi-dimensionality.

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 38: 1940s Comic Book Character Brok Windsor

For This episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, we voyage back in time to explore a superhero from the golden age of Canadian comics. Brok Windsor was a comic created by Jon Stables and brought back to life this year by Hope Nicholson, comic book archivist. In this episode, we explore the history of Canadian comics, how the landscape and ideas of Canadian masculinity shaped Jon Stables’ vision of Brok Windsor, ideas of adventures and futurity, and generally the power of the canoe… yes, seriously…

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

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

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.

To discover more about the re-release of the Brok Windsor comics, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hopelnicholson/brok-windsor-lost-wwii-comic-book-returns

Misty Barriers of Time

A Review of Jon Stables’ Brok Windsor. Edited by Hope Nicholson (Bedside Press, 2015).
By Derek Newman-Stille

What sort of vehicle would a Canadian superhero adventurer from the mid 1940s travel in? That’s right, of course it is a canoe. Comic book superhero Brok Windsor was a creation of Jon Stables, writing under the pseudonym Jon St. Ables. The Brok Windsor comics, like most golden age Canadian comics, were produced during the years around world war II when Canadian rationing laws meant that American comics were no longer being shipped to Canada. Stables and his contemporaries were able to create their own Canadian superheroes and rewrite the Canadian landscape as a place of adventure. The Brok Windsor comics ran from 1944-1946 and was produced by Maple Leaf Publications. Hope Nicholson has now resurrected this historical comic and published it as a collection through Bedside Press. 
But where is a Canadian adventurer like Brok Windsor to find adventure in this Canadian landscape?… well, don’t forget that Canada is huge, and, of course, most of the country is largely unexplored, so when Windsor is fishing in his canoe and sees strange mists on a large lake named “The Lake of the Woods”, of course he needs to investigate. Through the misty barrier, Windsor finds himself in a new realm of islands, and, as we know, islands are always places of mystery and adventure. 

Jon Stables’ Brok Windsor comics were about the immensity of the Canadian landscape and its ability to be both familiar and strange, a place that can be opened to adventure and whose magical quality is only a thin wall of mists away. Windsor’s body itself is shaped by his landscape and when he crosses through the mists he becomes immense in size, his body emulating the bodies of the giants who occupy these islands of adventure, and, even when his body is returned to its normal size, the intrinsic difference is still written on his body, providing him with the immensity of strength that his giant body possessed… just in the form of a smaller, more Canadian shape. 

The oddity and magical quality of this different landscape hidden within Canada’s hugeness is expressed throughout the comics. Even seemingly familiar aspects of the landscape are alive with oddity. When Brok first encounters trees in this landscape, rather than providing a sense of familiarity, they add to the oddity of the landscape. Rather than stationary figures of the landscape, these trees are active and potentially consumptive, reaching out with branched fingers to consume flesh. Through this device Stables illustrates the oddity of the landscape and the notion that the expectations of Canadian geography are about to be disrupted. Brok Windsor encounters new civilizations, alien lifeforms who are able to detach their heads from their bodies, possessing spirits, gigantic bird-bats, horned lions, insectile people who are horrified by water, magnetically powered flying cars, and an indigenous civilization that has become giant and have developed space-age technology. 

Windsor’s companion in this strange world is one of the giant indigenous men that he has encountered, Torgon, who serves as a translator for the adventurer as well as a co-explorer in a realm of new possibilities. 

Stables’ art evokes the mystical quality of the Canadian landscape, the power of sky, lake, and treescape that were frequently evoked by Canadians trying to find a sense of identity in the war years and served as a shorthand for belonging. The power of Stables’ art is such that it is able to evoke both these familiar shorthands for Canadian geographical ideas of belonging and also estrange these icons of belonging by creating a strange landscape within the expectedly familiar place.

To discover more about Hope Nicholson’s reprint of the Brok Windsor comics, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hopelnicholson/brok-windsor-lost-wwii-comic-book-returns/video_share .

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 22 Part 1: An Interview with Hope Nicholson

You have heard me talk previously about my adoration for Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Canada’s first Superheroine, now you can hear from one of the brilliant women who brought back this figure of Canada’s comic book history and republished the Nelvana comics. In our interview, Hope Nicholson talks about her newest comic book recovery project, bringing Brok Windsor, WWII era Canadian comic superhero back into the light.

We discuss the relationship between Canada and the landscape, feminism and comics, Canadian comics, the role of the comic book archivist, adventure stories, and the wonders that comprise Brok Windsor. I hope that you are as enthralled with Hope’s brilliance and passion as I was.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

 

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.

Resurrecting a Goddess

A review of Adrian Dingle’s Nelvana of the Northern Lights (reprinted by Rachel Richey and Hope Nicholson, CGA Comics, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

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

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

Resurrecting a goddess is hard work, particularly when she is the demi-goddess first Canadian national superheroine, pre-dating the invention of Wonder Woman… but this is precisely what Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey did this year. Through a kickstarter that I helped to fund, Hope and Rachel were able to bring Nevlana of the Northern Lights back from Canadian comic book history.

Created by Adrian Dingle, Nelvana of the Northern Lights flourished during the WWII years, providing Canada with an indigenous superheroine who could represent ideas from a Canadian perspective. She made her debut appearance in August 1941 in Triumph-Adventure Comics.

Dressed in Blue and Green with a fur-trimmed skirt and green cape (that later became a red cape) with northern lights dancing around her headband, Nelvana was uniquely situated as a figure who represented a particularly Canadian mythology of the time, being a personification of the North (literally the daughter of the Northern Lights and later taking the name Alana North for her secret identity). She claims connections to Group of Seven painter Franz Johnston, who Dingle claimed heard about her as an Inuit goddess (though it was later revealed that Johnston met an Inuit woman named Cecile Nelvana Kamingoak, who he asked to model for him). She spent most of her time battling invaders into the North, often those with aspirations involving destroying the natural environment, whether through invasive species introduction, bombing animals in our lakes, or spilling oil into rivers. Her connections to figures and ideas that have become symbolic of Canadian identity makes her a figure who can embody a Canadianness that a superhero with a flag on their chest could not attain… besides, we aren’t really the sort of country to view flag iconography as the epitome of national identity.

Dingle’s creation, much like the work of the Group of Seven, ascribed a spiritual quality to the Canadian northern landscape, an otherworldliness that makes certain that The North comes with a capitalised “N” to indicate that it is more than a compass direction, but something more like a personification of a power. Producing Nevlana of the Northern Lights in black and white with colour covers, Dingle showed his mastery over the art of ascribing life and liveliness to vast, open, white spaces by drawing landscapes that, although they didn’t use the sort of backgrounds that artists drawing city-based landscapes required, he was able to fill a seemingly blank space with life and use the white space of the snowy northern landscape to imbue it with wonder.

Nelvana was a figure who drew on the vast Canadian ideology of the North as making something different of us, a people forged by a landscape and a colder climate into something distinct from other nations. Dingle drew in the almost spiritual quality of the cold, using it as a testing ground for people’s strengths and abilities and as a Canadian defense against invasion in WWII by expelling people from a landscape that they viewed as hostile. Nelvana herself has a freezing breath that is able to douse flame-people in her later adventures, but she also travels into locations marked by their frozen quality, like that of the Glacians (a race from under the ice that has been frozen since the time of dinosaurs), and the Canadian government who Nelvana protects devised an ice ray to be used against Axis powers. Riding in occasionally on a polar bear, Nelvana stood as a marker for the protection of the Canadian North.

Nelvana, the daughter of the invented Inuit god of the Northern Lights Koliak and a human woman, wielded powers associated with her luminous heritage including power over light and magnetic fields which could, among other things, allow her to melt metal with the power of light and heat, render herself invisible, permit her to fly and travel at light speed, and disrupt radio transmissions. Being a demi-goddess, she also had the ability to transform her brother into various animals with a wave of her cloak, attaching her heritage to other trickster figures who have populated world mythology. In addition to her superhero crime fighting, she also took on the role of Alana North, a secret agent who foiled plots to damage the war effort and occasionally worked alongside RCMP officers to solve crimes and disrupt conspiracies.

As a feminist, I was particularly drawn to the power that Nelvana brought to a comic book industry that was often unabashedly a boys-only-club. She appeared at a time when women were disempowered and often viewed as supporters for the male heroes in their lives rather than heroes themselves, but she was a heroine with incredible power and independence.

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

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

Despite the incredible things that Nelvana represented, there were some issues with her representation that were endemic to the time period and social circumstance in which she was created. The Nelvana of the Northern Lights comics embodied the poor cultural representation of Canadian indigenous peoples, referring to the Inuit as “Eskimos” and portraying them as culturally backward and intellectually inferior. Many of the comics depict Inuit people constantly being tricked by others and constantly in need of rescue by Nelvana, or by members of the Canadian RCMP. Inuit people are often portrayed as obstacles to progress during the war, standing in the way of development (defined in these comics as an industrial act to support war and economic efforts). At times, Inuit people are also portrayed as being involved in race conspiracies against “the white race”. Unfortunately, these characteristics are ones that most Canadian popular media of the time was portraying and ubiquitously appeared in representations of the Inuit people by non-indigenous Canadian media contributors.

The WWII context of the comic also influenced the portrayal of Japanese characters, who were depicted as being sneaky, dangerous, and dishonest. They were referred throughout the comic as “Japs”, the “yellow menace”, or the “yellow peril”. This, like the racist portrayal of Inuit people, was absolutely horrifying for myself as a modern reader to witness, but is also an not surprising given the cultural context in which it was created. After all, at the time when Dingle was writing his comics, the Canadian and American government were creating posters and other media that referred to the Japanese as “the yellow peril” and encouraged people to “slap a Jap” as part of the war effort and both governments were also placing Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans into Japanese Internment Camps that robbed them of all rights as citizens and subjected them to regular systemic abuses. Here, the racism of the Nelvana comics was part of the general war propaganda culture.

Despite the issues with the Nelvana comics, which are part of their historical situation, the re-printing of the Nelvana of the Northern Lights comics represents an act of recovery of lost Canadian voices. Many cultural contributors tend to think of the superhero genre as distinctly American, so it is important to remind ourselves that we have created distinct superheroes. After all, the origin of the superhero figure in the form of Superman was a collaboration between Canadian Joe Shuster and American Jerry Siegel, so the superhero is a collaborated North-South creation.

Nelvana, as a representation of the North may be more emblematic of something distinctly Canadian than a hero draped in a Canadian flag. As a culture, we tend to take more pride in our clean water, beautiful environments, interaction with the landscape, and ability to survive the cold and an environment that isn’t easily suited to human habitation. Despite the temporally-situated problems of the Nelvana comics representing racist stereotypes of the time, she also represents something distinctly multicultural as a figure who was born from Inuit roots and seems to occupy a space of question, referred to variously as white and Inuit and therefore likely representing a form of hyphenated identity.

Nelvana could wear green and blue because she represented something more Canadian than red and white. She was a personification of Northern beauty, and, whether modeled after a figure from Inuit mythology or after an Inuit woman who Franz Johnston encountered, she, as a Canadian national superhero, is mythic, mighty, and magical.

Cover of the Nelvana reprint courtesy of http://nelvanacomics.com

Cover of the Nelvana reprint courtesy of http://nelvanacomics.com

To find out more about Nelvana of the Northern Lights and to purchase your own copy of the reprint of this comic, visit http://nelvanacomics.com/

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