Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Superheroes to call our own"

The following is from a CBC page linked below. For all I know, it's been there for years, but I've only just now come across it.

Because it encapsulates the history of Canadian superhero characters in easy-to-digest, brief fashion, I am copying it for both future reference, and in the event that the CBC decides to remove it one day and it is lost. Anyone sharing this interest with me should view the video that is included on this page.

Superheroes to call our own
• The superhero comic made its debut in the summer of 1938 with the publication of Action Comics No. 1 featuring Superman. Written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Toronto-born Joe Shuster, the comic was a sensation and spawned the superhero comic genre.

• To learn more about the life of Joe Shuster, go to our clip Superman makes his debut.

• In the winter of 1940, the Canadian government passed the War Exchange Conservation Act. The legislation was intended to stabilize the value of the Canadian dollar by barring the import of non-essential goods from the U.S.

• As a result, all American periodicals - including comic books – disappeared from magazine racks across Canada. Over the next few months, several Canadian companies sprouted to take advantage of the lucrative comic market, including Maple Leaf Publishing, Anglo-American Publications, Commercial Signs of Canada and Hillborough Studios (which later merged with Bell Features.)

• Cy Bell, owner of Bell Features, oversaw one of the more ambitious of the Canadian companies publishing such characters as Dixon of the Mounted, the patriotic Johnny Canuck, the Penguin and Nelvana of the Northern Lights, which was inspired by an Inuit legend.

The daughter of the king of the northern lights, Nelvana debuted in August 1941 and is considered Canada's first national superhero.

• Based on an idea by Group of Seven member Franz Johnston, Nelvana preceded the U.S. debut of Wonder Woman by three months, making her arguably the world's first female superhero.

• Originally an old lady, the comic book Nelvana was the beautiful young daughter of the king of the northern lights who wore a miniskirt while battling Nazis and the mysterious Ether People.

Johnny Canuck was created overnight by 16-year-old Leo Bachle. A captain in the Allied Air Forces who had super-strength, Johnny debuted in the February 1942 issue of Dime Comics. Bachle's skill earned him notice in the U.S. and in 1944 he moved to New York City to draw for several comic companies.

• In the 1950's Bachle left comics, changed his name to Les Barker and started a new career as a nightclub entertainer and actor.

• In 1995, Canada Post commemorated Johnny Canuck on a stamp. To see Barker discuss the honour, see our clip Stamp of approval.

• Though Johnny Canuck is well remembered today, the first made-in-Canada superhero was actually a hero called Iron Man.

Iron Man first appeared in Better Comics No. 1 in March 1941, which is considered to be the first Canadian-made comic featuring original characters. Created by Vancouver native Vernon Miller, Iron Man was the only survivor of a destroyed civilization who lived underwater.

• Other Canadian-made characters of the period include the Polka-Dot Pirate, Freelance, Canada Jack, Stuffy Bugs and Senorita Marquita.

• Despite the popularity of The Whites, the federal import law was repealed after the war ended in 1946. Within a couple of years all of the companies had closed.


  1. Freelance was also used as the name for a semi-formal coalition of Canadian comics creators in the 1980's and 1990's, in order to help them stay in touch with each other about issues of shared interest and concern. I think I may have a couple of a couple of the newsletters buried in storage boxes somewhere.

    1. If you ever come across those (and by no means am I suggsting that you should go through any trouble) I'd love to see one. This is the first that I hear of such a thing.