A book I acquired at San Diego Comic-Con in 2008, but had not read until now, Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe (Dundurn, $40, 2006) is a book of obvious interest for someone like me who grew up a comics fan in the Great White North of yesteryear.
I’ve been interested in this topic since coming across John Bell’s article on the Canadian comic book heroes of the 1940s and 1950s in Alter Ego #36. For those who don’t know, Canada joined World War II in 1939 in support of Great Britain and the restrictions of the war economy quickly forbade the import of pulp fiction magazines, including comics, from the United States. A number of Canadian publishers struggled in this environment to find writers, artists, characters and even paper and ink to fill the void left on newsstands and in the process created a number of interesting and compelling characters. These publishers all faded away with the return of American comics to Canada in the post-war years, and many of these strips are all but forgotten.
Even a comics fan like myself who grew up in Canada in the late 1970s and early 1980s 0was completely unaware of the rich history of Canadian comic books, at least until I read Bell’s article. I asked my father, who grew up in Edmonton in the 1940s and ’50s about these books, but he didn’t remember too much about them.
As such, I looked forward to reading more about it in Bell’s book, and I can’t say I wasn’t at least a little disappointed. I don’t know if Bell was pressed for space, but it feels like he was — there’s places in the book that feature a lot of listing of names, publishers, titles, etc., and not much of an idea of what these stories were like. It’s also hard to gauge how popular these comics and characters ever became in Canada, and what — if any — kind of fan base still exists today. I think a solid collection of the best of these tales would be a sure-fire success on curiosity value alone, assuming it’s possible to work out the complicated rights issues involved.
The book gets better in later chapters, delving into the resurgence in Canadian comics fandom that produced Richard Comely’s Captain Canuck — I still remember envying a cool Captain Canuck T-shirt a friend of mine had way back in Grade 2 — as well as talents as diverse as John Byrne and Dave Sim. A spotlight section focuses on the considerable talents and achievements of Chester Brown, but reading it I wished the same sort of treatment had been eked out for Sim, whose early work and efforts as an advocate of creators rights have arguably had at least as significant an effect on comics.
I noticed in searching for an already-scanned cover image that this title is available on Google Books at http://tinyurl.com/yh56h59.