By Tim Stacey
On the spectrum of superhero nationality, few are as Canadian as Captain Canuck. While possibly more notable, Wolverine himself is of a great northern heritage, but no doubt better known for his claws; and less so, on his artist’s side, even Superman himself is half-Canadian, and yet often stands for “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. However, even the token characters of Marvel’s Canadian Alpha Flight team pale in comparison to Captain Canuck, born in the true north as an icon for our country — both in the comic and otherwise — 40 years ago.
“I didn’t want him to be as brash as some American characters were” said Welland’s Richard Comely, the Captain’s creator, author and artist for most of the original 15 issue run. “I wanted him to be less assuming and more polite, acting in a manner that reflected some humility, and always striving to work with others.”
As a commercial artist at the time, Comely admits that he didn’t know much about super hero comics, having only read the likes of mainstream magazines like Sgt. Rock and Dennis the Menace. However, in 1971 Comely’s friend Ron Leishman suggested the idea of a distinctly Canadian superhero whose adventures actually took place in Canada, a concept that Comely worked with for a few years before fully realizing the character.
“The whole idea for Captain Canuck really started when I met Ron Leishman,” said Comely. “It was he who suggested there be a Canadian superhero, and a Canadian comic book series about a Canadian superhero.”
After a great deal of research on sequential art and the economics of the comic book industry in that era, Comely got to work, eventually independently publishing the first issue of Captain Canuck, with later issues in the first volume added to by George Freeman and Claude St. Aubin. Issue #1, dated July 1975, introduced a generation of Canadian and American readers to Tom Evans, a secret agent working for the Canadian International Security Organization (CISO) who is given remarkable super powers by extra-terrestrials. In light of his new abilities, CISO has him don the iconic red-and-white suit and moniker of Captain Canuck. Since that landmark first issue (widely considered to be the first successful Canadian comic book of the post-WWII era), the mantle of Captain Canuck has been shared by different characters and different creative teams, and recently began its fourth volume, published by Chapter House Comics. Starting in May of the character’s 40th anniversary, the new volume is written and drawn by Kalman Andrasofszky, with a production value well in line with standards set by the likes of the industry’s leading giants, Marvel and DC.
“Everybody on board understands what Captain Canuck is about”, said Comely of the new run with Chapter House Comics. “We’re trying to be a little different than the typical Marvel or DC comic. It’s always a superhero against some colourful bad guy, who himself is a brand, and it’s just a matter of one beating up the other. We’re trying to be a little more sophisticated, and deal with issues that are a little more topical than simply bad guys from somewhere else with a list of powers that the good guy has to fight.”
Throughout his four volumes, Captain Canuck has maintained an intentionally Canadian interest in more ways than just his maple leaf-adorned armour. Whereas the current volume’s debut issue is set against the backdrop of the ever news-worthy Alberta Oil Sands industry, past efforts by the Captain include the 2006 run Captain Canuck: Legacy, in which he worked tirelessly to keep a shipment of illegal weapons out of Canadian territory. In action and in concept, Captain Canuck has maintained a proactive, and ideally non-violent approach to each conflict in which he takes part.
“We’re striving for stories that aren’t explicitly violent” said Comely. “There’s always conflict, but this is part of the idea behind Captain Canuck: that it’s his last resort.”
All this and more makes Captain Canuck the resonant character that has with stuck with fans over the past four decades despite the relatively small four volume run. When touring comic book conventions across North America today, Comely is often surprised by fans hailing from both sides of the border who still have their first Captain Canuck issue that they bought off a magazine rack in 1975.
“The numbers were really big back then, at 200,000 per issue, because in mass market distribution every drug store and convenience store was selling them” said Comely. “We had a lot of kids in our audience who bought the comic and now come up to me now at conventions, people in their forties, fifties and sixties, and they still have their first issue, and they still have their fond memories of buying the first issue.”
With this new volume Captain Canuck returns yet again to the spotlight, and not only in the pages of comic books. A second instalment of the 2013 animated web-series is in the works, and Comely reports that the much discussed feature film could be in production as early as next year. Furthermore, for the first time ever the original 15 issue run will be collected and remastered into a single compendium due out in the end of July. The ever expanding canon of Captain Canuck takes a big step this year, proud of a longevity that it owes to its patriotic origin and faithful fans.
“It makes it all worth while when times are a little tougher,” said Comely. “It helps to remember all those people who feel so invested in the character, especially the Canadians out there who feel a national pride in Captain Canuck.”
Also notable is the fantasy serial backup to the original Captain Canuck run, “Beyond”, which will be resurrected this August by Comely and collaborating artist from the original run, George Freeman. “Beyond” featured a cast of knights, warriors, dwarves and wizards in a joint effort between Comely, Freeman and St. Aubin that was never published past the fifth issue’s conclusion: “to be continued”. The story will be completed in August with a final two issues, collected with the original five as a graphic novel. The first three issues of the new volume of Captain Canuck are on stands at local comic book shops today, with issue #4 due by the end of August.
For further content and resources, visit captaincanuck.com.