In 1941, Welsh immigrant Adrian Dingle created one of the first superheroines and one of Canada’s shining lights: Nelvana of the Northern Lights. Debuting before Wonder Woman, Nelvana was the daughter of the mythical Koliak the Might, King of the Northern Lights, and a Inuit woman — and although banished by her father’s people, she fought on the mortal plane against Nazis, natural disasters and other threats. Nelvana of the Northern Lights ran as a series from 1941 to 1947, and then was cursed to the back-issue bins to never be seen again … until now.
Two Toronto-based comic fans have paired up to bring Nelvana of the the Northern Lights back to life, acquiring the rights to reprint the original 1940s stories of Canada’s first superheroine along with some pin-ups from modern comics all-stars such as Francis Manapul, Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes and Kalman Andrasofszky. This project is organized by Hope Nicholson, producer of the upcoming Canadian superhero documentary Lost Heroes, along with Rachel Richey, former archivist for Canada’s National Archive and current assistant manager for Toronto’s The Comic Book Lounge & Gallery.
Their goal is to create a 300-page softcover collection of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, to arrive in January. To help make this book a reality, they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 (Canadian) to cover production, printing and distribution.
“Nelvana was one of the first international superheroines, and the first Canadian superheroine,” Nicholson tells ROBOT 6. “She doesn’t have a legacy because she’s been forgotten as a character. But she should have a legacy, the quality of the artwork and writing in her comics is remarkable. As they were done by a professional illustrator while most of the comics at the time were created by teenagers, they really stand out. She was one of the first Canadian creations, and definitely the most memorable one in our opinion. Her stories were varied, from fighting Nazis, to battling inter-dimensional creatures who travel through radio waves! What’s really interesting is that save for one story arc, Nelvana doesn’t have a love interest. In fact she has a male traveling companion (RCMP Officer Corporal Keene) but is often called on to get him out of trouble. This is a refreshing change of pace from the adventures of most superheroines created during this era.”
Although not known to most outside of Canadian comics circles, Nelvana of the Northern Lights is a big part of the Canadian comics culture: The animation company Nelvana took its name from the heroine, and John Byrne created the Alpha Flight member Snowbird based on her — even calling Snowbird her daughter in the comics. A few years ago, the Canadian government produced a postage stamp of Canadian comic book heroes that included Nelvana.
“Rachel and I have both been fans of Canadian Golden Age comics (also known as Canadian Whites for their lack of color) for several years,” Nicholson says. “Rachel discovered them while working at the National Archives where the vast majority are stored. As she is a lifelong comics fan, this peaked her interest right away. I discovered them while researching the history of Canadian media in my undergraduate degree at York University, about six years ago. As I am also a huge comic fan, I was instantly obsessed with the idea that we had our own hidden comic book history. Several years later I spent two months saving microfiche copies to a digital format so I could finally read these issues. When I discovered Rachel’s blog Comicsyrup, on the history of the Canadian comic industry, I shared my scans with her and we became fast friends. I have been working as a researcher and producer on a documentary on Canadian comic books called Lost Heroes for the last two years. As part of this project, I researched the current copyrights of almost every Canadian comic book produced, and along the way Nelvana’s current copyright holders were discovered. Me and Rachel discussed doing a reprint project after this, and I approached the copyright holders to pitch our idea. They agreed, and we were given the exclusive rights to reproduce the comics. With Kickstarter opening up to Canadian residents last month, we finally felt confident that we would be able to fund the project.”
With the duo already nearly one-third of their way to their Kickstarter goal, they look to be well on their way to a success story.