Last year, writer J. Torres and a group of his fellow Canadians created “True Patriot,” an anthology of north-of-the-border superhero stories that they financed via the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. It was such a success that Torres and company have launched a Kickstarter for “True Patriot 2” — and the lineup for the second book will include two new additions: writer Jeff Lemire, who announced his plan to bring Canadian characters to “Justice League of America” in the spring, and writer/artist Paul Rivoche, whose work includes contributions to the “Flight 5” anthology and designs and storyboards for the “Batman,” “Batman Beyond,” and “Superman” animated cartoons.
Contributors who were part of the original “True Patriot” team include Adrian Alphona, Andy Belanger, J. Bone, Jack Briglio, Scott Chantler, Tom Fowler, Adam Gorham, Faith Erin Hicks, Fred Kennedy, Tim Levins, Ramon Perez, Ron Salas, Jay Stephens and Howard Wong. Stephens will draw a four-page comic exclusively for the Kickstarter, posting a page every Wednesday in November. The comic will be included in the digital edition of “True Patriot 2” and will also be included in the print edition provided enough money is raised to add extra pages.
In separate interviews, CBR spoke exclusively with Torres and Lemire about the importance of Canadian superheroes and what sets them apart from their colleagues south of the border.
Let’s start with the most basic question: what was the impetus to return to “True Patriot?” Why did you feel there was a demand for not one but two books of comics about Canadian superheroes?
J. Torres: I think it’s important for any group of people whether it’s a country or a region or ethnic group within that area to have their own heroes and their own stories. It’s important to tell your story or at least have ones with which you can identify, especially in a medium you work in, you love, you grew up with.
There aren’t actually a lot of well-known Canadian superheroes out there. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in Canadian superheroes in the last year or so, or at least an interest by Canadian creators to tell Canadian superhero stories in some form or other. “Captain Canuck” is back as a webseries. “Nelvana,” one of the first superheroes ever published, is coming out as a reprint. “True Patriot” presented new heroes and stories that we hope will resonate with fans and have some kind of staying power, adding to the Canadian pantheon of comic book heroes.
What sets Canadian superheroes apart from all others? Do they share any particular characteristics?
Torres: I don’t know if can answer that in a sentence or a paragraph even–perhaps “True Patriot” is the answer or at last an attempt at an answer to that question.
I think what makes these heroes Canadian is what the creators bring to it that makes it Canadian whether that’s a sense of Canadian history (“Red Ensign,” “Arrowhead”), a sense of humor (“Superhero Girl,” “Bluenoser”) or something as simple as the setting (“Grey Owl,” “Family Dynamic”) or the story’s narrative influences (“Thunderbirch,” “Oh No Ogopogo”), or of course all of the above. I think most “Alpha Flight” fans will agree that the series felt more “Canadian” in Byrne’s hands because he created it and brought to it his own “Canadianess.”
Jeff, why did you agree to be part of “True Patriot 2,” and what will your contribution be?
Jeff Lemire: I loved the first volume, and I’m a huge fan of all the cartoonists and creators involved. Also, anyone who reads my work knows I’m a proud Canadian boy, so I couldn’t resist.
My contribution will involve a new superhero I’m creating called Barbalien. He’s — well, he’s an alien barbarian. He crash landed on Earth in the ’60s and posed as an RCMP officer by day, fighting crime in the north by night — sort of a mash up between Dudley Do-Right, Martian Manhunter and Conan.
You write a lot of superhero stories already for DC, and when you take over JLA next spring it will be (temporarily) retitled “Justice League of Canada” due to some roster additions from the Great White North. Why is it important to include Canadian characters in this lineup, and what makes them special?
Lemire: Well, like I said, I’m a proud Canadian. I love my country. It’s a complex, diverse and beautiful place. And I love to reflect our identity in my work whenever I can. Adam Strange will be re-imagined as a Canadian, but I will also be creating a new teenaged superhero from Northern Ontario who is Cree.
I really wanted to create a character that reflects our First Nations, an often-overlooked part of the Canadian identity. And I wanted to create a character that wasn’t just a stereotypical First Nations character as well.
I’ll be going up to two remote Northern Ontario communities, Moose Factory and Attawapiskak, later this month to visit the local schools and talk to the kids about comics and drawing. I’ll also be involving the kids in the creation of this new character. Details on that should be coming soon…
J., are all the current creators on “True Patriot 2” Canadian, or have you opened your doors to international creators as well?
Torres: For now all our contributors are Canadian with a couple living in the US and Hong Kong. We’ve been asked by some American friends if they could contribute and we politely said no thanks as we want to keep it all-Canadian. We’re not trying to be exclusive or anything, the project started out with a small group of friends who brought in other friends and collaborators so it’s almost like a “family affair.”
Were you able to use any licensed characters, or are all the superheroes original?
Torres: They’re all original characters with a few–Superhero Girl, Family Dynamic, and Grey Owl – having had lives outside of the anthology.
How did you design your superhero character? Where do you start when approaching a new design?
Torres: The Family Dynamic started out as an attempt to do a Canadian version of the Fantastic Four or the Incredibles, and we wanted powers that were different from those heroes but also were related to each other, complimented each other, so we went with elemental powers.
Lemire: It really depends on the character. With Barbalien it was all about that name. I got that name in my head and the rest was easy.
With the new Cree superhero it is all about learning more about Cree culture and heritage and trying to create a character that reflects that.
How much did you feel you had to adhere to the Superhero genre’s well-defined tropes and rules? Do you feel the subject matter limited your storytelling possibilities?
Torres: For me at least, it’s about playing with those tropes and creating characters and stories within the “confines” of the genre, or in other words attempting something “classical,” that makes it fun. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel but rather have fun rolling with it.
Lemire: Honestly, I had a lot of fun with it. I just embraced it and put a fun Canadian spin on old silver-aged superhero tropes.
But with “JLCanada” it’s more about doing a modern take on the genre. Using the superhero genre as a metaphor to explore, and hopefully shine a light on, the things going on in our remote First Nation communities. But the key is to still tell a really fun, entertaining story as well, without being “preachy.” It’s a balancing act. But superhero comics can do anything…which really opens up possibilities.
How will you convey your characters’ “Canadian-ness” readers?
Lemire: I fully expect Barbalien to exude what he sees as Canadianness, which may not really be Canadianess, but rather what outsiders see as Canadian. Using this “alien” to have some fun playing with stereotypes.
Is there a possibility that any of the superheroes created for these two books will take on lives of their own in other comics?
Torres: Yes, but it’s entirely up to the creators. I know some have plans for their heroes but it’s a question of when and how.
What was the biggest challenge you faced with regard to the first book?
Torres: As “editor” and project manager, the hardest part was keeping the trains running on time, which is nothing new for real editors but something I don’t do every day. What was surprising about that was how some things, like shipping everything out, went faster than expected while other things, like accounting and other administrative jobs, took longer than I thought it would.
What does the money you are raising with this campaign go for? Are the creators being paid for their contributions?
Torres: Just like the first book, after all transaction and banking fees are paid, after the printing is paid for, and all the rewards are shipped out, whatever money is left is split up amongst the creators. This includes money made from selling books outside of and after the campaign.
Will it be possible to buy the book through channels other than Kickstarter?
Torres: Yes, the book itself will be sold online — we’ve been using ShopLocket so far — as well as from retailers who support us and from the various creators at cons and signings they attend. And while supplies last!
What do you think the value of this work is for the artists involved? Why do they do it?
Torres: I think we’ve all had Canadian superhero stories we’ve wanted to tell, some dating back to childhood. There aren’t exactly a lot of venues for this type of thing out there, so banding together like this and self-publishing with the help of our fans seemed like the best way to do it.
Jeff, I see that you are contributing to another Kickstarter project, “Nelvana of the Northern Lights.” You’re already pretty busy — why do you like being part of independent projects like this?
Lemire: Nelvana is an amazing character and a big part of the mostly unknown legacy of Canadian comic book history. I think it’s really important try and bring these things back into print and help connect what modern Canadian creators like us are doing, to what’s come before.
The Kickstarter for “True Patriot 2” is online now.