The Canadian Superhero Renaissance panel began at the right time, mere hours after the announcement of “Justice League of Canada,” two weeks since the release of the “True Patriot” anthology graphic novel and one month since the first episode of the “Captain Canuck” webseries.
“People are sick of seeing something set in New York City, with American characters and American heroes,” Will Pascoe told a room packed with Fan Expo attendees. Pascoe, a Canadian screenwriter who is currently working on a documentary about Canadian superhero comics added, “They just don’t want to see someone who shoots bacon and maple syrup. People want cool superheroes, and if they’re from Canada, even better.”
The crowd cheered at the mention of bacon and continued to laugh well into Pascoe’s comment. Pascoe, who has a poster of Captain Canuck on his son’s bedroom wall, beamed. For the first time in decades, Canadian heroes are experiencing a resurgence in pop culture.
Joining Pascoe on the panel were Ramon Perez, artist on “Wolverine and the X-Men,” writer J. Torres, who led Perez and several other comic creators to produce the IndieGoGo-funded “True Patriot,” and Mike Valiquette, director of development at Smiley Guy Studios which animates the “Captain Canuck” webseries
Torres’ anthology of Canadian heroes was one of the prime topics of conversation as they discussed the popularity of Canadian comics throughout the world.
“‘True Patriot’ is a great gateway drug,” Valiquette said, explaining the two main challenges in writing Canadian heroes. The first is the market — the entire country of Canada has a population of 35 million, only a tenth of the US population with more people living in California alone. As a result, there’s much less demand for the Canadian brand of super-heroics.
Torres said they’re taking into account that limited market, and have designed “True Patriot” to pass the “Pixar Test” — if a grandmother can enjoy reading it to a child, then they’re hitting their maximum audience.
“Something like this, I think, is important to get into schools and libraries,” Torres said.
The second problem, according to Valiquette, is the stereotypical politeness.
“It’s like a silent bravado,” suggested Perez, explaining that many locals are humble about Canada’s military victories, such as the country’s reputation in World War I as the “storm troopers.”
There’s also a level of ignorance involved about Canada’s history. Case in point, Perez is currently working on a noir series set in Toronto during the 1940s, an era often forgotten, even by Torontonians.
It is Valiquette’s belief that this combination of humility and occasional ignorance are why most Canadian heroes can’t be taken seriously. “We’re beyond humble,” he said. “Humble’s a good thing, but we’re bashful. If you made a book that took itself really seriously, that’s the kind of thing that people would mock.”
Pascoe agreed, pointing out those attitudes have international consequences. When he wrote for the ABC series “Combat Hospital” he found that his comic book documentary, “Lost Heroes,” was met with disbelief by Americans.
“‘Like, what do you mean, ‘Canadian superheroes?’ That’s an oxymoron,'” he said, providing one example of the response he would get. “Even in Canada, there’s this wall of educating people because we don’t talk about ourselves or our own history.” This attitude has led to World War II era heroes such as Northguard and Nelvana (who precedes Wonder Woman by several months as the first female superhero) having been forgotten by most people.
That’s not to say that all Canadians are like this or that the cultural tide isn’t changing. “True Patriot” and the Captain Canuck webseries were crowd-funded projects, and so far, both continue to be successes.
Valiquette said that every time they bring up Captain Canuck to members of the Canadian military, soldiers “go crazy over them.”
The panel then briefly shifted gears to modern politics. Valiquette said he was raised in the country’s capital, Ottawa, around local politicians. He carried some strong opinions about the “ravenous” consumer culture of New York, something he feels Canada should distance itself from.
Perez mentioned the absolute dearth of Canadian culture when he was in school 30 years ago. He explained how he was told “off the record” about the Avro Aero by one of his teachers. The panel discussed the 1953 interceptor plane, a point of pride for many Canadians, until moderator Fred Kennedy mockingly cried out “Diefenbaker!” a reference to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who is often maligned for ending the Avro Aero project in 1958.
Kennedy pushed the panel back to the topic of superheroes just in time for questions from the audience. While the queries mostly pertained to the potential for other returning characters, like Johnny Canuck or Northguard, one fan asked where the panelists would like to see new Canadian heroes originate. The resounding answer was not Toronto.
Hope Nicholson, Pascoe’s producer on “Lost Heroes” and herself a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, was the first to speak up. “Because there’s no barriers to geography anymore, I’d like to see more regions that have been underrepresented in the last few decades,” she said.
Torres nodded his head in agreement. “They’re different voices… I’d like to see more of that.”
Canada is often divided into six cultural regions: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, the northern territories, the Maritimes, and the Prairies. However, despite this natural diversity, much of Canadian literature is focused on Toronto, Ont. and Montreal, Que.
Perez suggested the need for a new Canadian comic publisher or perhaps a new imprint within larger publishers for Canadian artists and writers.
Finally a fan asked how they could help Canadian comics succeed.
“There’s no money without a market, ” Torres replied, recommending that fans buy more Canadian comics they liked. “If you can’t afford it ,then spread the love. The best thing you could do is let your friends know what you’re reading.”