IDW Publishing announced at last weekend's WonderCon that the San Diego outfit will collect "Captain Canuck," the 1970s and '80s series by Richard Comely and artist George Freeman, in two hardcover editions, with the first shipping in June. Comely self-published the adventures of the Canadian hero beginning in 1975 and was soon joined by Freeman, who was involved up through issue #14, published in 1981. CBR News spoke with Comely and IDW editor Scott Dunbier about the project, as well as Captain Canuck's place in Canadian popular culture.
IDW will be collecting issues #4-14 of the original "Captain Canuck" series, plus the Summer Special. Issue #4 marks the debut of George Freeman as series artist, though he had contributed back-up stories and inked and colored #2-3. Dunbier told CBR the first three installments "Don't really fit with the tone of the later stories starting with issue four," but that series creator Richard Comely will be offering a collection of those early issues, plus the unpublished #15, separately. He is also planning to publish new "Captain Canuck" stories through his Comely Comix line.
Comely explained that issue #4 begins Captain Canuck's origin story. "'Captain Canuck' is the story of part native Tom Evans who starts out as a mountie (RCMP) and eventually is recruited into a new national security organization called CISO," he told CBR. "The stories are set in the 1990s when Canada has become a world super power. CISO decides to make Evans their very special super agent/colour guard after they discover he is their fastest, strongest recruit."
The IDW editions came about when Dunbier approached Comely about reprinting the material. "Scott used to read 'Captain Canuck' as a kid growing up in New York City," Comely said of their initial conversation. "He had fond memories of the character and the series."
Developing Captain Canuck in the early 1970s, Comely cites Freeman, Ron Leishman, and Claude St. Aubin as "playing leading roles" in bringing the Canadian hero to life, adding, "I am happy to call them dear friends."
"Ron Leishman, who I first met in 1971, planted the seed for the creation of Captain Canuck," Comely explained. "We both loved drawing. Ron was more into cartooning. We both took advertising art at Red River Community College in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I only attended the first term, then went to work as a fashion stylist and graphic designer. I met Ron at church. We would get together to talk about cartoon art mostly. He showed me a drawing of what eventually evolved into Captain Canuck.
"Simply put, Ron and I felt it was time that Canada had its very own superhero," he said.
This hero came one step closer to reality when, in 1974, Comely borrowed $7,000 to produce "Captain Canuck" as a comic book. "I researched and made arrangements for printing, distribution, etc.," he said. "I was a complete novice at the time. I had no background in comic book production or publishing."
The first issue of "Captain Canuck" was published in May 1975, and Comely described the entire process as a learning experience. "There was a lot of experimentation regarding art prep and colouring methods. With the help of Dick Thomas, a specialist in pre-press colour separation, we came up with a method of putting colour (animator's vinyl copolymer paint) on an acetate overlay over the blackline art. It gave us colouring possibilities that didn't exist in comic book printing at the time."
Despite these advanced coloring techniques, the quality of printing on "Captain Canuck" was not on a par with other comics. "While you could still see the beautiful George Freeman art, the printing on those books was worse than any Marvel or DC book of the time," Dunbier said. "And it's a shame because you could see it was beautiful coloring, you could see there was beautiful art there, but the printing didn't do the material justice. Luckily Richard Comely and George Freeman either had or were able to track down all the original art the original painted coloring. Amazingly enough, all of the strips were in just a couple of places."
Dunbier said the IDW editions will make Captain Canuck's adventures look a lot better. "They are going to look brand new, fans of the material won't recognize it --in a good way! They're going to be beautiful."
Of Freeman's art, Comely said, "His penciling in issue #4 elevated the series." St. Aubin arrived in Montreal to work on the series beginning with issue #3, but that funding ran out shortly after finishing #4. "We all moved to Cardston, Alberta, in 1976 and produced and published a weekly newspaper for five months then separately went back to working as commercial artists. When I got new funding and started again in early 1979, George and Claude came back to work with me. George inked issue #6 for me then took over pencil art with issue 7."
Comely attributes Captain Canuck's particular place in comics history to the fact that in 1975, his book was the only full-color self-published book distributed to the mass market. But of course, the character's status as Canada's premiere superhero didn't hurt its legacy either. "Media and public attention has been tremendous for the series since it appeared in 1975," Comely said. "'Canada Post' put Captain Canuck on a stamp (1995), he appeared on the cover of 'Time' magazine (1997) and a number of other Canadian publications. I think all this demonstrates that Canadians love having their own superhero. After all, superheroes started with Superman and half of the creative team of Superman was Canadian born Joe Shuster."