Tomorrow is Canada Day, and I thought it would be a good time to shine a light on some comic book creators that were either born or raised in Canada. The question was – which creators to pick? Everyone knows about Joe Shuster, Dave Sim and John Byrne. I just talked about Win Mortimer a few weeks ago, and the likes of Darwyn Cooke, Stuart Immonen and that guy who overpays for baseballs are a bit too modern for this column. I’ve chosen a handful of notable Canadians who deserve some attention.
Hal Foster. Yes, that Hal Foster. I’m always shocked when I discover how few people realize that Hal Foster is Canadian. He was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and even worked briefly as an artist for Hudson’s Bay Company in Winnipeg (does it get any more Canadian than that?). He’s one of the godfathers of comic storytelling. Many have argued that without the triumvirate of adventure strip artists (Foster, Raymond and Caniff), we wouldn’t have comic books as we know them today. Foster was the key artist behind two of the most important and popular strips of all-time. It’s doubtful that without Foster’s work on Tarzan and Prince Valiant that we’d see the lush and detailed artwork of Joe Kubert, Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson and half of the artists emerging from Europe and the Philippines during the 60s and 70s. Foster is a member of just about ever Cartoon and Comic Hall of Fame in existence. I lived in Halifax for 4 years and I was very surprised to find that there was nothing dedicated to this important illustrator. Perhaps my good friend Craig can correct me if I’m wrong.
You may have heard the name Russ Jones somewhere in a comic book magazine article. He’s one of the guys who is very, very important to the history of the medium (especially the horror genre), and yet never seems to get enough ink. He was a true triple threat – a talented writer, artist and inker. During the mid-60s, however, Jones helped change comic books simply by making things happen. Jones had a brief and tumultuous professional relationship with Jim Warren, but it was a very fruitful one. Jones was the founding editor of Creepy and Eerie - two of the most important books of the 60s. I think I even read somewhere that he was behind the initial pitch for Blazing Combat. In 1966, Jones would put together Christopher Lee’s Treasury of Terror for Pyramid Books. It was a kind of proto-graphic novel; a collection of horror stories in mass market paperback format. These stories would all later pop up in either Creepy or Eerie, but it’s was a very interesting marketing move at the time. Jones has done work for a variety of publishers, also contributing a great deal to Castle of Frankenstein and has written a good deal of fiction, but he’ll always be remembered for the brief period in the mid-60s when he helped re-shape the industry.
Jack Sparling was a one of those consummate pros that never gets much attention. He worked from the late 30s, well into the 80s, and he worked in every genre for countless publishers. Sparling was born in Winnipeg, but moved to U.S. as a child, so it’s doubtful that Canada made much of an impact on him. He was raised in New Orleans and I often wonder if he spoke any French. Winnipeg has a good sized Franco-Manitoban community and I’d love to hear the accent of someone influenced by both Franco-Manitoban and Cajun French. It would be awesome, but I digress. I like Jack Sparling’s work a lot, but I know that many don’t hold him in very high regard. That’s too bad, and I urge you to take a second look. He was a fine storyteller, and was able to bring a sense of gravitas to the pages.
Did you know that Gene Day was Canadian? Well, he was – and he made a real impact on both the Canadian underground scene as well as mainstream comics before his death at age 30. Could you imagine what kind of impact Gene Day would have had in the industry if he had contributed over the last 25 years? Day may be best known and best loved for his work on Master of Kung Fu, and that’s well deserved. If you’re looking to get a sense of what Day might have been able to achieve had he had a longer career, I urge you to do a little hunting for Marvel Premiere #54, featuring the great introduction of Caleb Hammer and Star Wars #68, a standout issue featuring Boba Fett. Day was recently inducted into the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame.
So there are some notable people that you may not have known were from the Great White North. Happy Canada Day everyone!
For more comic talk, stop by my blog Seduction of the Indifferent