The Canuck Corps.

“Johnny (Jack) Canuck.” He was a personification of our national identity much in the same way that America had “Uncle Sam” and Britain “John Bull,” who started to be depicted in political cartoons just a couple of years (1869) after Confederation. Like all national personifications he is an hyperbole, let’s say like a lumberjack riding a Timmie’s donut inner tube down the rapids a river of maple syrup and using a hockey stick for a rudder.

The remarkable renaissance of Richard Comely’s  Captain Canuck this year has prompted me to look at the history of this noble surname in our comics. John Adcock in his informative blog on Canadian illustrators and cartoons had a great entry on the early creation and appearance of the character called “Johnny (Jack) Canuck.” He was a personification of our national identity much in the same way that America had “Uncle Sam” and Britain “John Bull,” who started to be depicted in political cartoons just a couple of years (1869) after Confederation. Like all national personifications he is an hyperbole, let’s say like a lumberjack riding a Timmie’s donut inner tube down the rapids a river of maple syrup and using a hockey stick for a rudder.

Jack Canuck from 1884
Jack Canuck from 1884
Turn of the century music sheet
Turn of the century music sheet
Early turn of the century postcard by Bell Features artist Lou Skuce
Early turn of the century postcard by Bell Features artist Lou Skuce

In Dime Comics No. 1 (Feb. 1942) Leo Bachle brought this archetypical national icon into the 20th century onto the back drop of the Second World War. His rank, we find out in Dime Comics No. 8, is captain probably in the R.C.A.F. though he doesn’t seem to be specifically associated with it and seems to be more of an independent operator of some sort or an agent of a mysterious arm of the Canadian military.

From Dime Comics No. 8
From Dime Comics No. 8
from Dime Comics No. 22
from Dime Comics No. 22

Over at Maple Leaf Publications we had Sgt. Canuck who appears as early as Bing Bang Comics No. 2 (I don’t have access to a copy of Bing Bang Comics No. 1 but I suspect that would have been his first appearance) and seems to have been created by an H. Ward (I can’t properly make out the artist’s name from the scan of the splash that I have) and was written and drawn by Spike Brown in later issues. Sgt. Canuck was a member of the Vancouver Police Force who solved murders and other criminal activities. So this square-jawed, blond policeman was in Bing Bang Comics from the beginning and since he also appears in one of the last issues (Bing Bang Comics Vol. 3 No. 29, June-July 1946) seems to have lasted up to the end of the WECA period.

Ward's version of Sgt. Canuck from p. 1 of Bing Bang Comics No. 2
Ward’s version of Sgt. Canuck from p. 1 of Bing Bang Comics No. 2
Bing Bang Comics V. 2 No. 5 cover by Spike Brown
Bing Bang Comics V. 2 No. 5 cover by Spike Brown
Spike Brown's version of Sgt. Canuck from Bing Bang Comics V. 3 No. 29
Spike Brown’s version of Sgt. Canuck from Bing Bang Comics V. 3 No. 29

The last of Canuck contingent from the WECA period, though created during this period, was not published until 1975 in Captain Canuck Comics No. 3. His name was Canuck Kid and he was created by Edward Letkeman. Letkeman did do two stories featuring his creation Flame Berns for Bell and Commando Comics in issues 14 and 15 and he was the main force behind Space Nomads Comics and Zor The Mighty Comics issued in 1946 by Century Publications, a subdivision of Superior Publications. The Canuck Kid was a pre-teen boy who gets transported, along with his dog, by Father Time in the early Canadian past and the time of the arrival of the first European explorers.

1st page of Canuck Kid story by Letkeman
1st page of Canuck Kid story by Letkeman

 

2nd page of Canuck Kid story by Letkeman
2nd page of Canuck Kid story by Letkeman

When we asked Richard Comely about this he quickly sent back this initial answer:

“This is 37 years so my memory is a bit vague. There may be a letter from him in an old box of files I have in storage. The cartoonist E. Letkeman contacted me and sent me the art. He was an older man then and I doubt still alive. He was living in BC at the time. That’s about all I can recall. I returned the art to him after we made the negs from it.”

In a way, Richard’s publication of these two previously unpublished pages closes the circle that begins with Dime Comics No. 1 and extends into the mid-seventies with Captain Canuck Comics.

canadapost1

I also want to mention that I have received an initial response to the request to Canada Post to issue a series of stamps in 2016 that would commemorate 75th anniversary of the  publication of Canada’s first comic book, Better Comics No. 1 in March of 1946. Here is the reply above.

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Ivan Kocmarek
Grew up in Hamilton's North End. Comic collector for over 50 yrs. Recent interest in Canadian WECA era comics.
Articles: 169

3 Comments

  1. Just a quick addendum after some more research. Stephen Lipson was kind enough to send me a scan of the splash of the Sgt. Canuck story from Bing Bang Comics No. 5 where the name of the artist is clearly “Hereward”. A couple of days of rooting have led me to the conclusion that “Hereward” and Spike Brown are one and the same. Spike Brown is Piercy Hereward Brown who died in 1983. He produced a book on the British Columbia Provincial Police entitled 92 Years of Pride 1858-1950: The Story of The British Columbia Provincial Police that seems to have been published posthumously in 1986. The Sgt. Canuck stories are supposedly based on actual police files from the British Columbia Police.

  2. While you may have gotten a reply letter from Canada Post Ivan let us all know what you need to keep this ball rolling.

    I don’t have many stamps myself but I appreciate this hobby’s place in history and I do find it a happy marriage between the hobbies of stamps and comics that Canada Post does well in bridging.

    Canadian Golden Age Comics and stamps, which were a very collectible hobby in our history, are a great way to celebrated both hobbies.
    I think collecting these stamps will be very popular if this is a series they will green light and it would be nice if there were a few older stamp collectors who see them and pull out their Canadian Comic books that they might still have to this day.

    I would hope to see representations from all the publishers at that time so maybe its time to put together a sample run of book/character choices to help make their decision easier.

    In the meantime I’m thinking Sgt. Canuck has a great profile that deserves a place on a Canadian Mt. Rushmore but that’s a project for another day.

  3. Great points, Jim. I sent them a CD with good definition samples of covers from each publishing house. One from Educational Projects that I thought would be perfect was the Canada Jack one-shot. I wonder if we should send them a petition to support the request. My own feeling is that if they go ahead with this, they should just reproduce the covers of key issues such as Better No. 1 and some of the other great covers from the WECA period.

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