What is a Canadian comic?

Panel presentation image.
Panel presentation image.

Your friend and mine, Walter Durajlija, the “Big” in  Big B Comics, has initiated a panel discussion of Canadian Comics that will take place at Niagara Falls Comic Con (June 8-9) at the Scotia bank Convention Centre.. The panel itself will take place on the Saturday (June 8) during the lunch hour from noon until 1PM.

A planning meeting for this panel took place at Kevin Boyd’s Comic Lounge on College Street and included the members of the panel so far: Walter Durajlija, myself, Kevin Boyd, Hope Nicholson, and Rachel Peabody – all probably well known to you already. We are also trying to secure the presence of Richard Comely, creator of Capt. Canuck as part of the enterprise as well.

From the meeting, it was decided that the panel would provide a quick survey of the history of Canadian comics right from the WECA period to contemporary publications as background and starting point. After this the central question directed at the panel will be: “What is a Canadian comic?” (What allows or qualifies a comic to be called Canadian?) .

We hope to see as many Comic Book Daily readers there as possible, but in lieu of this I would like to solicit any of your responses to this question: “What is a Canadian comic book?” (and the ancillary questions such as:  “Does a comic have to be printed/published in Canada to be called Canadian?” “Do reprints and price variants count as Canadian comics?” “Is Wolverine a Canadian comic book character?” etc.).

Start us off on this discussion and it will make the panel presentation that much better and really help us come up with an answer that has some weight to it.

Ivan Kocmarek
Ivan Kocmarek

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

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Hope L Nicholson
11 years ago

I’ll discuss this on the panel but to me:
Superman, Wolverine, and Alpha Flight are not Canadian comics. They were created by Americans for American publishers.
The Northern Light features a Canadian superhero written by a Canadian, but published by an American company (Power comics). I consider it a Canadian comic
Tale of Sand, published by an American company, and originally written by an American, but drawn and re-written by a Canadian I would consider a Canadian comic.
Thunderfist was a 1940s comic published in Canada by a Canadian but the character was American, I would consider a Canadian comic.
So, what I have to figure out now is why!

Richard Evans
11 years ago

I don’t think it matters if the character is not Canadian. LEGION UNLEASHED had a global cast of characters, but the core team was Canadian, their acceptance of foreign heroes I think was a clearly Canadian mentality, I think.

What is interesting is there is not a single Canadian publisher. . .

Matthew Rust
11 years ago

The original Northern Light was written by an American, T. Casey Brennan, and interpreted by Canadians! Then, Canadian writers and artists ran with the concept, published and printed the project in Canada. I think that makes it Canadian…I am Canadian, and I worked on this project while with ORB Magazine!

11 years ago

Hello – I would really like to sit on this panel, as a former independent comic book publisher, and as a correct independent radio show producer that involves comic book pop culture. I really think that could add a thing OR two to this conversation.

And with that in mind who can i talk to make this happen?

I do thank you for your time with this.


Evan Annett (@kingdomofevan)

I’m terrible at making consistent, universal rules for defining CanCon other than just personal fiat, but with comics I boil it down to two questions: 1) Who created this work? 2) did the creator(s) credibly identify as Canadian at the time that the work was made? If the answer to 2) is yes, the comic is Canadian.

This framework makes publishers more or less irrelevant to the question of Canadianness, because they aren’t the creators. Jeff Lemire’s Essex County is no less Canadian because it’s published by Top Shelf, nor is a Shigeru Mizuki manga made Canadian because D&Q published it. Canadian publishers are still vitally important to CanCon’s existence, and they can make CanCon out of non-Canadian source material, as in Hope’s example of Thunderfist — but I’d argue that Thunderfist’s Canadianness comes from Murray Karn working on the book, not Bell Features publishing it.

The tricky part is deciding who the creator is. It’s easiest with books written and drawn by artists who were born in Canada and still live here: Chester Brown or Faith Erin Hicks’s work are undoubtedly CanCon, even though their regular publishers are based in Canada and the United States, respectively. I’d argue that Byrne’s Alpha Flight is CanCon — because it was produced at a point in his career when he was more comfortable identifying as Canadian, which he isn’t anymore — but that the Alpha Flight series as a whole is American, because it’s owned by Marvel and fell into the hands of almost exclusively American creators after Byrne left the title.

It gets trickier when only part of the creative team is Canadian. I wouldn’t call Saga CanCon, no matter how much creative input Fiona Staples might have in how the story is told, though a patriotic Canadian consumer might be more inclined to support the book because doing so supports a Canadian artist. (Or, you know, because the book is amazingly good.) It depends entirely on how you define a book’s creative team and who the “real” author is. Darwyn Cooke’s Parker books, for instance, are based on American novels, but Cooke’s art and the reimagining of those stories are so original that I’d argue Cooke’s imprint is more significant, and that the Parker books can be considered CanCon.

This panel sounds like it’ll be a fascinating discussion. You’ll have your work cut out for you with the question of who is and is not Canadian, too, which is a much bigger minefield: Does Canadianness consist in where you live, what your citizenship is or what you call yourself?

Kevin A. Boyd
11 years ago

I find my answers are usually qualified.

1. If we are talking about characters identified as Canadian then where they originated matters little, however I’d argue which are more authentic? A Canadian writing a Canadian character or a non-Canadian expressing what they perceive as Canadian values onto that character.

(I’d actually argue that the core members of ALPHA FLIGHT are Canadian in origin as well, as most were created by John Byrne while he was living in Alberta and referring to himself as a Canadian. His input into Wolverine in the pages of Uncanny X-Men certainly made the character a fan-favourite and definitely makes him more credibly Canadian than when he was initially conceived and introduced by Americans for an American comic.While Byrne has since left Canada and no longer considers himself Canadian, he did agree to the time period when he lived here in the 1970s and early 1980s as a time when he was Canadian and that’s where he introduced most of the world to Canada in the pages of UXM and Alpha Flight.)

2. There are comics by Canadians (like Tale of Sand or Essex County), and that’s the definition we use to identify the work that is eligible for the Joe Shuster Awards. We look for comics by Canadians in specific roles. Doesn’t matter who publishes them, or even if the person is still in Canada provided they are Canadian citizens (like Chris Bachalo or Bryan Lee O’Malley).

3. There are Canadian published comics, as a small handfull of Canadian publishers nationwide such as Drawn & Quarterly, La Pasteque, Aardvark-Vanaheim, Red 5 Comics, Heroes of the North, Renegade Arts Entertainment, Arcana Studio, Koyama Press, etc. Published in the sense that the companies that publish these comics are based somewhere in Canada and run mostly by Canadians. Those efforts published are not always by Canadians — D+Q certainly publishes work by international creators, as does Renegade and Red 5.

4. Finally there are fully Canadian Comics, which to me are comics conceived in Canada, by Canadian creators, and published by Canadians. Cerebus is an example of a fully Canadian comic, or the work of creators like Chester Brown, Seth, Michel Rabagliati and others.

Heroes of the north (@northernheroes)

We are obviously biased because we are publishers as well as creators, but my belief it that the publisher does not make the content Canadian. So regardless of where the publisher is based, it is not necessarily a Canadian comic.

My first instinct would be to say that what makes a comic book CanCon is the creator(s). Regardless of the nationality of the character. It could be an alien or an American or an Australian. What makes it CanCon is the fact that it is written and/or illustrated by a Canadian. Because it will reflect this, consciously or not, in the work. But that opens other cans of worms with the definition. And copyrights muddy things even further.

Something like Alpha Flight is an interesting case. When written by Byrne, it was distinctively Canadian in tone. When taken over by other writers who are not Canadian, despite their research and efforts, you definitely feel the tone is off. Something often made worse by the illustrators that put the Rockies in Toronto for example. Regardless of Byrne’s contribution, it is still a Marvel property and therefore an American comic book.

Todd McFarlane is Canadian, I have not read the whole Spawn series but of those I remember, it was not necessarily “Canadian”. It dealt with matters of Heaven and Hell. Does that make it less Canadian?

It is a very good question and it will prompt a heated debate, of that I am certain! 😉

Walter Durajlija
11 years ago

Yes RCEHPPE Ivan is correct, please email me at [email protected] and we’ll discuss.

Evan Annett (@kingdomofevan)
Reply to  Ivan Kocmarek

Thanks for the clarification on Thunderfist, Ivan. I hadn’t realized the WECA artists were that nationally diverse a bunch! Gives you lots more to talk about, I guess — maybe contrasting those artists’ stories of coming to Canada with more recent examples like Brandon Graham or Becky Cloonan.