My name is brian Campbell (lowercase “b”) and I am a Ph.D. candidate and part-time lecturer at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology. I am also co-owner of the eBay-oriented business, East Coast Toys and Games, which some readers in Atlantic Canada may recognize. In my spare time, I am an avid comic collector and have spent the past two years (give or take) engaged in a research project about the history of Canadian comic books with two colleagues. However, rather than emphasizing the WECA and FECA periods that Ivan Kocmarek has spent the past several years writing about, my focus has been on the Canadian Silver Age. This introductory column is my attempt to set the stage, so to say. My purpose here is to provide a bit of background into how I define the Silver Age, how I came to be interested in this era of comics and why you should be paying attention if you are interested in Canadian comics.
What is the Canadian Silver Age?
In his book, Invaders from the North, John Bell presents the Canadian Silver Age as taking place from c. 1974-1988, beginning with the publication of Orb and Captain Canuck and ending with the merger of Aircel with Malibu Comics, as a result of the black and white comics bust of the late-1980s. Bell’s reasoning for delineating the era in this way is justified: this was the first time since the end of the Golden Age that Canadian comic series had consistent national distribution. Bell’s book covers the cultural history of Canadian comics from the very beginning until the year it was published (2007) and he does discuss other eras of Canadian comic publication post-FECA and pre-Captain Canuck in some detail. However, I find this definition far too rigid and limiting for my purposes. Instead, I have long considered the Canadian Silver Age to begin in the early-1960s with the publication of giveaway comics by Toronto’s Ganes Productions (and shortly thereafter Halifax’s Comic Page Features/Comic Book World) and ending around 1990 with the first issue of Drawn & Quarterly.
I justify delineating the Silver Age in this way because it helps me to categorize different types of comics and comic book trends that existed in Canada during a twenty-five-year period that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. This is not a criticism of John Bell. Instead, I consider Bell’s work in both Invaders from the North and his earlier book, Canuck Comics, to be the most important roadmaps in existence for people interested in Canadian comics from any era. Indeed, one of the most important tools available to researchers of Canadian comics is the John Bell Collection at Library and Archives Canada. Anyone who has ever aspired to research or collect Canadian comics should familiarize themselves with Bell’s work on the subject. It is my goal to build on and contribute to the body of knowledge that Bell has created and organized for us.
Why did I start collecting and researching these books?
Like many readers of Comic Book Daily, I have followed Ivan Kocmarek’s “Whites Tsunami” blog with great interest for several years. As a child of the 1980s and 1990s, I was like many other young boys in Canada insofar as I read comic books, particularly Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman, Spawn and related titles. Then the market crashed, the few local comic shops that existed in my rural Nova Scotian region (the Annapolis Valley) all closed and I moved on to other hobbies and interests.
A few years ago, I dug out my “old” comics and slowly started to regain an interest in the hobby. However, I really didn’t dabble too much in this until I found myself with the opportunity to purchase a sizeable Golden Age collection in 2013. The collection had a myriad of westerns, romance, funny animal and other comics, but I was most interested in the DC and Timely superhero comics, as well as the horror books that were in the collection. As I went through everything, there were a couple of funny looking books that had characters I had never heard of before, such as: Freelance, Dr. Destine and Commander Steel. I sold these books on eBay rather quickly in order to help pay for the lot so that I could justify keeping all of the Batman and Wonder Woman books for my fledgling collection. My eBay inbox was all of a sudden inundated with messages from people asking if I had any more of these “Canadian Whites.” What were they talking about?
In retrospect, I should have done my homework before selling those late run issues of Freelance and Grand Slam. If I had known just how special those books were, I would have sold the Batman comics instead. Indeed, it took me three or four years to re-purchase the books I had sold in 2013. As I started to learn about WECA and FECA through Ivan’s blog, I changed my collecting emphasis. Unfortunately, I was late to the party—noted WECA collector Stephen Lipson would probably say that I was late by ten years! By the time that I started trying to purchase these Golden Age gems, they were often well outside of my budget. When they were affordable, I would be outbid at the last minute even though I had a pool of money set aside for such purchases. I tried to switch my emphasis to buying FECA (it was cheaper), but the reprints of American comics did not have the same cachet or appeal due to the lesser quality and smaller page count resulting from comic stories and other materials being omitted from the American originals. I was starting to become frustrated by my desire to collect WECA comics and the fact that my collection was not growing.
I reached out to Ivan Kocmarek and he suggested that I should read John Bell’s works. I did so and found myself enamoured with the many Canadian comics from the 1960s through 1980s that I thought I might have an easier time finding. I quickly realized that the list in Canuck Comics was incomplete (as it had been published in 1986, prior to the end of the Silver Age and during a time when the internet was not at everyone’s fingertips, making his research project much more difficult than it would be today). In Invaders from the North, Bell mentions a large number of comics and creators as he weaves his readers through the cultural history of the subject, but as I went through the chapters I found myself confounded by how I could not find any information about many of the comics or creators that he names in the book. So, I did what any researcher would do. I started digging.
One of the beautiful things about the internet is the ability to connect easily with like-minded individuals. Approximately two years ago, I posted several advertisements on the CGC forums looking for Canadian books from the Silver Age. It took a while, but eventually I was contacted by Dan Bryantowich, a collector of Underground Comix based in Ottawa. He had more knowledge on the subject of Canadian Undergrounds than I did at the time, but was also having difficulty finding information about many comics that he had been looking for. A couple of months later, we encountered another like-minded individual on the forums, Victor Marsillo, a collector from Pennsylvania. Victor is also quite interested in Undergrounds, but collects with a foreign emphasis (particularly with a focus on British comics, but also with a breadth of knowledge about Canadian Silver Age titles).
The three of us have spent the past two years looking for and cataloguing Canadian Silver Age comics with a “fine tooth comb.” In addition to John Bell’s work, we have gone through the Fogel and Kennedy guides, the Grand Comic Database, various fonds at universities throughout North America, Worldcat, and defunct blogs such as Comic Syrup Press and The Canadian Comics Archive in order to compile our list. We have also looked at Quebec comics in some detail, relying especially on the work of Mira Falardeau and Sylvain Lemay. The three of us have also attempted to track down comic book creators, with some success, in order to learn more about some of these mysterious comics. Dan and I even took a trip to Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa in May, 2017, to take a look at hundreds of the comics included in the John Bell Collection. We have now reached the point where we have catalogued over 2000 comic books that were published in Canada during this era. We still learn about “new” comics from time to time, but I feel that the “discovery” phase of our research is coming to an end.
The Purpose of “Forgotten Silver”
One of the exciting things about the Canadian Silver Age is that, despite consisting of over 2000 comics, very few of these comics are remembered today outside of niche circles. Some characters, such as Captain Canuck, Northguard and Cerebus, are still widely remembered and appear in comics that are currently on the stands at your local comic shop (LCS). Other characters, such as Katherine Collins’ (then Arn Saba’s) Neil the Horse and Sylvie Rancourt’s Mélody have recently found new life in collected volumes. The same can be said for Dr. Ian Brodie’s collection of Paul “Moose” MacKinnon’s Old Trout Funnies.
Beyond this, numerous Silver Age creators have been inducted into the Canadian Comic Book Hall of Fame. The following inductees (in order of induction) all published their own “home-grown” comic books in Canada during the era (with many also having success internationally): Rand Holmes, Owen McCarron, Dave Sim, Jacques Hurtubise (aka ZYX), Gene Day, Pierre Fournier, Stanley Berneche, John Byrne, Real Godbout, Ken Steacy, Richard Comely, Dave Darrigo, George Freeman, Serge Gaboury, Deni Loubert, Jean-Claude St. Aubin, Chester Brown, Katherine Collins, Ty Templeton, James Waley, Mark Shainblum, Gabriel Morrisette, Julie Doucet, Stuart Immonen, Jacques Goldstyn (aka Boris) and David Boswell.
In many ways, this is a “who’s who” of significant Silver Age creators. The list represents some of the most important contributors to the Canadian comics community and highlights both French and English scenes. However, there are many additional creators who have yet to be recognized by the Shuster Awards, have not had their work reprinted or who have not had their creations remain in the popular imagination of contemporary comic book readers. Examples include (in no particular order), Jacques Boivin, Orville Ganes, Terry Edwards, Art Cooper, Vincent Marchesano, Dave Geary, Derek Carter, bpnichol, Colin Upton, Peter Dako, Barry Blair, the members of FreeKluck (Frank McTruck, Jack D. Zastre, Roldo Odlor, Basil Hatte and Bobby Stahr), members of the seminal punk band D.O.A., Martin Vaughn-James, Nick Burns, Dean Motter, Kenny Moran, Terry Fletcher, André Philibert and Tibo (aka Gilles Thibeault). This list barely scratches the surface of the many Canadian artists and writers who contributed to the growth of the industry during this era.
The comics, characters and fandom from the Silver Age run the entire gamut of genres and movements that were happening south of the border. From educational giveaways to undergrounds and everything in between, Canadian comics published from the early 1960s to c. 1990 constitute a significant part of our history. Yet, this is a history that is filled with gaps, is slowly being forgotten and is, hence, ready to be shared.
Why “Forgotten Silver”?
Dan, Victor and I never came up with a name for ourselves, but I have come to think of our project as “Forgotten Silver.” Thanks to the interest of both Ivan Kocmarek and Walter Durajlija in our project, my goal is to develop a column for Comic Book Daily that emulates Ivan’s “Whites Tsunami” work. Ivan’s template is ideal for this work because its loose format enables him to tackle a myriad of topics from different angles. My mission statement is twofold: a) to provide a cultural history of these comics and to situate them in their historical context; and, b) to provide collectors with the tools they need to identify the comics that I will be talking about. As such, I endeavour to present the research that we have been working on in ways that cater to the specific context of the topic at hand. One month, I might delve into a specific creator’s work. Another month, I might look at a single comic or a specific series. Other entries might be topical and still others might look at movements rather than specific comics or creators. That said, the foundation still needs to be laid. Next month, I will break down the various strains with the Canadian Silver Age and will provide an introductory look at the collectible nature of these comics.
Cheers, brian Campbell