One of my guilty pleasures has long been magic. One of the oldest performing arts in the world, there is something about magic (be it illusion, stage magic, close-up magic and even mentalism) that find both extremely entertaining and intellectually satisfying. For many years, I have found myself delighted by studying this genre of theatre, learning how certain tricks are performed, but have never been able to find the patience to master a single trick or illusion myself. Magic is hard. It requires a kind of patience and dedication that I simply do not have. As such, I am happy to only be a spectator.
Perhaps my earliest memory of magic stems from commercials for (then) upcoming stage shows advertising Reveen, the Impossibilist, during the late-1980s. Peter Reveen looked like a rock star and his advertisements included a catchy jingle that culminated with the words, “The man they call Reveen.” I was far too young to see Reveen perform back then and, regrettably, I never did see one of his stage shows while he was still alive. I do, however, own most of the LP records that he released during his career and have listened to his smooth, hypnotic voice many times.
Peter Reveen is a legend of mid to late 20th-century magic. Born in Adelaide, Australia in 1935, he first came to North America in 1961, landing initially in Hawaii and then California before taking a bus to Vancouver using a six-month visitors’ visa to enter Canada. He started his North American career with small bookings in Chilliwack, British Columbia and quickly gained momentum. By the mid-1960s he was touring Canada and the United States regularly, with his wife, Coral, and four children generally in tow. His career spanned over thirty-five years and he would perform for over 6,00,000 people on the continent, becoming one of the highest-grossing stage performers in Canada during this time and one of the best-known people in all of magic. He rubbed shoulders with other famous stage performers, such as Liberace and Siegfried and Roy and was closely associated with the famed Magic Castle in Hollywood (where he became a Member of the Inner Magic Circle with Gold Star in 1981 and later earned a performing fellowship in 1997). According to some internet sources was a founding member of the organization.
Readers may be surprised to learn Reveen was particularly revered in Atlantic Canada. His popularity in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick led to his tours regularly having dates in at least one of the provinces and Reveen memorabilia is much easier to find in this part of Canada than anywhere else. Arguably, the only other place in Canada where Reveen memorabilia is relatively easy to source is in Alberta, due to his record business being based in Edmonton and his relationship with Micky Hades in Calgary (where he also lived for a time). That said, Reveen was so adored in Atlantic Canada that he briefly came out of retirement in 2007 for a mini-tour of the Maritimes. Additionally, before his death in 2013, he passed on his moniker to one of his sons, Tyrone, who performs regularly, is a dead ringer for his father and lives in New Brunswick.
Perhaps what I find most interesting about Reveen is that his popularity in places like Nova Scotia and New Brunswick from the 1960s through the 1990s seems so unusual to me, but it continues to endure. When I was attending West Kings District High School in the late 1990s, my school took us to see an act that was very similar to Reveen’s in Greenwood, Nova Scotia. It just so happens that my wife saw the act around the same time when she was attending high school in the small community of Hampton, New Brunswick (outside of Saint John). I do not know this with absolute certainty, but I believe that the performer we both saw was Robert Lamar, who continues to be one of the best-known acts in Atlantic Canada and considered Reveen to be his mentor.
Peter Reveen’s death was big news in the region in 2013 (despite the fact that he lived in Nevada at the time) and references to the man have continued to appear in Atlantic Canadian popular culture. Perhaps my favourite example is how Ricky from Trailer Park Boys is occasionally referred to as “Reveen” in a way that is intended to be derogatory, due to a vague resemblance. This delights me because one of my best friends is the person who the Ricky character was partially based on (and he also shares a vague resemblance to Reveen).
So, what does any of this have to do with comic books? Well, Reveen and his four sons were immortalized in comic form by Halifax’s Owen McCarron and Robin Edmiston in the mid-1960s in their comic Reveen and Sons Unlimited. The comic is not dated but includes a reference to the Beatles’ song “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” as well as The Ed Sullivan Show. The comic was published by McCarron and Edmiston’s earlier imprint, Comic Page Features, which suggests that it was released in the mid-1960s (with 1964 or 1965 being a reasonable assumption based on the reference to the aforementioned Beatles song, which reached # 1 on the Billboard charts in February 1964).
The comic itself is quite silly. The story focuses on Reveen’s four sons feeling slighted by their father after they declare that they want to be in show business too. He claims that they are too young and tells them to go to bed. Instead, the boys start a rock band called “The Goatees,” presumably due to the creative choice of McCarron and Edmiston to draw goatees on the sons (and several other things associated with the elder Reveen in the comic, including his house). The band quickly becomes successful playing their brand of garage rock behind the back of the elder Reveen. The story culminates with the band appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show. The elder Reveen learns about the performance and is not happy about it due to his four sons’ dishonesty. He hypnotizes them as they take the stage and they forget how to sing and play their instruments. Their short-lived career in tatters, one of the sons declares that he wants to become a hypnotist himself. The story ends with the elder Reveen spanking his sons.
The comic has been featured on Stupid Comics in the past and I recommend taking a look at the images included there. For me, the comic is much more interesting than its silliness suggests at first glance. As a collaboration from McCarron and Edmiston’s earlier career, this is one of only a handful of giveaway comics that they created that focused on promoting a celebrity (with their Wayne & Shuster Comics one-shot coming earlier and their comics featuring Colonel Ernie Edwards right around the corner). McCarron and Edmiston’s earlier work is quirkier and less constrained than the work that they would produce under the Comic Book World Imprint later in the decade for governments and businesses.
The fact that Reveen and Sons Unlimited was published in Halifax is also quite appropriate in the context of his enduring popularity in Atlantic Canada. That said when this comic came out Reveen was only beginning to become a well-known and popular act. One of the things that I find quite fascinating about the story in the comic is that it anticipates how the careers of two of Reveen’s sons would unfold: in addition to the abovementioned Tyrone Reveen taking on the mantle of his father, Peter Reveen Jr., became a successful musician performing with the bands Salty Dog and Jizzy Pearl.
It is impossible to know how many copies of this comic were produced with the information I currently have available, but considering that the numerous LP records that Reveen released in the 1970s are quite common in Atlantic Canada, the comic itself is incredibly scarce. Indeed, it took me several years to source a copy for myself and I have never seen one come up for sale on eBay. Occasionally, magic memorabilia stores have copies for sale, which is likely your best bet to source a copy for yourself if this is in your wheelhouse.
I actually only know two other people in all of Atlantic Canada who own this comic. One is a well-known comic shop owner, but the other is arguably Halifax’s hardest working professional magician, The Amazing Mr. J (aka David Johnston).
The Amazing Mr. J is not only one of the hardest working magicians in Atlantic Canada (he performs as many as 350 times per year), he is also a comic book aficionado. In fact, his stage name is a reference to the Joker and Harley Quinn. I had the opportunity to see David perform several years ago as part of Strange Adventures’ Free Comic Book Day event on the Halifax Waterfront and I had run into him a couple of times at comic shops too (and always ready to pull off a small trick or too even in his civilian attire). Yet, the Amazing Mr. J really gained my attention about a year ago when I learned that he was being featured in his own comic book.
Towards the end of 2018, a new comic book company called Grandway Comics launched in Halifax, debuting three new comic series at Hal-Con: Grand Adventure, The Street Fighting Man and Space Cowboy and the Triumphanteers. The company is the brainchild of long-time Nova Scotian animators Jeff Knot and Derek Jessome and also features contributions from a couple of men who I know well from the local comic scene (Dave Howlett and Geri Bertolo), as well as numerous other people who are involved in the Halifax comic book and animation scenes. What made Grandway’s launch particularly interesting is that the three comics that they released at Hal-Con were extremely well polished and professional looking, while also emphasizing the look and feel of four colour comics from yesteryear. Their comics are family-friendly, nostalgic and look and feel like they came straight out of the 1970s. By all accounts, Grandway’s launch went well and the company continued to promote itself to some fanfare at the East Coast Comic Expo and the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival in 2019. New issues of their launch titles are forthcoming and I am hopeful that we will see them published sometime soon.
In 2019, Grandway only published one comic, The Amazing Mr. J, featuring the adventures David Johnston’s stage persona as part of the Grandway character universe. At first glance, The Amazing Mr. J is clearly an homage to Amazing Fantasy # 15 (the first appearance and origin story of Spider-Man), but there is a lot more going on here than this obvious homage.
I reached out to Mr. J shortly after the comic was released last year to ask him about whether or not his comic was influenced by Reveen and/or Owen McCarron and he was impressed enough by me picking up on the reference without having yet read the comic that we agreed to meet at a local Tim Hortons for coffee to chat about the comic and its influences shortly thereafter. When we met, David told me about his upbringing and his influences in terms of the magic profession, while also telling me about his love of comics. He brought a reprint of Amazing Fantasy # 15 with him to show me the frame by frame homage to Spider-Man’s origin story that was used by Grandway to make The Amazing Mr. J and also brought his collection of Owen McCarron comics (mostly issues of Fun and Games), which included his copy of Reveen and Sons Unlimited. Ultimately, Grandway’s The Amazing Mr. J is a love letter to Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Owen McCarron, Spider-Man and Reveen.
What I love about Grandway’s Mr. J comic is that it captures what Forgotten Silver is all about. David Johnston’s stage persona and comic book influences are both embodied in his performances and encapsulated in his comic book. Both exhibit a kind of cultural continuity that a reader can only truly appreciate if they understand a specific subset of the history of Canadian Silver Age comics and Atlantic Canadian pop culture reverence. The Stan Lee appearance and Spider-Man homage are obvious, but the McCarron and Reveen influences give this comic a kind of cachet that I truly respect. It’s probably my favourite independent comic book released in Canada in 2019. You might even say that it’s magic.