By James Keller
Through spots on CBC, we were led to believe the creation of Superman was a glorious “part of our heritage” as a determined young Canadian set his sights on America to make comic history. Unfortunately, that’s not how it happened at all–and there are much more important contributions by Canadians throughout comic history.
First, let’s look at the Man of Steel. Jerry Siegel, who was born in the very un-Canadian city of Cleveland, Ohio, created the idea behind Superman in the ’30s. The original Superman artist Joe Shuster on the other hand was in fact from Toronto. However, he moved to Cleveland when he was 10–a far cry from the heart-lifting image of a young man on the way to share his idea with the world.
However, the lack of any real claim to Superman doesn’t leave us off the map altogether. First, we have had a very interesting history of comics within our own country. Canada has never had a tremendously successful original comic industry by any means. There was a time when Canadian artists were able to dominate the Canadian market–although it was more a result of government action than anything else. During the Second World War, the Canadian government passed the War Exchange Conservation Act, restricting the importation of goods that weren’t consider essential, comics included.
This provided room for five publishing companies who emerged to fill the void left by now-absent American comics. Although differing in themes, characters and quality of printing from their American counterparts, the new comics were a success while they lasted. However, at the end of the war, the Conservation Act was dissolved and readers promptly returned to their American comics. Unable to compete, all five companies either folded or began to reprint American publication, abandoning Canadian publications. Our comic industry, aside from a small number of exceptions, was wiped off the mainstream market completely.
Comics then went underground and books like Captain Canuck become popular to those into the scene while everyone else was reading Marvel and DC staples. This trend continued to keep Canadian artists out of the mainstream comic world until former Calgarian Todd McFarlane created Spawn.
Published by McFarlane’s Image Comics, Spawn is not really uniquely Canadian. The comic’s premise revolves around an assassinated government agent who descends into hell, then makes a pact with the devil to come back and exact revenge. McFarlane, whose comic has become the best-selling independent comic ever, has created by far the most successful Canadian comic in history.
Perhaps Canadian comics have a positive future. Rising from a long history of domination by the U.S. market, today we see a Canadian comic become more of a North American sensation than anything else, with everything from movie deals to action figures.
One can only hope the doors are now open, open to artists to spawn creations of their own–and able to make a living doing it.