Captain Canuck: The Making of a Canadian Superhero
We talked to the people behind the latest comic and asked important questions like, if Captain Canuck could kick Captain America’s ass.
My love affair with DC and Marvel comics as a kid left little room for flag holding patriots. I was already over Captain America and his self-righteous diatribe, but something about a corny Canadian wrapped in a red and white flag appealed to me; his name was Captain Canuck, our little known northern equivalent.
"Captain Canuck represented a series of comics that were indie before indie comics were even a thing in the 70s," series writer and editor in chief of the new Captain Canuck, Kalman Andrasofsky told me over the phone. "Its creator, Richard Comely was really a pioneer in creating this comic outside of the mainstream with this weird, strangely nice character that had super strength, all given to him by an alien beam and this odd indestructible suit."
The three issue Captain Canuck strip by Comely began in 1975, partly inspired by his desire for Canada to have a comic book icon of its own. Previous to that, Canada relied on the US for its fictional heroes, Batman, Captain America and the like, besides a short period in the 1940s after the Canadian government passed The War Exchange Conservation Act, which restricted US comics being sold in Canada. Canadian publishers were forced to become creative, and developed characters like Nelvana of the Northern Lights and Johnny Canuck. Captain Canuck himself, with his clearly identifiable look and attitude, just seemed to come at a perfect moment when Canadians something to identify with.
Fast forward several years, iterations,and crowd funded projects later, and you have Chapterhouse Comics, a Canadian-run publisher founded in 2015, who rebooted the classic franchise along with several other iconic Canadian heroes from yesteryears.
I reached out to Andrasofsky and Fadi Hakim, president of Chapterhouse Comics to ask about how this corny hero managed to last so long, and of course the important question; can Captain Canuck kick Captain America's ass?
VICE: So you guys had to have been fans before you became creators. What is it about Captain Canuck that does it for you?
Fadi Hakim: I was into comics pretty early on, I'm talking four or five years old here. I would watch my brother collect X-Men comics, so when I was six and had my own money, I naturally went to get some of my own to be like my brother. Captain Canuck #1 was just sitting on the shelf and I had to have that book. I mean, I was just staring at it. He's basically standing on top of the world, his hands on his hips, big Canadian flag just waving in the background. I'd never seen anything like it and it just immediately struck me.
Kalman Andrasofsky: For me, he was always kind of a character I had known about. My friend of mine when I was about four at the time, used to get Captain Canuck comics in the mail. I was just fascinated by the idea of a Canadian superhero when I was a kid. I would doodle in my books and would draw the bat symbol, Wolverine's mask and I would draw the maple leaf, and to me it was just as much of a superhero symbol.
Beyond those first initial moments, what kept you drawn to him. Beyond his suit, what exactly made him Canadian in his appeal to you guys?
FH: You know, that's an interesting question. To be honest, it sort of just evolves. For me personally, I was drawn to the Canadian flag. I've always been interested in flag characters. There was this thing with Captain Britain and a time when it was all about Captain America. But there's also this thing about Canada as well. I got this love affair with the country I suppose. My parents are Palestinian Jews, and I'm first generation. I was born here in Toronto, so my roots are here. The appeal of his character is something I'm still exploring and that keeps changing. Hell I remember when Canada day was a joke, which is hilarious. Now, that sarcasm we all have as Canadians is slowly being shed and we're starting to come out with something that looks like patriotism. I can't speak for everybody, but I find that fascinating.
KA: Part of it is. Let's compare him to a character like Captain America who embodies the American spirit. Though, he doesn't have a sword and he doesn't have a gun, he has a shield. Just between us girls, that is total bullshit. An American superhero would have guns up the ass. The punisher is far more of a quintessential American super-hero than Captain America is. Captain America is more of an aspirational ideal. It's like, if maybe the way creative people wish it was. Captain Canuck however is an embodiment of Canadian intervention or justice. He uses batons which are non-lethal weapons. As a character, he's a very back to basics super hero in that he's optimistic and never gives up; not a tortured dark and gritty soul. I get it a lot, what makes him appealing as a so called Canadian. It's something that many of us as a country are embarrassed to talk about. What we often do instead is compare us to the US by defining ourselves by as not this or not that. Hell, I did it when I answered this question. For this character, we don't stand on on top of buildings and scream about what being Canadian is, we just kinda do it and it becomes obvious in hindsight.
On paper, I have to say that he seems so corny, I mean you wouldn't think that his character would last as long as he did.
FH: He had the benefit of growing through a comic book renaissance for Canada, during that banning of American comic books, Richard Comely just sorta had all of North America's eyes on him. Hell, during that time the first Canadian superhero was actually a character named Iron Man.
I'm sorry, say again?
Ha, it's a little known fact. That's the thing, Canada has a real deep history that many people don't know about, and it's what helps to propel Captain Canuck. It started in the 40s, then the 70s with Canuck and it kept going.
Wow, I didn't know that, and it's still surprising the appeal is still there even though many of those characters died off.
KA: Yeah it's hard to pinpoint that. I just personally like superheroes. They asked me to redesign the Captain Canuck because I work on costume designs a lot. It's a big part of what I do. Canada just has a great flag, a great look. It's very simple, graphic and striking. Something about those two simple colours, the graphic shape of the maple leaf, it just lends itself perfectly to a super hero costume. I thought he was cool, and everyone who first hears the word Canuck, it sounds weird. When you're four years old, the name Captain Canuck sounds weird to you and you're just like, why is he not named Captain Canada? But he's just not, and I guess that's what makes the name stick. Richard Comely was a pioneer in making these weird comics that made it seem like Canada had a thriving comic book history. We want to continue that.
So with this revamp of Captain Canuck, how are you guys balancing the Canadian appeal with folks out there beyond the border?
FH: Well we want people to understand that their has been 75 years of Canadian comics here. Growing up on Marvel, I learned to have a love affair with New York before I was even able to travel to New York. I remember being in Grade 10, and I was spotting all the streets in Brooklyn because it was where Spider Man lived. We want a new generation of Canadians to also have that experience by lionizing the country. That means lionizing Toronto, Halifax and all the major cities. We got The Pitiful Human-Lizard character that gets lost in Mississauga, and he has no fucking bus fare to make it back to Toronto. So he rides the 504 to get around and so on.
KA: People around the world already understand Captain America. It's an idea that has already been sold. But then all this is tied to the notion of how Americans perceive Canada in general. The pop culture footprint of Canada is a lot of 'I'm sorry,' and Maple Syrup, Beaver moose jokes and being really nice. On one hand, we're trying to make comics for everyone, but we're also making it for us. There's a way to thread that needle and have a wink and a nod a bit without completely annoying your home fans. Marvel and Alpha Flight is a perfect example. They got this super hero team, and sometimes it's so jokey, so obnoxious. They made a character named Major Maple Leaf who's like a Mountie with a giant chin, it's just so obnoxious. You don't want to fall into that. You just try to tell a good story and be true to the setting. If it's set in Calgary, Alberta, have some fucking mountains. If it's in Toronto...don't have any fucking mountains. This is something that American comics don't always get right about Canada.
Well, let me hit you guys with the hardest question of the interview then. Between a fight between Captain America, Captain Britain and Captain Canuck, who wins? Go.
FH: Hey man. They're probably patting each other on the back in that situation. Of course you'd have the classic comic book character thing and they'd just starting fighting but then they'd quickly say, hey, what are we doing? Maybe a shield would get thrown, someone would block it with his arm or something. Listen, they're too smart, so I don't see them getting into it too much to begin with.
KA: Listen. If you're going strictly in terms of powers, Captain Britain would squash them both like bugs. BUT!...I know who my favourite is. Captain Britain is written as arrogant and impulsive, so he'd be outsmarted despite his strength. And Captain America...maybe I'll give it to him. I can't say that can I?...The guy has been around for 80 years, I guess he has more experience. But I gotta give it to my boy. Canuck would just win by making friends with Captain America and they would team up and dupe Britain, and they'd have a bro hug and go their separate ways. All will be well after that.
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