Captain Canuck gets a reboot, a new origin story and a whole new universe

Saturday is Free Comic Book Day and Chapterhouse Comics, the publisher of the legendary Canadian superhero Captain Canuck, is building an entire Canadian comic universe around him. But history isn't on their side. Can Tom Evans come back from war and be the hero Canada deserves?
Captain Canuck has been making a comeback in his own animated web series. (Kalman Andrasofszky/Fan Expo Regina)
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Canadian comic book publisher Chapterhouse has big plans for this year's Free Comic Book Day.

While fans and creators gather across North America to celebrate their passion and lure new readers to the medium, Chapterhouse is consolidating its master-plan: the creation and development of Canada's first self-contained — and it hopes, self-sustaining — comic book universe, comparable to the ones found in the pages of Marvel or DC Comics

Kalman Andrasofszky, designer of the new Captain Canuck (Chapterhouse)

"The concept of a shared universe was something that was sort of obscure nerd apocrypha ten years ago," says Kalman Andrasofszky, Editor-In-Chief of Chapterhouse and the current author of Captain Canuck. "And now my mom knows who the Avengers are because Marvel movies are putting shared universes on the screen.

Over the past few years, Chapterhouse has been building what it calls The Chapterverse, by acquiring storied Canadian superheroes and talented comic creators. This year's Free Comic Book Day offer, Captain Canuck: Year One is co-written by actor Jay Baruchel.

Andrasofszky says that as they started to acquire all those rights, they started to see the potential for something big.

"Suddenly, we all took a breath and said, 'We could build something. We could take these sort of hidden treasures from the 40s, 60s, and 80s and put them together in a shared universe, the likes of which is now mainstream.'"

                            

A daunting history

The Chapterverse is an ambitious idea, especially given the history of home-grown comics in Canada. There have been plenty of well-loved characters over the years, but keeping them in print has proven to be a challenge. 

"In Canadian history, there are these fragmented bursts," says Andrasofszky, where by contrast in the States, you have a consistent history."

Scott Sawyer, as Captain Canuck, attends FanExpo 2014 in Toronto on Aug. 29. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

So, like any comic book fan, Andrasofszky has decided to create his own reality. 

"One of the things I've tried to do when writing Captain Canuck is to write it as if it is from an alternate universe where there was always a thriving comic book industry that never went away."

If nothing else, Chapterhouse is approaching the project in a more deliberate way than those who have come before.

             

The Golden Age:

The first wave of Canadian comic books — what's now known as The Golden Age — began in the most unlikely of ways: out of concern over Canada's trade deficit with the United States. 

In 1940, the Canadian government passed The War Exchange Conservation Act, which restricted imports of non-essential goods from the United States.

Two pages from the Johnny Canuck comics. The series was published from 1941 to 1946, appearing in 28 issues of Dime Comics. Handout photo/Canadian Press (Handout - Corus Entertainment/Canadian Press)

As Hope Nicholson, author of The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History, points out, the act covered an odd assortment of things.

"[It] included things like perfume and greeting cards, sports memorabilia, chocolate, caviar and comic books. So it's one of the first times that comics and caviar are on the same listing."

The effect was to create a bubble in which Canadian writers and artists with very little experience suddenly had a captive market. 

Nelvana of the Northern Lights has been dubbed Canada's first superheroine. (Courtesy of Hope Nicholson)

"There was this avenue now for publishers in Canada to start making comic books," says Nicholson. "And a lot of them were people who had never published anything in their lives. A lot of them were artists who just had a good start-up idea. So I kind of see a connection between that world and those kind of risk takers and the sort of kick-started and small-press world we find ourselves in now."

The result was books such as Johnny Canuck and Nelvana of the Northern Lights.

But the protectionist measures ended with the Second World War, and as American comics came flooding back into the Canadian market, Canadian publishers found they just couldn't compete.

"Unfortunately, it's like any other Canadian cultural industry," says Nicholson. "As soon as protectionist measures disappear, it's really, really hard for us to compete in a market that's flooded with American products that, for them, are a lot easier and cheaper to produce because of their dense population base."

As quickly as it appeared, The Golden Age was over.

Captain Canuck A.K.A Tom Evans, as he appeared in Richard Comely's original publication (Chapterhouse)

              

The Black and White Boom

In the 1970's, tastes in comics were changing, and a market for less mainstream material began to open up.

The era became known as the Black and White Boom, as smaller publishers eschewed coloured ink in order to cut costs.

In July of 1975, Winnipeg's Richard Comely introduced a brand new patriotic hero, Captain Canuck.

And much like the creators of the Golden Age, Comely had no clue what he was doing.

"I didn't come from a comic book background," he says. "I wasn't aware of the history of Canadian comic books during World War Two."

Nonetheless, Comeley's Captain Canuck had a good run, especially by Canadian standards, self-publishing 15 issues between 1975 and 1981. But ultimately, even the captain couldn't make a go of it.

           

The Chapterverse

Fadi Hakim, CEO of Chapterhouse Comics (Chapterhouse)

None of this history is lost on Chapterhouse CEO Fadi Hakim, the person responsible for acquiring the rights to Captain Canuck and Northguard.

But he's not daunted by that history either, and he thinks the Chapterverse could be the key to helping this current wave of publishing endure where previous ones have failed. 

"I think Richard [Comely] wanted to do this back in the 70s," Hakim says. "It was one of those things where it is such a difficult business to keep it going. I know how hard it is to do right now, I can't even imagine how hard it was to do back then." 

In 2013, Hakim launched a crowd-funded Captain Canuckweb series.

The following year, Hakim celebrated 40 years of the Captain by releasing a new run of comics, and came to an interesting discovery during the funding process.

The classic Canadian comic book crusader is back in a new animated web series 3:24

"When we did our Indiegogo for the web series, we found out that 35 per cent of the people that actually supported us were from the United States," he says. "Another 15 per cent were from overseas. So it leads us to believe that there are a lot of ex-pats that are hyper-proud to be Canadian."

Hakim is hoping that this global market for Canadian comics will help to sustain the Chapterverse, and even if history isn't on his side, he is not worried.

"Everything has happened so naturally and so organically that I don't really worry too much about what could happen later on and it doesn't really matter because it's so much fun right now, right in the here and now. It's so exciting for everyone involved and I can't wait for everyone to read it."

Brent Bambury interviews Les Barker, creator of nationalistic superhero Johnny Canuck, about his character being commemorated by Canada Post. 6:30