On this day in 1974: CBC investigates the fast-changing world of comics

In 1974, a pair of art students at Toronto's York University, a hobbyist publisher, and an artist who was also a hardcore comics fan organized a comic book convention called Cosmicon.

Long before Fan Expo, there was Cosmicon

"What are they like, those comic book fans?"

49 years ago
Duration 6:01
An inquiring CBC reporter asks this question and more at Toronto's Cosmicon III, one of Canada's earliest comic book conventions.

In 1974, a pair of art students at Toronto's York University, a hobbyist publisher, and an artist who was also a hardcore comics fan organized a comic book convention called Cosmicon. The event reflected the rising popularity of comic book culture at the time, and a shift in the subculture's image from fodder for juvenile delinquents, to legit art form.

It's almost laughable now to think of a Superman comic as dangerous, but back then, as CBC reported, the general public feared the medium would "dull our children's minds or turn them to a life of crime."

A fan peruses the extensive collection of comic books at the closing year of the York University comic book convention, Cosmicon. (CBC Archives)

On January 25, 1974, CBC reporter Sol Littman went to Cosmicon, held on York's campus, to investigate the community of "dealers, writers and artists" that made up what was then a fringe culture.

One fan described the community as "...very intense about what they like because it's a popular medium and being a popular medium it's usually relegated to, say, trash.

Women are portrayed as these limp-wristed, 'Help! Help!', You know, 'Superhero save me [stereotypes],' And the superhero that is doing this is always a man.- A young feminist comic book fan

"It's not respected as an art form or anything like that. And comic fans see it as something else; they see it as an art form."

Though comic books as an art form was growing, its themes were stuck in its patriarchal past.

"Women are portrayed as these limp-wristed, 'Help! Help!', You know, 'Superhero save me [stereotypes],' And the superhero that is doing this is always a man," noted one attendee. She couldn't help but notice when "you look at Supergirl and Wonder Woman. When they're not out saving the world, they're very worried about their boyfriends, you know, if they have a boyfriend." Young girls, "or even young boys," she worried, would get the impression that, "you have to be pretty; you have to have a man. Which is a very wrong idea."

(CBC Archives)

Another fan relished titles like The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a series about "a bunch of freaked out friends who live together and smoke a lot of dope and have a good time,"  because it moved away from the traditional American superhero storyline to portray '70s youth culture.

This movement signified a more progressive mindset among comic book artists who were starting to self-publish, spawning a DIY ethos that would influence a generation of alternative comic artists of the '80s and '90s.

(CBC Archives)

While Cosmicon didn't last long (only three years), the effects of its efforts helped to birth an art movement. Today, comic books have grown to cover everything from your run-of-the-mill heroes to the history of hip-hop. Hugely popular events such as Fan Expo Canada demonstrate the reach of comic books into the mainstream.

But it started with the seeds planted by niche festivals like Cosmicon.

For more throwbacks like this one, visit the CBC Digital Archives.


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