British Columbia

Victoria illustrator teams up with Margaret Atwood for historic fictional comic

Victoria illustrator Ken Steacy recently teamed up with author Margaret Atwood to create the new historic fictional comic series War Bears.

'The story got its hooks in me and would not let go,' Ken Steacy says

Steacy has also illustrated for the Japanese manga series, Astro Boy, and the animated TV series, Jonny Quest. (Supplied/Raymond St. Arnaud)

Victoria illustrator Ken Steacy recently teamed up with author Margaret Atwood to create the new historic fictional comic series War Bears.

Published by Dark Horse Comics, War Bears explores a golden age for Canadian comic books from an artist's point of view.

"The story got its hooks in me and would not let go," Steacy, who has also illustrated for Astro Boy and Jonny Quest, told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

Volume 1 of the comic recently went on sale. The series features fictional stories set amid real events that occurred during the Second World War in Canada.

War Bears traces the golden age of Canadian comic books. (Supplied)

For the love of comics

War Bears centres on Al Zurakowski, a comic book creator who dreams of making it big in the early world of comics publishing in Toronto.

Zurakowski creates a fictional Nazi-fighting superheroine at the peak of the Second World War — and business is good.

Steacy said when a war-era U.S. law embargoed certain goods, including comic books, many small Canadian comic companies sprang up overnight.

"And then as soon as the war ended, American comics came back in, and [the little companies] were wiped out in about 18 months," said Steacy.

In the comic, Zurakowski is heartbroken amid the post-war jubilation, devastated that his company must transition from creating comics to marketing.

Atwood and Steacy collaborated on both ideas and plot. (Supplied)


At first, Steacy was asked to illustrate a fictional short story Atwood had written about a small Canadian comic book company on the verge of disappearing.

But Steacy felt there was more of the story to tell. He pitched a plot and eventually a series was born. Atwood and Steacy worked on the ideas and plot together.

"It's been a very real collaboration. Most of the script is mine, but it's done under her very watchful eye," he said. "Working with her has been an absolute delight." 

Over the years, Steacy has witnessed a rise in the popularity and production of graphic novels and long-form visual storytelling. The War Bears collaboration displays what Steacy loves best about creating comics, he said.  

"I view comics' visual storytelling as a language. It's this wonderful collision of words and pictures, and they work together."

Listen to the full interview:

With files from On the Island

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