Last fall, the Kickstarter for restoring and reprinting Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Adrian Dingle’s Inuit goddess and superheroine from the Golden Age of Canadian Comics, was an astounding financial and cultural success. As one commentator said to me “the Nelvana revival was a zeitgeist moment” that was not only interesting historically and culturally, but also socially, as the project was orchestrated by two young women who met while working on the documentary “Lost Heroes”, namely Associate Producer Hope L. Nicholson and researcher Rachel Richey.
Now that Nelvana is out and the backers have received their copies, the book is now available for order through American publisher IDW and will hopefully reach an even wider audience south of the border. Meanwhile copies are still available for order from http://www.nelvanacomics.com
Nelvana, though, is but one of many characters that appeared in the “Canadian Whites”, black and white comics available to Canadian youngsters in the early 1940’s when the War Exchange Conservation Act prevented Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America and the Human Torch from Canadian newsstands. Nelvana was published by Bell Features, one of a handful of Canadian comics publishers from BC, Ontario and Quebec. Other dynamic characters made their debut in the pages of these hard-to-find disposable treasures, many of them were rugged Canadian frontiersman, fighting the good fight in the name of Queen and country.
Two of those characters are about to reemerge from the mists of time as Hope and Rachel move in separate directions, handling the revivals of different characters. Plans are afoot to restore and republish other Golden Age Canadian characters after the first two – Thunderfist and the Penguin among them, but for now, two creators who are members of the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame will have their most memorable characters brought to light. Both of these characters (see below) will hopefully be successfully funded by Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns set to launch later this year.
Johnny Canuck appeared on the 2005 Hall of Fame print, he’s the young fellow on the right of the upper ice platform wearing the jodhpurs and flight cap.
In late 1940, John Ezrin, the manager of Bell Features, found a brash, unimpressed, young boy skimming through the company’s comics. Ezrin challenged the youth to come up with something better and the next day, Leo Bachle walked into the offices with the first sketches of Johnny Canuck! The spitting image of his handsome young creator, Johnny debuted in Bell’s Dime Comics number one, dated February 1941. Johnny’s first adventure brought him face to face with Hitler and instantly made Dime Comics Bell’s top-seller.
Johnny made mincemeat of Hitler’s elite guards, declaring, “The Germans had better make stronger rope if they want to hold Canadians captive!” Leo became one of Bell’s key artists, drawing characters like Wild Bill, the Invisible Commando, Chip Pipher, Southpaw, Super Sub and the Brain. Leo’s success opened the door for Bell to hire a cadre of young artists, including Ross Saakel, Ted Steele and Jerry Lazare. But it was Johnny Canuck who was considered so invaluable to the war effort, the government refused to grant Leo a visa to move to the States until he’d completed a backlog of adventures!
Johnny Canuck remains Leo’s most enduring creation. In 1995, years after Leo had changed his name, given up comic books for a lifetime of touring and performing around the globe with his unique comedy act, “Quick on the Draw”, Canada Post honoured Johnny with his own postage stamp. Leo Bachle passed away in May, 2003.
Biography compiled by Rob Pincombe
BROK WINDSOR created by Jon St. Ables aka Stables – Hope L. Nicholson
Born in Ulverston, England on December 23rd 1912, Jon Stables left school at 13 to follow his father and older brother to Winnipeg and become an artist. With the outbreak of World War II, he ventured west to Victoria and contributed to the war effort as a painter and sign writer for the shipbuilding industry. It was there he met his wife Esther and the pair were married in May, 1942. Shortly after, Stables was hired by Imperial News Ltd. to work for Maple Leaf Comics, one of the first golden age publishers of Canadian Comics.
Stables fit right in with Maple Leaf’s British approach to comics and was by far its most accomplished artist, signing his work with the nom de plume, St. Ables. His facility with bigfoot-style cartooning in the prehistoric Piltdown Pete and equal ease with adventure strips like Brok Windsor and Bill Speed helped make Maple Leaf titles the slickest of all the Canadian Whites. Brok Windsor debuted in Better Comics Vol. 3 Number 3, dated April/May 1944. Already a manly outdoorsman-type, physician Brok was portaging through the Lake of the Woods region and stumbled upon an island upon which he was transformed into a 7 foot tall muscle-bound specimen of the superhuman variety. Teaming with the 12 foot tall son of the chieftain of a unique Native Canadian tribe that lives in this uncharted territory named Torgon. Brok, needing the unique serum that enables Torgon’s people to endure the physical transformations, embarks on a perilous journey to find the special waters. Brok and Torgon would go on to have many Burroughs-inspired adventures.
Stables eventually took over the art editing chores from publisher and fellow creator Vernon Miller and became the line’s top cover artist. In 1946, Maple Leaf made an effort to launch several syndicated comic strips based on their features Callaghan and Bill Speed but were unable to make significant inroads.
With two sons to support, Stables and Esther opened a studio and briefly produced a line of colouring books. In 1950, the family moved to California where Stables attempted to pitch ideas and artwork to Disney. Eventually Stables settled in Seattle, working in the art department at Boeing until retiring in 1975. Jon Stables passed away in 1999. He was 87.
Bio compiled by Robert Pincombe (with the aid of Peter Hansen), with details on Brok Windsor supplied by Ivan Kocmarek.