Joe Shuster, Hal Foster – Canadian or not?

There’s a certain segment of folks who are critical of our inclusion of certain creators who left Canada and became successful comic book or comic strip cartoonists.

Joe Shuster left Canada when he was 10 years old. End of connection = False

It’s a common misconception that Joe Shuster’s connection to Canada ends at the age of 10 when his father, mother and siblings relocated to the Cincinnati area so his father could continue his work in textiles.

1941c_shuster_1.jpegThis was tough on their close extended family — not only was his father’s brother married to his mother’s sister, but they moved to Canada together a decade earlier. So in a lot of ways his cousins were as close to him as his brothers and sisters. Thankfully Cleveland is a mere 500km away from Toronto, and it was a lot easier to cross the border in the 1920’s and 1930’s than it is now. Many Canadian families of that era (and earlier) had some relatives living and working on the other side of the border. Canadians easily moved between the two countries by car and by rail.

As a result Joe would continue to visit Toronto regularly until 1942 (aged 28) to visit his extended family, he would often spend the summer in Toronto living at his Uncle’s house. As a driven artist, he was drawing regularly and working on art projects with his cousin Frank around, and the pair would spend their days watching movies in downtown theatres. There’s even an early prototype drawing of the character that he did in 1937 for Frank’s University of Toronto fraternity before Action Comics #1’s debut in the spring of 1938.

The maligned Canadian heritage minute is not as inaccurate as many claim it was. He’s boarding the train in Cleveland to go to Toronto in 1931, which would be correct, and he’d likely be excited about the ideas that he and his buddy Jerry would have been tossing about, and he would definitely have gone to his cousin Frank for feedback. What would be wrong would be a drawing of Superman, in costume, since Siegel and Shuster didn’t do their first prototype Superman story until 1932 in a SF fanzine, the costume came much later. They’d have been influenced by ERB’s John Carter (debuted in 1917) and other pulp/sf stories. Superman’s strongman-inspired costume came from his growing interest in weightlifting and physical fitness. The Lois in the commercial is a cypher, she looks a bit like the Lois from the old television show on purpose. We know that the real model for Lois was a woman named Joanne, who eventually become Jerry Siegel’s wife. The minute is wonky, but effective in burning into the minds of a generation of folks that were young enough to see it that Superman has a connection to Canada, which is absolutely true.

After the success of Superman Joe’s visits became less frequent, but he was a contributor to the Toronto Star’s Annual Christmas Drive until 1941, contributing drawings and visiting children as the Canadian co-creator of Superman. While we were visiting the Toronto Star for meetings in 2004 their marketing staff were kind enough to show us vintage photos from some of these events from their archives.

Because of the war, and also because his job at the time working for National Periodical Productions, the Superman newspaper strip and the successful Fleisher Cartoons necessitated the formation of a studio to produce the Superman comics, Shuster stopped visiting Canada in 1942. So for the same basic reasons that we were able to develop a home-grown Comic book industry (mainly the war prevented importation of US comics), Joe Shuster was also prevented from coming back to his hometown.

Hal Foster, Hudson’s Bay Catalog Artist , bikes to Chicago and becomes the Godfather of action-adventure comic books.

Hal Foster, on the other hand, one of the most influential and well known adventure strip Hal Foster - knights and landscapeartists of the 20th century was an adult when he moved to Chicago to work in advertising, and he would eventually go to work for the syndicates drawing and defining the look of Tarzan, making the Ape Man (starting in 1929) – one of the most popular strips of the 1930′s. Prince Valiant, his own creation, was sponsored in part by William Randolph Hearst, and debuted in 1937, a little over a year before Superman’s debut (Feb 1937).

Foster and Shuster are known to us as important Canadian cartoonists who worked on early 20th century comics and comic strips, and they both took the only avenues available to them in the 1930′s for a Canadian artist who wanted to draw comics for anything more than the local paper — they went to work for American publishers and distributors. Let’s not forget that Americans created comic books in the 1930’s, and it’s their format.

The Unique and Short-lived Canadian Comics of the World War II Era 

The era of the Canadian Whites, as glorious as it is, and it SHOULD be seen… was created by opportunity. A unique branch plant-like bubble that blocked Canadian kids hungry for comic books from their drug of choice and a few industrious individuals and artists that were also comics fans, filled that need. Unfortunately, once that bubble burst — and the American books came back with a vengeance, the original Canadian comics disappeared almost overnight. Everyone involved moved on to work in different fields, comics in Canada evaporated and there wouldn’t be a unique enough situation to merit their revival until the early 1970’s.

In Conclusion

The Canadian Whites of 1941-1947 are unique, and they should be celebrated and appreciated. God knows we’ve been doing that with the help of many fine folks over the last decade with the awards.

But to ignore or devalue the contributions of Canadians like HAL FOSTER (the definitive action strip artist of the 1930s) and JOE SHUSTER (the co-creator of the 1st superhero!) – who moved to the US — there would have been no action oriented/superhero comics for the WW2 era Canadian creators to emulate.

Without them, if they had existed at all, they would have been filled with Canadian versions of humour cartoons.

One of the great things about Canada as a country is we don’t require our citizens to renounce their citizenship when they go to live elsewhere. We consider them to be Canadian as long as they want to retain that status. It’s one of the reasons why we still consider Canadians living outside of the country working on comics as eligible for the awards. It’s only if they renounce that status and don’t want to be included that we don’t (like John Byrne – he terminates his Canadian connection when he takes the US citizenship oath in the early 1980s), much in the same way we (Canadians in general) consider actors and musicians Canadian who no longer live in the country (say, like Jim Carrey or William Shatner).


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