Top 5 Canadian Cartoonists
By Aaron Zaretsky
Most people might think that comics are only about super heroes and fighting villains. This is due to the comic industry being dominated by American comics like Spiderman and Batman. But what about Canadian comics? You might find it surprising but Canadian cartoonists date back to the 19th century (yes, they exist!) Here are 5 Canadian cartoonists that feature a diverse mix of topics and issues that you might not have known about.
Comics became a worldwide phenomenon, if not for Joe Shuster. Born in Toronto, Shuster and his friend Jerry Seigel, opened the door to a superhero movement with the creation of Superman in 1938. They also worked on the Superman animated series before leaving the franchise in 1947. Superman is portrayed as an American superhero but, before his passing, Shuster said that Superman… is Canadian! Also, he was a paper boy for the Toronto Star when he first saw Toronto’s skyline which inspired the skyline for Superman’s hometown, Metropolis.
Furthermore, he said that the Daily Planet – where Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent worked – was originally called the Daily Star after the Toronto Daily Star. Shuster’s style of clear and concise drawing and imaginative visual flourishes had set the comic industry standard and still influences today’s comic. Shuster was inducted into the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame in 2005. In his memory, since 2004, the Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards Association presents the Joe Shuster Awards which recognizes Canadians that create, publish and sell comics, graphic novels and webcomics.
Raised in Toronto, Adrian Dingle is the cartoonist behind Nelvana of the Northern Lights. This comic features Nelvana, the first Canadian female superheroine who protects Canada’s northern lands and people. Dingle created this character after hearing Inuit stories of a young woman named Nelvana from Kugluktuk, Nunavut. Nelvana of the Northern Lights debuted in 1941, several months before Wonder Woman did in the US, lasting for six years. This comic affected Canadian national identity as a whole providing Canadian women with powerful inspiration. Dingle was inducted into the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame in 2005 for his revolutionary work.
The French-Canadian comic book scene expanded with the work of Albert Chartier. Born in Montréal, Chartier created his most popular work in 1943, Onésime, published in magazine Le Bulletin des Agriculteurs du Québec. Onésime follows the life of Onésime and his wife, Zénoïde, through the ever changing society of Quebec. The comic strip series lasted an incredible 59 years. During this time, Chartier provided the artwork for another comic published in the same magazine, Séraphin. Set in the late 19th century, Séraphin illustrates amusing stories of Séraphin Poudrier who resides in the picturesque atmosphere of a small village in the Laurentians. Séraphin became a Québec icon with radio, television and film adaptions, with the comic lasting 19 years. Chartier was inducted into the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame in 2007.
Despite the comic book industry being male dominant, it did not stop Lynn Johnston from earning her reputation as a cartoonist and successfully turning it into a full time career. Raised in Vancouver, Johnston relocated to Lynn Lake, Manitoba in 1978. A year later, she created the comic For Better or For Worse which follows the lives of the Patterson family. Over a 29 year period, the comic dealt with real-life issues and social issues including midlife crisis, divorce, openness of a gay character, child abuse, and death. These issues were illustrated in storylines, several of which are based on Johnston’s personal experiences with her own family. For Better or For Worse was very successful, appearing in over 2000 newspapers in 25 countries. In 1985, Johnston became the first female cartoonist to win a Reuben Award (Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year), and the Friends of Lulu added her to the Women Cartoonists Hall of Fame in 2002. Johnston provided women with hope that if their passion is to become a cartoonist, despite industry trends, is more than possible.
Ho Che Anderson
During the 1990s, more cartoonists diverted from the superhero fad to focus on serious fiction/nonfiction subject matters. That shift is exemplified in the work of African-Canadian cartoonist Ho Che Anderson. Raised in Toronto, Anderson gained stardom with King, a graphic novel trilogy completed over a ten-year period that depicts Martin Luther King’s entire life. The trilogy demonstrated that a comic book can generate a strong impact on the reader. Anderson followed that up with Sand & Fury, a contemporary romantic thriller featuring blood, sex, death, and retribution. The graphic novel is drawn with dark, expressionistic lines that support modern attitudes and classic terror at the unknown and unknowable. His latest graphic novel, Godhead, is a sci-fi tale about a powerful corporation creating a communication device that can interact with God and how society reacts to that device. The comic has themes of science, religion, and corporate greed. According to Fantagraphics, Godhead is “Anderson's most conceptually and thematically ambitious graphic novel to date.”
These 5 Canadian cartoonists go beyond mainstream superhero archetypes and challenges readers to think outside of the box they are given. They challenge society norms and provide a platform for a variety of languages as well as cultures. Now that you know a little more about notable Canadian comics, go ahead and check out Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity at the Toronto Public Library. The event is free and goes until July 29th. Let us know what your favourite Canadian comic is on social media @vibe105to.