Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dingle Bell Rock - Merry Christmas, Nelvana Creator John Adrian Darley Dingle! (68 years late)

Merry Christmas, Mr. Dingle.

The Toronto Star's online archive are a treasure trove of nuggets from the past -- if you're willing to spend hour after hour slogging through their labour intensive and slooooow search engine. But for every dozen wrong turns, you also find things both surprising and inspiring.

1941 was a banner year for Adrian Dingle, one of the leading lights of the Golden Age of Canadian comics as the founder of Hillborough Studios, the collective behind Triumph-Adventure Comics and birthplace of Nelvana of the Northern and the classiest comics of the Canadian Golden Age.

It was a different time for painters in the late 1930's. One could still make a living with portrait commissions and gallery showings. Young Dingle was very much a part of his local art scene. One can find numerous mentions of his portraits for various school officials and appearances at local art shows advertised in the Star as the forties approached.

Most people with any knowledge of Canadian Comics are aware that in the early forties, restrictions were placed on the import of US paper products like magazines, books and comics due to foreign exchange issues. Several publishers rushed to fill the void, with Maple Leaf Publications' Better Comics and Anglo American Comics' Robin Hood And Company virtually tying as the first to hit the newsstands.

Ever mindful of an opportunity to make money from their artistic chops, Dingle and several Toronto-area, artist friends formed Hillborough Studios and began to create their own comics. The Hillborough comics are some of the most intrinsically Canadian comics of the era and it's hardly surprising. In the early twentieth century Canada began to explore a more nationalistic approach to painting in an effort to define the country and provide its art scene with an independent identity. The most famous examples of this are painters like Emily Carr and the Group of Seven. The success of this approach encouraged the Group of Seven to expand in the thirties, renaming themselves The Canadian Group of Painters to reflect their enlarged roster of artists.

The fact that the public so embraced the Group of Seven as a national institution gave rise to the Eastern Group of Painters, founded in Montreal, Quebec in 1938. This group felt the Group's limited focus was too limiting and fought to restore more variety of subject, substance and geography to Canadian Art. Thus, by resisting a national approach to art, the EGoP, actually helped bring Canadian to a new, mature level of variety.

All this could not have been lost on the young artists who joined Dingle in his desire to create their own comic book. Since they were Canadian artists they were going to create decidedly Canadian comics. The pages were peopled with canuck characters through and through: Dingle's own Nelvana of the Northern Lights (easily the most famous character to emerge from the period along with Johnny Canuck) and Clue Catchers, co-written with his fiancee and later bride, Pat), H.B. Ohrt and Leon James' Spannner Preston", Canadian pilot and squadron leader, Rene Kulbach's Tang and Out of the Woods, a sweeping western epic and the misadventures of a hapless Canadian bear in the deep woods, A. L Alexander and Glen Guest's Derek of Bras d'Or, based on the life of Angus MacAskill, the Cape Breton giant and Jon Darian's amusing one-pager the Mums, featuring the fueding couple Maxie and Minny Mum.

Dingle's Nelvana of the Northern Lights and her brother,
Tanero. She's a native Goddess and he's... oddly blonde.
Perhaps he's an albino Inuit?

The first issue of Triumph-Adventure Comics is dated August, 1941. Since magazines were cover dated ahead to allow for more newsstand time, it is likely Dingle and crew had been working on the book since early 1941 and it was released in July. But in the mean, time, the young artists still had rent to paid and profile to keep up.

According to this Star article, (amusingly placed next to an announcement that Adolph Hitler would the target of choice at a coming archery tournament) Dingle and fellow Hillborogh artist, Rene Kulbach (creator of the western saga, Tang) still found time to contribute to the war effort. The Peel Kennel Club hosted a garden party in which artists Dingle, Kulbach and artist Andre Lapine would sketch your pet for free in exchange for a contribution to the Red Cross Bomb Victim Fund.

The Estonian-Canadian Kulbach, was already an acknowledged "expert" on the fine art of rendering animals and Tang still resonates today due to his fine draughtsmanship. Dingle is referred to as "a portrait painter of note" known for his "fine oils of familiar scenes along the Lakeshore" while Lapine was considered an "A-1 animal painter". The article further enhances the value of the experience by declaring, "The work of these artists is well known and is prized by those who possess sketches." Seeing Dingle and Kulbach's work in Triumph-Adventure Comics, it is apparent that the Star article was a masterpiece of understatement.

The first two pages of Rene Kulbach and Frank Brookwood's Tang from
Triumph-Adventure Comics #1. I wonder if Brookwood is a pen name for Rene,
who took on sole credit for Tang soon after its debut, save for his brother, Andre?

That Triumph-Adventure Comics hit the stands in August is impressive. What is more impressive is the fact that for the next six issues, Dingle and his compatriots kept up a remarkably high level of quality throughout the run. For the rest of the year , Dingle was putting out a top quality comic and prepping a second title for the Hillborough line.

Top-Flight Comics, billed as a "new Canadian magazine of illustrated stories". For the new book, Dingle secured the aid of more artist friends: Hugh Caulfield, Clayton Dexter, Dingle himself and "well-known Canadian artist" Hunter Barker.

Top Flight Comics was well-named indeed, with its
top line-up of young, Canadian artists.

Caulfied contributed the strip Happy Holden, featuring a pilot who gets lost in a prehistoric world beneath the Arctic with his passengers, a scientist and his lovely (naturally) daughter. The strip insists the tale was written by Jack London but I have not found anything in London's works that matches up. I sent copies of the tale to a Jack London expert (whose actual response, sadly seems lost in alaptop crash earlier this year) who did not think the tale corresponded to anything London wrote either. Perhaps, "inspired by" would have been a more apt description. Or perhaps Caulfield truly did know Jack and persuaded him to contribute a tale. At this point, I am more inclined to believe the former and yet, the credit is there, bold as you please.

Hugh Caulfield's Happy Holden splash page fromTop Flight Comics #1. Is the Jack London story credit
a caseof wishful thinking or a tremendous coup
for Hillborough Studios?

Clayton Dexter contributed an extremely, well-drawn tale of The Rapier, the swashbuckling adversary of pirates along the Spanish Main, who are led by the dark-hearted Captain Sinister. Barker, apprently a keener, drew two strips for the book, The Searunners, a tale of two boys adventures on the high seas, and Trigger Dunston, a two-fisted mountie who always gets his... well, you know the drill. For his part, Dingle turned to the classics for inspiration and created The Sword of Destiny, about a young who is transformed into a hero by the sword Excalibur and transported to wherever evil needs a thumping.

Dingle's Sword of Destiny from Top Flight Comics #1.

Like I said, 1941 was a good year for Dingle. And he capped it off sixty-eight years ago today, December 13, by marrying Patrica Neville Symmes in St. James cathedral with a reception at Maloney's Art Gallery. The wedding was described in a lengthy Toronto Star article dated the same day. Descriptions of the gowns and wedding party take up a good paragraphs, making the ceremony as lush as the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana and give one a sense of actually having been there. The gown, worn by Patricia's mother on her wedding day, is sumptuously described:

"...the bride wore a gown of heavy ivory duchess satin. the draped bodice of chiffon had a low V-neckline; the long ruffled sleeves were designed with a banding of satin from the shoulder to the wrist. The full skirt, finished with a wide ruching of double box pleating fell into a train over the long court train, lined with gold and silver metallic fell and a panel of heirloom lace belonging to the bride's grandmother. Her veil of Brussel's lace, belonging to the groom's mother, was arranged from a Russian coronet or orange blossoms.

Her only ornament was her mother's gift, a tiny rose diamond cross that had been given to her great grandmother on her wedding day. From her mother's prayer book, which she carried, fell gold streamers, knotted with tiny cream rose buds."

But you don't have to imagine it. You can see it this admittedly poor quality photo published in the Star the following Monday, Dec. 15th!

Have you ever seen such a happy, dapper groom outside of a Fred Astaire movie? Dingle's matrimonial style is second only to that of his disguised detective character, the Penguin! (No relation, of course.)

The following year would see Dingle abandon Top Flight and continue Triumph Comics under Cyril Bell's Bell Features imprint. I suspect the decision stemmed from the difficulty of juggling the publishing and sales of two comics with drawing the books, coupled with the likelihood that Dingle may have lost artists to the war effort and perhaps, simply appreciated the security of being Bell's art director.

But that in no way diminishes the tremendous accomplishments of 1941. What a year!

And thus, to mark the holidays and the anniversary of the Dingle's wedding, we wish Nelvana's creator and one of the torchbearer's of Canada's golden age of Canadian Whites a very happy holidays.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Dingle.

Beavers Up!

Monday, November 16, 2009

By Hook or By Crook - The Prisoner's roots in Henrik Ibsen and the tyranny of blogging

"Where am I?"
"In the Village."
"What do you want?"
"Whose side are you on?"
"That would be telling."
"We want information... Information... Information..."
"You won't get it."
"By hook or by crook, we will."
"Who are you?"
"The new number Two."
"Who is Number One?"
"You are Number Six."
"I am not a number. I am a free man!"
(Mocking laughter)

-Weekly opening of "the Prisoner"

AMC’s six-hour miniseries remake of the Prisoner begins tonight starring Jim Caviezel (Frequency, The Count of Monte Cristo) and Ian McKellen, (Richard III, Gods and Monsters, The Scarlet Pimpernel); an ocurrence which provides me with a unique opportunity to demonstrate one of the reasons I have don’t blog as regularly as I should.

Several factors have conspired to keep me from my online duties. A great challenge is the constant juggling of television scripts in my day job. As a modern, freelance writer working mainly in animation, I’m not paying rent if I’m not writing on several shows at once. You’d be surprised how much energy and brain power it sucks out of your creative well to switch completely gears every few hours. Add to that the fact that I often work into the night when I desperately want to spend time with my new wife. The last thing I usually want to do is take more time away from her to post a blog. So that lowers the online priority for me.

And November is more or less a bust for posting because this year because, as I did last year, I am attempting to spit out a novel in celebration of National Novel Writing Month. Last year I reached the word count but never ended the story, realizing I had very specific character and theme questions to solve first. This year, I am determined to avoid that but so far other story issues are conspiring to screw me up again.

The second challenge is that I actually write three blogs (with contributions ot a fourth coming soon): Rebel Alert, Comicanuck and Stark Raving Adventure. I began to post humorous Star Wars items and comics for a fake Star Wars online newspaper I created to go along with a friend’s fan film. (The film is Death Star Repairmen and the newspaper is Empire’s paper of record, The Imperial News – “All the news that’s fit to censor”.) The blog soon became a vehicle to talk about all kinds of things from a sci-fi bent. So I branched out to better cover my interests and maintain each blog’s identity.

The math on this is pretty simple. Even if I do manage a post a week, it goes to one site or the other. My personal blog on life, Stark Raving Adventure and writing often gets the short end of the stick after a comic or sci-fi. But the biggest challenge for me is my inability to write a short blog post.

I have some success on this front with recent Rebel Alert posts but in general my posts tend to be much more thorough than most. I ‘m not big on just linking to an item posted somewhere. I want my blogs to be more than just a link fest. Other sites dedicated to that do it far better than I ever could. When I discover an intriguing story I usually want to more about what I’ve read or seen. I want to uncover the “story behind the story”. Inevitably I discover intriguing connections and fun questions that other sites haven’t. That is no knock on them. The connections I find are often quite idiosyncractic to my own experience and sense of humour. But it takes me a while for my brain to work through all this and then write a post that takes you on the same journey.

Case in point… I have been meaning to write about the Prisoner for some time but the ideas I wanted to explore are better suited for an MBA thesis than a blog. The sheer magnitude of what I wanted to write about kept me away.

Let me run you through it and watch how the simple summary I planned to give you can bloom into a full essay.

For those of you who don’t know, American born Irish actor Patrick McGoohan was up and coming actor in the late 1950’s, eventually being named Best TV actor of the year in Britain. He rose to prominence starring as secret agent John Drake in the UK’s Danger Man series (titled Secret Agent in the US) for four seasons before growing bored with the role. Setting up his own production company, McGoohan and mystery novelist and script editor George Markstein pitched The Prisoner, about an important government figure with a sensitive post who quits his job, only to wake up the next morning in the mysterious Village: a fanciful Big Brothereque resort cut off from the world where people who know too much are under psychologically and physically manipulated to break down their sense of identity.

Markstein, who devised the setting, background and wrote “Arrival”, the pilot for the series, maintains the character is John Drake and the series is a literal and allegorical sequel to Danger Man. McGoohan denied this all the way to his death, insisting the character of Number 6 was a scientist and had no relation to his previous character. Markstein is glimpsed in the opening credits as the man McGoohan hands in his resignation to.

The series ran with its bizarre concept, taking it to heights of surrealism and allegory not previously seen on television before. McGoohan served as the series star, director, producer and taking over an increasingly large portion of the scripting duties. Markstein clashed with McGoohan over the direction the series was taking and eventually left the series around episode thirteen or so. The remaining episodes became even more wild and hallucinogenic. In fact, the psychedelic finale caused such a stir in England and continues to baffle and fascinate audiences to this day.

And the legend grew.

Henrik Ibsen is tired of explaining his plays to you.

To me, the Prisoner series, and the behind the scenes circumstances of the production, is pure Ibsen. (some Peer Gynt and a whole lot of Brand and therefore, pure Kierkegaard, but I’ll get to that.) McGoohan himself once played Brand before The Prisoner started, likely to great effect with his commanding presence, precise diction and booming voice. The play follows the life of a priest dedicated to dong the right thing no matter what the consequences are. His Old Testament view of God allows no compromise but the cost to him is great. He loses his wife and ministers to a village “flock” that increasingly fail at the moral tests Brand (and life) confronts them with. Brand’s goal is to save the world and the soul’s of man but his inability to compromise and accept human weakness eventually leave him alone with his moral fortitude.

In the end, Brand suffers from the harsh judgment he subjected others to when he is stoned by his flock, banished to the glacier where he grew up and buried in an avalanche. Brand’s dying words express profound doubt. “Does not salvation consider the will of man?” It is open to interpretation whether or not Brand is abandoned by God with the play’s final words, uttered by an unseen voice, “He is the God of love.” Does that mean he left no room for love in his life or that God accepts him?

Apparently, we modern readers tend to take an unsympathetic view of Brand’s harsh moral code, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, although Rand’s philosophy eschews religion and good works and places mankind as it’s own God, with individual self-interest and achievement as the noblest of activities.

Ibsen’s Peer Gynt stars a man-child who spends his entire life avoiding accepting any kind of responsibility for his actions and yet, somehow comes through unscathed, with others bearing the damage of his choices. Finally, after a lifetime of adopting and abandoning many roles, old man Peer discovers his soul is forfeit because he has never been “himself”. Peer is defenseless, having no idea who he really is and finding no one he knows can vouch for him. He is finally granted a reprieve thanks only to the pure love of his long abandoned sweetheart, Solveig (who really needs to get more).

The key to the philosophy of Peer Gynt can be found in Act Two. While in the Mountain Hall of the Troll King, the monarch asks Peer Gynt, “What is the difference between troll and man?” When Peer Gynt is understandably at a loss for an answer one is provided by The Old Man of the Mountain, "Out there, where sky shines, humans say: To thyself be true. In here, trolls say: Be true to yourself-ish.” Peer adopts his own version of the troll motto from then on, declaring to all that he is himself, whatever that is. Peer spends the rest of his days avoiding facing himself or facing truth in general. You might say, Peer Gynt was Ibsen’s version of the Nick Hornby book, About A Boy, with Will (played by Hugh Grant in the film) as a modern Peer.

Peer Gynt and Brand are flip sides of the same question for Ibsen. Both seem to be based on Soren Kierkegaard’s book, Fear and Trembling, a lengthy consideration of the bible story of Isaac, who was asked to sacrifice of his beloved son in Genesis. Kierkegaard interprets the tale, wrestling with the nature of faith, God, morality and faith’s relationship with ethics and morality. To do this Kierkegaard introduces us to the Knight of Faith and the Knight of Infinite Resignation.

The Knight of Faith, in this case Abraham, gives up everything that is important to him in the world save his faith in of, sure that he will regain everything through divine possibility. When God asks him to sacrifice his son, Abraham does so, secure in the knowledge that somehow God will someone keep he and his son together. He exists in paradox. Likewise, Peer Gynt easily gives up on what’s important in this world, assuming he will gain it all back through divine providence or simply due to the “strength of the absurd.”

The Knight of Infinite Resignation gives up everything in the hopes of regaining it in the next life, but spends their life suffering the pain of their loss. Just as Brand is governed by his faith, he also suffers through it and is punished for it. McGoohan’s Number 6 is totally Brand. Single-minded and indomitable. Heidi MacDonald sums it quite nicely over at The Beat.

McGoohan radiated angry determination to escape, fierce intelligence, and sharp efficiency when physical action was required. He was sexy but remote - unlike some other super spies, Number Six didn't jump into bed with every hot lady he met. Number Six was not a person for whom giving in or internal struggle was natural - no wonder he broke ever Number Two who showed up. In the role, McGoohan was dead fucking cool. His acting was knife sharp. No matter what he did later, McGoohan was dead fucking cool. His acting was knife sharp. No matter what he did later - from ICE STATION ZEBRA to several turns as Det. Columbo's most cunning foe - you could never stop watching Mcgoohan, because he wasnt' just so good he was scary; he WAS scary. He was as enigmatic as he was charismatic.

Exactly! And after years of my Brand/Peer Gynt theory percolating in my head, imagine my surprise to discover that my long-held belief was delightfully accurate! In an interview at www.the-prisoner-6 , George Markstein confirms the Brand influence on the development of the Prisoner.

…my feeling is that McGoohan wasn't really very keen on doing any other series. What he really wanted to do I think was to play Brand. He'd had an enormous success some years previously on the stage with Ibsen's 'Brand' and Brand personifies everything I think McGoohan would like to be: God! He was very good as God, so he wanted to play Brand ... again. He was very keen to set up 'Brand' as a film and I think that was really what he wanted to do. What a lot of the people in the studio wanted was to keep their jobs! They hoped he'd go on doing a series and so I sat down at the typewriter one day - you know, any port in a storm - and typed a couple of pages. They were about a secret agent - and after all Drake had been a secret agent - who suddenly quits without any apparent reason, as McGoohan had quit without any apparent reason, and who is put away!

McGoohan as Brand at the Lyric Theatre,

Hammersmith in the late 1950's.

McGoohan also carried the Brand image off-screen, overdosing on multi-hyphenates as he micromanaged production of the Prisoner. At this point, Markstein hit the eject button and bailed on the show when:

“…egomania took over! You know, when McGoohan was everything! When McGoohan was writing, was conceiving, was directing ... and didn't know where he was going. My presence was superfluous - and we've seen the result after my departure… the non-conclusion. I think it was an absurd pantomime. You tell me what it means. I think it was a bit of gross self-indulgence by someone who was fed up with the whole thing and wanted to get out of it and wanted to go out in a blaze of ... something or other… I was surprised because I thought something much better would emerge. After all, when one has conceived something one wants it to die a reasonable death, not some horrific joke!

Like Brand, Markstein feels McGoohan was a Prisoner of his creation.

I think that in many ways THE PRISONER is a tragedy ... because McGoohan became a prisoner of the series and it's never nice to see that happen to a human being, the combination of ambition, frustration, wanting to be writer, director, actor - you name it. It was sad, it was very sad I think. It did something to him that wasn't very good and it was reflected in the series and that's why the series ended like that and that's why people have said "I don't understand the end". Of course they don't understand the end, because there is no end ... I don't think even McGoohan understood the end, or if he does, well, perhaps he does, but that is the biggest tragedy of THE PRISONER that Patrick McGoohan became a Prisoner himself.

Over at Glenn Kenny’s Some Came Running blog, we find a remembrance of McGoohan’s other genre contributions, most notably the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and his intense work in David Cronenberg’s Scanners. Kenny quotes the book Cronenberg on Cronenberg, wherein the director recalls with discomfort the disorganized first shooting day and how it foreshadowed a difficult shot.

"It kept on being that difficult. Patrick McGoohan was part of the reason. He's a brilliant actor; the voice, the charisma, the presence, the face. Phenomenal. And he was aging so well; he looked so great in that beard. But he was so angry. His self-hatred came out as anger against everybody and everything. He said to me, 'If I didn't drink I'd be afraid I'd kill someone.' He looks at you that way and you just say, 'Keep drinking.' It's all self-destructive, because it's all self-hating. That's my theory. He was also terrified. The second before we went to shoot he said, 'I'm scared.' I wasn't shocked; Olivier said that he was terrified each time he had to go on stage. With Patrick, though, it was just so raw and so scary—full of anger and potent. But he was sensing the disorganization; the script wasn't there, so he was right to worry about it. He didn't know me. He didn't know whether I could bring it off or not. We parted from the film not on very good terms ultimately."

In the finale of the original series, Number 6 at last confronts Number 1, yanking off a false face to reveal his own countenance staring back at himself. Apparently McGoohan told close friends this revelation was meant to imply that Number 6, who pictured himself as the ultimate rebel, had imprisoned himself by thinking like a prisoner, thereby always limiting his options. That gives us a reasonable and very clever explanation for the answer Number 6 receives in every episode to the question, “Who is number 1?” The response is always, “You are Number 6.” But could it also he heard as, “You are, Number 6”? This fits into Markstein’s original approach to the series. Number 6’s has faith in his own self-image and ultimately, that faith is the one thing that defeats him.

So where does Peer Gynt fit into the Prisoner? Well, the other residents of the Village appear to be much like Peer; changeable as the wind and whims of the various Number 2’s and generally getting by quite well. That attitude alone makes them anathema to Number 6 and more dangerous to his mindset than any plan of Number 2’s.

But however much Number 6’s defiance and self-image make him an exemplary Brand, he is also very much Peer Gynt himself. He readily accepts and even embraces the routine of the Village and his constant struggle for identity. Intentionally or not, he seems go along with each new attempt to break his will with increasingly practised ease, always on the lookout for a chance to escape –to find something better in life. The Village has given Number 6’s life meaning his previous life lacked, as evidenced by his defiant resignation featured every week in the opening credits. Number 6 accepts that he is a Prisoner and redefines himself in those terms. Like Peer Gynt McGoohan declares himself to be a free man yet why would a free men constantly need to escape? “I am myself, whatever that is.”


You can see why it's taken some time to tackle this post. It’s a lot to consider even though I’m trying to keep things simple (More for my own poor, overloaded brain’s sake than your sprightly minds, gentle readers). I avoided the temptation to go into specific examples from the series and compare dialogue and scenes to passages from Fear and Trembling and Ibsen. But it still took ths long to reach the page.

Sigh... Weeks between posts. I try to make them worth the wait.

So what does this have to do with comics? Well, the Prisoner inspired lots of comics related homages and ideas. Jack Kirby attempted a direct adaptation of the series. Pages from his story are at Bleeding Cool and a nice summary of his attempt is at the Twomorrow's website.

Kirby's creation Darkseid's search for the anti-life equation forced the New Gods into a struggle for life and identity very similar to that of Number 6.

In the late eighties, Canadian creators Mark Askwith (Prisoners of Gravity, Space: The Imagination Station) and Dean Motter (Mr. X) put out a comic book sequel to the series entitled Shattered Visage for DC Comics. According to this interview with Motter at, McGoohan was not entirely displeased.

My favorite anecdote remains this: Patrick McGoohan was contractually obligated to approve the work via a contract with ITC. So pages were run over to his apartment near the UN building, on the East River, with each issue for signature. Never heard a word until the whole series was completed and the message came back to me that “He didn’t hate it.” Anyone knowing the curmudgeonly McGoohan (and how solicitous he was about The Prisoner) knew that was high praise indeed. Later I was shown a note from Leo McKern [an actor who had played Number Two in the series], who had likeness approval, stating that he had never been a comic book villain before and thoroughly enjoyed it—especially in that it involved no effort on his part.
This year, Shattered Visage was adapted into a radio play over at And the good folks at Comic Book Resources have recently provided a handy, if selective, Prisoner timeline of comics and stuff inspired by or homaging the show to go along with an interview with Jericho's Lennie James, who co-stars in the remake of The Prisoner as Number 147.

Want more Prisoner? AMC has the original Prisoner episodes available for free viewing at their remake's website. Something I definitely plan to take advantage of.

There is also an awesome posting of Gold Key Comics' Secret Agent #1 at

Click over to Youtube for a fascinating four-part interview with Mcgoohan several years after the Prisoner phenomenon.

Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here. And Part 4 is here.

Be seeing you.

Beavers Up!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Joe Shuster Hall of Fame Presentations: 2009

Thanks to my web savvy wife, I have posted video of the presentation of this year's crop of Joe Shuster Awards Hall of Fame inductees.

Ted McCall was inducted in the 2008 ceremony last year but we were able to track the family down this year and finally present the award in person. McCall was the writer/editor mastermind behind the golden age's Anglo American (Double A) Comics line.

This year's 2009 inductees included George Menendez Rae, the key artist behind Educational Comic's Canadian Heroes series. I was called upon once again, to present the award to Rae's family.

Quebec creator Real Godbout's award was presented by Canadian fandom pioneer Bill Paul. Sadly, Real could not attend but sent a heartfelt and classy note thanking those who have supported him throughout his career. A poignant note came when Real admitted that, like many comic creators, he couldn't afford to make the trip. Sigh.

Writer/artist Ken Steacy has had a storied career both in and out of the mainstream comics world. Thanks to Jonathan Llyr of, who presented the award and interviewed Steacy at Fan Expo last August, Steacy's was one of several entertaining video acceptance speeches that broke up the night.

And finally (in more ways than one), Dark Horse editor Diana Schutz became the Hall's first female inductee. As a member of the Hall of Fame Committee in previous, Schutz has been talked about for a while. And I'm glad to finally see her where she belongs among other giants of the Canadian field. Her award was presented by her friend, the ever-gracious Mark Askwith of Space: The Imagination Station.

One fun aspect of the Hall of Fame is speculating on who else has a place in such illustrious company. I usually don't play that here but heck, who doesn't have faves? It's arging for their place in Can comic history that's difficult.

My personal, pet pick is Deni Loubert, who contributed greatly to development of Canadian comics and comics in general as an editor and publisher of Renegade Press . She later used her hard-earned business sense to help kick start Friends of Lulu, an organization dedicated to prtomoting women in comics and women loving comics. Loubert edited Lulu's reatiler handbook, "How to Get Girls (Into Your Store)".

Hell, if you've worked with Dave Sim and Steve Ditko (two of the most talented and shall, we say bombastic iconclasts int he industry), you deserve the award just for surviving. Check out this terrific, recent inteview with Loubert from the 2008 San Diego Comic Con.

I also cast a vote for comic pioneer, Palmer Cox, creator of the insanely popular Brownies, as deserving a grandmaster space in the Hall. Cox's characters were marketed all over the place, mostly by illegal venders forcing him to fight for an artist's rights to earn a money from his own characters. Even Kodak's famous Brownie camera was named after his creations.

In many ways, over a hundred years ago, Cox blazed a trail many Canadian creators would follow, but few would match. Heck, only Walt Disney and George Lucas come close!

Find out more about the Canadian Walt Disney here.

Beavers Up!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pawn jab to Knight's solar plexus: Real World of Chess-Boxing inspired by a Comic

Serbian born, French comic fine artist, Enki Bilal has an impressive string of credits in the European bande dessinée (the French term for comics. Literallly, “drawn strips”). Since starting with Pilote in the 1970’s, he has grown to become one of France’s most popular comic creators. His fame spread to North America after the Heavy Metal featured his work on numerous occasions, prompting English translations of his work in album form.

His most famous work to date is the Nikopol trilogy, a series of 1980’s graphic novels that took over a decade to complete. The central story follows Alcide Nikopol, a recently awakened/released cryoprisoner who returns to a 2023 Paris under fascist rule after two nuclear wars. Floating above the city is an alien pyramid ship peopled by aliens with animal heads based on the Egyptian pantheon of Gods. Nikopol is chosen by Horus, a renegade, eagle-headed alien, as his mortal vessel to wage a private war in return for helping Nikopol settle a few scores.

The books were popular enough to spawn a video game, Nikopol: Secrets of the Immortals by White Birds Productions and a movie written, designed and directed by Bilal himself, Immortel.

Comics have inspired comedians and musicians but rarely (except perhaps for Todd McFarlane’s highly publicized love of baseball) do we see comics make an impact in the world of sport… much less create a new one.

1980’s La Foire aux immortels, the first book in the Nikopol trilogy, “outed” hockey for the violent, bloodsport is has become by using it as futuristic gladiator ring, complete with multi-bladed sticks used more for hacking off opponent’s limbs than for scoring goals.

1986’s follow-up, La Femme piège, stayed away from the sports altogether, although it did still have plenty of blood and other unique story elements. For one, it revels in a bizarre “egg war” between Berlin and London in which both sides literally drop giant eggs on each other.

Also, like The Matrix more than a decade later, a red pill plays an important part in La Femme piège. The tale’s homicidal lead character Jill, commits murder several times, always taking a red pill after each crime to forget she ever knew the person. The Matrix would make later make red and blue pills famous... only their apple-coloured pharmaceutical represented knowledge and embracing the painful and pleasant truth of reality that freedom from the Matrix brings, while the blue pill allowed you to ”go back to sleep” and enjoy the blissful ignorance of the illusion.

But I digress.

1992’s conclusion, Froid Équateur, returned Horus, Nikopol and Nikopol’s son Nick to the world of violent sport But this time Bilal engaged mind and body with the hybrid sport “Chess-Boxing”. In 2001, Dutch artist and comic fan Iepe Rubingh grew so intrigued by the concept of Chess-Boxing, in which competitors go toe to in the boxing ring and the chess board in alternating rounds, he began organizing actual matches. Competitors may win by a knockout, judge’s decision, checkmate, or if their opponent allows their twelve minutes of chess time to elapse without a move.

Rupingh himself fought under the name lepe the Joker and won the first world championship from Luis the Lawyer in Amsterdam in 2003 (as seen above). The sport has steadily grown in popularity and is now governed by the World Chess Boxing Organisation (WCBO). Their motto is “Fighting is done in the ring and wars are waged on the board.”

Chess Boxing is good news for the kid's in Chess Club who used to get the snot beat out of themafter school. Now they can do their own bullying in class AND on the playground.

In their introduction to their youtube videos, the WCBO explains:

The basic idea in Chess Boxing is to combine the number one thinking sport with the number one fighting sport into a hybrid that demands the most of its competitors - both mentally and physically...

...One of the goals of this sport is the old ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body. During a Chess Boxing fight the control of aggression plays a big role."

Wikipedia points out two cinematic allusions to such a sport previous to Bilal’s graphic novel, Joseph Kuo’s Ninja Checkmate (English title: Mystery of Chessboxing) and a 1991 Finnish movie, Uuno Turapuro – herra Helsingin herra, in which comedian Vesa-Matti Loiri’s popular character, Uuno Turapuro (Numbskull Emptybrook), “plays blindfold chess against one person using a hands free telphone while boxing another person.” Later in the film, Uuno becomes president of Finland.

Don’t know it Bilal was inspired by the earlier film, but it’s safe to say he would have been well-along on Froid Équateur by the time he’d have any opportunity to see the Uuno flick.

Comics creating a new sport? Bilal and comic fans wins by a TKO.

For more on Chess-Boxing, check out the Times online, Time magazine, ESPN and the World Chess-Boxing Organisation (WCBO)

Beavers Up!

Monday, September 28, 2009

I'm a Shuster Booster and Doug Wright Warrior

Over at the Joe Shuster Awards blog, Kevin Boyd posted a response to my brief Joe Shuster Awards round-up and makes some good points about the Shusters and the Doug Wright awards.

Kevin had one concern stemming from my use of the term "extending an olive branch" to characterize a Word on the Street panel yesterday sponsored by The Beguiling and the Sequential website featuring members of the DW's and Kevin. I did not mean to imply a war between the two awards. I believe they are, in fact, quite complimentary.

I meant only to point it out as a refreshing signal that a spirit of cooperation is growing between the two awards. I should have chosen my words more carefully.

Both awards have a different focus and unique viewpoints but are each good, healthy additions to our industry. And it did this canuck proud to hear of them sharing insights and addressing questions together.

Hugs all around.

Beavers Up!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Shuster Awards Round Up - Canadian comic books feted in fifth annual ceremony

The fifth annual Joe Shuster Awards were handed out this weekend at the University of Toronto’s Innis Hall to coincide with Toronto’s Word on the Street Festival.

Along with the hyper-focused and classy Doug Wright Awards, the Joe Shusters are rising in profile and acceptance. The little awards that could continue to widen their categories to cover many facets of comics and include Canadians nationwide. And they can now truly boast that their advisers and judges represent pretty every region.

To top it off, The Beguiling, sponsors and creators of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, along with Canadian Comics website par excellence, Sequential, have extended an olive branch to the Shusters by inviting co-founder Kevin Boyd to join a panel at the Word on the Street Festival today in downtown Toronto. “Oh Canada, Surveying the Landscape of Canadian Comics” happens at 4:00 pm at the Comic and Graphic Novels Tent during a day filled to the brim with comic book and literary awesomesauce.

It’s no secret both awards have different approaches and styles. The Doug Wright’s center more on cartooning, independent work and honour artists from the newspaper medium as well as graphic novels. They also seek out high profile, artistic jurors to spotlight the culture behind comics creation itself.

In addition to their Giants of the North section, honouring titans of canuck comic work from the past, the Doug Wright’s currently focus on only three awards. Best Book (won last May by Jillian and Mariko Tomaki’s Skim), Best Emerging Talent (won this year by Kate Beaton’s joyous and hilarious, online History Comics), and the Pigskin Peters award, named in tribute to a character from one of cartoonist Jimmy Frise’ early comics, which honours experimental and non-narrative efforts of Canadian cartoonists including sketchbook material and single-panel works (This year’s recipient being Matthew Forsythe for Ojingogo).

The Doug Wright Awards and TCAF have aligned themselves with Toronto’s arts community and City Hall, creating a very real bridge between the comics world and the public. The Joe Shuster Awards are unabashedly fan based, determinedly mining the mainstream but casting a wide net with a sweeping array of categories that strive to honour the many levels of the current comic world.

The Shusters more fannish approach is not surprising. Founders James Waley and Kevin Boyd have extensive roots in fandom, with James being involved in the very early days of Canadian fandom and publishing his own independent books over the years while Kevin helped the Paradise Comicon develop its stellar reputation among creators and fans alike for its laid back, comic book love-in atmosphere and is currently working in a similar capacity for Fan Expo. Their awards range wide, honouring retailers, publishers, artists, writers, webcomics and self-publishers whether they be floppies, graphic novels or mini-comics.

Ultimately, these two awards compliment each other more than they compete. And I see the invitation to Boyd to join the panel as a sign of new level of acceptance between the two awards groups.

Last night’s awards was a fun, fast-paced show with a wide range of deserving creator’s honoured. The multimedia aspects added a nice variation to the presentation with photos and artwork displayed, mock drumrolls and two entertaining video acceptances from Dave Sim (in a tuxedo accepting his Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year award as he mock brags/debates which of his many awards will have to come off his living room wall to accommodate his third Shuster) and Hall of Fame inductee Ken Steacy (interviewed by host Jonathan Llyr of at the last month's Fan Expo in Toronto).

There were a nice mix of presenters including Canadian fandom pioneer Bill Paul, comic book Renaissance man Ty Templeton, artist Dave Ross (Star Wars Dark Times, Angel), sponsor of the newly minted Comics for Kids award Jennifer Stewart, hardcorenerdity's JM Frey and Mark Askwith, producer of Prisoners of Gravity and Canada's sci-fi channel, Space: The Imagination Station. The Watchtower podcast's Jeff Moss and Donnie Coultier completely missed the fact that the Webcomics Award they were charged with presenting was supposed to be about the creators and not about them but the night survived their self-indulgence.

As a former Shuster Hall of Fame committee member, I was asked to help locate the families of two honorees, last year’s inductee Ted McCall (whose award lay unclaimed for a year) and this year’s Hall of Famer, George Menendez Rae. Both families thoroughly enjoyed seeing their loved ones honoured and remembered. I will be getting in touch with them over the next few months to learn more.

This year's other inductees are worthy additions as well. Real Godbout has been a staple of the Quebec comics scene for decades. Ken Steacy has been involved with all aspects of comics since the early eighties and Diana Schutz (someone I have long supported for inclusion) started out as a well-spoken and out-spoken fan and developed into one of the finest editors in comics.

Since my videotape of the Hall of Fame presentations is not yet ready to post, I will leave you with the short speeches I read before my two presentations.


Joe Shuster Awards Hall of Famer EDWIN R. “TED” McCALL (1901-1975)

Last year, the Joe Shuster Awards Hall of Fame Committee inducted Edwin R. (Ted) McCall but we had no one to give the award to. I’m pleased to say this year we are at last able to correct that situation.

There is no doubt that Ted McCall was an instrumental figure in the rise of the Canadian Whites back in the golden age of Canadian Comics. Many of you are aware that when wartime restrictions limited the cross-border flow of materials and products including American magazines and comic books, a number of companies rose up to fill that gap. The first of those companies and the longest lived was a company spearheaded by Ted McCall.

A lifelong journalist and newsman, Ted first entered the comics field in the thirties while working for Toronto’s Evening Telegram newspaper. After reporting on many exploits of the RCMP, McCall used that intimate knowledge to create one of the first indigenous adventure strips in Canadian newspapers, Men of the Mounted, with artist Harry Hall, beating out that more famous mountie of the comic strip world, King of the Mounted by two years. McCall followed that with the strip, Robin Hood and Company with artist Charles Snelgrove.

When World War II broke and the paper restrictions began, Ted was among he first to seize an opportunity to make home-grown comics and convinced Sinnott News to create a new publishing arm called Anglo American or Double “A” comics to release reprints of his Robin Hood and Company Strip. As Ted added reprints of Men of the Mounted to their output he was already adding new characters like Pat the Air Cadet, Sooper Dooper, Deadline Dick, Don Shield, Dr. Destine, Purple Rider, Red Rover, Commander Steel, Terry Kane, the Crusaders, and his most famous creation, Freelance, a heroic freedom fighter for the Allies. Anglo rounded out their line by purchasing the scripts used in the US based Fawcett companies Captain Marvel comics and redrawing them, but even at their height Freelance outsold them all.

Freelance in action on land...

...and at sea.

It’s easy to see why, McCall drew on a wide tradition of adventure fiction and his journalist’s eye for world events to make Freelance feel like its accounts of worldwide espionage were was ripped from the day’s headlines. Lance globe-trotted to every theatre of the war. It didn’t hurt that while most comic book heroes’ tales came in spurts of six to ten pages and often continued next issue, Freelance’s adventures took the entire book, were paced like a bullet and always concluded by the back cover. You got a full reading experience for your dime! Anglo’s top artist Ed Furness, co-creator of Freelance attributed every iota of Double’s “A”s success to the writing of Ted McCall.

Ted McCall’s well-deserved Hall of Fame award finally has a home. Accepting on behalf of Ted is his great nephew, Russ McCall...

From left to right: Ted McCall's great nephew Russ Mccall, great niece

Janice McCall and great nephew Doug McCall proudy give Ted Mccall's

Joe Shuster Hall of Fame award the home it deserves.

Joe Shuster Awards Hall of Famer George Menendez Rae (1906-1992)

George M. Rae.

There were many companies that published Canadian Whites during the second world war. One of the classiest was Educational Projects whose flagship comic was Canadian Heroes A big part of the reason for that class was the artwork and storytelling of George Menedez Rae. Canadian Heroes was aimed at educating kids and honouring their contribution to Canadian Life and to the homefront war effort. Each issue featured stories of historical figures, modern politicians and tales of battlefield heroism meant to inspire young canucks. It also contained book reviews, examinations of potential careers in the growing country, celebrations of the community-building initiatives of the readership and sometimes wild predictions for the future of the country sent in by imaginative kids across the country.

It should have been boring but the artwork lifts the features off the page. Each issue reads like a large stable of artists are contributing. But though several talented artists did work on the book, a surprising number of them were actually Rae himself! George signed his work variously as Rae, R-, Dez and Geo. Each signature carried with it a variation in style, making it seem like a different person drew each item. But each style shared Rae’s supple linework, clear storytelling and elegant page layouts.

Educational Projects insisted that everything in their books be based on reality. There would be no magic words or leaping over tall buildings between the covers of Canadian Heroes. But Rae saw more potential for the book. He convinced them to add an adventure series based on true tales of the RCMP. His most famous innovation was the creation of his national superhero, Canada Jack.

Canada Jack’s adventures were designed to model an active lifestyle to kids and provide a character to inspire the reader’s to get involved. Jack made his debut in the March 1943 issue of Canadian Heroes.

Rae’s hero was not flashy. His costume consisted of tight slacks and a tank top that featured a Canada Jack crest on his chest or whatever gear was needed for the sport he was engaged during that tale. A gymnast, ju-jitsu expert, and superb horseman, he protected the Canadian home front from a variety of villains, including saboteurs, kidnappers, black marketeers, escaped Nazi POW’s and worst of all, children making bad decisions.

Canada Jack even inspired the creation of a popular children’s club that brought together fans of the strip and encouraged kids to contribute to the Canadian war effort. Their efforts were printed in the club pages and fictional versions of the club members were always deeply involved in his comic book adventures.

George Menedez Rae's niece Mary Beyers shows off his Joe Shuster

Hall of Fame award with her children (from left to right)

Chris Beyers, Diana Coen and Rick Beyers.

Rae’s comic art also appeared in the Canadian Jewish Congress title Jewish War Heroes (perhaps the first Canadian giveaway comic book) and in two Educational compilations, Action Stories of the Mounties and Thrilling Adventures of Canada Jack. Following the demise of Educational Projects in late 1945, Rae left the comics field and became increasingly active as a fine artist, serving as the president of the Arts Club of Montreal and receiving the Order of Merit for his many contributions to the arts in his home community of St. Bruno, Quebec. We are honoured to induct George Menendez Rae into the Joe Shuster Hall of Fame. Here to accept the award is George’s niece, Mary Beyers...

Beavers Up!