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!

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