Name five Canadian Comic Book Heroes.
Okay, without counting Wolverine. Or Scott Pilgrim (I know some of you were thinking it!).
What were you able to come up with? If you were able to name five on the spot, well done – crack open an Elsinore beer and give yourself a hearty pat on the back. Clearly Alpha Flight left more of a cultural impact than anyone gave John Byrne credit for.
If you even came up with one, I salute your knowledge of the Northern comic hero scene. Bonus points if that one happened to be iconic Canadian character Johnny Canuck – not to be confused with costumed crime fighter of the late seventies Captain Canuck.
The fact of the matter is that The Great White North’s canon of comic book heroes isn’t widely known, especially outside of Canada. Moonstone Books felt like it was nigh about time to change that, and contacted Canadian Comic Writer and Artist Ty Templeton with a proposition.
The idea? Bring back a bunch of classic Canadian comic heroes with a contemporary spin, and show the world what they’ve been missing out on.
You see kids, back during the Second World War a particularly ambitious group of Canuck artists came up with a whole host of uniquely Canadian comic heroes. With the exception of Johnny Canuck, (who was himself a reimagining of a much earlier political cartoon character) these bold Northern defenders were largely forgotten with time in Canada – and largely unnoticed elsewhere.
When Moonstone contacted Ty about doing the scripts for a new series about these original characters, titled The Northern Guard, he was nothing short of ecstatic.
The Northern Guard boasts an all-Canadian creative lineup which also features David J. Cutler on pencils, K.T. Smith on colouring and lettering duties, and Jason Edmiston in more-than-capable charge of covers.
I caught up with Ty to chat about the project, which debuts with Issue # 1 in November.
The interview is below:
KD: What can you tell me about how this project came into existence?
TT: Well, it’s not that fabulous a story, unfortunately…I was contacted by Joe Gentile at Moonstone, who’d been approached to do this idea by a friend of his, who thought it was time to bring back these characters. When I was asked I said “WOO HOO”, as I’m a proud Canadian, and the chance to work on Johnny Canuck was too inviting to say no. I didn’t generate the basic idea to do this in the first place, but was easy to convince.
KD: A lot of the heroes you’re tackling with Northern Guard aren’t particularly well known – especially outside of Canada. What sort of audience do you think there will be for a comic like this?
TT: Well, Johnny Canuck is VERY well known in Canada, so I’m hoping his name and presence alone will help move a couple of copies in the Great White North.
As for the others, such as Freelance, Air Cobra and the rest, no….there’s very little awareness of them as Golden Age characters, so I’m hoping the audience is brand new. It more or less HAS to be. The lovely covers by Jason Edmiston, should get a couple of people to give it a look, and once we have them picking it up, perhaps the interior art and story can grab ‘em.
KD: What were some of the challenges you faced in scripting new stories about these classic Canadian heroes?
TT: First and foremost, to create an interesting story…and to create an interesting world around them to live in. I wanted to invent a set of circumstances that went beyond what the characters were doing, and we ended up imagining a world in a new “dark ages”…where computers, electric lights and the modern technology we’ve come to live with….is gone for most of the planet.
That instantly gives tension to so much of what’s going on…as there’s a war for resources as part of the main story. The second thing was to give each character an “update” so that they seem like contemporary folks, rather than golden age ones.
KD: Tell me about your own history with these characters. When were you first introduced to them, and in what ways did they initially appeal to you?
TT: Like most Canadians of my generation, I was first introduced to the characters with a book called “THE GREAT CANADIAN COMIC BOOKS” by Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert, published in the 70s. It covered Canadian Whites and the Golden Age in the same way that contemporary books like Steranko’s history and Pffiefer’s book covered the American Golden Age. Also, as a kid, I’d see these Golden Age Canadian books for sale at conventions, etc.
I have one or two or them…not a lot, but a couple.
KD: The press release for the project mentions a pretty diverse roster of characters. Do you have any characters that you’re particularly excited about having the opportunity to write?
TT: Johnny Canuck was the first and foremost Canadian super-hero, so he was the one I wanted to focus on, but as I got writing it, I started to like a number of the characters. Freelance and Nanook became as fun as Johnny to write as we went along. And the villain is GREAT fun.
KD: I have read that the story for this series will be set in the middle of the 21st Century.
Does that mean that the heroes of yesteryear will have new, updated origin stories? Or will some/any of the characters be the actual, original heroes from the 40’s – somehow alive in present day, a la Captain America?
TT: No, we’re telling the story as the FIRST stories these characters have been involved in. Some of them get the origin story in the context of our series, and none of them have been around for a century. I looked at this as the same project that Julie Schwartz was doing when he created the Silver Age versions of the Golden Age JSA…Green Lantern, Flash, etc.
We’re keeping the names and the basic premise of some of the characters, but with all new costumes, origin stories, and in some cases, complete re-designs from the ground up. The original “PURPLE RIDER” was a normal man, though a tough guy cowboy hero, but in our version PURPLE RIDER is a magically powered flying horse with a female rider that may not be entirely human.
KD: Will the villains of the story be all new, or are they also throwbacks to characters from the original comics from the 40’s?
TT: The main villain is named for a Golden Age character called the RED ROGUE, but the backstory is completely new. using nothing but the name. The original Rogue wasn’t a Russian physicist with a god complex, for instance.
KD: The new Northern Guard series is also notable for its all-Canadian creative lineup. Was this intentional?
TT: It was entirely intentional on my part. I’ve got a bulging rolodex of creative and skilled friends that live and work in Canada, and I like to partner with them as often as I can. My recent publishing imprint, MR. COMICS (Planet of the Apes, Hoverboy, Big Max) started this trend, and I’ve been trying to work with Canucks as often as I can. Considering how MANY of our industry’s top talent is Canadian, it’s not too hard to find ‘em.
KD: What are your thoughts on your experience so far working alongside David J. Cutler and K.T. Smith?
TT: I first met David when I was teaching at an Art School here in Toronto, and he was by far, the student with the most potential to go places in our biz, so I held onto that idea. When this opportunity came up, I pushed David at the publisher and Joe was quite taken with him. As am I. For his first professional gig, I think he knocked it out of the park.
I’ve worked with K.T. Smith for a while. She was the primary letterer on Planet of the Apes, and did some colour work on that project as well, and she’s excellent at her job…Plus we’ve worked together to raise our children for a number of years. It’s a lovely feeling to know that one of Canada’s best colourists lives in the house.
KD: Lastly, again without giving too much away – what can longtime fans of the characters look forward to seeing in the book?
TT: The basic answer is: They’ll see these characters in action again. Or more importantly, in ALL-NEW action, as a lot of these guys never had super-powers or mystical origins before…and the readers will get to see a fun, modern science fiction story with some hot new artwork, which is all one can ever ask from a comic book.
And for us bacon-eating hockey players up North, we’ll get a super-team defending the Tundra and Shield like we haven’t seen since the glory days. It should be more fun than your nervous system can stand.
More info on The Northern Guard series from Moonstone Books can be found here.
-Interview by Kevin de Vlaming (who, perhaps ironically, doesn’t eat bacon or play hockey)