Recent comic book scholarship has examined the influence of comic books and comics culture in various countries and regional areas other than the three big traditions (US, Japan, and France-Europe). Comics and the US South (2012), and various essays on cultural identity in Québec, Scotland and other countries in Comics as a Nexus of Cultures: Essays on the Interplay of Media, Disciplines and International Perspectives (2010), are two examples. Jason Dittmer reflected on Canadian superheroes in regards to Captain America in his Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero: Metaphors, Narratives, and Geopolitics (2013),1 in which he demonstrated how Captain America and Captain Canuck embodied a nation-state but neglected to address issues of multiculturalism. Bart Beaty, one of the most prominent Canadian comics scholars, preceded Dittmer’s analysis on the topic in 2006 with “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero,” in which he concluded, “It is clear that the overt nationalism of Canadian superheroes in their contemporary era had as much to do with frustrations over sustaining a viable Canadian comics publishing industry [against the overwhelming American comics tradition and mass media power] as it did with representational issues of Canadian identity” (“Fighting Civil Servant” 438).
In this introduction, we will first give a brief overview of the scholarship on Canadian comics, and then look at the individual essays, mainly focused around issues of Canadian identities.
Canadian Comics in Scholarship: An Overview
Summarizing research on Canadian comics is simultaneously easy, because it seems [End Page 5] that there is not much on the subject, and difficult, because it is scattered all over various media, technologies (paper, online), fields (literary studies, media studies, and comics studies), and the two official languages, and growing with new websites, articles, MA and PhD theses, and, recently, several books every year.
Our definition of what constitutes a Canadian comic used the Joe Shuster Award’s statement as a starting point. This Canadian award, created in 2004, considers eligible anyone who has Canadian citizenship or permanent residence.2 The popular conception of comics has been understood as a broad category that embraces editorial cartoons (Brian Gables for the Globe and Mail), graphic novels (Chester Brown), comic strips (Lynn Johnston), and art books (Leanne Shapton). The essays here encompass all of the various elements of this comic arena. Few scholars apart from the Canadian senior archivist John Bell and the French scholar Jean-Paul Gabilliet have written on the development of Canadian comics in both official languages. While the non-scholarly but key book by Patrick Loubert and Michael Hirsh, The Great Canadian Comic Book (1971, reprinted in 2007), focused almost exclusively on the WWII Canadian Comics known as the “Canadian Whites,” Bell could certainly be considered the precursor of scholarship on Canadian comics with his first book, Canuck Comics (1986), followed by Guardians of the North (1992), which focused on Canadian superheroes. Bell was also the author of Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe (2006), which emphasized the slow but steady Canadian conquest of the comics media, leading up to a boom that started after 1989. Bell gave the first historical overview of Canadian comics, but there is not much information on the contemporary scene, which has seen an extraordinary mini-boom of newly published and internationally acclaimed comic book creators. These Canadian artists have been producing original works of extraordinary diversity of topics and styles. They, therefore, are deserving of much more than a simple mention.
French scholar Jean-Paul Gabilliet, in his chapter on Canadian comics, “Comic Art and Bande Dessinée: From the Funnies to Graphic Novels” in The Cambridge History of Canadian Literature (2009), offered a very good overview of Canadian trends and key names (authors and titles) including many from the long-standing French-Canadian tradition.3 In 2005, John Lent published Comic Art of the United States through 2000: An International Bibliography, with the first chapter focused on Canada, with 713 entries on cartooning, cartoonists, animation, comic books, comics strips, and political cartoons. Although certainly very useful, Lent’s chapter on Canada is, unfortunately, inadequate...