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Invaders From The North: The History of Canadian Comics

Updated on November 20, 2012

As a fan of both Canada and comics, this book, a review of the history of the comic book industry of our neighbor to the north, was indeed very interesting to me. Before reading this book I was aware of several Canadian comic book creators (Joe Shuster, Dave Sim, Chester Brown, Bryan Lee O'Malley, and a couple others), but I was interested to learn how the Canadian comics industry differed from its American counterpart, and to hopefully learn more about Canadian comic book series I might not have heard of.

Overall, this book achieves that goal, with comic book historian John Bell going through history from the turn of the nineteenth century to today and profiling all of the comics he could find produced in Canada. This results in a whole lot of interesting information about Canada's brief superhero boom during World War II (in an effort to retain American currency in the country, almost all American imports, including comics, were banned from being imported, resulting in a market that wasn't flooded by American superhero comics), and its later boom in alternative and underground comics (with Canadian comic book artists who wanted to make money generally moving to the US, it became easier for those who wanted to be artistically experimental to stay in Canada and develop their craft), and I certainly learned a lot about many Canadian comics that I had not previously heard of (which I'm sure will be reflected by my library holds list).

However, the book does have a few failings. One is Bell's reluctance to talk about Canadians who moved out of Canada to work in the American comics industry, which encapsulated a quite significant portion of Canadian comics creators. He also occasionally doesn't identify American comics creators who moved to Canada, such as Hope Larson or Joe Matt, as such.

On a somewhat related note, Bell seems to view superhero comics as being inherently artistically inferior to the genres of comics that are usually taken up in alternative or underground comics, such as surrealism, biography, or history, and so therefore he doesn't talk all that much about Canadian contributions to superhero comics, outside of a spotlight chapter on them that mostly focused on the WWII comics boom and the required references to Superman. This is somewhat justified, as Bell makes it clear that Canada hasn't really had a continuous superhero culture (mostly Canadian-produced superhero comics go bankrupt after a few years), but his disdain is still noticeable and presents an alternative thesis as to why superhero and mainstream comics aren't well-represented.

Finally, this book was published in 2006, and so therefore is a bit out of date. Any comics creators who have taken off since then (such as Jeff Lemire) are naturally not mentioned at all, and so that must be considered.

However, this is all in all a well-written and researched book about the comics output of Canada, a nation that we Americans sometimes overlook in its production of popular culture. If, like me, you're interested in Canadian comics, please check this book out in order to get an idea of what the industry looks like.


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    • davidlev profile image

      davidlev 4 years ago from Corvallis, OR

      It was an economic decision: they wanted to keep their money in the country (as they were fighting a war) so they curtailed as much over-the-border trade as they could in order to do that.

      He mentions Alpha Flight and Wolverine, but doesn't really focus on them. He has an entire section talking about various Canadian-created superheroes created for Canadian consumption, including several Captain Canucks, Nelvana, and a few others

    • Geekdom profile image

      Geekdom 4 years ago

      I might have to check this book out. I had no idea that that Canada actually banned imports from the United States during WW2, since we were allies.

      With teams like Alpha Flight and Wolverine, I just assumed Marvel and DC were the only "big" comic companies for all of North America.