Friday, August 29, 2008

Volume Three, Number Five

Back in 2003 I wrote an article about Canadian comics for London Ontario's London Free Press daily newspaper. Titled "Comics Need A Shot In The Arm: A Canadian comic book writer makes the case for the developing our own industry" it was published on the front page of that paper's Viewpoint section on Saturday March 1st 2003. Much of what I wrote then is still relevant-at least to me-today so I thought I'd reprint the article here for those of you who didn't have the opportunity to see it the first time.

I am a Canadian comic book writer. However, due to the fact that there is no comic book industry to speak of in the Great White North, I write for publishers south of the border.

While there are advantages to working for American comics companies-most notably the difference between the American and Canadian dollar-I'd gladly give them all up to be able to work for a Canadian publisher for which I could write stories that are distinctly Canadian.

For the most part Canadian comics creators are very much accepted in the U.S. In many ways, our work is similar to what our American counterparts produce, but the influences of being Canadian in our perspective enables us to tell stories with a somewhat different twist.

"You folks are the same, but different", an editor once told me. "You understand our culture, but aren't hampered with the same baggage we are.".

While this gives us some leeway in what we can create, we still have to produce material to which editors and publishers feel American readers can relate.

For example, my Mister Chameleon character, a former silent film actor who uses his mastery of disguise to battle crime in early 1930s Los Angeles, was born in London (Ontario, Canada) and his fiance, Chantal Lemieux, hails from Montreal. And even though I can add aspects of these characters that reflect their places of origin, it's doubtful I'd be allowed to tell distinctly Canadian stories on a regular basis for fear of alienating my audience.

With extremely rare exceptions, a series set in Canada that features Canadian characters and has a definite Canadian feel and voice won't make it past an editor's desk.

Now, before someone cites Marvel's Alpha Flight or Wolverine as being distinctly Canadian, it should be pointed out that neither of these fit that category. Rather, both concepts are Americanized versions of what is Canadian, filled with cliches and uninformed perceptions of life north of the 49th parallel. And yes, I know that John Byrne, the creator of Alpha Flight was once a Canadian-and even lived in London (Ontario Canada) for a time-but even he has said a couple of occasions he had to keep American readers in mind when developing the material.

I and many other Canadian comics creators who have worked for publishers south of the border feel American comics publishers sell U.S. fans short. American readers have no trouble relating to British comics or Japanese manga, both of which are far more foreign to U.S. culture than a distinctly Canadian comic would be. But given the views of American publishers we are unable to tell our stories in the United States. There was a time though when the situation wasn't so bleak.

During the Second World War there was a small but thriving Canadian comics industry consisting of seven companies that published more than 20 titles during that period. It came into existence thanks largely to the War Exchange Conservation Act passed in December 1940 by the federal government.

Enacted to conserve American dollars, the act restricted importation of non-essential goods from the United States including pulp magazines and comics. Seeing an opportunity to get their hands on the newly available dimes of Canadian children, Maple Leaf Publishing of Vancouver ( British Columbia, Canada) and Anglo-American Publishing in Toronto (Ontario Canada) burst onto the scene in March 1941 with "Better Comics" (Maple Leaf) and "Robin Hood and Company" (from Anglo-American, reprinting an internationally syndicated newspaper strip by Canadians Ted McCall and Charlie Snelgrove).

Within months, other publishers arrived on the scene with a variety of titles for Canadian comics creators to tell their stories.

Some of these titles-known as "Canadian Whites" because their interior art was black and white-featured distinctly Canadian material including "Nelvana" and "Johnny Canuck" from Bell Features and "Men of the Mounted" from Anglo-American. Other series were more international in nature-such as Anglo-American's Freelance-but with the exception of the American strips that were drawn from scripts purchased from American publishers all the material had a definite Canadian feel. Even the American strips had aspects which made them unique to Canada including "Commander Yank" who had a Union Jack emblazoned across his chest.

The Canadian comics industry may have gone on forever if the end of the Second World War had not led to the repeal of the War Conservation Act. While some believe the Canadian comics industry died because the American heroes were more popular the truth was Canadian publishers simply couldn't compete economically. To capture the Canadian market the American needed only to ship a small percentage of their print run.

Some companies did try to compete with their American counterparts, here and in the U.S., but the American publishers were too powerful and by the fall of 1946 Canadian comics featuring Canadian heroes vanished.

There was a brief revival of the Canadian comics industry between 1947 and 1951, when a variation of the War Exchange Conservation Act was law, but this time publishers simply reprinted American comics. The one exception was Superior Comics, which published all new material until 1956. But as Superior's titles were aimed at American readers there were no Canadian heroes between their covers.

Since the end of distinctly Canadian comics in 1946 on occasion there have been attempts to publish comics with a Canadian voice including "Captain Canuck" (Comley Comics, CKR) and "New Triumph featuring Northguard" (Matrix). Unfortunately due to problems unique to each attempt the comics were short-lived.

Today thanks to the financial security provided by the direct sales distribution system a handful of comic publishers operate out of Canada. However, these comics, as were Superior's titles, are aimed more at American readership with none of them speaking directly to Canadian readers in their own voice with their own stories.

History has shown that, if all things were equal, Canadians would prefer to read comics featuring there own heroes rather than American ones. With the direct sales market, Canadian publishers, with indigenous Canadian material, would have a better chance of competing head-to-head against American publishers than they did in the 1940s. And if one of the existing Canadian publishers or a new company decided to publish distinctly Canadian comics, they would have a wealth of material to choose from.

One option might be to revive some of the characters from the 1940s such as "Nelvana" or "Johnny Canuck" from Bell Features or Maple Leaf's "Brok Windsor". If done correctly these and other characters of yesteryear could easily become fan favourites among Canadian readers and probably attract the attention of American comics fans as well. New heroes could also be developed using our myths and legends as inspiration.

Canadian history would be another place to look for ideas. As well as looking in the usual places, such as the two world wars, the War of 1812, the opening of the Canadian West during the 1880s and the brief period of Viking settlement the centuries before European settlement could also be an excellent source of subject material.

CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) and the RCMP (and its forerunner, the Northwest Mounted Police) are other places that could be springboards for ideas as could the Canadian military. One series that might be as action-packed as any American series is one where JTF2 is the inspiration.

Finally, there are interesting properties from other media that would translate nicely into comics. TV's "Beachcombers" and the long gone but not forgotten "Forest Rangers" immediately come to mind as does the much maligned 1970s TV series "Starlost". Then, of course, there is "Anne of Green Gables" which would also have international appeal. If fact, any distinctly Canadian comic could have international appeal if handled correctly by the right creative team.

Who would be part of that right creative team? Why, the Canadian comics creators who currently work for American publishers.

As mentioned earlier, many of these creators-myself included-would jump at the chance to work on comics stories that speak with a Canadian voice if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, no current Canadian publisher seems to be interested in going in this direction nor does there seem to be anyone on the horizon, either.

It's a shame really as Canadian comics creators have excellent stories to tell that stem from their being Canadian. These stories would not only interest our nation's comics fans but would be unique enough to make a publisher who wanted to take this approach successful.

The talent and ideas are here. All that's needed is someone to make the venue available.

That's it for this week. If you'd like to comment on this or any previous installment of E-Dispatches you can do so at my blog at . And speaking of blogs while your waiting for the next installment of E-Dispatches pay my buddy The Groovy Agent's blog a visit at for insightful and well researched comments on comics of the 1970s. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Volume Three, Number Four

CRYSTAL FRACTAL COMICS PREVIEW No. 0.0. One-shot published by Crystal Fractal Comics. Full color 20-page comic with full color cover. $3.95 U.S. and $4.00 Canadian. Published as a teaser for the Toronto Ontario Canada comics market and soon to be available through Harvest through retailers as a promotion of the planned Crystal Fractal Comics line CRYSTAL FRACTAL COMICS PREVIEW is also an introduction to this new Canadian comics publisher's shared universe. The background., which is laid out in this comic, on which the planned titles' story lines are to be set is established in the Philippines in 1596 when a band of sorcerers attempts to cross into what is called "The Realm of Dreams". They fail resulting in them being scattered throughout time and space. If this sounds somewhat complex it is but writer Derrek Lennox does an excellent job of making everything, errr, crystal clear in this well thought out introduction to the Crystal Fractal Universe . My only complaint about this comic-which also features some stunning artwork by the way-is that in a couple of places the dialogue could use a bit of work and that in one or two instances I got distracted due to poor layout of dialogue balloons. But these are very, very minor nit picks and did not in any way take away from my enjoyment of this comic. If the planned Crystal Fractal Comics line-which includes Dr. Twilight, Magnus Rex, Entropy and Project: Epsilon London Town along with some online comics that can be found at -is as good as this preview Crystal Fractal Comics is most definitely a comics publisher to keep an eye on in the coming months.
My only concern about Crystal Fractal Comics' plans is that they might be moving a bit too fast by launching too many titles over a short period of time. While the quality is most definitely there in their books readers might not want to commit to too many titles at once until they are certain that they are worth spending money on. I do though hope that Crystal Fractal Comics makes it and strongly recommend you give their titles a look see. They're a good read with excellent artwork and isn't that what comics are all about? So if you would like to learn more about Crystal Fractal Comics give their website a visit at .
That's it for this week, folks. Next week, well, I'm considering a couple of ideas for next week so you'll just have to come back and see. By the way you can subscribe to this column from my blog. Just go to and sign up. While you're at it why not sign up to The Groovy Agent's blog as well. Diversions of The Groovy Kind is an excellent read and covers all sorts of neat stuff about comics of the 70s. You can sign up for The Agent's blog at . See you next week.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Volume Three, Number Three

When I began making plans to revive E-Dispatches from the Great White North as well as having the column appear at and in the electronic version of The People's Comic Book Newsletter my hope was also to eventually have it as a blog. Now, thanks to my best buddy and fellow comics creator Lloyd Smith that hope has become a reality. As of this installment as well as being a part of the Jazma Online Universe E-Dispatches can now be found at . Lloyd did a fantastic job of setting the whole thing up for me as you'll see when you check it out. There's lots of neat stuff there including places for you to comment of what I've written, a list of my favourite links and connections to CE Publishing Group's website and Lloyd's blog
( ) where he writes about 70s comics and other nifty stuff. So give it a look, folks, and let me know what ya think.

I have another bit of business I want to take care of here before getting into this installment's subject. Now that E-Dispatches is appearing as a blog I will be increasing it's frequency, starting with once a week. As well as reviewing comics I'll also be discussing various aspects of comics, the comics industry and comics related subjects. So keep your eye on the blog, folks, 'cause there will be lots of neat stuff for you to read in the coming weeks and months. Now to this installment's subject.

As some of you know I've been a professional writer since 1974 and have been working in the comics industry in some capacity since 1988. Over the years I've been asked a lot of questions about writing in general and comics writing in particular with the three most frequently asked questions being a) where do I get my ideas, 2) do I do the artwork, and 3) can my work be found online. I'll answer the first two in a future installment of E-Dispatches. Today though I am going to tackle the third question and the answer is yes, you can find my work online. The problem there though is trying to find it as when one does a search if you don't use the proper terms I won't come up. (Try it. Google Jonathan Gilbert and what you will find is lots of sites for a certain actor I share the same name with and not a mention of me).

So I've decided for anyone out there who is interested in seeing some other stuff I've done that I'll provide some links. I'm sure there is other work on mine online somewhere out there-and if anyone can provide me with the links it would be greatly appreciated-but this is all I can find.

1)E-DISPATCHES FROM THE GREAT WHITE NORTH VOL. 2: This version of E-Dispatches used to appear a site that no longer exists but when I moved it to Jazmaonline for Vol. 3 I had all of that material brought along. My guess is Vol. 1 is floating around out there too somewhere but I haven't yet been able to track it down. Anyway, Vol. 2 can be found at .

2)CE PUBLISHING GROUP: This is the comics publisher that I write and edit for. The previews section has samples of my comics work and there's a section that features updates on future projects. .

3) HORROR DAYS AT RIVERDALE HIGH: At you will find an article I wrote some years back about the Archie Comic Publications' short-lived horror comics line, Red Circle Comics Group.

4)SPIRITKEEP .NET: At this message board ( ) you will find an article I wrote a number of years back for a newspaper here in Port Stanley Ontario (The Lake Erie Beacon) about a legendary fresh lake monster said to exist in Lake Eire.

5)INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD VASSEUR: While I didn't write this it might give you some additional insight into my career as a writer. .

And that's it for the links. As I mentioned if anyone knows of any other places where my work is I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know. Or better yet, post the information up at my blog which is at .


That pretty much wraps things up for this installment but before I go I want to give a quick plug to one of the businesses located here in Port Stanley Ontario. Called Grandpa's Dollhouse it is located at 223A Colborne Street a few steps north of the lights at the village's main intersection. Owned and operated by my friend Liz Dieleman, Grandpa's Dollhouse has lots of interesting stuff including figurines, doll house kits and doll house accessories. If you'd like to find out more about this gem of a store you can check out .


That's it, folks. See you next week when I'll be reviewing a comic by Canadian comics publisher Crystal Fractal Comics.

Jonathan A Gilbert is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Port Stanley, Ontario Canada. If you'd like to learn more about where he lives check out Jonathan can be emailed at or .

Friday, August 1, 2008

Volume Three, Number Two

I'm going to dispense with my usual introductory preamble this time out and jump right into continuing my examination of some Caruso Comics titles I received in the mail.


OLGA: 20 black and white interior pages with black and white cover. No cover price. Written by Dino Caruso with art by Simon Fernandes. CROSSROADS: 20 black and white interior pages with full colour cover comics digest. $4.00 cover price. Written by Dino Caruso with art by Paul Quinn. Both titles published by Caruso Comics.

CROSSROADS and OLGA are both what I would refer to as slice of life comics. As I've stated many times in the past the slice of life genre is not, shall we say, my cup of tea and neither of these two comics do anything for me that would result in me changing my mind. The best I can say about OLGA is that Dino Caruso's dialogue is well done and Simon Fernandes' artwork suits the story. Outside of that the comic left me flat and was so boring that by the time I had finished reading it I had forgotten what had happened in the first few pages. To refer to OLGA as a snooze fest is an understatement.

As for CROSSROADS, it doesn't even have story compatible artwork going for it. As was the case with A CAUTIONARY TALE-which I reviewed last time out -Paul Quinn's artwork is inconsistent at best and his renditions of individual characters in the comic is done so poorly and his story flow so erratic that the result is that it is almost impossible to follow an already dull tale. Dino's dialogue is good but not good enough to hold my attention and definitely not good enough to warrant the $4 cover price. To be honest I found both these comics to be a total waste of time and I wouldn't even recommend them to fans of slice of life comics. If that's your cup of tea there are a lot better comics of that nature out there.


COURAGE: spring 2008.Written by Dino Caruso and art by Paul D. Houston. Review copy supplied by Caruso Comics.

I really had high hopes for this comic. I really did. But alas, I am sad to say, that by the time I finished reading the 20 pages it took to tell this tale I was left, as I was with OLGA and CROSSROADS, with the sense that I had wasted my time. Basically this is a super-hero story about the title character being branded a traitor and a back stabber by the general public and his attempts to try to clear his name. What it really was though is a slice of life comic featuring people in costumes. And not a very well done slice of life comic at that.

While the dialogue was good-notice the theme here?-the story is thing (this tale could easily fit into an 8-page backup slot instead of being stretched into the 20 boring pages that it was) and the whole premise of his being branded as a traitor and a back stabber is unrealistic.

As for the artwork, Paul D. Houston's style is such that it makes Paul Quinn's work look good by comparison. His figure renditions are terrible and his use of panel pacing can best be summed up as distracting. And I could almost swear that I've seen some of the panels in this tale elsewhere though with different characters in them with some panels being more obvious than others. I wish I could have been more positive about this comic but I can't. Don't buy it.


If though you decided to buy COURAGE or other Caruso Comics you can find out how by visiting

That's it for this installment of E-Dispatches. See you next time out.


Jonathan A. Gilbert is a newspaper columnist, feature writer and freelance comic book writer and editor who lives in Port Stanley Ontario, Canada. His work can be found all over the place including at . If you wish to contact him feel free to email his at either or .