Support the Return of NorthGuard, Canada’s Greatest Superhero!

Saturday, February 6th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

NorthGuard title Image-smallWhen I was a young comic collector living in Ottawa, one of my favorite titles was NorthGuard, the Canadian superhero created in 1984 by Mark Shainblum and Gabriel Morrissette and published by Matrix Comics in Montreal. When I started Black Gate 15 years later, I hired two of my heroes, Matrix artists Morrissette and the brilliant Bernie Mireault, creator of The Jam and Mackenzie Queen, as interior illustrators. So I was thrilled to hear from Bernie earlier this month that there’s an effort to return Northguard to print in a deluxe format for the first time:

I’m currently engaged in coloring the original Northguard series. Mark, Gabriel and I hope to run a Kickstarter campaign in late spring and if successful, get some 200-page color collections made… As the colorist I’m going over every nut and bolt of the material and appreciating it fully for the first time. This is a great story about a Canadian superhero that I’m proud of. Phillip might not be much at the physical combat stuff but he has lots and lots of heart. Which is the way I think about Canada.

And so in an effort to reintroduce Northguard to the public at large and create awareness of our pending attempt to solicit funding for the collection through Kickstarter or Indie gogo, etc. I’ve created a dedicated Northguard Facebook page that is designed to bring people who are unfamiliar with the work up to speed on the story and historical/political context.

Matthew David Surridge profiled Bernie’s The Jam in Part II of his series My City’s Heroes, and columnist Timothy Callahan called him an artist who combined “the high Romanticism of the fantastic with the mundane life on the street” in Comic Book Resources.

If you’re at all interested in Canadian comics, or just want to keep tabs on the ongoing effort to return one of the best Canadian superheroes to print, check out Bernie’s Facebook page here. Vive Le Protecteur!

Non-Compliant and Self-Aware: Bitch Planet

Sunday, January 31st, 2016 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Bitch PlanetI can understand scepticism of consciously political art. But I feel it’s often misplaced. If an artist is choosing to create art about politics, it probably means that those politics have a deep power for them. Which in turn is probably because the politics are connected to their emotions, worldview, beliefs — all the things that give art power. A political theme doesn’t elevate a work of art, but good art can illuminate the political. An artist may create consciously political art because politics are their passion. A storyteller may find their politics are the lens through which to present human truth and artistic power.

Which brings me to Bitch Planet, the creation of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Valentine De Landro. Some basic information on the book: it’s an ongoing comic published by Image projected to run at least thirty issues. The first five issues have been collected into a trade paperback, while the sixth came out earlier this month. Individual issues have bonus features including essays, letters pages, and selections of tweets and instagrammed pictures from readers. Cris Peter does the colours and Clayton Cowles the lettering; art for the third issue came from Robert Wilson IV, while Taki Soma handled the sixth. The series has built a devoted fan following and been very well reviewed — and it’s easy to see why.

Bitch Planet is set in a future with interplanetary (presumably interstellar) travel and 3-D holograms and an even greater media saturation than we have today. Patriarchy’s more blatant, an MRA extremist’s idea of utopia (naturally, therefore, everybody else’s dystopia). Women can be arrested for various kinds of “non-compliance” — things like “disrespect” and “emotional manipulation” and being a bad mother and, generally, not acceding to society’s expectations. One character’s crimes include “repeated citations for aesthetic offences, capillary disfigurement and wanton obesity.” The non-compliant criminals are exiled to an off-Earth prison, the eponymous “Bitch Planet.”

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Undying Compassion and Fearless Ecoterrorism: Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind

Saturday, January 30th, 2016 | Posted by Zeta Moore

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind box-smallNausicaa of the Valley of Wind will exceed your expectations. You must have many, what with the comics having been written by Hayao Miyazaki.

Prepare to ask yourself what lengths you would go to save your world from destroying itself, and prepare to detest characters who at first seem like antagonists but then prove that no one is wholly good or bad. More than anything, prepare to fall in love with Nausicaa, one of the most compassionate heroines ever to exist on paper.

The love within an individual who possesses as much compassion as she does can overcome any struggle born from hate. She does so without ceasing. Her story is told within the span of four graphic novels, and they do indeed read like novels.

The people of the Valley of Wind cherish their princess. She lives for them as much as she lives for her world. When the Ohmu, a group of insects inhabiting her world, begin a perilous journey, her compassion compels her to follow.

She then embarks on an endless journey through myriad wars, all the while attempting to bring them all to an end. Along the way, we meet memorable characters such as Kushana, an invincible warlord with a past worthy of a comic of its own and her sidekick, Kurotowa, who could do without Nausicaa. Not everyone shares his sentiments, least of all Lord Yupa, her uncle who adores her and remains by her side through much of the story.

The same can be said for Asbel, a young pilot who devotes much of his time to locating Nausicaa. His superior, an elderly pilot named Mito, guides him through life and acts as the father figure he needs.

This brings me to the relationship between Ketcha, Asbel’s younger sister, and Lord Yupa, whom she encounters with her brother. He remains devoted to her throughout the story, and their friendship mirrors that of his connection to Nausicaa.

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Space Gods: From Tin Foil Hats to Marvel’s Eternals

Saturday, January 30th, 2016 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


Kirby’s ever-energetic and inventive art.

In 1968, around the time that 2001: A Space Odyssey was in theaters, booksellers had Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, by Erich Von Daniken. It was such a big seller that I had no trouble acquiring a second-hand copy for 25 cents in the mid-1980s, and even as a thirteen-year old, I couldn’t make it more than a few pages into its soft-headed nonsense.

Von Daniken’s thesis of course was that the pyramids, Stonehenge, the Nazca Lines, and so on were beyond the abilities of previous civilizations, and required visiting space visitors to explain their existence.

Part of Von Daniken’s “evidence” is that the artistic styles we see in previous civilizations are better explained as ancient peoples depicting the space suits of their alien visitors. Big toke time.

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Future Treasures: Superhero Universe: Tesseracts Nineteen edited by Claude Lalumiere and Mark Shainblum

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Superhero Universe Tesseracts Nineteen-smallMark Shainblum has been a friend of mine ever since I wrote him a fan letter after reading New Triumph #1 in 1984, featuring the Canadian superhero Northguard he created with Gabriel Morrissette. And Claude Lalumiere was Black Gate‘s first comics editor, with a lengthy column in every one of our early issues. Together, the two have teamed up to edit the nineteenth volume of Tesseracts, the prestigious and long running Canadian anthology series. The theme this volume is superheroes, in all their fascinating combinations.

Superheroes! Supervillains! Superpowered antiheroes! Mad scientists!

Adventurers into the unknown. Detectives of the dark night. Costumed crimefighters. Steampunk armored avengers. Brave and bold supergroups. Crusading aliens in a strange land. Secret histories. Pulp action.

Tesseracts Nineteen features all of these permutations of the superhero genre and many others besides! Featuring stories by: Patrick T. Goddard, D.K. Latta, Alex C. Renwick, Mary Pletsch & Dylan Blacquiere, Geoff Hart, Marcelle Dube, Kevin Cockle, John Bell, Evelyn Deshane, A.C. Wise, Jennifer Rahn, Bevan Thoma, Bernard E. Mireault, Sacha A. Howells, Kim Goldberg, Luke Murphy, Corey Redekop, Brent Nichols, Jason Sharp, Arun Jiwa, Chadwick Ginther, Leigh Wallace, David Perlmutter, P.E. Bolivar, Michael Matheson.

The Tesseracts anthology series is Canada’s longest running anthology. It was first edited by the late Judith Merril in 1985, and has published more than 529 original Canadian speculative fiction (Science fiction, fantasy and horror) stories and poems by 315 Canadian authors, editors, translators and special guests. Some of Canada’s best known writers have been published within the pages of these volumes ― including Margaret Atwood, William Gibson, Robert J. Sawyer, and Spider Robinson (to name a few).

Superhero Universe: Tesseracts Nineteen will be published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing on April 15, 2016. It is 200 pages, priced at $15.95 in trade paperback. But the digital version will be available next week, and is priced at only $5.99. The cover is by Jason Loo.

Rediscovery of the North: Nelvana of the Northern Lights

Sunday, January 17th, 2016 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Nelvana of the Northern LightsIn 2014, following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey published Nelvana of the Northern Lights, a trade paperback reprinting all the appearances of the eponymous Canadian super-heroine from the 1940s. IDW gave the book a wider release in hardcover and paperback later that year. It contains over 300 pages of comics written and drawn by Nelvana’s creator Adrian Dingle, mostly in black and white, along with forewords by the editors, an introduction by Dr. Benjamin Woo (Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Carleton University), and an afterword by Michael Hirsh (an artist and animator who founded a well-known animation studio named for Nelvana). It’s a nice package, designed by Ramón Pérez, a past winner of the Eisner, Harvey, and Shuster Awards.

The book also has a one-page biography of Dingle, who sounds like an interesting character. Born in Cornwall in 1911, his family moved to Canada in 1914, and by the 1940s he was a professional illustrator in Toronto. In 1941 he became one of the founders of a new comics publisher, Hillborough Studios. A law passed late in 1940 had restricted the importation of “non-essential” goods from the United States, including comic books. As a direct result, a Canadian comics industry was blossoming, publishing so-called “Canadian Whites,” black-and-white books with colour covers. So Dingle’s Nelvana appeared in Hillborough’s Triumph-Adventure Comics starting with the first issue, in August of 1941; Dingle took the book and character to Bell features starting with the seventh issue, where they stayed until the book’s thirty-first and last issue in 1946. A final appearance by Nelvana in a 1947 colour comic tied up most of the dangling sub-plots.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the story is that Dingle credited a friend of his with the inspiration for Nelvana. Franz Johnston was part of the Group of Seven, an association of Canadian artists who created the country’s first significant movement of painters; they travelled around the country to find inspiration in the Canadian landscape and developed new techniques for painting it. Johnston shared stories with Dingle of a trip he took to the north, where he met an Inuit elder named Nelvana. From Johnston’s stories Dingle created his Nelvana, a mythic Axis-smashing superheroine.

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From Toys to Comics: The Micronauts

Saturday, January 16th, 2016 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


Life ain’t easy when you’re 3.75″ tall.

A number of toy properties have been re-imagined in comic books. Some examples are the Shogun Warriors, The Transformers, Rom the Space Knight, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and G.I. Joe.

My own personal favorite was Marvel’s/Mego’s The Micronauts. The story of how Mego’s Micronaut toy line got turned into a comic is unexpected.

It turns out that Marvel writer Bill Mantlo’s son was opening up his Christmas presents in 1977, which included a haul of Micronauts (something that happened in my house that year too).

Mantlo was inspired by the toys and asked Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter to get his hands on the comics rights, and voila!

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Feverish Dreams of Years Past: The 1980 Comics Annual

Sunday, January 10th, 2016 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The 1980 Comics Annual(I’ve decided to again delay my ongoing series of essays about C.S. Lewis, for a number of reasons. As it happens, though, there’s another piece I’ve been meaning to write for a while. So here it is.)

When I was very young I used to have a copy of an early example of a North American comics trade paperback: Potlatch Publication’s The 1980 Comics Annual. It’s an anthology of work from then-new Canadian comics creators. I remember being fascinated by the weird mix of stories in it, humour and science fiction and horror and fantasy and action. I lost that copy (as children do lose things), and for years afterward the stories lived in my mind as feverish dreams, images of panels I could not contextualise. At some point I found a copy in a back-issue bin and was able to read the thing again. Thanks to the internet, I’ve learned a bit about the background of the book and some of its contributors. But it’s still strange to me, a mixed bag of rough talent and accomplished stories. I’m going to describe the book and what I’ve found out about it, and I’d love to find out more from anyone else who can chip in.

Potlatch Publications was and is a small Canadian company under the editorship of Robert F. Nielsen. From 1975 to 1985 Potlatch put out a yearly series of books, the Canadian Children’s Annuals, based on English Boy’s Own and Girl’s Own books. I remember some of the CCA volumes; the cover of the 1980 volume in particular is burned into my mind. The Annuals mixed short articles, fiction, and comics. And in 1980, an editor named Ian Carr put together an annual for Potlatch entirely filled with comics, 128 pages, 64 of which were in colour. Some of the contributors came from the CCA books, and some (I think) from elsewhere.

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A Positive View on the Accelerating Reboots in Comics

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

uncanny-inhumans-640The Marvel and DC reboots seem to happen quicker and quicker. Every 2-3 years, the big two stop production of many lines and then re-origin or rework a bunch of characters and teams. On one hand, I get it.

A #1 issue sells better than a #5 or a #25. Also, some characters or storylines get long in the tooth and a refresh isn’t bad. And often, this is a place to sneak in (or boldly proclaim) new diversity to appeal to a broader range of fans. On the other hand, some consumers, myself included, like our continuity and the idea of collecting all the issues and knowing that what I bought five years ago is still cannon.

But I’ve got to say that the quality of the reboots is winning me over. There is so little pure continuity left that the emotional cost of a reboot for me is lower and lower.

For example, in 2012, Marvel launched the NOW! branding of their line. A bunch of new #1 issues came out and many were kicking serious ass (Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Magneto, etc). In 2015, Marvel destroyed the Marvel Universe (surprise!) to make Secret Wars.

As a personal aside, hearing that they were redoing Secret Wars had me a little anxious. I’m old enough that I bought the first Secret Wars series over twelve months in corner stores. I thought a redo would be crappy. However, Marvel made this one much, much bigger in scope, and included most of the current characters in the MU.

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Entertainment Weekly Gives Us Our First Look at Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange

Monday, December 28th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Entertainment Weekly Dr Strange-smallThe new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on sale tomorrow, offers us our first peek at Benedict Cumberbatch as sorcerer supreme Dr. Strange — and they’ve really nailed the look. As James Whitbrook at io9 puts it:

I am genuinely shocked at how close this adheres to Strange’s classic costume from the comics — it’s all there, the color scheme, the cloak, the eye of Agamotto dangling from his neck, It’s all there — right down to Strange’s greying hair. It really has leapt off the page of a Doctor Strange comic into real life, and it looks great.

Click the image at right for a bigger version.

Doctor Strange is one of two films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe scheduled to be released next year; the other is Captain America: Civil War (May 6). Principal photography on Dr Strange began last month, and it is scheduled to be released November 4. It also stars Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Mads Mikkelsen, and is directed by Scott Derrickson (The Messengers, Sinister).

The article reportedly will reveal the roles played by Cumberbatch’s co-stars for the first time. Read more details at the EW website, or read the complete article in the print issue. We last covered Entertainment Weekly with the February 2013 issue, which coincidentally featured Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness.

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