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ARCHIVED - Comix Rebellion, 1967-1974
While the output of giveaways continued throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Canadian comics would experience a less tenuous, but far more outrageous, form of resurrection during the same period. This new expression of comic art, which differed markedly from that of the 40s and 50s, derived from the convergence of three developments: the growth of a youth counterculture, the flourishing of the literary small-press movement, and the emergence of a national comic-book fan community (usually referred to as "fandom"). Although the comics produced within these three trends were different in many respects, they all had one key characteristic in common: they were aimed at an adult audience.
Two important underground papers which featured comic art were launched in 1967 -- Vancouver's Georgia Straight and Montreal's Logos. However, the first comic book of the period, Scraptures, originated not with the underground press, but rather with Toronto's literary avant-garde. Released in 1967 as a special issue of the experimental magazine Gronk, the title was written and drawn by bp Nichol, a co-founder of Ganglia Press and a noted concrete poet who experimented continuously with various forms of graphic narrative. In retrospect, given its inexpensive production values, limited distribution, and non-commercial style of graphic narrative, Scraptures could be described as Canada's first new-wave or small-press comics "zine."
Late in 1967, a second new Canadian comic book appeared, Terry Edwards' Comic Canada. Unlike nichol's experimental work, Comic Canada was a product of Canadian comics fandom, which was then in its infancy.
The next example of the new comics phenomenon to be published in English Canada was Operation Missile. Even though it appeared in 1968, the same year that witnessed the birth of the underground comix movement (the term comix serving to distinguish comics produced outside the strictures of the repressive Comics Code) in the US with Robert Crumb's Zap No. 1, Operation Missile was not a product of the counterculture. Nor was it strictly a fan publication. Rather, given its production values and content, it can be viewed as a precursor of the alternative comic books that would emerge a few years later. Issued by George Henderson of the Memory Lane nostalgia shop in Toronto, it was drawn by science-fiction artist Derek Carter. Henderson also launched three fanzines in 1968: Captain George's Whizzbang, Captain George's Penny Dreadful, and Captain George's Comic Book World.
As well, a few fan-produced comics appeared during 1968, including Vincent Marchesano's The Canadian Comic and a second issue of Terry Edward's Comic Canada (now entitled Comicanada). These titles were followed, early in 1969, by Art Cooper's Canada's Best Comics. All these creators were based in Hamilton, and all deliberately adopted titles that reflected the new nationalist spirit evident in the Canadian comics fan base. Another fan publisher active in 1969 was the Sensational Comics Group of Islington, Ontario, which issued Sensational Display and Heroes and Rubber Cop.
The year 1969 also saw the publication of Canada's first underground comic books. Probably the earliest was SFU Komix, two issues of which were published in Kelowna by Bob Mercer in support of the students' strike then underway at Simon Fraser University. These West Coast comix were followed by Snore Comix, a product of the Toronto pop art and Dada scene. Issued by one of the country's foremost literary presses, Coach House, Snore featured work by artists and writers such as Greg Curnoe, Victor Coleman, and Michael Tims. Two more issues of Snore appeared in 1970. Not long after, Coach House also published two graphic narratives by the surrealist Martin Vaughn-James: The Projector (1971) and The Cage (1972). His first work, a graphic novel entitled Elephant (1970), had been issued by another literary press, Press Porcépic.
As was the case in the United States, the years 1970-1972 were the peak period of the Canadian underground comix movement, witnessing the publication of such titles as Flash Theatre, Hierographics, Nature Comix, Bridge City Beer Comix, The Collected Adventures of Harold Hedd, Polar Funnies, The Time of the Clockmen, and White Lunch. The key figures in this movement were Dave Geary of Saskatoon and Rand Holmes of Vancouver, both of whom remained active throughout the 70s and 80s. Other notable contributors to English-Canadian underground comix included Brent Boates and George Metzger. Unlike the fan and literary comics in evidence during the period, the "undergrounds" explored the major preoccupations of the counterculture, namely, drugs, sex, rock music, and radical politics. Sold in head shops (shops that sell drug-related paraphernalia) across the country, they openly defied not only the stringent 1950s Comics Code, but also most other mores of "straight" society. Not surprisingly, like the underground press in general, they became the target of some attempts at censorship.
The underground period in Canada also witnessed the publication of the first English-Canadian newsstand comic since 1956. Entitled Fuddle Duddle (Prime Minister Trudeau's euphemism for a common expletive) and published by Jeffrey R. Darcey, it appeared in a magazine format and specialized in political satire. Four issues were published during 1971 and 1972, featuring work by a number of Ottawa-based creators, including Mark Lloyd, Dave Morris, Peter Evans, and Stanley Berneche. The latter two, who comprised the magazine's chief creative team, were responsible for the satirical character Captain Canada, the first national comic-book superhero to appear in Canada since Nelvana's final appearance in 1947.
Fuddle Duddle debuted the same year that the Toronto publisher Peter Martin Associates released Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert's The Great Canadian Comic Books, a book-length study of the Bell Features comics of the 40s. (Hirsh and Loubert would later make their mark as the co-founders of Nelvana Productions, now a world-famous animation studio.) Although not entirely accurate in its depiction of the Golden Age in Canadian comics, this ground-breaking work had a profound impact on young Canadian comic artists. It also contributed to the new nationalism of the fanzines that appeared with the resumption of Canadian comics publishing: Ralph Alfonso and Clifford Letovsky's Quebec Panelogists Society Bulletin (which was later retitled Le Beaver), Harry Kremer's Now and Then Times, and John Balge's Comic Art News and Reviews (CANAR).
The nationalist sentiment apparent in Canadian comic-book fandom in 1972 was furthered by a National Gallery exhibition entitled Comic Art Traditions in Canada, 1941-45. An outgrowth of Hirsh and Loubert's The Great Canadian Comic Books project, the travelling exhibition exposed thousands of Canadians to the heroic visions of such Bell Features artists as Dingle, Good, Lazare, and Legault. For those who had grown up in the 40s, the exhibition was a nostalgic rediscovery of childhood dreams; for the younger generation, it was a startling revelation: comics could be Canadian.
In 1973, there was a decline in underground-comix publishing in both Canada and the US, although two notable titles were issued in British Columbia: All Canadian Beaver Comix and Gearfoot Wrecks. While these were by no means the last undergrounds published in Canada, they do mark the end of the comix movement as such. From 1974 on, the focus of Canadian comic-book publishing would increasingly shift from the familiar underground concerns to more traditional genres, such as science fiction and fantasy. However, these new comics could be distinguished from mainstream comic books by their more adult approach and by the large amount of artistic freedom that they afforded creators. These two characteristics can be directly attributed to the influence of the underground.
At least four of these new comics appeared in 1974: Media Five's Andromeda, Gene Day's Out of the Depths, Jim Waley's Orb, and Terry Fletcher's Knockout (which actually began in 1973). A similar development was occurring in the US with the release of the inaugural issue of Mike Friedrich's Star*Reach. Initially, the term "groundlevel" was used to describe these comic books; later, they came to be called independent, and then alternative, comics. Among the contributors to the early semi-professional Canadian alternative comics were Gene Day, Dave Sim, Augustine Funnell, Jim Craig, Ken Steacy, Dean Motter, and Vincent Marchesano. (During this period, Day, Sim and John Byrne also contributed to comics magazines issued by the US firm Skywald Publishing, which was managed by a Canadian, Alan Hewetson.) As the work of these artists clearly demonstrated, a critical mass had been achieved in the country's comics industry.
From this point on, Canadian comic books (with the exception of a few giveaway comics) were no longer intended for children. Not surprisingly, this shift in audience prompted considerable alarm on the part of those who narrowly equated comic art with children's narratives. Concerns about the new adult content of comics would eventually culminate, especially in the late 1980s, in the familiar response of those who have contested comic art -- demands for censorship.
Although the 1967-1974 period was one of significant revitalization in the English-Canadian comic-book field, the country's English-language newspaper comic strips did not experience a similar transformation, although there were a few new strips evident, such as Norm Drew's "The Giants" and James Simpkin's "Jasper."