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DF Interview: Rachel Richey works to resurrect Canadian comics history
By Byron Brewer
A Canadian comic book hero used as a morale booster during the Second World War could soon return to print – if he gets a boost of his own.
Johnny Canuck, who in one issue of his book fought Adolf Hitler in hand-to-hand combat, has been silent for decades. But now Toronto archivist and publisher Rachel Richey has obtained the rights to reprint the collection of classic comics for the first time.
Richey has launched a crowd-funding campaign in the hopes of resurrecting Johnny Canuck, which I found out about during the San Diego Comic Con.
Thus, Dynamic Forces traveled to the Great White North, eh, to discuss Canada’s Captain America with Richey and her efforts to preserve and revive his exploits.
Dynamic Forces: Rachel, not only are you a Canadian comics historian but you are personally very dedicated to comics and their place in your nation’s culture. Tell us about that.
Rachel Richey: Comics are a generally marginalized and misunderstood medium of literature. It would be amazing if they were as accepted in North America as they are Europe. On top of that, I believe most Canadians don’t know the talent that exists within the realm of comics in Canada, so I try to educate or promote where I can.
DF: Many do not know of the character of Johnny Canuck. Can you tell us a bit about him and his history, both as a character and in publication?
Rachel Richey: In late 1940, Canada restricted the sale of American luxury goods which included comics. In the wake of this Act, Canadian publishers created comics of their own which created a wonderfully uninterrupted period in Canadian popular culture. Not even a year after this legislation was passed, Johnny Canuck appeared in the first issue of Dime Comics under the publisher Bell Features.
DF: How did your effort to bring Johnny Canuck back to print begin?
Rachel Richey: It began when I discovered they existed, to be honest. I got really upset when I found out they existed and were never reprinted. Outrageous! In 2013, after having had contacts at Corus from Lost Heroes and learning who owned the rights, along with Kickstarter coming to Canada, it was like it all came together.
DF: Tell us about your Kickstarter campaign and its ultimate goal.
Rachel Richey: My Kickstarter goal is to obtain the funds to collect and reprint Johnny Canuck. Ultimately, it is also to bring attention to Canada’s rich comics history, to Canadians and internationally. One of the stretch goals is a free issue of Doc Stearne/Mr. Monster, one of my favorites. I have the rights to all of the Bell Features characters, and plan to release several of them over the next few years including The Penguin, Thunderfist, Rext Baxter, The Wing, Polka Dot Pirate, Penny’s Diary, Speed Savage, and Doc Stearne/Mr. Monster among others under the Comic Syrup Press imprint.
DF: What would the actual process be of reprinting these Canuck comics? Are they readily available, and are they in good enough shape after all this time?
Rachel Richey: The restoration is one of the biggest jobs. Paper quality is generally poor but in varying degrees, so sometimes it is quite difficult to clean up a page and other times it is easy. As for obtaining these comics, there are several private collections that have been very helpful in donating scans of these comics.
DF: Aside from a reprinting of Johnny Canuck’s past adventures, would you like to see him return to today’s relevant world of superheroes? How do you think he would do as a comic book character?
Rachel Richey: I think he would do pretty well. I think it would be amazing if a current day Johnny moved away from the kind of military feel and became a full-on spy, which is what I believe is the essence of the reprints.
DF: How is the campaign faring and how might interested readers assist?
Rachel Richey: The campaign is doing well, an interested reader might contribute what they can, but also, because these comics have been effectively lost for 70 years, share and talk about them. Just so more people can know! That’s the biggest problem!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Rachel Richey for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions.
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