On the 1 September 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered the German Wehrmacht to invade Poland. The United Kingdom, then allies with the Poles and having pledged support in the event of an invasion, immediately declared war on the German Reich and the Second World War had begun. For Canadians however, the beginning of this conflict was not immediate. Twenty-five years earlier when Britain declared war on the Central Powers (which included Germany) it was done by King George V in the name of the British Empire and Canada was automatically in the conflict. But by 1939 things had changed. Eight years prior, the UK parliament had passed the Statute of Westminster which ended British control of the Empire's foreign policy and Canada’s government was now free to make up its own decisions about a response to Hitler's aggression. These new powers notwithstanding, the Canadian parliament wasted little time and on 8 September 1939, Nazi Germany also found itself at war with Canada.
|A Canadian World War II propaganda poster by Henri Eveleigh. Although the Statute of Westminster meant Canada was now (almost completely) independent, it was never-the-less still very close to Britain.|
Over the course of the Second World War, Canada would contribute a great deal to the overall effort. This included over 1.1 million people (out of a population of slightly over 11 million total citizens in 1939) and considerable materiel and supplies for its own and the British war effort. Indeed, in the same month that President Roosevelt proclaimed that the United States would become the "Arsenal of Democracy" and start selling mutations to Britain and Canada, the Canadian parliament passed the War Exchange Conservation Act, 1940. This law stopped the importation of "non-essential" items into Canada with the purpose of curbing its mounting trade deficit with the United States. A casualty of this new law were both magazines and the cultural phenomenon that was started in 1938, in part, by a talented young artist from Toronto: comic books.
|Image from Johnny Canuck #1|
But as is often the case, the War Exchange Conservation Act had some unintended consequences and one of these was the prolific growth in homegrown comic books, based largely on Canadian tropes and geared to Canadian consumers. Sure, the superhero trend started by Action Comics #1 had reached across the somewhat porous American border and many Canadian superheroes were similar to their US counterparts. But others, like Johnny Canuck, focused on the Canadian war effort and spoke to a young audience that had this on their minds. Johnny Canuck wasn't a superhero per se, but that didn't stop him from doing many of the things his super-soldier ally from Brooklyn did, including beating the crap out of Adolf Hitler! With Johnny there was an emphasis on the skills Canadians liked to think their "regular" soldiers, sailors and airmen had too: derring-do, intelligence, fighting-spirit and skills, among many others.
|Johnny Canuck stamp issued as part of 1995 Canadian Superheros collection from Canada Post. Johnny Canuck was often portrayed as a pilot.|
First appearing in Dime Comics #1 (February 1942) and published for 38 issues, Johnny Canuck was a hit with Canadian readers for much of the war. But unfortunately, his fame was short-lived and unlike many of his American contemporaries, he has not been seen since. Well, that's until now, because in July of this year my friend Rachel Richey, a comics historian and successful co-publisher of the 1940s Nelvana of the Northern Lights comics has launched another Kickstarter campaign to bring Johnny back to print. Rachel is hoping to re-print all issues of Johnny's run and WGTB is looking forward to delving back into the stories of a Canadian icon!
If you haven't done so already done so, please consider supporting Rachel's Kickstarter project by visiting it here. Rachel has also assembled a team of some of the best in the business to support her cause and as of today is only a few thousand dollars short. Please jump on this bandwagon today because the campaign to get Johnny Canuck back in the game ends August 27th. Tally-ho!