Comics and graphic novels are the basis of several recent Hollywood blockbusters and long-running television series.
But while many may be familiar with title names like DC’s Batman and Marvel The AvengersNewfoundland and Labrador has its own comic book history, which dates back decades.
Wallace Ryan, the godfather of Newfoundland comics, has been publishing them since the 1970s and now sees a new generation take up the pens to tell stories.
He says the first independent comic strip made in Newfoundland and Labrador was in 1979 The spirit of the timesa fantastic story he created with the late Gerry Porter.
Ryan met his friend and future collaborator Porter when they were teenagers attending art camp in the summer of 1976 at what is now the College of the North Atlantic – but even in that course there was no nothing about the comic, he said.
“Basically, we had to learn everything ourselves, from scratch,” Ryan said.
They ended up learning a lot from each other by pooling their knowledge. The pair also found a magazine with an article that had a section on how to write comics, he said, “which was great because there was nowhere you could take a course in comics. comics at the time.
Around the same time that Ryan and Porter made their first comic, St. John’s businessman Geoff Stirling unveiled Captain Canada, which he created with his son Scott Stirling with artwork by Filipino artist Danny Bulanadi. The superhero got his start in a comic strip in Stirling’s Sunday Herald, now the Newfoundland Herald. The character lives on through promos on NTV, co-founded by Geoff Stirling.
In the early ’80s, Tim Peckam joined the provincial comic scene, Ryan said.
“Suddenly there were three of us there. He was more of a gag artist and all that. A fabulous gag artist too,” Ryan recalled.
In the early 90s, Ryan published a superhero satire titled Toxic! with Fox Lidstone. Their first issue had a color cover – a first in Dutch comics history, according to Ryan.
Lidstone then moved to the United States and worked for Continüm Comics on a series called Darkness. Ryan said he was set to contribute to it, but the company went bankrupt before it was printed.
To begin building a community for comic book creators, Ryan and Darrell Edwards started the Hundred Proof Comic Jam, a monthly get-together for comic book artists at the Ship Pub in downtown St. John’s.
Start a career in comics
Paul Tucker became a full-time comic book artist in August, but he’s been making comics for decades, his work has been published by Viper Comics and IDW Publishing, among others.
He took Ryan’s comics class at Memorial University in 1994. He and his brother were young, he says, their mother had to give them permission to attend.
“At that time, it was so mysterious to me. It was so much of a stretch to think that you could do comics from Newfoundland at that time. There seemed to be this thing where you had to live in New York to make comics because that’s where all the publishers were,” Tucker said.
“It was cool to find like-minded people who loved comic books.”
Among his early inspirations was the first local comic book he read: Traitor Infiltrator by Blair Foote, published by Alibi Comics.
Throughout his career, Tucker has seen the comic book industry evolve. He said an increase in art stores and the ability to order items online is making sourcing easier. The technology also had an effect, with artists using tools like the Apple Pencil and turning to YouTube tutorials, while he himself was mostly self-taught.
After going to a few comic book jams at the Ship Pub and finding them dark and smoky, he started his own gathering at the Hava Java cafe. When he reconnected with his old teacher Ryan, they transferred him to the Anna Templeton Center.
“That way we could also open the doors for kids, because the Ship Pub was great but it was over 19. And we wanted to reach them when they were young and then convert them,” laughed Ryan.
The jam is many things, Tucker explained: a place to work quietly, talk about comics, or get feedback from your peers. There are also snacks. But after celebrating its 10th anniversary in March 2020, the comic jam was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. But one happened last month, Tucker said, and he wants to rebuild it.
Online edition opens but print remains king
Kelly Bastow is pursuing a career in comics in her hometown of Conception Bay South.
“I really like it. It’s kind of a way to be a storyteller and feel like you’re creating something and putting something out into the world. Connecting with people who could be anything where in the world,” she said.
She started doing comics in her early twenties, when she saw work by Newfoundland and Labrador comic artists featured in the now defunct newspaper The Scope.
Bastow lived for a few years in Toronto, which has an active comic book scene, but returned home at the start of the pandemic. It doesn’t matter where you’re based, she says; it’s best to live somewhere inexpensive and then go to comic book conventions.
“Because you’re online, your work can be seen anywhere. So you don’t have to be in Los Angeles. You don’t have to be in Toronto to be part of the community of comics.”
Traditional publishing isn’t the only way to publish comics either, she said, noting that there are plenty of sites where people can pay to read webcomics, such as Gumroad.
She said if you go online, you don’t have to find a publisher or put money down for a print, which is a boost for independent artists. Bastow is also a traditional performer, so it’s rewarding to hold her book physically, knowing that she did.
Despite the proliferation of online platforms, “print is still king,” said Ryan, who is working on an anthology comic that will initially be sold digitally and then printed.
“Comics are an art object. It’s more than just a periodical or a story. it’s our art gallery,” he laughed.
Today there are a number of NL artists doing comics. There’s Mike Feehan, known for his work on the Eisner nominee Exit Stage Left: The Chronicles of Snagglepuss from DC Comics, which also won a GLAAD award, as well as Leon Chung, Scott Keating and Jennifer Barrett. CBC reporter Andrew Hawthorn has also written comics, including for the iconic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Tucker is optimistic about the bright future of new local comic artists.
“Hopefully I will meet a new generation where they are empowered and talented and want to engage.”
Learn more about CBC Newfoundland and Labrador