The Guardians of the North: The National Superhero in Canadian Comic-Book Art website is based on an archival exhibition of the same title that was originally mounted at the National Archives' Canadian Museum of Caricature in 1992. Curated by Canadian comics scholar and archivist John Bell, the original exhibition drew upon the holdings of the National Archives of Canada, the National Library of Canada and various private collections in order to explore the history of Canada's national superheroes costumed comic book heroes that personify the Canadian spirit and identity.
The first exhibition devoted to a particular theme within the history of Canadian Comic-Book Art, Guardians of the North generated a significant amount of interest in the history of Canadian comics and prompted Canada Post to release a special stamp issue, in 1995, that commemorated Superman and four national superheroes: Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Johnny Canuck, Captain Canuck and Fleur de Lys. Exhibition curator John Bell provided the text for the booklet that accompanied the stamp issue.
The Guardians of the North site, which is also curated and written by Bell, offers a revised version of the original exhibition narrative and features digital images of the items that were displayed at the Museum of Caricature. As well, the site incorporates an updated version of Bell's out-of-print book Guardians of the North: The National Superhero in Canadian Comic-Book Art, which was published by the National Archives in 1992. (This in-depth text is accessed on the website by clicking on the "Read about this in more detail" balloon).
In addition, the digital version of Guardians of the North is enhanced by the incorporation of new material prepared by Bell, including detailed profiles of Canada's main national superheroes and brief biographies of their creators.
Like the original Guardians of the North exhibition, this site is intended for the general public; however, the nature of the comic book medium is such that certain images may be offensive to some or not suitable for young children.
This site is dedicated to the memory of Jamie Martin, project manager and Web administrator at Library and Archives Canada, whose commitment and professionalism are in evidence throughout the site.
During the course of my work on both the original and the digital versions of Guardians of the North, I received a great deal of help from a number of people inside and outside the Canadian comics milieu.
First of all, I would like to thank the many staff members of the National Archives and the National Library who generously assisted with the two versions of Guardians of the North.
I also want to express my gratitude to the following artists, writers, publishers and collectors active in the field of Canadian comics, all of whom provided crucial help with the original museum exhibition and/or the Web version: Les Barker (a.k.a. Leo Bachle), Stanley Berneche, Richard Comely, James Craig, Jeffrey R. Darcey, Pierre Fournier, Robert Kazas, Paul Kowtiuk, Owen McCarron, Robert MacMillan, Gabriel Morrissette, Owen Oulton, the late George M. Rae, Mark Shainblum, Ken Steacy, Geoffrey Stirling, Scott Stirling and James Waley. Important information was supplied as well by Greg Ainscott, John Robert Colombo and Gary Dunford.
Finally, I want to acknowledge my debt to the unsung fan writers who were active in the Canadian comics field during the 19701974 period. The work of Ralph Alfonso, John Balgé, Cliff Letovsky, Larry Mitchell and Dave Sim (pre-Cerebus) in long-forgotten fan publications like The Melting Pot, Le Beaver and Now and Then Times provided me with crucial insights into the significance of national superheroes and the impact that the discovery of the Golden Age heroes had on the comics creators of the seventies. These writers helped me to realize that if we forget our heroes, we lose part of ourselves.
Guardians of the North will have served its purpose if it encourages Canadians to remember their own superheroes and to celebrate the careers of the comics artists and writers who dared to offer us visions of a powerful, transcendent heroism that was uniquely Canadian. Hopefully, here in cyberspace, our national superheroes will soar.
We also gratefully acknowledge the financial assistance of the Department of Canadian Heritage, whose Canadian Cultural Online Program (CCOP) made this work possible.