When it comes to Canadian superheroes, comic fans tend to think of Wolverine, Superman(Co-Creator Joe Shuster was Canadian), Alpha Flight and Captain Canuck, to name a few. But Nelvana of the Northern Lights is Canada's first superheroine during the Canadian Golden Age of comics, predating Wonder Woman by several months. Created and developed in 1941 by Adrian Dingle. The character was created once Canada passed the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) which banned the import of luxury goods from the United States, including comic books. With the whole market to themselves, Canadian publishers began creating their own superhero titles. Nelvana was one of the most popular characters during this time. Shortly after the Second World War ended, the WECA ban was lifted in 1946, Nelvana and all of the Canadian superheroes got lost in the shuffle. It's been almost sixty-seven years since Nelvana last appeared in print. Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey, two Canadian comic book historians created a Kickstarter campaign campaign late last year to bring Nelvana back in print. The project was successfully funded with almost one thousand and one backers and making over $54,876. CBNAH spoke to Hope Nicholson to discuss Nelvana, Adrian Dingle, the restoration process and more.
CBNAH: First off, congratulations on the success of the Kickstarter and the upcoming documentary film Lost Heroes. Its been a long journey and how does it feel to wrap up on both of these projects?
Hope Nicholson: Nelvana still has quite a ways to go before it's wrapped, we are currently restoring the original comic pages after spending a few months tracking down the original sources. I don't think I'll believe it's done until I physically have the book in my hand! I'm really glad to have Lost Heroes wrapped, and I'm very excited-and nervous- about the audience's reception.
CBNAH: For our readers who are unfamiliar with Nelvana can you tell us a bit about the character?
HN: Nelvana is an Inuit demi-goddess, the daughter of the King of the Northern Lights Koliak and a mortal woman. Her powers are based on trihe northern lights and wane the longer she is away from the outside world. She can fly, disrupt electronics, turn into dry ice, and create explosions. In addition she has a magic cape that she can use to turn her brother Tanero into a dog, as he has been cursed with not being able to be seen by white men, and she can call on her father Koliak for assistance when needed. She uses her powers to fight nazis, aliens, and crimelords.
CBNAH: How did you first discover Nelvana?
HN: I discovered Nelvana in my undergraduate degree at York University when I decided to look into Canadian comic book history. John Bell's book Invaders from the North had just came out, that and Michael Hirsh/Patrick Loubert's book The Great Canadian Comic Books introduced me to the world of the Canadian Golden Age, and Nelvana in particular.
CBNAH: Adrian Dingle was a key figure to the Canadian Golden Age of comics. Where does his legacy fit in world comics history?
HN: Sadly, I don't think Adrian Dingle had much of an impact on the international comic book industry, as the comic books were mostly contained within Canada. I do know that John Byrne created characters named Nelvanna and Kodiak in Alpha Flight, who were the mother and grandfather of the demi-goddess Snowbird, so that's a bit of a legacy.
CBNAH: Have you got any feedback from the Dingle family? If so, what’s their reaction to the Kickstarter and the character coming back to print?
HN: Yes, I have talked to Adrian Dingle's sons, in particular his son Christopher has been a great help. They are excited to see the project come out and have additional attention paid to Adrian Dingle's artwork career. I hope that this will lead to a revival of interest in their father's career and his artwork outside of comic books.
CBNAH: The series did come out during the wartime, is there any insensitive material in the comic?
HN: There is a great deal of insensitive material in the comic books, sadly. In particular the representations of Japanese is jarring, and in later issues the portrayal of Inuit tribes changes significantly to a more negative representation.
CBNAH: What challenges did you face during the restoration process?
HN: Access was the biggest issue. Currently, we have issues that have been sourced from 14 different public and private collections, and finding them was difficult. The pages themselves range in quality, every single one is deeply yellowed, most have significant fading, and many have misprints due to the original printing process itself. Luckily they're all black and white which makes the process significantly easier.
Rachel Richey (left) and Hope Nicholson (right)
CBNAH: You've been working the Lost Heroes film for sometime now. The film will be playing on the Super Channel in March. Will there be a DVD release in the near future?
HN: There will be a DVD release, but this will be after theatrical exhibition, festivals, conventions, and broadcast screenings.
CBNAH: What's your convention schedule for this year?
HN: My personal goal is try to make it into at least one convention per Canadian region, and the odd US convention if we have time. Currently, we are confirmed for conventions in Toronto, Halifax, Northern Ontario, Oshawa, Winnipeg, and Washington.
CBNAH: What does the future hold for Nelvana?
HN: We are currently deciding how to approach our retailer strategy for Nelvana, and hope to bring news of that process soon, but right now we are just concentrating on working on restoring the original book and having it to our funders in time. If Adrian Dingle's estate is interested in any further projects with new Nelvana content, I'm sure that something could happen, but it's not a project that we would undertake at this point.
For latest news and updates check out the Nelvana of the Northern Lights website: http://nelvanacomics.com/
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