________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 10 . . . . January 4, 2007


Invaders From the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe.

John Bell.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2006.
223 pp., cloth, $40.00.
ISBN 978-1-55002-659-7.

Subject Heading:
Comic books, strips, etc., Canadian-History and criticism.


Review by Gail de Vos.

***½ /4


Not surprisingly, since the mid-1990s, the audience for such narratives [superheroes] has been shrinking. In addition to a general decline in the quality of scripting and a stultifying homogeneity, the superhero genre has been beset by other, perhaps more fatal problems, including the loss of young readers (apart from the ubiquitous Archie comics, which remain exceedingly popular in Canada, there are very few accessible entry points into comic books for children), competition from video games (which increasingly incorporate complex narratives) and other media (superhero movies, role-playing games, et cetera), and the closed nature of the superhero universes, which have become progressively inaccessible to the uninitiated. Due to these factors, the unthinkable occurred during the 1990s: mainstream comics ceased to be a truly mass medium.


John Bell is known as the expert on Canadian comic books. He is the author of several earlier volumes on the topic as well as, in his professional role as a senior archivist at Library and Archives Canada, the curator of several exhibitions on the topic.

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     Invaders From the North is extremely accessible, filled to the brim with facts and lists of authors, titles and dates, as well as photographs and reproductions of comic book covers, in colour and black and white. Along with the fairly succinct history of Canadian comic books, Bell offers two in depth examinations on "Johnny Canuck and the Search for Canadian Superheroes" and "Chester Brown and the Search for New Narratives." Bell's narrative has been impeccably researched and includes solid endnotes which are followed by a comprehensive selected bibliography and an index.

     Bell examines the history of comic books in Canada, the effect of the war effort on Canadian titles and creators, early censorship challenges, and the gradual evolution of the Canadian creative force. He looks, too, at readership and significant forces such as publisher Drawn & Quarterly, a major player in the contemporary publishing world of comics and graphic novels, as well as the Toronto comic bookstore, The Beguiling.

     For readers unfamiliar with the varied history that Canadians have had with comic books, their creation, readership and distribution, Invaders from the North sheds a great deal of light (and perhaps surprise) on the subject. For other readers, Bell's writing style and extensive research provide a welcome reminder of Canada's involvement in the emergence of this format as a serious art and literary form both within and outside of our borders. Highly recommended for public libraries and high school libraries.

Highly Recommended.

Gail de Vos is a storyteller and author of five books on storytelling and folklore. Along with a course on storytelling, she teaches a course on comic books and graphic novels in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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