From the back of the book:
Johnny Canuck was Leo Bachle’s most popular creation from Canada’s Gold Age of comics during the second world war.
Watch him punch Hitler, dodge bullets and fly to far away countries in this first ever complete collection of his adventures.
Within this book is a perfect specimen of the popular culture enjoyed by Canadian youth during the 1940s: A time of war, political turmoil, and the early development of a literary art form. These comics are completely restored, exciting, visually breathtaking, and an earnest example of the hopes of a nation through the lens of a young man. Johnny Canuck is a flying ace and daredevil who singlehandedly foils Nazi schemes and narowly escapes again and again.
With a foreword by Seth (The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists), a biography by Canadian comics historian Rob Pincombe, and edited by Rachel Richey (Nelvana of the Northern Lights), this book promises to be an excellent addition to any library.
So here’s the thing. I ordered this book because I wanted to read about a Canadian punching Hitler. I ordered it because I love comics and know very little about the Canadian comic book industry. I ordered it because I am a sucker for all kinds of WWII fiction. And you know what? It was all of these wonderful things, but it was also much more!
What I got out of this book was insight into both the Canadian comics industry at that period of time, and insight into how Canadians viewed themselves during WWII. It’s an amazing way to delve into our own history. While the comics themselves were entertaining, it was the forward, introduction and biography about Leo Bachle that really held my attention. These smaller parts of the books told why Bachle wrote these books (because he wanted to be a part of the war effort, even though he was too young to go over and fight), told of how Bachle fought to get wages comparable to other comic book artists, and talked about the golden age of comics in Canada.
Backstory! This book was funded by a Kickstarted campaign (which I wish I had known about!), organized by Rachel Richey. She works to restore comics from Canada’s gold age of comics, and wanted to put together all of the Johnny Canuck comics for the first time in one collection. With the help of the Bachle estate, Library and Archives Canada, and a number of other contributors, she was able to hunt down all 28 issues of the comic. The first 23 issues were written by Leo Bachle. When he moved to the USA, he sold the rights to the comics to Dime Comics, who then commissioned André Kulbach and Paul Dak to write a few more issues. When WWII ended, the comic industry in Canada changed quickly, and Johnny Canuck was no longer selling comics, so he was soon retired as a comic book character. Our loss!
The stories were a lot of fun – stories about a lumberjack who quite often ended up shirtless, working with the allies to defeat the Naxis at every turn. We get to see him flying planes, escaping from prisons, falling in love with Axis spies, and thwarting the big bads! We get to see him impersonating what Canadians wanted to be doing. While at times the stories were racist, you have to read this knowing that (a) it was a sign of the times as to how certain cultures and people were seen, and (b) that this was also very much war propaganda and so would have very much overemphasized negative stereotypes and falsehoods that the war effort would have wanted to see. So again, it gives a good insight into our own history.
I was blown away by the artwork. It may look a little primitive compared to contemporary comics (all in black and white, with some characters not looking the same from one issue to the next, and so many grammatical errors), but you have to keep in mind that this comic was written and drawn by someone who was 16 years old when the comic started. Sixteen. The drawings of Johnny Canuck himself are absolutely beautiful, and each panel contains so much background information that is essential to telling these stories.
Fun trivia: this version of Johnny Canuck was a reinvisioning of the Johnny Canuck of political comic strips from the 1800’s. ALSO, (and this part surprises me), the creator of Captain Canuck had no idea what Johnny Canuck was when he created the masked hero, so they have no relation at all.
Also. This is such a beautiful book! I mean, the paper and the binding and the texture of it, oh, it’s all so lovely! This is a book that deserves to be kept on all bookshelves across Canada because of just how PRETTY it is. The unpackaging experience of this book alone was worth purchasing it.
The Bottom Line
A must-have for Canadians. Seriously.