Katherine Collins (Arn Saba) and Neil the Horse

NeilArnold Alexander Saba was born in Vancouver in February of 1947. He was born into a wealthy family and the eldest of four children. He began drawing comics at a young age, having had a very fertile environment in which to develop his skills. His mother, Allison McBain, was a cartoonist and comics enthusiast herself, and granddaughter of Mary “Dolly” Collins, a Manitoba cartoonist. Predominantly raised on newspaper strips and collections of Caniff and Barks, most of Saba’s earliest renderings are in a similar vein.

In 1965, Saba attended the University of British Columbia for Journalism and Print Production. During Arn’s time in school, he involved himself in theatre in both performance and writing. He also practiced cartooning for the school paper which, he explains, “eventually devolved into a story that featured songs.” This is not unlike a comic he created in highschool about dancing and singing garbagemen.

However, it wasn’t until 1975 that he first published Neil the Horse, the comic that dominated his cartooning career. Stylistically, the comic is most reminiscent of early Disney cartoons, but because of the mélange of characters, styles and forms, it transgresses any real comics tradition. Saba experimented with many forms of pop culture not normally associated with comics such as paper cut outs, musicals and dances.

In 1977, Saba moved from Vancouver to Toronto to be immersed in the Canadian comics scene and he continued to develop Neil the Horse, publishing it in a multitude of forums.

Oddly, I didn’t really think about or plan anything musical when I started Neil. I mean, there never had been any such comic, and my eye was firmly on “the great traditions” when I got going. And I wanted to find my place amongst those greats. But I could tell right away that I had to find my own footing. Every great cartoonist and great strip, those who really projected a unique voice, had done so by gradually finding that voice. And it had to be the creator’s own genuine voice, whatever that may be. Herriman could not have envisioned in advance Krazy Kat’s sweet mystery. Barks never planned to make Donald an everyman. Foster likely never imagined that his chivalric adventure strip would grow to include domestic soap opera. Caniff, essentially a hayseed, probably never sat around imagining he would write sophisticated male-and-female repartee. And so on. They all followed their noses, and developed what they did best, a day at a time.

The comic found its footing, because in 1980 Saba published one of these stories with Potlach Publications in the 1980 Comics Annual.

Then again in 1982 with Dave Sim and Deni Loubert in the “Unique Story” section of Cerebus No. 41, 44 and 45. In February 1983, Neil the Horse graduated and was featured in his own book published by Sim and Loubert’s company Aardvark-Vanaheim.

Neil Horse 3Saba was even deeper in the comics community as he was also developing a five-part radio documentary on CBC, The Continuous Art, which explored the cultural position of comics. He conducted many interviews including those with Milton Caniff, Floyd Gottfredson, Hugo Pratt, Will Eisner, Jules Feiffer, and Russ Manning. His interview with Hal Foster is famous for being Foster’s last interview. Also on the radio at this time was Saba’s radio musical called Neil and the Big Banana which did very well.

Although Neil survived the separation of Aardvark Vanaheim titles, it only lasted 15 issues, the last of which came out in 1988. This did not mean the end of Neil.  Between the years of 1988 to 1993, Neil the horse was optioned in Hollywood and Saba began taking Neil in all possible directions.

Saba was pursuing three avenues of publication: the stage musical, the graphic novel and the TV series. In September of 1993, all three were rejected. It was at this point Saba decided to abandon hopes of developing Neil the Horse and began to pursue other options. During this time he had been living in San Francisco for five years, and had begun to realize his transsexual transition. By the end of 1994, this transition was completed, and Saba began a new life as Katherine Collins. During the rest of her new life, she no longer pursued comics, either as a journalist or creator until recently. In August 2013, Collins was inducted into the Shuster Award Hall of Fame and Hermes picked up the rights to reprint the collection in its entirety.

Currently, Hermes Press is suffering from financial problems and they’re trying to raise the funds in Indiegogo. The restoration complete, these funds will go toward actually printing the book.

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Murray Karn

Murray Karn began his career with Bell Features in early 1942 while the publisher was still under the name Commercial Signs of Canada. Only 18 at the time, much of his original work was done for the Thunderfist and Jeff Waring storylines.

Karn worked on ‘Thunderfist’ in Active comics and was the most consistent artist for the line. His talents were not overlooked at Bell Features; he also did several covers for Active Comics as well as working on the ‘Jeff Waring of the Amazon’ storyline of his own creation. It was released about a month after ‘Thunderfist’ in March of 1942 and was run in Wow Comics, Bell Features’ first comic title.

Karn continued to work regularly for Bell Features for the next two years as artist on these and other lines including Captain Red Thorton, Rex Baxter and Scotty MacDonald. He even contributed artwork to the narrative shorts in Triumph Comics, all under Bell Features. Within a couple years, Karn went into the Medical Corps but continued cartooning for the wounded troops to raise their spirits.

murray karnAs Bell Features continued to gain prominence in Canada’s comic book industry, Karn was easily accepted back into the ranks just shortly before the end of Canada’s Golden Age and finished the last two issues on Jeff Waring. Shortly after, Karn went to New York to pursue other opportunities.

His classic and realistic style make his comics very easy to spot and a pleasure to view. His characters, nothing short of perfection, are elegantly composed, both on the paper and in character. Karn’s style at this time was almost reminiscent of a twenties chic with his big eyed beauties and his men modeled much like Clark Gable. Specifically, Karn’s style was distinctive in such a way that his comics were of a much higher caliber.

Murray Karn currently resides in New York and is a part of the Southampton Artists Society. Find out more on his work in the upcoming documentary Lost Heroes.

Maple Leaf Comics

Cover art by Ley Fortune.

There’s often a lot of focus on Bell Features for their contribution to the Canadian comic book industry, and rightly so. The company published hundreds of comics under several titles during the crucial years of comic book development in Canada. Not necessarily overlooked, but perhaps not looked upon as often as they should be, are the publishings of another founding father of Canadian comics, Maple Leaf Publishers.

Along with Anglo-American, Maple Leaf was one of the first to publish and release comics in Canada. While I try not to express too much favouritism, I do agree with John Bell in that it was the first true Canadian comic, as Anglo American evaded the wartime ban on American periodical publications by purchasing scripts. Maple Leaf’s first issue was Better comics, released March of 1941 in the Canadian tradition of black and white interior with colour covers.

Second issue of Better Comics

Maple Leaf’s line of comics included Better, Bing Bang, Lucky and Rocket comics. Most were released regulary on a bi-monthly basis from 1941 to 1946. They also wasted no time in producing a Canadian hero, and again, the first in Canada, which was Vernon Miller’s Iron Man in Better Comics. Later Maple Leaf produced the more famous Brok Windsor who came out in the April May 1944 issue of Better Comics.

Some of the other more regular comics published in the anthologies’ titles were The Exciting Adventures of Peter and Peggy, Coast Patrol, The Adventures of Lucky, Derry Dreamer, Black Wing, Juke Box Joe, Piltdown Pete, Deuce Granville, Cariboo Trail, Rags the Dog Marvel, Callahan, Cosmo and his White Magic, The Honourable Freddy, Bill Speed, Stuffy Boggs, Circus Girl and Senorita Marquita. One benefit to having several lines as Bell did was that he could cater to different audiences depending on the book. Maple Leaf’s stories spanned several genres but were contained within four books.

That said, one argument certainly true of Maple Leaf Comics is that they had some quality artists on staff. Some of my own favourite Golden Age artists worked for Maple Leaf such as Bert Bushell, Jon Stables (St. Ables) and Vernon Miller. Other artists included Ernie Walker, Shirley “Ley” Fortune, Ray Hazall, Bill Meikle, Bill Benz, Vim Pearson, Spike Brown, Ted Watson, FP Thursby and Herb Brew with writers such as Hall, FP Thursby, Hal Kerr, Bus Griffiths and Ted Ross. A smaller staff than Bell Features, Maple Leaf had the benefit of having a more consistent product. And, although Bell Features owner Cyril Bell created something great with Bell features, many of his own artists were either in, or fresh out of high school and were therefore very young, amateur artists.

But, like many of the publishers that sprang up at the beginning of the forties, Maple Leaf ceased publishing in 1946 when the War Exchange Conservation Act was lifted.

One Horse Leadworks

The three issues of Headcheese.

So, one of the more prominent Canadian artists to date is Stuart Immonen who has worked for both DC and Marvel pencilling just about every prominent series within such as Superman, Hulk, Ultimate Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and X-Men. That said, it wasn’t until 1993 that he started working with bigger companies, so what did he do before hand?

Along with his then girlfriend and now wife Kathryn Immonen (née Kuder), they created the publishing house One Horse Leadworks in Toronto. Slightly higher quality than a fanzine, Immonen and Kuder orchestrated the production of alternative comic anthology Headcheese and then Playground, both of which spanned three issues. Headcheese was released in 1988 and the contributors are as follows:

Issue #1

  • The Eternity Bar – Ron Boyd
  • Shooting Gallery – Nick White
  • Mort & Shirley – Kathryn Kuder, Stuart Immonen
  • Pax Magoohan – Wayne Immonen
  • Peer Pleasure – Sheldon Inkol, Stuart Immonen
  • No. 1 – Kathryn Kuder
  • Agro – Nick White
  • Just Thinking – Ron Boyd
  • Passing Time – Stuart Immonen
Issue #2
  • Service With a Smile – Jerry Drozdowsky
  • The Insane Machine – X
  • Mort and Shirley Banks – Stuart Immonen, Kathryn Kuder
  • My Last Girlfriend – Sheldon Inkol, David Scott
  • Peer Pleasure – Sheldon Inkol, Stuart Immonen
  • She-Devil – Kathryn Kuder
  • Blood and Roses – Ron Boyd
  • The Shooting Gallery – Nick White
  • Art Gallery Stuff – Rob Alton
  • Penis Longspot – Stuart Immonen
Issue #3
  • Quantum Leap – Nick White
  • Love in a Calm – Andrew Clark, 1HLW
  • I Saw the Bloody Stump of God – Kathryn Kuder, Stuart Immonen
  • Chicken Gumbo – Stuart Immonen
  • Peer Pleasure – Sheldon Inkol, Stuart Immonen
  • Art Gallery Stuff – Robert Alton
  • The Garden – Jerry Drozdowsky, Ron Boyd
  • Oswald – Sheldon Inkoll, Jai Dixit
Definitely a great piece if you’re interested in his early work, although they might be a bit hard to find considering there were only 250 made of #2 and #3. Likewise, Playground was co-produced by Immonen and Kuder, and the fourth and final issue was published by Caliber Press in October of 1990.
The issues are subtitled as:
  • Prologue: The Vessel
  • Chapter One: The Wheel
  • Chapter Two: The Vessel
  • The Hundred Year’s Wake
Here is an interview with Immonen in which he references the early works, as well as here.

George A Walker

Yesterday, while attending what I thought was a used book sale, I stumbled upon George A. Walker at a Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild (CBBAG) event promoting the work of Canadian artisans and artists. Having only just the other day taken George’s book Graphic Witness out of the library, I was only vaguely familiar with wood engraving and relief printing techniques as a means of wordless graphic narratives. I was much more than vaguely excited by the accident I had made though.

Kiss - A Wood engraving by Walker

What is great about relief printing is its rawness. It’s an art form that can evoke much more in the reader than just its story. The materials are raw: wood, ink and paper. The block itself can make endless amounts of prints. The black and white of the image is raw, based solely on the presence or absence of the wood and ink. And finally, without the presences of words the reader is left to decipher the picture based on emotion and experience through symbolism.

What I didn’t see in Graphic Witness was George Walker’s own work, and when I finally did I was extremely impressed. His most recent work is called the The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson. True to Walker’s inspiration Frans Masereel, The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson is many images long, and contains not a single word. The book is not yet commercially produced but there are beautiful copies available through Walker on his webpage.

That said, not all of Walker’s work is wordless. He has strategically paired his art with authors such as Lewis Carroll, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe and Neil Gaimon, illustrating works like The Raven and an alternate telling of Snow White. These works have inspired very creative art from Walker who is now working with The Porcupine’s Quill to establish other artists in the art form.

Beer Comix

Beer Comix

Alright, so here’s a hot comic from Canada’s underground which, as I write this, is selling for $156 on ebay. Completely produced by David Stewart Geary, or Dave Geary, the comic focuses primarily on beer and features much of the same bawdy tones as many other comix of its time. Geary was another master of the Underground comix age in Canada, producing other titles such as Gopher Freedom and Fleshapoids.

Definitely some mature content, and I have to tell an anecdote. Inside the front cover in the indicia, there is what I assume to be a purposeful “typo”. This typo asserts that the comic was published by Public Pubications, and not Public Publications. I laughed, which I’m sure was the intent of the writer. The funnier still was the entry made in the old finding aid. The person who went through this collection before me did not put down a publisher! There’s no way they could have missed this, and it’s blasphemy that they put nothing. What I assume happened was that they couldn’t cross check it, and rather than embarrassingly putting down what was there, they put nothing at all.

Published in Saskatoon in September of 1971, the heart of the Underground comix era, Geary did put out two more issues after this one. Here are the titles from Beer Comix #1:

  • Chimo Queen of the Ritz in Love’s Labours
  • You Betcha
  • Eco Tunes and Murky Maladies
  • I Love My Frog
  • Goony Bunny answers that Age Old Question, “Is it Sex or is it Lust?”
  • Things to Do: “How to Get on Everybody’s Nerves”
  • Dream of the Rave Beer Fiend
  • Love on the Slopes: A Shelly James Ture Romance Adventure
  • A Beer Comix Vignette
  • Metropolitan Comix
  • Chimo Queen of the Ritz
  • Lurid Pap Comix
  • Goony Bunny the Philosopher Rabbit
  • Stark, Scary and Lustful
  • A New Era Dawns in Agadir-Morocco
In the first Chimo comic, Chimo’s name is given this introduction:
*Chimo (Pron. CHEE-MO) Ancient Canadian Colloquialism. Mod. trans. “Eat poop white eyes”
See also: Bridge City Beer Comix and Bridge City Revue.

Bearded Lady

Cover of the second issue of Bearded Lady Comics.

Like I did with Kevin Kurytnik and the French zine Arg, I would like to honour all comics, artists and contributors to the Canadian comic book scene including zines. I’ve gone through a pretty good list of zines so far, including Kurytnik’s A.R.G. and I want to do it a lot more. Some of these zines are just so good, and I’m constantly grateful to be able to see them. The rarity is hard to imagine.

Bearded Lady Comics. A fantastic series that lasted only two issues in 1992. Produced by Ontario College of Art and Design students Mike Linkovich and Rafael Alvarez, it also included the work of Nicolas Kadima and in the second issue Dave Marshak.

Each comic stood out in its own way and the effort put into each issue is clear. In the photo to the left, you can see the professionalism the artists put into creating a zine that could be taken seriously. Not that zines aren’t taken seriously, but the minimalist design and general easiness of the cover is appealing to a broader audience.

Here is a summary of the contents of the first zine:

  • A Little Red on the Block: Mike Linkovich
  • The Mutants at the End: Nicolas Kadima
  • Presenting Denny: Rafael Alvarez
And here is the second:
  • Letters
  • A Little Red on the Block II: Mike Linkovich
  • The Mutants at the End II: Nicolas Kadima
  • Reader Beware: Dave Marshak
  • Rainy Daze: Rafael Alvarez
  • Presenting Denny II: Rafael Alvarez
Finally, here are some current links to the authors if you want to explore them or see if they have a copy of the zine lying around or for sale. I’m 99% sure these are links to or about the correct people.

ARG

Coincidentally, there was another ARG zine released in Québec in 1987. ARG was published by Québec artist Denis Goulet, and is written in French. This does not mean you have to speak French to appreciate the comic. ARG was so titled for the sound we make when we die…arg. This is relevant because the five part series sought to commemorate deceased artists or their creations and they took a strictly satirical approach.

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The comics were produced in the size of a quarter page mini, with the exception of number four which was a half-page size. Here are some of the contributing artists: Jean Morin, Serge Boisvert (Denevert), Michel “Love” D’Amour, André Gagnon, Evan “Boly” Bolduc, Jean-Françoise Guay, Paul “Paulo” Bordeleau, Valium, Mario Giguère, Denis Goulet, Jacques Hébert, Pago, Benoît Joly, Blackwell, Suzanne Payette, Marc

Pageau,”W.M.”, Davio and Blonk. Some of these artists went on to do other things. Jean Morin and Benoît Joly both worked on Bambou, a French alternative comic anthology and Denis Goulet released another zine entitled Teton Magazine dedicated to Gumby. For now, here is a list of the ARG comics and the artists in memoriam.

  • Arg #1 – Hergé
  • Arg #2 – Edgar P. Jacobs
  • Arg #3 – Krazy Kat
  • Arg #4 – Windsor McCay
  • Arg #5 – Batman
A thank you to both André Gagnon and Denis Goulet for giving me a list of contributors and cover scans.

Here are André Gagnon and Denis Goulet‘s current blogs if your interested in checking out more of their work.

Owen McCarron and Comic Book World

Auntie Litter…Amazing

In light of my recent post on government or public service comic books, I’ve decided to focus in a little bit more and look at the career of Owen McCarron. Although he’s more well known and searchable on the internet than many other Canadians involved with comics, his company, Comic Book World, is not, which is why I’d like to highlight that aspect of his career.

It is perhaps the most memorable and weighted area of his career. While working in advertising at the Chronicle-Herald limited in Halifax, McCarron also spent his time creating puzzles for the fun and games section of the paper. It was also around the beginnings of his career that McCarron produced the art for some Charlton titles.

In the mid 1960s, McCarron transferred his talent and passion for games, puzzles and comics and created created what became Comic Book World, formerly Comic Page Features. Binkly and Doinkel were just a few characters in his long line of promotional and educational comics. Art very reminiscent of the seventies, I thought of Frosty the Snowman, the soft lines and very colourful style was the appeal for his young audience. Probably the intended goal, his comic company was very successful among private companies and government departments, commissioned to educate children about everything from ethics to safety and sometimes just interesting facts.

The comics were well received among among adults who appreciated the nature of them and the publishing house. One of the only Canadian companies flourishing in the “above ground” scene in the sixties and seventies, McCarron’s only real competition was Ganes Productions by Orville Ganes, located in Toronto. Both were the only successful comic book publishers in an otherwise American-comic-dominated Canada. Despite residing in Halifax, McCarron also received presidential recognition for his contribution to fun and educational comics.

For the most part, McCarron drew, inked and coloured almost all of the comics he produced under CBW and obtained help on several issues from writer Robin Edmiston. The team produced many comics before McCarron went on to produce “Marvel Fun and Games” for Stan Lee in the mid 1970s and some work for DC as well.

Finally, McCarron drew and contributed art to Captain Canuck comics and “helped to inaugurate the Canadian Silver Age of Comics” (Bell 102). He passed away in 2005. Here are a list of titles from Comic Book World as I find them. Also, here is his work on the Halifax Explosion and here is another bio worth reading.

  • Adventures of Binkly and Doinkel, The
  • Adventures of Skoodi the Rabbit, The
  • Auntie Litter Comics
  • Aylmer “Taste of Canada” Comics (with E.S. Pea)
  • Cap’n Bluenose Comics
  • Captain Enviro
  • Colonel Ernie Comics #1
  • Colonel Ernie Comics #2
  • Colonel Sanders Comics #1
  • Colonel Sanders Comics #2
  • Gassy the Elephant Comics #1
  • L’il Easy Saver Comics #1
  • L’il Easy Saver Comics #2
  • L’il Easy Saver Comics #3
  • Wayne & Shuster Comics #1
  • You and the Co-op

Kevin Kurytnik

Business As Usual – Video 2010

It’s pretty interesting to go through some of the older zines from the 80s and 90s and stumble upon some that exceed the typical standards of zine culture. Today I stumpled upon a zine entitled “ARG: Apocryphal Restituion Guild”. This zine, created and produced in Calgary in 1989 by Kevin Kurytnik, was not only one of the better zines I’ve seen as far as physical appearance and production quality went, but also the content. Later Kurytnik later produced “UGH! Undulating Gods in Heat!”

The editor and greater contributor of content to ARG, Kurytnik’s illustrations and dark humour are more subtle and dry than the genre typically produces. His simple but detailed black and white drawings attract the attention of any reader and pair up remarkably well with the content and style of his writing.

Although Kurytnik strayed from the comic world, he was able to carry out his creations and ideas in animation. From ARG, Kurytnik published “Mr. Reaper’s Really Bad Day” which he later turned into “Mr. Reaper’s Really Bad Morning”; a short film that he directed and co-wrote with Carol Beecher. You can see it here:

Here is a link of his other accomplishments if you’re interested in learning or seeing more. Kurytnik is now an instructor at Alberta College of Art and Design and here is his faculty profile.