The resurrection of Johnny Canuck

Written by Cheryl Cottrell-Smith

Not all Kickstarter campaigns are winners. The global crowdfunding platform states that they “bring creative projects to life,” which is all fine and dandy until someone raises $40,000 to make potato salad. Or gets $67,000 to build a Robocop statue in Detroit.

Rachel Richey’s project, unlike many Kickstarter campaigns, has a selfless cause at its heart. Her goal was to raise $23,000 to reprint and publish Leo Bachle’s 1942 Canadian comic book series, Johnny Canuck.

“I got involved in comics when I discovered the collection at LAC had not been catalogued.”

A comic book historian and archivist, Rachel most recently co-headed the project to republish the Nelvana of the Northern Lights comic series; the Kickstarter campaign for this initiative gained full funding within five days of its launch.

Rachel’s Twitter profile photo

This time, Rachel has her sights set on a much more subversive character from Canadian comic culture: a superhero originally based on a political lumberjack-inspired cartoon man that is still recognized as one of the logos for the Vancouver Canucks. The Johnny Canuck comics, created by Leo Bachle, were intended to be reprinted by a third party in 2010 and unfortunately never made the cut.

“In my head, I began this campaign and others several years ago when I discovered these comics had never been reprinted,” says Rachel.

“It wasn’t until Kickstarter came to Canada that there really seemed to be a chance.”

A Toronto resident, Rachel’s passion for comics led her to any and all kinds of work related to the industry, from comic book retail, to documentary research, to blogging about comic books. She has also spent time working with the comics collection at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), where she assisted in documenting, cataloguing, and researching for Canadian comics such as Alpha Flight, Nelvana, and, of course, Johnny Canuck.

“I got involved in comics when I discovered the collection at LAC had not been catalogued,” says Rachel.

“I all but begged them to give me a job, and when they did it was like I was in a crash course in Canadian comic history! (Thank you John Bell, I tip my hat to you.) When I came to Toronto, I got a job working with Kevin Boyd at the Comic Book Lounge and got further education in the world of comics. It kind of just keeps snowballing! Now I’m primarily focusing on publishing Johnny Canuck and other Golden Age comics.”

“Johnny’s really cool, and I know that, and you know that, but it’s a race to let everyone else know and now I can breathe easy knowing that there will be books I can put into people’s hands.”

Kickstarter, in all of its crowdfunding glory, has been Rachel’s fundraising tool of choice from the very beginning.

“For a comic that’s been essentially relegated to anonymity for 70 years, Kickstarter is the perfect venue to bring them back! It forces people to talk and that’s just what Johnny needs!”

And, apparently, Johnny got what he needed. Fourteen days before the end of the campaign, Rachel reached her goal amount.

“I feel relieved!” she says.

Nelvana of the Northern Lights

“I mean, Johnny’s really cool, and I know that, and you know that, but it’s a race to let everyone else know and now I can breathe easy knowing that there will be books I can put into people’s hands.”

The campaign will run until August 31, so interested comic-lovers can still put their dollars towards the project. Incentives include items such as a touched-up edition of the very first issue ($10 pledge) or a Special Edition Hardcover package, which includes a screen print of an original Johnny Canuck splash page and a companion issue with photos, interviews, and more ($100 pledge). Big spending retailers can also spring for a full page ad in the single issue comic at a pledge of $1000 or more. Pledges have now passed $25,000, so each Johnny Canuck funder will be personally thanked in the book. At $30,000, all softcover books will be upgraded to hardcover and at $35,000, all mail incentives will also include the first issue of Doc Stearn/Mr. Monster.

Now that this campaign’s a success, Rachel has no plans to remove herself as Canadian comic book champion. She wishes to see a full archive of Canadian comics to which creators, independent or mainstream, can send their work. She also wants to see more reprints of great comics created after the 40s.

“I myself am starting a publishing company named for my blog, Comic Syrup Press,” says Rachel.

“I plan to [publish] several more Golden Age heroes, including Thunderfist, The Wing, The Penguin, and Mr. Monster.”

You can find more information or contribute to the Johnny Canuck Kickstarter here. You can also follow Rachel on Twitter or check out her blog.

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