What comic book heroine do you get when you mix the Golden Age, campy Canadians, and kick-ass chicks? If you don’t think such a character exists, it’s not your fault; she hasn’t been printed since 1941. But she exists, in full mini-skirted glory, and two Toronto women want to bring her back to the masses. Her name?
Nelvana of the Northern Lights.
Created in 1941 by Adrian Dingle, Inuit goddess Nelvana filled the gap left on Canadian comic stands when the government banned the import of American comic books. Nelvana ran for 31 issues, had her own merchandise, and her own graphic novel. Oh, and did we mention she even existed before Wonder Woman?
Sadly, Nelvana has never been re-printed since her original run nearly 75 years ago. Luckily for the world, Canadian comic lovers Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey got in touch with the right holders, snapped them up, and quickly set up a Kickstarter in Nelvana’s name. The world noticed, and Nelvana was fully funded within 5 days. But fear not, comic fans! There are stretch goals, and you can still donate to the cause.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Nicholson and Richey and talk to them about what inspired them to take on this project. Settle in with your best inuksuk and read on!
Dork Shelf: I know you both love the Golden Age – but what was it about Nelvana in particular that made you want to take on this project full-time?
Hope Nicholson: I love Nelvana because I think she’s not only the best drawn, but also the one with the most connection to actual Canadian culture. She was created by a Canadian illustrator, along with a member of the Group of Seven, she was loosely based on Inuit mythology, and she fought Nazis on the back of a polar bear. It doesn’t really get more Canadian than that.
Rachel Richey: It’s true. She’s one of the more quality, composed comics, and the stories are very well written for the time.
DS: What got you involved with Nelvana, and how did you go about starting the process of getting her re-printed?
RR: Hope and I both stumbled across the Canadian Golden Age of Comics through our other interests, and we both had the same reaction: why isn’t this more accessible? Why can’t I buy this at Chapters? So we were both shocked and infuriated, both completely separately. Since then, we’ve really been crusaders for this era of comics.
HN: When I was working on Lost Heroes, we did a lot of licensing, and through talking with Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert at Nelvana Animation, I thought they’d have the best idea of where the rights lay. They told me that Corus Entertainment had the rights, and I’ve had a pretty good relationship with them, so when I asked them if we could do the rights, after a bit of deliberation, they agreed!
DS: This project has gotten some incredible attention, and so many wonderful creators donated original art to the cause. How did they become involved with Nelvana?
RR: Over the time that Hope and I have been working alongside the industry on our respective projects, we’ve built a lot of connections, including some of the artists. Some of them we weren’t as familiar with just approached us directly because they were excited about the project – Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes have been our biggest fans and have been so helpful. We didn’t even have to ask them; they volunteered everything. Jeff Lemire was the first person to submit his original art and has been promoting it as a fan – he wants to see it just as much as everyone else and wants to get it out there. It really is worth reading. Everyone just wants people to know about Canada’s heritage in the comics industry.
HN: There was definitely no one that was reluctant to join our project! As soon as we mentioned it to them, they jumped. It’s amazing to see the response we’ve had, and I think it’s because they can’t read the character either. They really want to make sure it happens.
DS: Now that you’re funded – in fact, over-funded – what’s first on the Nelvana agenda? How do you get started on a project like this?
HN: The first thing we have to do is go and view the private collections within the GTA, so we can get an idea of who has what comics, what kind of condition they’re in, what we can do with them. And we have to experiment with different capturing methods, flatbed versus high-definition camera, and just seeing how we’re going to put this all together in a way that’s going to be really high-quality.
RR: On top of that, any extra funds that we have will go towards promotion – which is probably the biggest obstacle of this project. Nobody’s really advertised Nelvana that much over the last 70 years, so it’s all about making Nelvana as close to a household name as possible. She should really be as well-known as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman for her age, especially among Canadians. So we’re going to get to as many conventions as we can, and just try and get the word out there.
HN: We’re going to try and get her a Heritage Minute!
DS: Tell me a bit about the ways in which we’ll be able to read Nelvana once your project is complete.
RR: We’re going to collect all 31 of her comics together in one volume, as well as any covers that she was featured on, and her single colour comic. We’ll have a special single-issue for people who can’t afford the full volume but still want to help out, and that will include the first issue she appeared in as well as the special colour comic.
HN: We’re also working on a website for Nelvana, which will also include the original art that was donated to us.
DS: Any last inspiring words about Nelvana that you want to share?
HN: Nelvana is a really amazing character – her physical appearance was based on Adrian Dingle’s wife, which is such a nice love letter to someone he cared for deeply, and I’m so glad we’re able to continue this for him.
RR: When I found that out, I was just blown away – I wanted to just cry all over the place and yell. If I’m to pass anything on about Nelvana, it’s just that even if you can’t afford to donate to the Kickstarter or buy the comic – she needs promotion! Tell your friends that she exists, tell everyone, just get the word out there that this character exists. That’s the most important thing, really.
I couldn’t agree more, ladies! To see Richey and Nicholson in action, check out their Kickstarter video below. And don’t forget to donate!