First Comics News interview with Hope Nicholson!

hope-nicholsonPhil Latter: Hope, I always initially, in these interviews, attempt to do my very best to dig deep down, to hopefully obtain some biographical information on my interview subjects(s), for the sheer benefit of our readers’ interests. To me, that is the bare foundation, for these types of interviews – like building a new house.

You can’t build a house, without a strong foundation, right?
Put another way, what say we first learn just a little bit about who you are, and then, let’s explore what you’re doing in the world, in terms of the comic book industry, okay?

And therefore, if you’d be so kind, may I ask, where were you born, where did you grow up and go to school, or schools?

Hope Nicholson: Hi, Phil, I was born and grew up in the north-end of Winnipeg, Manitoba. After high-school, I moved to Toronto, where I attended York University for film and communication studies before moving back to Winnipeg for several years, to finish my degree, and pursue a career in media. I decided to return to academia after two years back in Winnipeg, and came back to Toronto to pursue my Masters in Communications, before taking a hiatus to work in the media field in Toronto.

1st: Are you a comic book or newspaper comic strip fan, reader, and/-or collector yourself? If so, how long have you been into it, and what strips, characters or series are your favourites?

image1Hope: This is a bit of a long story!

Yes, I’ve been a reader and fan of comic books since I could read, so it’s likely been about a quarter-century at this point. I originally just read whatever was available nearby, whether it was my grandfather’s Donald Duck digests, my father’s Classics Illustrated, or my brother’s Superman comics. My brother had a brief obsession with collecting comic books when he was a teenager, so I’d often sneak into his room and read his Spawn, Death of Superman, and Spiderman’s Clone Saga collections, making sure to carefully put them back in the board and bags so he couldn’t tell!

Dazzler was the first comic book that I became really absorbed by. As a result of a flood when I was young, a local comic book shop was throwing out their damaged comics. This included an almost full-run of Dazzler, which my parents kindly brought home for us to read. I absolutely loved the crazy adventures she got into, and her many romantic entanglements and failures. Really, now that I’ve read many more comic books, I can say that I’ve never seen a comic quite like that again.

When I started convincing my parents to lend me money for comic books, I bought ElfQuest and built a complete collection eventually (no mean feat with hundreds of different issues, dozen titles, across a variety of publishers!) mostly from a used bookstore downtown called The Book Fair.

I would supplement my need for new comics with buying quarter-bin comics at the local flea market, which were usually Marvel Comics: She-hulk, West Coast Avengers, Power Pack, Vision & Scarlet witch, Alpha Flight, etc.

I still like to flip through the cheap bins when I’m in a comic store, you never know what you’ll find.

I’ll never forget one year, it must have been 1998, and I was 12, because I received a brand new 1999 calendar and dozens of Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest comics that my parents knew I didn’t have in my collection.
My brother made me a custom sweatshirt that year with ElfQuest art on it. I was stunned!

I literally just sat there soaking it all in, having only one new comic every month or so, and here I was now, presented with all of these options!

Something else I remember from that time period was a Love & Rockets ad that was in the back of an ElfQuest comic. The women were all energetic, angry, and gorgeous. I remember thinking, “Boy, once I’m older, I hope I’m cool enough to read this comic” (being as cool as the characters did not seem like even a remote possibility!)

I took a break in junior high and high school where I hid my comics interest and for years, and didn’t buy any new ones, but I would often re-read my old comics. It’s easy to feel embarrassed by your interests, especially at a time when there really wasn’t a community that I could access, especially one for a young girl. I felt happy going to the local flea market shop where they knew me, but actual conventions and comic shops terrified me, since the demographic was so different from me. I had (have?) a thin skin too, and a rude or indifferent store clerk always had the affect of making me feel ashamed and alienated. I was always worried that I would get ‘caught’ by my classmates, and they would figure out just how much of a nerd I was. They already knew I had dorky glasses, braces, frizzy hair, horrible clothing, and always had my head in a fantasy novel. I didn’t want to give them any more ammo.

9781594749483I took comics back up in late high school, where I became more obsessed than ever. Especially as I discovered comic books that were very different from the action-adventure-romance comics I loved when I was younger. I needed to read every graphic novel ever made, I remember just flying through Transmetropolitan, The Authority, Walking Dead, Preacher, etc. I got back into superhero comics a few years later, and tried to read as many X-men and Avengers comics as humanly possible.

I did finally read Love & Rockets, and it meant more to me than reading any other comic book ever has. How surreal it seems that the creator now knows my name and face, even following me on social media!

Strangely enough, now that I’m in the comics community more than ever, I read as few comic books as when I was in junior high, mostly due to a lack of time and attention. And now, I’m embarrassed because of reading too few, instead of for reading too many.

As a result of being so alienated as a young female nerd, I’ve been driven to connect to as many female fans as I can. Together we’ve built a wonderful little community in Toronto that is maybe even more exciting to me than Nelvana!

1st: I’m familiar with the news online, that you will, very shortly, be reprinting the Golden Age, 1940’s, World War Two era ‘Canadian Whites’ Nelvana of The North comic books, which today, original copies of those that still exist are very, very rare; and pretty well, these days, almost impossible to find! I understand that, among other projects that you are working on publishing right now (and, we will be discussing those with you as well, in this interview), a reprinted collection of every last one of those classic Canadian Nelvana of the North comic books. When I first heard about this online, on one of my own websites, from you, ( groups/canadiancomics/info ) , I was quite excited, since I’ve never had access to most of those rare and vintage comic books, so as to peruse, read, and enjoy them!

Can you tell us, please, how, intitially, your idea of doing this, all those months ago, came about, and how this project
has been progressing?

enoughspaceHope: Oh, this has been many years in the making! I’d say it was about 2006, when I first heard about the Canadian Whites. Because of my interest in comic books, and my academic bent towards communication studies, it was a natural fit for me to investigate the history of the Canadian comic book. It was the website Guardians of the North, created by John Bell, that led me to hear about Nelvana, and all of the other characters. Two years later, I was still enthralled, and I knew that I would do something with the character. At the time, I was going into television production and was an intern at Book TV, so I saw a natural fit for either a documentary or a live-action series (a la Josh Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire; Slayer) for Nelvana. Another year passes and I finally have the opportunity, and I write a documentary proposal on the history of the Canadian golden age.

At this time, I went to the library and copied every single Canadian White Triumph comic book from the microfiche to my drive. I cleaned them up and shared them with collectors, and I can see every so often one of my microfiche scans pop up in my google search!

My documentary proposal was sadly not picked up by a broadcaster, which is an enormous shame to me, as the director I picked, Winston Washington Moxam, was my mentor and passed away a few years later. I never had the chance to do a project with him.

However, a different company had more success than I did, instead of the history of the golden age though, they wanted to do a project on the Canadian superheroes. I joined up with them, and convinced them to let me use my connections and research, and I became a producer on the project. That project, three years later, is called Lost Heroes and it is finally completed.

As soon as I learned of the rights to Nelvana, I wanted to do a reprint of her adventures. But I was stumped as to how to do it. I wasn’t a publisher, and there still was a part of me too embarrassed to ask for help, in case people thought it was a silly idea, or if it failed and caused me to have a bad reputation. Luckily, this year Kickstarter opened up for Canadians, and I just knew that I would be able to get interest in this project. I asked Rachel Richey, another Canadian comic historian if she would be interested in working together, since many hands make light work, and together we raised the necessary funds needed to reprint the comic.

fiacoverThe comics are incredibly rare. And if I have any advice for anyone that wants to do a similar project, it’s simply talk to everyone. Ask people you know who they know, go to conventions and talk to retailers, artists, strangers. Spam libraries and art galleries. Find the estate of the creator. If you do your research, and are passionate about the subject, you can find remarkable unknown information.

In the end though, we were saved by pure luck. A funder emailed us to tell us about a massive collection that was unknown to us. This collection provided roughly 30% of the comics we needed that we would not be able to get any other way, as unfortunately the collection we intended to use was unable to provide us with print-quality digital copies.

1st: Are any, or many of the numerous Golden Age, 1940’s Canadian comic book characters from that era, now, legally, in ‘The Public Domain’, like Sherlock Holmes, some Tarzan Pulp tales and so forth, or no?
In other words, have you encountered any specific legal hurdles, on deciding to go ahead with this project, or did you require the permission from the copyright holders?

And, do you happen to know as to whether Canadian copyright laws, in matters like this, differs much at all from their American counterparts?

Hope: Yes, Canadian copyright laws differ from the United States, though I wouldn’t be able to tell you in how many ways, as I am only familiar with the Canadian system. I believe that there are renewals, and needs to use the content to keep the copyrights in the US, which aren’t necessarily the same for Canada.

Originally, I assumed the comics were public domain, so I shared my microfiche scans freely with other fans and collectors. I soon found out I was wrong, but unfortunately a few of my copies propagated even after I removed my uploads, which I do feel badly about, as they are not public domain.

frontI’ve been lucky that I do have friends who work in legal counsel who were able to confirm information for me, but all of the legwork to investigate the copyrights I did myself, back when I was pitching the original documentary in about 2009. It’s impossible to get insurance for a film if you don’t have all of your rights in order! And no insurance means no funding, which means no film.

Through research, I learned that Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert likely owned the artwork rights to all Canadian Whites’ Bell Features content, as detailed in their book “The Great Canadian Comic Books”, when they purchased the rights as well as a large collection of artwork and comics. More research, and I found their contact information and got in touch with both of them who confirmed they bought the rights from the original publisher. Mark Askwith, from The Space Channel gave me advice in this period which helped spur my research along. We knew each other from back when BookTV, and The Space Channel shared the same floor as Toronto’s radio station 10:50 CHUM.

Nelvana of the North was originally a creator-owned title by Adrian Dingle, but after a few issues, it was bought by a publisher (Cy Bell & John Ezrin) who also bought the rights, before selling them a few decades later to Patrick and Michael. Patrick; and Michael donated their collection of artwork to Canada’s The National Archives, who also asked for half of the rights to any of the comic books they donated (which is not 100% of Bell Features comic books) and Patrick & Michael incorporated their rights into Nelvana Animation, which is now under the banner of Corus Entertainment.

Fifty years after the death of the creator, the comic books will become public domain, which for Nelvana of The North, will be 2024. Thank goodness Nelvana only ever had one creator!

In addition, certain moral rights, that is the right to create new content based on the character (ie. a new comic book, animation program, film), would still be held with the creator or his estate. We also have Adrian Dingle’s estates permission for this project and check in with them often to gain their thoughts on paths that we intend to take.

lostheroesThat said, there were multiple publishers of Canadian content other than Bell Features. I have not yet investigated the origins of those, since really, as you can see the rights research is incredibly complex, and has not been digitized or easily accessible. Which means, just because the internet says something is public domain, it’s best to do some hard-digging to confirm. It’s frustrating to many that in these days of easy access to information, we still have to do the legwork, but that’s part of what makes this so rewarding.

It is possible that some of the comics published by companies other than Bell Features could be public domain, if the rights resided with the publisher, and their company dissolved without assigning the copyrights to another party. However, it’s also possible that the rights could reside with the estate of the creator, depending on the original contract the creator signed with the publisher.

No one expected comic books to have any longevity, they were seen as disposable items so the rights to many are shrouded in mystery.

1st: As mentioned, there are numerous World War Two era ‘Canadian Whites’ unique characters, so-called for the reason that most of those very rare Canadian comics, during World War Two and after, for a short time, were printed in black and white, and not colour, and most had covers with only two-tone colour covers.)

Some of this writer’s favourites include Nelvana of the North, but also The Penguin, Speed Savage, Johnny Canuck, Freelance, Captain Wonder, Corporal Keene, Mr. Monster, Corporal Keene, Rex Baxter, Captain Daring, and many others!

A little more than a year and a half ago, I ended up buying almost fourty-five early ‘Canadian Whites’, from down near Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley region, from a farmer – I’d originally heard about this long-forgotten-about collection from this aged gent’s youth, from a friend who lives down that way. He’d gotten into a discussion with this fellow.

I’d had quite a few before that, however, upon landing this considerable rare collection, and for a good price, I began interested enough to actively begin collecting them again.

lovebeyondSo tell me, in terms of the rich Canadian history of comic book characters from the World War Two years, why Nelvana of The North? What appeals to you the most, about that character?

Hope: Congratulations on your collection! I will talk to you off-panel about this, as I’m curious which issues you have (we’re still missing one very rare Triumph Comic with a Nelvana story), plus I am always looking for new collections in case I decide to do any more reprints.

Well, there are many reasons for choosing Nelvana.

One: the art is gorgeous, and Nelvana herself is quite a looker. A lot of the Canadian Whites art was done by teenagers, and is fairly sloppy, but Nelvana was well-drawn, and only got better as the artist’s skill increased over time.

Two: she has an incredibly amazing backstory, that even now is still being discovered! For years, general consensus was she was based on an Inuit myth heard by Franz Johnston and relayed to his friend Adrian Dingle. Only recently have I discovered Nelvana was a real woman, an Inuit elder that Franz met, in Port Radium.
And I have discovered some distant relatives of hers! As Inuit names such as Nelvana are passed down through the family, there is little doubt that the Nelvanas of today are in some way, her relatives. My obsession with genealogy, of course, compels me to track her family tree down. Unfortunately, the records in the north are far from complete, which makes it even more of an alluring puzzle.

Three: She’s a female superhero, and as a reader, I’ve always been partial to these. Plus, her adventures rarely end with her tied up, needing to be rescued, or falling in love (though I do enjoy a good romance)
She pals around with her Royal Canadian Mounted Police buddy, and gets him out of trouble, when interdimensional invaders try to make him marry their queen!
In other words, she’s an independent superheroine, at a rare time when this could happen because there was no archetype that she had to follow. Nowadays we do have some fascinating superheroines, but they do have to break the archetype that has developed in the decades since Nelvana was born.

moonshotFour: Her stories are so much FUNNER than any of the other whites! And incredibly epic. So many crazy monsters, Mammoth Men, Ether People, Flame Villains, among others.

Five: She’s Inuit, or at least has very strong Inuit ties, and there’s an incredible lack of stories featuring Inuit, or any aboriginal characters that aren’t horrible. And by that I mean, I mean, often ignorantly, racist.

Six: She’s Canada’s first superheroine. And one, if not the first superheroine in the world.
Definitely the first major one!

1st: When will this Nelvana of the North reprint collection be published, and available for sale? I’ll be lining up to buy a copy!

Hope: Our first print run will be primarily to fulfill all of the Kickstarter funders which we aim for in late April 2014, but we will have extra books available for sale on our website, and at conventions after these are mailed out.
There are also several retailers who will have books available.

Strange Adventures in Halifax has been one of our biggest supporters, and they will have dozens of books in their store

In addition the following stores also pre-bought books for their customers:
The Comic Book Lounge – Toronto, ON, Canada
The Comic Book Shoppe 2 – Ottawa, ON, Canada
Westfield Comics – Middleton, WI, USA
Another Dimension – Calgary, AB, Canada
Future Pastimes – Sarnia, ON, Canada
Excalibur Comics – Toronto, ON, Canada
Heroes – London, ON, Canada
Doug Sulipa’s Comic World – Steinbach, MB, Canada
La Boîte à B.D. – Laval, PQ, Canada
Paradise Comics – Toronto, ON, Canada

moonshotv2-1And when the convention season is a bit less hectic, we hope to get as many books as we can into libraries so that no matter their budget, folks can read the book.

1st: I know for a fact that the eventually published Nelvana of the North ‘Canadian Whites’, World War Two era reprint collection will surely have a HUGE built-in fan base, customers lining up to buy it, upon publication!

And, I’ll be one of them! Any idea what the eventual print run (how many copies) will be eventually published?

Hope: Well I can say right now we are aiming for a first run of 2500, which will be enough to ship out to our funders, and have some extras left over, for conventions. To be honest, I was a bit blown away by the conventions interested in us, so we may increase that run a bit, to be safe. We are still formulating a distribution strategy for our second print run, which will be primarily retailer-focused, and likely later in at least fall 2014.

1st: Hope, do you have any plans to publish, in the future, other reprint collections, perhaps of some of the other vintage ‘Canadian Whites’ characters?

Hope: I want to take it one step at the time and see what the interest in Nelvana is. It’s a very time-intensive project, and right now it’s my full-time job. However, comics, especially in Canada, are not often sustainable, so it’s a matter of balancing consumer interest, my time availability, and my financial capabilities. I don’t think I could stay away, though. It’s likely I will be working on another project next year; I can’t help myself!

secretloves11st: I’ve also read in the comic book fan press, online, that you will also be published another Canadian comics heroes project. What can you tell our First Comics readers about that, including its’ title and premise? And, who are the creators on that project?

Hope: I assume you mean Lost Heroes! Lost Heroes is a documentary, directed by Will Pascoe of Orphan Black/Bitten, and produced by Tony Wosk, Kyle Bornais, and myself. It will be airing later next month in a screening in Toronto, and nation-wide on specialty cable in Canada. I hope to be able to bring it around to conventions as well, a few of which have been very eager to screen it for their attendees.

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