In the streets of Toronto, a young artist follows his dream of creating comics. When he is finally given the chance, will it be all he wished, or will the realities of the time jade him to the wonder of what he creates? From Ken Steacy and Margaret Atwood, Dark Horse Comics presents Warbears #1.
Story: Margaret Atwood, Ken Steacy
Art: Ken Steacy
Cover: Ken Steacy
Editor: Daniel Chabon
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: September 5, 2018
Cover Price: $4.99
Previously in Warbears: In 2017, The Globe and Mail commissioned a series of stories from Canadian writers. One of those writers was Margaret Atwood, with spot illustrations by Ken Steacy. She introduced Alain Zurakowski, a young artist working at Canoodle Comics at the close of World War II, and his creation, Oursonette, a female were-bear. While that story was about the end of an era, this story goes back to the beginning.
ONE MAN’S DREAM
The story begins as young Alain Zurakowski arrives at the offices of Canoodle Comics, a small publisher creating what would become known as “Canadian Whites”, black and white comics which flooded the Canadian marketplace during a time that American four-color comics were not allowed in the country. Al is an artist, and he wants a job. Gloria Topper, Publisher and editor-in-chief of Canoodle Comics, hires him based on his merger portfolio. “Well, you sure ain’t no Hal Foster of Will Eisner…” was her response, and she starts him off at eighteen dollars a week. Despite having found gainful employment doing what he loves, his family is not entirely impressed. His mother worries about his brothers, all gone to serve in the war effort, and his father berates him for drawing comics and not being in the service. But Al’s eyes and asthma have kept him out of the military.
The next day he reports to work and is introduced to Mike Mackenzie, the artist for Bullet Gal. Al is replacing the inker who joined the Navy, and when Mike directs Al to ink up his borders and word balloons, he is somewhat disillusioned. While he works at the basics, he also works on his own original characters, Oursonette, a female were-bear or arktothrope. When Gail catches him drawing the character, she directs him to work up and outline and have it ready for the morning, it looks like he may have finally broken through. But when he discovers that Mike is drawing his creation, Al’s hard lesson in the publishing world begins in earnest. Will he be up to the test, or will he throw away a dream?
WITH A WORLD AT WAR
I was pleasantly surprised as I read this title. First off, it is based on a short story by Margaret Atwood (Angel-Catbird, The Handmaiden’s Tale), and I was surprised to find this was indeed the same Margaret Atwood who has penned so many amazing prose stories over the years. She originally created these characters for a short story published in The Globe and Mail last year on the event of Canada’s sesquicentennial. That story tells of the characters discussing what will happen at the end of the war, especially to their publishing company after the floodgates were re-opened to American publications. Ken Steacy (The Original Astro Boy, Jonny Quest) was chosen to do the illustration for the story, which was prose with spot illustrations within. In the foreword to this issue, Atwood recalls that Steacy fell in love with the characters, and while they collaborated on this series, the script was mainly a work of his. While it is always hard to tell who exactly did what on any collaboration, the story could only soar at the attention of two such wonderful and talented creators. Al’s tale, and the tale of the Canadian comic industry is one that will tug at your heart. While Al and Oursonette may be fictional characters from the mind of Margaret Atwood, the events leading up to the crash of so many Canadian comic publishers is not. Al’s story may very well have been the story of a young Ed Furness or Charles Snelgrove or Adrian Dingle. Canoodle Comic stands in for Canadian publishers like Hillborough Studios and Maple Leaf Publishing. While the players were different, the stories of their rise and fall were achingly similar.
Ken Steacy is a veteran of the comic industry, having worked over the years with Now Comics, Comico, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and so many more. His work may also be recognizable as gracing multiple kid’s early reader books for many publishers. His style has always had a unique look that made him stand out in the industry. While I am not positive, he seems to use mixed media to produce his art. However, he works, whatever his process, he has a sharp style of art which is recognizable to those who have seen it. Here he brings out his love of the period with attention to detail in the surrounds of the characters, their clothing, the backgrounds and appliances. His art a wonder, and he clearly has a love of his work.
BOTTOM LINE: WONDERFULLY TOLD AND COMPELLING
Warbears is not a superhero story. It is not a documentary. It has the feel of a “based on actual events” story, and as such it grabs you. The history of the Canadian comic industry during World War II is largely unknown to today’s average reader. Much like the American Golden Age of comics, there are a few standouts, but most people focus so much on the present and modern they forget those stories they enjoy now were made possible based on a foundation laid by thousands of unsung creators from the past. Those creators did not enjoy the benefits of the internet, self-publishing, residuals, and respect from their fans base. This story is one of fiction, but it paints a picture of the period it is set in that is almost heart-wrenching. The characters feel real, and you’ll find yourself cheering for them as they struggle in their lives.
WARBEARS #1 is a wonderful true to life tale of a young man’s struggle to fulfill himself creatively while unknowingly being on the verge of the demise of an industry he loves. It has a feel that draws you in, and you’ll find yourself wanting to know more, not only about Alain Zurakowski’s story, but of the real-life events revolving around the Canadian Whites. Everyone should pick it up and let themselves be drawn in.