Saluting Captain Canuck on Canada Day
Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
Okay listen up, here’s the situation: It’s Canada Day in Ottawa and the crowd is going wild on the front lawn of Parliament Hill as The Snowbirds do a flyby and Magic! takes the stage. Little do revellers know that the evil Mr. Gold has planted a device near the Peace Tower. Disaster is only seconds away.
But to be certain in a time like this, you need a hero with cool gadgets, a trendy mask, a kick-ass uniform, unlimited courage and veins of steel. And thanks to Richard Comely, we have one — Captain Canuck.
Created by Comely and Ron Leishman in 1975, Captain Canuck was an instant hit to millions of Canadians and quickly became “Canada’s own Superhero.” The popularity of the character has only grown over the years to include an animated series. Comely received The Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creator Award to celebrate Captain Canuck’s 35th anniversary.
A father of eight children and six grandchildren, Comely is a devout Mormon who has illustrated children’s books, greeting cards, ads, posters, magazine and book covers. He has lived in several places across Canada but currently calls Welland, Ontario his home. Comely has had a solid career as an artist, but it’s Captain Canuck that has won him the adoration of Canadians coast to coast.
Vacay.ca: Great to meet you!
Richard Comely: Thanks, nice to speak to you as well.
Vacay.ca: You live in Welland, Ontario. Nice place?
Comely: Oh yeah. We all know that Toronto is continually growing and getting more expensive. I really do see more people moving this direction. It’s close to Toronto and it has lots of things to offer. Besides Niagara Falls, the Great Lakes, vineyards and orchards and all that kind of stuff, there’s lots of recreation, lots of trails here.
Vacay.ca: You began drawing Captain Canuck in 1975 …
Comely: Yep. I actually seriously began working on it in 1974. And then I published the first issue in early 1975.
Vacay.ca: You were not born in Canada, but you’ve lived here most of your life.
Comely: That’s correct. I am 64 years old, I was born October 9, 1950. My parents came to Canada in 1953 from England. I don’t remember any of that stuff. Apparently I was as sick as a dog coming across on the boat. That’s about all I know. We got off at Pier 21 in Halifax.
Vacay.ca: Wow, that’s a really cool. The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is an important part of Canadian history.
Comely: True. I just revisited that pier last November for the first time since landing as a baby.
Vacay.ca: That must have been interesting.
Comely: Yeah, there’s a lot of history there. Interestingly, we were guests at the Hal-Con, the Halifax Comic Convention which is a great comic convention, probably one of the nicest comic conventions I’ve ever gone to.
The people in Halifax, they just spoil you rotten there! And when we arrived, Fadi Hakim and I — Fadi is my partner and the producer of the animated series.
We went for a walk and suddenly — quite by accident — we found ourselves on Pier 21. Halifax has this dock, this pier, you can just walk along it. And of course, I knew this was where we had landed when my family came to Canada.
Vacay.ca travel experts selected Halifax at No. 16 in the 20 Best Places To Visit in 2015 list. A big reason for that accolade was the the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.
Vacay.ca wrote: “Before 1914, words like Passchendaele, Ypres, and Vimy were not part of our vocabulary. An entire generation of men and women from coast to coast left their homes to fight, and a major exit point during this period was Halifax at Pier 21. For thousands of men and women, this beautiful pier on Canada’s eastern shoreline would be their last physical contact with home. Be sure to visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 while you’re in Halifax. Pier 21 was a major exit and entrance point for soldiers. It was also where many war brides arrived in Canada after the war was over to be with their husbands.”
To see the 20 Best Places To Visit in 2015 list, click here.
Vacay.ca: It must have been something for your parents to be in a new country making a start with a new baby.
Comely: When they were checking out Canada at Canada House in London, England they really had no idea, like many Europeans and Brits. Many people were told that British Columbia was one of the most beautiful places in Canada. But when you get to Halifax and say, “I want to go to British Columbia” most newcomers don’t appreciate how far away British Columbia is from Halifax. They don’t understand because they come from this little island that you can go across in a day or less, so it was a little hard to fathom a country as big as Canada. Anyway, from Halifax it was on to Etobicoke [a district of Toronto] for my family.
Vacay.ca: Toronto Comic-Con is just huge. What do you think of it?
Comely: It has gotten very big, and very crowded I think, and I’m not the only person to comment on this. Sometimes it’s really hard for anybody to move around. I’ve had people say, “I saw you, but I knew it would take me 20 minutes just to get over there, so I gave up.” Yeah, it’s awfully big. I believe it is now the third largest in North America after New York and San Diego.
Vacay.ca: How have your travels in Canada impacted your art?
Comely: Well, of course we landed in Halifax as a little kid. I grew up in Manitoba, I remember drawing as a little kid, and being encouraged by neighbours. I was in Portage la Prairie, where I was offered free classes and free membership in the Allied Art Club, which was an adult art club held at city hall and run by the sheriff of the town, who was also an artist. My very first cartoon was published when I was 11 years old. So obviously Portage la Prairie plays a large part. I moved to Winnipeg from Portage la Prairie right after high school and worked in a sign shop, I taught myself how to do hand lettering. It was in Winnipeg where I started drawing Captain Canuck in 1975.
Vacay.ca: Do you find people really enthusiastic about Captain Canuck?
Comely: Yes, oh yes. What I find very touching — sometimes it chokes me up — is that people will come up to me, shake my hand and say, thank you for creating Captain Canuck. We need him, they say. They’re so serious about it and it just kind of gets to me. Yes, I think people see Captain Canuck as more than just a comic book, or super hero or iconic figure. It kind of represents more than that. Captain Canuck is a cultural icon for a lot of people.
Vacay.ca: What does Canada Day mean to you, and how do you think Captain Canuck fits into the celebrations?
Comely: Well, you know it’s interesting. Obviously I’m a Canadian citizen. But I actually didn’t become a citizen until 1984 and the only reason it took so long for me to become a citizen is because I was not even three years old when I came here and I just assumed I was one. Then I went to vote and realized I couldn’t because Pierre Trudeau repatriated the constitution and all of a sudden British citizens couldn’t vote in Canada. I really don’t know what the technicalities were, but I went to vote and they told me that I couldn’t vote. So I immediately went out and became a citizen. It was my choice to become a Canadian citizen, and I think Canada Day resonates with me because I had to make a choice to become a citizen. And so it means a little more. I swore allegiance. And with Captain Canuck it means even more because he was designed to be Canada’s super hero.
Vacay.ca: Well, we’re certainly thrilled that you created him. Here’s wishing you well, Mr. Comely. And here’s wishing Canada — and Captain Canuck — a happy birthday!
Comely: Thank you very much!