Superheroes in comics in Quebec

The adventures of Batman, Superman and company invade our screens today with lucrative blockbusters. In his test Alter Ego. The superheroic genre in Quebec comics (1968-1995)Philippe Rioux goes back to basics by telling how these 100% American superheroes imagined by Marvel and DC Comics managed to seduce young Quebecers thanks to the translation and adaptation of modest inexpensive booklets which nevertheless upset the film market. publishing for thirty years.

The author has done a monk’s work in this detailed work, the fruit of his doctoral research. Passionate about comics since his childhood, Rioux examines the success of superhero characters in Quebec from the Quiet Revolution to the golden age of comic books (late 1960-1995).

“If the craze for comic books arrived in Quebec in 1968, it was because that year, Quebec readers would have access to French translations for the first time,” explains Philippe Rioux, in an interview with The duty. “It’s also the year when a large number of adaptations of “superheroic” series arrive on television, also translated as Batman or Spider-Man. »

French-speaking amateurs

Éditions Héritage, located in Saint-Lambert, on the South Shore of Montreal, will initially allow thousands of French speakers to follow the adventures of American superheroes by obtaining exclusive rights from Marvel Comics. “The translation and publication in Quebec of superhero comics then continued uninterrupted until 1995, when there was a brutal disinterest that can be explained in part by the arrival of video games. »

The essay emphasizes the pioneering role of Éditions Héritage, which will constantly try to adapt to the needs of its young and demanding readership. Under the leadership of its owner, Jacques Payette, the publishing house will notably offer drawing lessons and a letter from readers in its issues, which will be very successful. “The history of this house is interesting to study, because it not only translated American publications, it especially participated in the creation and training of a Quebec network of superhero enthusiasts. »

At the beginning of the 1980s, we see superheroes who put forward the English-Canadian and French-Canadian identity. The conflict between the two solitudes then becomes a recurring sign in superhero comics published in the country.

For almost 30 years, the comic books would experience phenomenal success in Quebec, which remains intriguing for Philippe Rioux, insofar as they were anchored in American popular culture. “It’s fascinating to see how they were able to export to Quebec in the heart of a French-speaking culture known to be different from American standards. »

humor and patriotism

The fact remains that despite the firepower of the comic books, a certain number of Quebec creators will imagine superheroes evolving in our imagination, mentions Philippe Rioux. “There is first the late Pierre Fournier, with his emblematic drawings. In 1973, he created the zany character of Capitaine Kébec wearing a suit in the colors of the Quebec flag and an aviator’s helmet. »

Even if Capitaine Kébec only lived for the duration of a short story, he marked the collective imagination, a thousand leagues from the American codes of the time. “He is described as a superhero that no one wants. He tries to help his neighbor without success and he obtains his powers by consuming drugs, ”lists the author.

However, the character remains captivating since he contrasts popular Quebec culture with American culture of the time. “We couldn’t imagine a serious superhero crossing the Montreal sky. We had to turn it into a humorous angle or attack the genre head on and show its ridiculousness. We are far from the glowing and glorious vision of the Quebec nation that we find on the American side. »

The author recalls that in the United States, superheroes appeared at the dawn of the 1930s in comic strips to revive the patriotic feeling of young soldiers who had left to fight at the front. Basically, they are gifted with supernatural powers and spread American values.

“These characters in costume and endowed with an infallible moral sense also have a double identity, a civilian and a superheroic which ensures their anonymity”, specifies Rioux before adding that in Quebec, it is precisely this duality which will interest several local cartoonists concerned about the social context, this increasingly marked division between English-speaking Quebecers and French-speaking Quebecers.

“At the beginning of the 1980s, we saw superheroes who put forward the English-Canadian and French-Canadian identity. The conflict between the two solitudes then becomes a recurring sign in superhero comics published in the country. »

This is the case of the young Montrealer Mark Shainblum, founder, in 1984, of the famous house Matrix Graphic Series. With his friends, like the illustrator Gabriel Morrissette, he will script the series New Triumph featuring Northguard, in which he stages the adventures in the metropolis of the superhero Phillip Wise, alias Northguard. “The protagonist is dressed in the maple leaf. Its mission is to protect the Canadian nation against foreign invaders, Russian spies or extremist American religious groups. »

Then, a few episodes later, comes a certain Manon Deschamps, better known by the nickname of Fleur de Lys, dressed of course in a fleur-de-lis costume. “By becoming Northguard’s sidekick, the creators wanted to attempt a reconciliation between the two peoples, but they also wanted to show that only together can the duo defeat their enemies. »

Alter Ego. The superheroic genre in Quebec comics (1968-1995)

Philippe Rioux, The Presses of the University of Montreal, Montreal, 2022, 368 pages

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Superheroes in comics in Quebec