Monday, October 28, 2013

Fireside Chat with Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey of Nelvana of the Northern Lights

Welcome once again, dear reader, to another of our in-depth Fireside Chats.  Today we're speaking with Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey, the two women behind the still ongoing (yet already quite successful) Kickstarter campaign to bring Nelvana of the Northern Lights back to print.  Nelvana was first created and published in 1941 and was Canada's first female superheroine.  Her adventures only lasted until 1947 and have since been long out of print.  But Hope and Rachel are planning to change that, so please read on for our discussion of what their campaign is all about, their favourite aspects of Nelvana, and how you can get your hands on the book.

Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey are longtime comic fans and academics based out of Toronto, Canada.  They are self-described "passionate fans of the Canadian Golden Age of comics", and if you aren't aware of that Canada even had a Golden Age of comics, they'd be more than happy to enlighten you on the topic.  Indeed, they want to share their passion with as many people as possible, which led them to the creation of the Nelvana of the Northern Lights Kickstarter, to bring one part of Canada's comics history back to the present day.

Rachel Richey and Hope Nicholson meeting
Christopher Dingle, the son of Nelvana of the
Northern Lights' creator Adrian Dingle.
Grant McLaughlin: For those unfamiliar with the campaign, could you briefly describe what you're hoping to accomplish with the Nelvana of the Northern Lights Kickstarter?

Hope Nicholson: We are trying to raise funds to cover the reprint costs of recovering and distributing Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Canada’s first superheroine comic created in 1941.

Rachel Richey: I really want to put Nelvana back into the public eye. I want Canadians to know about our rich past in comics publishing.

GM: How did you originally come across Nelvana?

Hope: I first heard about Nelvana six years ago when I was pursuing my Bachelor degree in Communications. I decided to study Canadian comic books which is how I heard about Nelvana, as I saw her referred to often in the book The Great Canadian Comic Books by Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert. I quickly became obsessed with her and spent many long days after my degree going to the library to read the microfiche copies of her adventures.

Rachel: I came across her during a period of obsession over comics published in Canadian history. This lead me to find comics with her at the Library and Archives in Gatineau, Quebec. Once I saw her I fell in love and this solidified my interest in Nelvana and the Canadian comics industry.

GM: How did the idea to reprint her adventures come about?

Hope: I am a producer on the documentary Lost Heroes, about Canadian comic book superheroes. In order to license the images for use in the documentary, I researched who owned the copyrights currently. During this process I became familiar with the copyright holders and eventually asked them if they’d consider granting me a reprint license.

Rachel: I remember my frustration at not being able to read comics, so it was around the first time that I thought about reprinting the comics or digitizing them in some way. This was why I made the job at the archives to work on the “hidden” John Bell collection. And this is why I continue to pursue working with Canadian comics projects such as the Joe Shuster Awards, Doug Wright Awards, Lost Heroes and Sequential.

With Hope’s licensing work with Lost Heroes and the introduction of Kickstarter in Canada, the time was ripe!

GM: How long has it been in the works for (was waiting for Kickstarter to come to Canada part of the process)?

Hope: As soon as I heard that Kickstarter was coming to Canada, all of the pieces clicked in my head. It was a perfect match. We spent the next few months discussing if and how we’d be able to make this happen.

Kickstarter enables us to reprint the comics by ourselves. To us, this is vital, as me and Rachel are the most enthusiastic supporters we know of this character and we knew that most publishers wouldn’t be interested in the product. We also suspected that we would be able to share our enthusiasm with the public, and lucky for us it has proven extremely contagious!

Rachel: Kickstarter can access a wider audience, it also gives us creative control over what a publisher would, and more walk by traffic.

GM: What is it about Nelvana that makes you want to share her stories with the world? Being one of the first comic book superheroines (and the first Canadian one) is great (really), but there must be more to it than that, right?

Hope: She’s beautiful. The comics are really gorgeous, and they’ve never been reprinted before. If you want to read them, it’s next to impossible, and we really aim to make her stories accessible to the entire public.

Rachel: Nelvana is earnest and authentic. She is really Canadian without being hokey. Also, compared to her contemporaries, she is well produced and very progressive. If people are impressed by those comics, they need to know about this one for sure!

GM: What are the Nelvana comics like? Is it similar to other early comics or does Adrain Dingle and / or the Canadianess of the book offer something different from its contemporaries?

Hope: The stories are very Canadian. For one difference, most of the adventures take place in Canada’s arctic, a land that isn’t the basis of very many mainstream stories. Another aspect is Nelvana’s gender. Not only is she a powerful superheroine with a sharp wit, but she doesn’t have a romantic interest for her entire run! She’s a fantastic leading lady.

Rachel: The Nelvana comics are definitely a product of their time; that is, they include some faux pas and romanticize things a little. What comic book doesn’t, even today? But for its time, Nelvana possessed brilliant storytelling and layouts as well as beautiful line work. Adrian Dingle, the creator was an illustrator and a fine artist and this definitely comes through in his work.

GM: Do you have a favourite moment in Nelvana's comic book run?

Hope: My favourite panel is probably when Nelvana introduces the hidden world of Glacia (a frozen city below Canada’s Arctic) to the horrors of modern war, and is saddened by it. It really was interesting to me that even though this is a character that must fight evil, she is still very aware of the cost of conflict.

Rachel: I think one of my more favourite story is Nelvana #17, “Mystery of the Arctic Monster”. I love monsters, but also the story is just incredible and it was during a period of time when Dingle was really hitting his stride in his art. If you pick up his book I strongly suggest checking out this particular chapter.

GM: And how did you come up with the various rewards? Particularly, I'm curious as to how you attracted the various creators you have signed on to create original Nelvana pieces – it's almost like a who's who of current and up and coming Canadian creators.

Hope: I sometimes make the joke that we got them drunk and asked them while they were incapacitated, but honestly most of the creators volunteered to help as soon as they heard about the project. The others agreed quickly once we asked if they’d be interested. They want to support the project because they want to bring Nelvana back to the world nearly as much as we do.

Rachel: Our time and work in the industry has allowed us to build up a lot of connections within the industry, that said, when we announced the project we were inundated with offers of help and support. People really want this project to succeed!

GM: Where you surprised at the positive reaction to the project and its quick funding (taking five days to reach your goal)?

Hope: The positive reaction – no. I think Nelvana’s a fantastic character and it’s easy for the public to see the values of bringing her back. We were absolutely stunned at how quickly it was funded though. I thought we’d reach that level closer to the end of the campaign, but in the first five days! Absolutely flooring.

Rachel: I was. I was pretty sure we were going to make our goal, but I was thinking somewhere a couple days from the deadline. I never thought it would get so high, and certainly NOT in 5 days. That just goes to show you that people really want the project.

GM: What are your backgrounds?

Hope: I am a producer of documentaries and work odd-jobs in the field of television/film production. I have a bachelor degree in communications and film studies.

Rachel: I have a background in English and Journalism, and I worked at the Library and Archives of Canada on the John Bell Collection of Canadian Comics. Alongside this I work with the Doug Wright Awards and the Joe Shuster Awards to promote great work in the industry and as a writer for and Sequential, both sites dedicated to Canadian comics. I’ve also done research for the documentary Lost Heroes.

GM: I've seen you referred to in various coverage as comic book historians. How does one achieve such a title?

Hope: My academic degree isn’t in history but I have presented at academic conference on comic books across Canada and the United States.

Rachel: I think I’ve obtained this title just based on the quantity of work I’ve done, so I’m definitely self appointed, haha. That said, I definitely know a lot on the subject that spans from the 40s to the early 2000s. I’m not ashamed to say that I know more than most, although not more than all.

GM: On the Kickstarter page, you describe yourselves as “passionate fans of the Canadian Golden Age of comics”. Is that a hard thing to be when (as you also point out) those books are so hard to find or is that related to the aforementioned comic book historian part?

Hope: For me, it’s not that hard to be a fan, there are microfiche copies of the comics available and I have read at least 50 issues of the golden age of comics and am continuing to read more all the time. It’s going to take me a while though as Cy Bell alone had close to a dozen titles and each issue can be around 60 pages long.

Rachel: Well, often people find a new project when they are aware of the difficulty of one they might pursue. There is a reason Nelvana hasn’t been published for 70 years, that just made Hope and I all the more crazy to pursue it and make sure this kind of thing doesn’t continue.

GM: What type of comics do you normally read? Do you follow present-day comics at all? If so, what do you think of the industry right now?

Hope: I’m a big fan of superhero comics with a LOT of backstory. Avengers and X-Men among them. But I also absolutely adore ElfQuest and Love & Rockets. Which explains why the Canadian Whites lack of colour doesn’t faze me! I have a lot of friends who work in the industry and I am absolutely thrilled with how steady the industry seems to be this decade.

Rachel: I often read Canadian comics from the past. Anything from then. Now I try to collect as much independent work as I can because that will be the biggest gap in Canadian Comics history in the future. Eventually I plan to donate my collection as well.

I also read a lot of DC comics, and in a nut shell, I would love it if they gave creators a little more room to breathe.

GM: Asking for (and already surpassed) $25,000 on Kickstarter. What will the funds be used for?

Hope: The funds will be used to print and distribute the comics first and foremost. This will include travelling to Archives across Canada to gain access to some of the issues that our local collectors and Archives lack, as well as to promote the books at international conventions. Myself and Rachel will be paid for our labour if there are funds left over. Any profit over and above that will be donated to charity as we are a non-profit.

Rachel: Well, right off the bat, the biggest costs are travel to collections, actually printing the book, restoring the pages and shipping. More funds allow us to travel to promote the book, increase our print run, and essentially just give us some breathing room as far as the quality of the actual printed book goes.

GM: What will the distribution of the book be like? Only to funders? At cons? In comic book shops? (similarly, if readers miss out on the campaign / discover it too late, will there be ways to get their hands on Nelvana after the fact?)

Hope: Yes. The funders will be taken care of first but the softcover and hardcover (but not the limited edition hardcover which is only available to 100 funders) will be available at comic stores this summer.

Rachel: All of the above. After the Kickstarter comes down our site will sell Nelvana books for those who came in too late. We plan on making it available through diamond to shops, going to cons, etc. We even want to distribute it to schools.

GM: We are admittedly still early days, but considering the success you've had thus far, have you given thought to other books / characters you'd want to collect in this manner? Is this something you'd want to do again?

Hope: Absolutely. We are looking into it currently, though we wouldn’t start on any work until Nelvana has been fully delivered.

Rachel: Of course I would love to. It all goes back to the dissemination of quality Canadian comics, especially since they’re relatively unknown. Until now.

GM: Do you have other projects on the go in parallel to Nelvana? And if people want to follow you through and beyond the campaign, where on the interwebs can you be found?

Hope: I am producing a documentary called Lost Heroes which more info can be found on I am also part of a local Toronto female-geek collective called G33KPRON and I contribute articles on occasion to their site. You can also find me on Twitter, but I’m not that interesting!

Rachel: I can be found at where I write at length about Canadian comics from the past. We have such a rich industry that is so hidden. I’m also going to be writing for Sequential, another news blog specifically for Canadian comics. They do some really great work on that site. Finally, keep an eye out for the Lost Heroes documentary. I did research for it and Hope produced it!

GM: Finally, we conclude interviews at The Weekly Crisis with our Literary Rorschach Test. The way it works is that I have 10 words for you and your job is to respond to each one with the first thing that pops into your head. It can be a single word, a full blown paragraph, or anything in between. It's up to you.


Heroes - Flags
First - Canadian
Home - Canada
Northern - Stars
History - Books
Canada - Home
Challenge - Question
Collaboration - Partnership
Next - Project
The End - Beginning


Heroes - Lost
First - Last
Home - Grown
Northern - Lights
History - Heritage
Canada - Honest
Challenge - Accepted
Collaboration - Community
Next - Men
The End - Sunset

GM: Thank you both so much for taking the time to talk Nelvana.  Best of luck with the end of the campaign and the work ahead!

The Nelvana campaign remains ongoing, and while I'd love to say it's never to late to become a funder, the project only runs through the end of October (Thursday night / Friday morning, to be precise).  So if you're interested in the prospect of reading the adventures of Canada's first superheroine, you should head on over to become a funder.  As a fellow Canadian, I may be biased here, but I know I'm excited for the final product.

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