How to make a Canadian Hero
By David Bragdon
Yaron Betan’s Heroes Manufactured is unapologetically proud to be about Canadians who make comic books. The documentary not only features comic creators from Canada’s past and present but it hints at possibilities in our future.
The film’s pride in its subjects is both infectious and inspiring.
Yaron’s film stresses that it’s hard to make it as a Canadian in the comics industry but our greatest strength is our sense of community. You get a real sense that those making comics here support and root for each other; they know how hard it is to make it in this business and want each other to succeed. As a viewer, you can’t help feeling the same while taking pride in their accomplishments.
Aficionados of Canadian comic history and newcomers alike will be interested in insights from Captain Canuck’s creator Richard Comely as well as personal stories from Northguard’s creator Mark Shainblum. The film also spends a good deal of time with industry pro, Ty “the Guy” Templeton and I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like listening to him talk for hours. As he states in the film, it would take less time to list the superhero comics he hasn’t worked on as either a writer or artist so you know he understands comics.
The film also takes time to interview a mild mannered Canadian comic fan whose story will both make you tear-up and warm your heart. The film’s breakout star is Alfonso Espinos who talks about being the publisher of Studiocomix, making his own comics, organizing the Cambridge Comic Arts Festival as well as being an immigrant from Mexico.
As the poster indicates, this documentary focuses is on the “mainstream” aspect of the comic industry that’s interested in action, adventure and of course, superheroes. There’s a divide between graphic novels and mainstream comics with the former garnering most of the accolades here in Canada. Graphic novels are more intimate in nature and connect on a personal level with readers while mainstream comics tend to be flamboyant and over-the-top. What this film does is get intimate with some of the Canadians who draw those flashy characters and show their personal journeys.
As for its faults, the film takes a while to get rolling and find its focus while some of the rapid cuts of footage taken at comic conventions can be distracting. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on what’s being said when the film cuts to a shot of a cosplayer in 7 foot tall outfit with glowing L.E.D. lights.
And then there’s the lack of women in the film. Megan Kearney and Meaghan Carter have to stand in for all women in Canadian comics. The two artists from the Comic Book Embassy collective are made to answer the oft-asked question: “What’s it like to be a woman in comics.” The one woman I was expecting to see interviewed but didn’t was Hope Nicholson. Since she has so much experience preserving the history of Canadian comics with titles like 1940’s Nelvana of the Northern Lights as well as pushing for the future of the industry with 2015’s The Secret Lives of Geek Girls anthology, her insights might have been interesting. At least Meaghan Carter’s interview hints that it’s inevitable that there’ll be a whole documentary focusing on the women trailblazers in the Canadian comic industry.
All in all, you’ll leave the film wanting to rush home to get working on your own comic projects. The film’s interest in the mainstream rather than Indie comics isn’t a flaw. It reminds us that Canadian comics have always had an uphill battle and will look Indie compared to massive powerhouses like Marvel and DC. The film also shows that it’s okay to love Canadian superheroes. While not discussed explicitly, I got the sense that a character like Captain Canuck isn’t a blatant rip-off Captain American and nor is he meant to embody all Canadians. Instead he and his ilk represent all of the kids who read comics and are then inspired to make their own.
Like many of the flawed comic book characters popular in the world today, Heroes Manufactured makes you root for the underdogs as they overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to save the day. It shows that great Canadian comic heroes aren’t born; they’re made.
Yaron Betan’s documentary makes its Canadian premiere on February 14th, 10pm at Cinecycle, 129 Spadina Avenue. Tickets are available on geekfesttoronto.com as part of ‘Block#5’ of their event.
Watch it with a special someone who is inspired to make comics, especially if that special someone is you. It’s also essential watching for Canadians who could use some consolation that even though the struggle to “make-it” may seem like a never-ending battle, it’s worth the fight.
Contractions: the original post contained a paragraph claiming the film already won the Bronze Award at Fameus International Film Festival, Best Feature Film/Doc at the Mediterranean Film Festival, and Best Feature Documentary at the Canadian Diversity Film Festival twice. This was incorrect and has been removed.
David Bragdon is an Oakville based artist best known for his work with the Toronto Comic Jam. Along with helping organize the monthly event and publishing the monthly Jam Books, David has contributed numerous articles to the Toronto Comic Jam collections, profiling various Comic Jammers, but mostly as an excuse to sneak his own drawings in.