Famed super-hero, Captain Canuck, has recently made the news with a new comic book release in time for Canada Day and a movie in development.  It’s creator, Richard Comely is a proud former Portage la Prairian and Arthur Meighen High School grad.  He recently talked to the Hoop and Holler about how his parents came to Portage and his memories of growing up in the Portage area.


HnH:  How did your family come to settle around the Gainsborough area?

RC:  When we came to MB I was about 5.  The first place we lived in Canada was Etobicoke which is all city now but in those days it was produce farms, we were there for a year and a half or so.  I think what happened was the farm they were working on got expropriated to make part of the airport.   They decided to continue west.  When your a Brit and go to Canada House in London the guy there says, “Go to BC, that’s the place to live.”   The problem is when you get off the boat in Halifax you don’t know  or understand how far it is to the other side.  I remember leaving Ontario, getting on a ferry in Michigan and basically they ran out of money in Portage la Prairie, is what happened.

HnH:  That happens to a lot of us!

RC:  We were there for 20 years, from the ages of 5-17.   When I finished high school I ended up moving to Winnipeg to work.   I would have stayed in Portage, you know, I had no problems being in Portage but I just couldn’t find a job to do.

HnH:   Were you pursuing art at that time?

RC:  At about the age of 12 I had decided that I would be some sort of commercial artist.  I didn’t have any idea of exactly what I would do.   When I was still a kid I did signs.  My parents bought a proper professional lettering brush and I taught myself how to do hand lettering so I would do signs for Safeway and Saans store and all kinds of places and it was pretty good income, considering I was 14 years old.   There was a sign shop in Portage and in those days it was all hand lettering, there was no computer generated vinyl lettering or anything like that.  I remember lettering the windows, you would have to letter them in reverse.  When I moved to Winnipeg at the age of 17 the first job I got was at a big sign shop, much bigger than Portage obviously, and I did that for a little while.   I got to do a lot of the Joe jobs cause there was a lot of senior hand lettering guys in that company.

Richard Comely AMHS Grad & Captain Canuck creator

Richard Comely AMHS Grad & Captain Canuck creator

HnH:  When you were a kid at Arthur Meighen school did you ever have dreams of creating a super hero?

RC:  No.  In fact I had no thoughts about doing comic books.   The very first school I went to was Belle Plain which was near MacDonald.  My parents bought the little farm in Gainsborough District and we moved when I was about 6.  From a very young age I liked to draw and I was always encouraged.  I went to Gainsborough District School, it was a country school with two rooms.  Then I went to PCI and when I was still in grade 10 or grade 11 we switched over to Arthur Meighen because it was the new school.

HnH:  Is that’s where they sent all the country kids back then?

RC:  Yup, because we lived approximately 7 miles from Portage.  I had a pony, I used to ride my pony over to Southport and let kids have a ride on my pony for a dime each.

HnH:  An entrepreneur back then even!

RC:  You have to be an entrepreneur if you want to be a commercial artist.  I’ve taught a lot over the years and there aren’t a lot of people who get nice cushy jobs.

HnH:  As a kid you were part of the Allied Art Club.  What was that exactly, it sounds somewhat ominous!

RC:  Well, I believe the Allied Art Club was all over the place, there was a branch of it in Portage.  The sheriff at that time, Jack Hazard, was an artist and he ran it.  When I was around 11 years old they invited me to attend for free.  I would go, and I was the only kid in there, pretty well everybody else was adults.  They were doing still life and stuff like that, I was able to work with oils and I did mostly oil paintings.  I remember him (Hazard) as being encouraging and through him I had my very first cartoon published.  It was a political cartoon of sorts and I think it was through him that it got to the Daily Graphic and published, it would have been my first published work.

HnH:  Your mother was a writer and a very creative person, what was the title of her most popular novel?

RC:  “Going West with Annabelle” by Molly Douglas.  That was the name that she wrote under.  She sold a lot of romance stories to magazines, she sold them in Australia, North America, England.  I remember reading some of her romance stories and they were great because you could still hear the English in her writing but her characters were usually set in the Rocky Mountains.  I know for a fact that some of the stories were written before she actually even saw the Rockies.  When you know that, that’s when you get the chuckles.

HnH:  So you definitely get your creative side from your mother?

Still available on Amazon

Still available on Amazon

RC:  Well, I don’t know, if that’s how it works. I guess so.  She was always a good story teller.    “Going West with Annabelle” did very well for her, she first sold it to a British publishing company and then it was sold to a Canadian publishing Co, the paper back was translated into other languages.  Readers Digest did a condensed version of it too.  She got a lot of mileage out of that, and then she did two sequels but they did not do as well.

HnH:  So did your parents ever get to move further west?

RC:  Yes they did, in 1975, just after I started Captain Canuck actually.  They had a small dairy operation in Gainsborough district, like a 40 acre farm.  The farm never generated enough income for them just to solely work the farm.  My father had jobs and my mother worked as an occupational therapist at the Manitoba School and she worked at the women’s gaol for a while, a job she really seemed to enjoy.  Somewhere around 1975 they finally got the time and the funds, cause we never had much money, to take a trip out to Vancouver Island and they got there and they said, “Yeah, we do like it out here” and so they went back, sold the farm and moved to Vancouver Island.

HnH:  So have you managed to make it back to Portage for a visit or two?

RC:  Oh yeah, in the last 10 years we’ve been there 3 or 4 times and its always been as we’re going out west.  I have a brother buried there too, my brother Peter.  He died in Winnipeg but I conducted his funeral in Portage, this is just over 20 years ago.

HnH:   Your faith seems to be something that you value deeply.

RC:  When I grew up in Portage la Prairie, I attended different churches as a kid.  You know, it’s interesting, my wife has a similar history.  Often someone would knock on the door and say “I’d like to take your kids to Sunday School” and that’s how I ended up going to the Mennonite Brethern Church as a kid.  I went probably from the age of 11 to about 16 or 17 but when I moved to Winnipeg I had Latter Day Saints missionaries come to my door when I was 20.  When they taught me the beliefs of the church of the Latter Day Saints, I had such a profound, I don’t like to use the work epiphany, but you know, it was that kind of a sensation, you know, “oh my goodness, this is it!”  So I became a latter day saint, and now I am 63 so that’s 43 years ago.  My parents weren’t  real happy, my parents were Anglicans.

HnH:  How did your beliefs influence the creation of Captain Canuck?

RC:  I was a member of the church when I decided to publish Captain Canuck.  I was totally up front about the fact that I was a Latter Day Saint and because of my beliefs and my convictions I wouldn’t do certain things and I wouldn’t have sexuality and language and the violence wouldn’t be gratuitous.

HnH:  I remember noticing when the first comic came out it had a different feel and ethos, I always attributed it to being a Canadian difference.

RC:  Well, that’s part of it.  I’m happy to accentuate those Canadian features, or what we like to think are Canadian attributes.  Many Americans say Canadians are so friendly and polite and less violent.  Well statistically we are a lot less violent, look at the murders in the US compared to Canada.  My goodness, because they are so gun crazy down there.  I think Canada is world wide renowned for our attitude towards trying to resolve things more peacefully.

captain-canuck-comicsHnH:  It’s been reported Captain Canuck is coming to the big screen, where does that stand?

RC:  I signed with Minds Eye almost three years ago.  To bring you up to speed, they got money from Telefilm to write the first draft of the screen play and some other development.    We chose script writer Arnie Olsen who lives in Vancouver, he’s written a fair bit of stuff including the Mighty Morphin’ Rangers Movie which is kind of in the same genre.  I worked with him about a year ago writing the first draft and we’re waiting now for the funding for the second draft.  Hopefully he’ll be finished second draft some time this summer and we’ll get on to signing on a director, maybe some cast and getting the rest of the financing in place.  I think, all going well, you really have to cross all your toes and fingers for that to happen, it could be in production next summer.

I also have made an agreement with some people in TO and we formed a new company called “Captain Canuck Incorporated”.  After we formed that company we did the animated web series.  We hope to be announcing at the end of August a broadcaster for the animated series and we’ll be announcing the new comic book series and teaming up with another publishing company.

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