My friend Jay emailed me a question about Canadian superheroes and it got my brain gears turning.
As someone in the biz in a variety of positions I thought I would see if I could get thoughts on why Canadian superheroes have never really “taken off” compared to their American counterparts.
I know it’s somewhat of a broad stroke statement but what I would really like is your immediate, off the cuff thoughts on the topic.
Some thoughts on Canadian superheroes:
- Canadians, by and large, aren’t as theatrically patriotic as Americans are. We believe in our country and we’re passionate about it to a degree, but we don’t tend to put on the kind of bold outward display of patriotism that Americans do. When Stacy and I visited Maryland for a friend’s wedding late last year we saw small town America in full form and were stunned by the number of American flags out in front of houses. I haven’t seen that many Canadian flags anywhere this side of the parliament buildings in Ottawa. We as Canadians tend to be laid back and more understated as a whole and the kind of “Rah-Rah, our country needs a hero!” thing doesn’t seem to jive well with our national identity.
North America is a land of immigrants, but I get the feeling there’s an added pressure on people who live in the US to be “American”. Easy-going Canada seems more than happy to let immigrants keep closer ties to their foreign identity. They’re happy to be in Canada, but they don’t necessarily put “Canadian” in the forefront of their personal identity. For many, being “Canadian” means you’re from somewhere else but are now living in Canada. Our population’s cultural mosaic splinters its national loyalty over dozens of foreign cultures. They’d be more likely to empathize with a superhero from their family’s land of origin than a distinctly Canadian superhero.
- Our population base is just over 10% the size of the United States (34 million to America’s 311 million). That means if the best-selling comic in North America sells around 150k (currently DC’s Batman) we’d expect a similar product, all things being equal, to sell around 15k in Canada (which isn’t exactly a huge success but, in this current market, it would be a very solid indy).
The problem is that, obviously, things aren’t all equal. We don’t have a long standing superhero tradition in this country. We don’t have a long-standing focal point character people recognize (I like Captain Canuck, but the average person on the street does not know who he is). We’re not a country galvanized by heavy-duty patriotic pride that lends itself to a Superman, Captain America or even a Batman. We don’t have the kind of rampant crime that ‘needs’ a heroic symbol to fight back against. We don’t have even 10% of the comic shops that the US does and there’s zero tie-in media raising general awareness of Canadian superheroes (movies, cartoons, toys, games, etc… though we’re trying).
Culturally, although we hold steadfast to a few Canadian media icons or cultural touchstones and love to point out how we’re not American, we get 95% of our pop culture from the United States. A handful of hardcore comic fans may pine for a uniquely Canadian superhero (or team) and will buy Alpha Flight and Captain Canuck when they’re being published to prove their national loyalty but, for the rest, American superheroes are good enough for us to borrow and draw inspiration from without feeling left out. We’ll point out that Wolverine is “ours” from time to time and keep reading the American superheroes we grew up with.
In summary- I think we’re too easy-going and understated for a full blown patriotic Canadian superhero to really take root in the public conscience and, even if it did, it would sell a pretty measly number of copies in our niche market with next to zero chance of generating sales anywhere outside our borders.