There is so much more to Canada and the world of comic books beyond Wolverine, and even Alpha Flight, for that matter. If you go back to the golden age, you can find one of the first super-powered female characters in Nelvana of the Northern Lights and the 1980s brought us the hero Captain Canuck.
Nowadays, an independent comic book company based in Arizona, has, as its flagship character, a Canada-based superhero. Red Leaf Comics, presents as one of its major characters, a super-powered humanoid robot called The Leaf. The red and white clad humanoid crime fighter has even been given a continuity that goes back into what would be the golden age of comics. The Leaf, according to Red Leaf’s John Helmer, began, as a lot of comics characters did, as part of a hand drawn comic that debuted in the 80s. In fact, the current Leaf Comics have a bit of a 1980s indie comic vibe and look to them. The Leaf was then taken into the realm of mini-comics.
Taking on an artist in the form of college friend Brad Eastburn in the early 2000’s The Leaf as taken into a story in the independently-produced, “The Leaf Summer Slam.”
They started marketing the character and the comics at places like Comicon in 2005. This included some cosplay as The Leaf at Comicon. The Leaf continued to grow and was given a sidekick called The Sapling. These appearances eventually led to an appearance an anthology called, “Surprising Comics.” Eventually, with the launch of Red Leaf, The leaf was turned into a heritage hero with a number of people who have taken up the mantle of The Leaf. The character was spun off into a golden age version who fought the Nazis alongside his female sidekick, Jill Canada. The concept of the golden age was fleshed out with a w World War II era group called, The Imperials, put together by Winston Churchill, and then taken into the silver age with a Leaf for that era to bridge into the modern era. So, now, in the Red Leaf “universe” there has been a Leaf that has been fighting for Canada and against evil since the 1940s. The intent is to produce a number of superheroes with The Leaf, in the modern and golden age editions as the central hub of the continuity of the characters.
As to whether, or not Canadian characters can resonate with U.S. audience, well Wolverine is still a popular movie and comics character and Helmer said, that DC has gone a bit Canadian with “Justice League United (formerly Justice League: Canada)", “That shows me that they have lost faith in the potential sales of a Canadian themed book. I hope Canadian character can survive. We've bet our farm on such animals so we are all in at Red Leaf.” But the company is at least hedging their bets a little.
There is some other stuff afoot, also. Though the company is marketing superheroes and spinning them off into other series, the company does other comics besides superheroes. It has a comics called “Abominable Tales” for horror fans. “Skywatcher” is series in black and white for science fiction fans and contains stories featuring aliens and outer space and the like.
Helmer says that his company is open to working with new talent but likes to see ideas that are original and not just a rehash of something else. He says that his company is about getting creators published. There are some standards that they do have in place for the type of material that they want. He said that they have rejected series over the years for extreme sex, violence and nudity. He said that they also want series that are original and not a rehash of other things. He added that he doesn’t want to hear pitches in which the idea is pitched as a combination of other existing ideas. He said he’ll get pitches like, “ ‘I've got a book we'd like you to publish…think Bladerunner and Indiana Jones.’ It gets tiresome when people have to describe their concept by describing someone else's concept. It boils down to originality and flavor. Can you create something new and unique? It’s possible, but it takes time…” In other words, they want original material. They also don’t just have new creators. Silver Age artist Steve Skeates has also produced work for Red Leaf.
Helmer said that he’s aware that the medium is changing and that there is more and more digital delivery of comics. He said that he can see a day where comics are more interactive and users can control more aspects of what the comic does. He is also aware of platforms that exist for digital comics, like Comixology. He admits that Comixolgy is a good platform for delivery of digital comics, but he said that in his experience, it sometimes works against small publishers. One problem that he says he sees is the amount of time that it takes for a submission. He cited wait times of up to three months before a submission can be accepted. That, he said, can kill a buzz on a title. He has other issues with their set up as well, “The other troubling concept is that their distribution model is proprietary in nature, so if they go out of business, the consumer loses their entire collection of comics. If Marvel goes out of business, I still have 10 long boxes in my garage to read when I'm old and feeble.” Red Leaf operates its own print and digital stores on its own site.
Whatever form that comics take in the future, Red Leaf is one of the many independent producers out there, trying to provide an outlet for creators and beyond that what is offered by the “big two” of Marvel and DC.