Comic Art Friday: On the Arctic Express
We’re at the midpoint of winter, more or less, here in the Northern Hemisphere… although I feel a trifle embarrassed about admitting this on a day when it’s sunny and 62 degrees outside in my cozy corner of California.
Still, the astronomical calendar is what it is, so it’s a perfect day — weather aside — to feature this Arctic entry into my Bombshells! theme gallery.
When we discuss the earliest superheroines in comics, we dive into some murky waters. Most casual fans would assume that Wonder Woman, easily the most prominent and iconic heroine introduced during the dawning days of the genre, preceded all of her sisters. In fact, quite a number of distaff derring-doers hit the printed page before Princess Diana the Amazon exploded onto the scene in All-Star Comics #8 (December 1941). The very first superheroine to see publication — Fantomah, a weird mystical character with the face of a skull — debuted in February 1940. Other noteworthy female crimefighters, including Lady Luck, Phantom Lady, and the original Black Cat, quickly followed.
About the first Canadian superheroine, however, there’s no mystery. Not only was Nelvana the original costumed female from the Great White North, but most genre historians mark her as the first uniquely Canadian superhero of either gender. As an Inuit character, Nelvana also stands as one of the earliest non-Caucasian heroes in comics.
Nelvana’s creator, Welsh-born artist Adrian Dingle, was primarily an illustrator and painter. Inspired by stories told by a well-known artistic colleague named Franz Johnston, Dingle set out to devise a comics character who truly represented the spirit of Canada. Nelvana — in the tradition of classical mythology — was born the offspring of an Inuit deity, Koliak the Mighty, and a human woman. Drawing on her father’s mastery of the aurora borealis, Nelvana could fly at the speed of light and become invisible. She used as her primary weapon a heat ray sufficiently powerful to melt metal.
Although she never made much of a splash south of the Canadian border, Nelvana managed to influence American comics decades after her debut. When writer-artist John Byrne created Snowbird as a member of Marvel’s Alpha Flight team, he made his new Canadian heroine the daughter of Inuit goddess Nelvanna (note the slightly different spelling), with an origin story that in many ways echoed that of the earlier character.
To this day, the Canadian entertainment company Nelvana — producers of numerous popular animated series ranging from Babar and The Magic School Bus to Cadillacs and Dinosaurs — keeps its native heroine’s name alive.
Our Bombshells! version of Nelvana springs from the pencil and ink brush of Ben Dunn, best known as the creator of Ninja High School. Ben does a brilliant job of bringing our Arctic avenger to life.
And that’s your Comic Art Friday.