Captain Canuck and Canadian Comic Books, an interview with Kalman Andrasofszky.

Captain Canuck may not be a name you’re familiar with at first glance: the series has been on-again, off-again since 1975. Over the last few years, however, under the Chapterhouse comic book label out of Toronto, the hero has seen a resurgence and with him, a self-contained and entirely unique shared universe. Helming this vision is Kalman Andrasofszky, a writer and illustrator from Toronto with 15 years in the industry. CGM had a chance to shoot the breeze with Kalman before FanExpo to find out what it means to be in charge of an entire comic universe based around Canadian heroes, and how he’s managing to break the goofy stigma that often attaches to Canadian characters.

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Captain Canuck and Canadian Comic Books, an interview with Kalman Andrasofszky (image via Chapterhouse)

CGM: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in the comics industry.

 Kalman Andrasofszky: I am a child of Hungarian/Transylvanian immigrants; I lived in Toronto my whole life, unlike most Torontonians. I got my start about 16-17 years ago doing illustrations for RPGs: mostly like D&D, Star Wars, stuff like that. I transitioned into comics a few years after that. I found my illustration background made me a happier human doing covers, whereas the grind of comic book pages turned me into someone I generally didn’t like being. That was always sort of the brass ring. With Captain Canuck a few years ago I had an opportunity to transition fully into writing comics. I drew the first couple of issues, re-designed the universe, but after a few issues I handed the pen over to Leonard Kirk, who we were very lucky to snag. It turns out he’s a giant Captain Canuck fan and was very motivated to work with us. Since then I’ve been writing the series and Leonard has been drawing, and I’ve also sort of taken the reins of the Chapterverse, which is this universe we’ve built up around Captain Canuck, which is comprised of other [public domain or licensed superheroes], some Canadian, some not.. I story-edit the line and art direct the books and continue to write Captain Canuck and co-write Captain Canuck: Year One with Jay (Baruchel), and everything is groovy.

CGM: Do you prefer writing or illustrating?

Kalman Andrasofszky: I’m happiest when I’m doing some combination of the two. Now that I’ve lived the professional life doing both for the last few years, I’ve discovered that just one leaves me unsatisfied. I had a career doing one for 15 years and I couldn’t understand where the love had gone. Once I started writing it completely re-kindled the joy of drawing because all of my anxiety and identity and need to prove myself wasn’t jammed into this one thing, which takes the pressure off and brings the love of art back, and it shifts back and forth. I feel like I’m a writer that made his name drawing and didn’t know he was a writer, but I love doing both. They’re inspiring in different ways and I feel like a writing life is better suited to me at this point. Now that I’m married and … have a functional family life, the hours and hours one needs to sit at a desk to draw and the way that bulldozes all normal human activity is just something I’m not excited about anymore. When I was 25 and living in a tiny apartment I didn’t mind working until dawn day after day. Writing has its challenges, and you have to put in the hours, but at the same time it lends itself to a healthier and more balanced life. Drawing is a marathon and writing is a short sprint.

CGM: What led you to Captain Canuck and what do you bring to the series that wasn’t there before?

Kalman Andrasofszky: It started out as a job like any other. Somebody in the studio was like “hey there are these guys looking for a character design for this old character, I’m too busy, do you want to do it?” and I said, “I love doing character design, I will do it”. I didn’t know it would define the next five years of my professional life but that’s what happened. I re-designed the character and they were happy with that so I re-designed more characters and started having creative meetings. This was all in pursuit of the web-series, a five-part animated series that came out a few years ago. This was before there were any new comics; it was a new endeavour at the time.

A local Toronto restaurant had gotten the rights to Captain Canuck. Nothing much had really been done in about 20 years, since 1981. There were a few minor attempted reboots that didn’t really come together, but that was really it. The character had not had much action in a generation or two. I re-designed all these characters and in discussing the design, why I was making some of the choices I was making, I couldn’t help but stumble into conversations about story and characters and who this guy is.

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Captain Canuck and Canadian Comic Books, an interview with Kalman Andrasofszky (image via Chapterhouse)

Once the web-series was done, which was written by other people, they wanted to do a comic, and every head in the room turned and looked at me because I was the comic guy in the room. I said okay, but I don’t want to draw it, I’m done with that. They said they’d let me write it if I drew it and I said “fine”.

In terms of what I bring to it, I think our take on Captain Canuck is very different from the original. The visuals are different in terms of tone and approach; it’s hard to codify some of these things. I’m not going to tell you what I think of the original Captain Canuck, but there were a few fundamental elements that were strong and relevant, and every Canadian kid that was a comic fan knows Captain Canuck, even if they haven’t actually read the comic. There was something about the design and the iconic character that was resonant even during periods when the comic was hard to find. In a way, the original material was like a comic from the mid-50s even though it came out in the mid-70s. The main difference in the new Canuck is we endeavoured to create something that was absolutely contemporary and played completely straight.

A lot of Canadian stuff is fun for comedy when it’s created by Americans for American readers. There is their sort of jocular, not entirely malicious, but, “haha Canada, beavers, maple syrup, Mounties” , [so] you get something like Alpha Flight, [which] in its original run was played absolutely straight, and then a new volume comes out and there’s a character called Major Maple Leaf leading the team. So there’s a temptation to do something like that, and because the original series was a bit [old-fashioned], even retro, when it was coming out. Our impression was that the character was not taken entirely seriously, so first and foremost we took the essence of the character, rebooted a lot of the supporting cast, and modernized the vibe. It was basically a book [full] of white guys, so we gave the Starbuck treatment to a few of the side characters and villains, and literally played it straight.

There was a long period of time where comics went through a very ironic, post-modern, deconstructionist grim-and-gritty phase. I’m not down on that stuff, a lot of it is great, but there’s a point where it reaches a natural conclusion, and a character like Captain Canuck isn’t about standing grimly in the rain in a trenchcoat. The treatment of Captain America and the Avengers kind of blazed the trail for how an idealistic character doesn’t have to be ridiculous. We looked at stuff like the Ultimates and the MCU and the comic reading we’ve all done. This character doesn’t have to be a joke; let’s take him at face value and create an idealistic character and play it straight.

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Captain Canuck and Canadian Comic Books, an interview with Kalman Andrasofszky (image via Chapterhouse)

CGM: Is there a freedom in having such a small, contained universe as opposed to the mountains of canon found in DC and Marvel?

Kalman Andrasofszky: Absolutely. I have 15 years under my belt as a comics professional, but I had no professional credits as a writer. The amount of freedom that was given  to me to reimagine the universe and create new characters and incorporate new ideas was a huge privilege. It’s been a ton of fun, but at the same time having a job with a few constraints has also been great as a starter. In contrast to a giant shared universe like Marvel and DC where there are company-wide events and company mandates, it’s been pretty chilled out. That said, we have expanded our line in the last year and started to build a shared universe that we call the Chapterverse around Captain Canuck. Being the Editor-in-Chief of that universe means that instead of being a victim of other people’s decisions, I make those decisions—but that’s a different kind of freedom. At the same time, it’s a cottage industry, Chapterhouse is a small company, there’s only a few books and only a few creators. It’s a very small editorial team, so it’s really easy for everyone to keep in touch and get on the same page and stay on top of what everyone’s doing and planning to do and keep the rules of the universe and the bigger movements in line and not so erratic.

CGM: What can we expect from you guys at FanExpo?

Kalman Andrasofszky: We’re going to have a presence there, doing some panels. I’m not sure exactly what we’re launching right now. I know Captain Canuck just came back with a new number one a few weeks ago, so that’s the third arc in our Captain Canuck reboot series. It would have been the 12th issue; we have a new cover artist with John Gallagher for this arc. He’s a concept painter who has done a lot of work for DC TV shows. Leonard returns, he’s working with a new inker named Manny Ferrar and I’ll be back, you’re stuck with me for a while. I’ve always had a big, uber arc in mind for the Captain Canuck story and it’s exciting to be rolling into our third arc. No one knew how long it would go when we started, and I think we surprised a lot of people by even getting this far. This is super exciting for me because Captain Canuck took a bit of a hiatus while we were launching our other properties in the last couple of months. It’s a great place to jump on: there’s a really good summary to catch readers up and you’ll hit the ground running with a new villain and a new problem and a new status quo really quickly. I hope people pick it up because I’m really proud of it.

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Captain Canuck and Canadian Comic Books, an interview with Kalman Andrasofszky (image via Chapterhouse)

CGM: Anything else you’d like to add?

Kalman Andrasofszky: Our company recently acquired a new partner in the form of actor and writer Jay Baruchel. Jay has come on board as a partner and taken the position of Chief Creative Officer, and …will be bringing several new concepts to the universe in the next year or two.… [H]e’s immediately jumped into the mix with his own aesthetic and ideas, and working with him has been awesome. He’s a generous collaborator and a brilliant creator, and the first book that we rolled out with Jay’s name on it was for Free Comic Book Day called Captain Canuck: Year One, it’s co-written by Jay and me and it’s set in the period after Captain Canuck got his powers [but] before he was the hero he is now, during his service in Afghanistan. This is something we’ve touched on … a bit in the mains series, where he flashed back to this period in his life. .. [T]his story… has turned into a three-part series—part two has been listed for December and part three sometime next year—all written by Jay and me.