The untold story of Nelvana of the Northern Lights

As I mentioned before, I recently met this totally awesome person at a conference who gave me copies of the comic book adventures of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, a Canadian superhero who was in publication from roughly 1941 to 1947.

When I was working on my MA research paper about Nelvana two years ago, I needed copies of her stories.  I went to the Library and Archives Canada, and they sent me to the University of Toronto Rare Books Library.  Jim Jim and I rented a car and drove to Toronto and slept over at our friends’ house, thereby disrupting their work on a quilt they were making us for our wedding the following week, but all went more or less according to plan otherwise and I acquired a copy of Nelvana of the Northern Lights in the Strange Frozen Land of Glacia.  It was amazing.  I laughed, I cried, I showed Jim Jim the “yellow slant-eyed men” (it was World War II–Canadians were not down with the Japanese), we had a good chuckle about 1940s racism, we got married, I wrote my MA paper, done.

Or so I thought.

It turned out that the copy of Nelvana that I got from the U of T Rare Books Library was
missing two key pages at the beginning, as well as an entire chapter from the end (where the yellow men invade Glacia!).  This would be the worst thing ever, and in fact it’s rather interesting, but the two pages explain most of what I was calling “ironic dissonance” in my MA paper.  Actually, much of my argument in my MA paper was centered around irony in Canadian art (per theorist Linda Hutcheon).  So, yeah, that is a bit of a game changer.

The good things about this discovery are (1) I haven’t submitted my paper for publication any where yet (procrastination saves the day!) and (2) this feeds very neatly into another argument I would like to expand upon, namely that Canadians (and researchers thereof!) are unfamiliar with their own popular culture artifacts.  In the end, it’s going to make for a more interesting paper.

My advisor did threaten to take away my MA, but I think he was kidding.

All that to say, don’t despair!  Research is like a treasure hunt, and you have to sift through some sand to get to the chest that contains exactly half of a comic book.  Then you have to randomly locate the other half in Texas via Winnipeg, then read it in New Jersey.  It’s not a perfect metaphor, but keep looking!

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3 Responses to The untold story of Nelvana of the Northern Lights

  1. This was a really interesting post as I have gotten caught in the Nelvana craze that is being created and resurrected by Lost Heroes. I was wondering about something: in the course of your MA did you or have you ever encountered the original legends or myths that Franz Johnston came across in his time with the Inuit in the sub-Arctic and Arctic that inspired Adrian Dingle to create Nelvana to begin with? I am really fascinated with finding those stories and I just thought I would ask here as part of my search.

    I am a searcher, a comics lover, a storyteller and a fanatic of sorts and this is something I really want to find something about or find another place to start. I might have a possible lead even but it needs to be narrowed down. Anyway, thank you for writing this and I hope to hear from you as soon as is possible. Take care.

    • AMANDA! says:

      Hey! Thanks for your comment (and all the likes).

      During my MA, I did look for the original stories, and I seem to recall having come across a bit of a lead on this – we should discuss!

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