In 2012 I flew from Hartford to Chicago for the Association of Writers and Writing Program’s annual conference. I was a senior in college and I’d never flown alone before. The trip would’ve been worth it if I’d only gotten to see the Keynote Speaker: Margaret Atwood. She was, as always, funny and down-to-earth. I’ve followed her career since then, more excitedly since her excellent novel The Handmaid’s Tale being adopted to Hulu’s excellent TV show. Her work is often intentionally, more so than most writers, in conversation with her forbearers. Her new comic War Bears is no exception. In it she’s exploring the production of the “Canadian Whites” of her youth—black-and-white comics published before and during World War II before collapsing under the weight of public outcry.
The story follows a young artist, Alain Zarakowski, as he tries to make a living. Al bumps into an angry old woman on the train ride to an interview with a publisher who criticizes comics for perverting Canadian youth. He makes it to his meeting with Gloria Tipper, the publisher of Canoodle Comics.
Part of the story is about Zura, as he tries to make his way up through the ranks of Canoodle Comics. His struggles mirror those of real creators like Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who had to fight for the rights to the characters they created for decades. The other part follows Oursonette, the titular War Bear in black-and-white. Those bits are a lot of fun. The ones in reality aren’t as much, but have a lot of potential.
Ken Steacy’s art is the highlight of the issue. He mixes a realistic drawing style in the real world and the cartoonish, rounded style of World War II comics in the black-and-white pages of the comic within the comic. It’s a hard adjustment to make, and Steacy does it seamlessly while sneaking in homages to Captain America punching Hitler.
Much of this issue was necessary table setting. It’s a bit dry, and the characters aren’t as developed as they could be. It’s hard to say whether that’s an homage to the comics that inspired it or not, but it’s not something that’s particularly effective. With two more issues on the way, there’s time to turn it around.
War Bears #1 will be released September 5th, 2018 by Dark Horse Comics.