Canadian Comics for Canadian Classrooms

It isn’t uncommon to find comic books in school libraries. Teachers have been using them to increase literacy rates in their classes, and many of my students gravitated towards them as their go-to reading material. With so many superhero comics on the market, it’s difficult for the uninitiated to find suitable content for their classes. The English comic book market is still dominated by American content, and not everything published is suitable for the ages being taught.

Thankfully, modern publishing services have caught up with creative talents, and many gems have made their way into the marketplace. Canadian talent is now turning to crowd-sourced funding methods to bring their comics to light. Independent publishers have also made an impact too, although they don’t share the clout Marvel and DC bring with them.

As an avid reader of comics for much of my life, and having tried making my own from time to time, I’m always looking for new comics to bring to the classroom. If you’re a Canadian educator, here are some recommendations!

As always, you should preview all material before handing it to your students, to make sure it is suitable. I have included links to Amazon.ca so you can purchase the products yourself, or see other people’s reviews [and if you make a purchase, some of the proceeds will help run this site!].

This isn’t meant to be a complete list, as it’s from comics I own and have read. If you would like to get in contact with the creators, I have linked their Twitter profiles. Many are very approachable, and would love to hear from educators using their books in the classroom.

Brok Windsor
By Jon Stables [Edited by Hope Nicholson]

A science-fiction series from the 1940s, Brok Windsor was Canadian doctor caught up in different supernatural adventures. Teachers will need to be aware of indigenous representation in these stories. Brok Windsor is a fairly obscure character, even by this list’s standards. It’s chock-full of cheesy 40s sci-fi. Students can try their hand at creating their own Canadian science-fiction heroes, or examine how Canadian nature featured in the series.

Essex County
By Jeff Lemire

Essex County is a masterpiece of storytelling. It deals with mature content, like substance abuse, difficult childhoods, and the depths of despair. It would fit in a literature class with older students. There is a lot to unpack, and it’s a very large book. It also touches upon different Canadian experiences, and how they influence the elusive Canadian identity. This is a book that would lend itself well to reading circles, as discussions could go on for a very long time.

Hark a Vagrant Collections
By Kate Beaton

The various strips in Beaton’s collections touch upon different subject matters, but the ones where she pokes fun at history are my favourite. The entire collection wouldn’t be suitable in most classes, due to language and content, but there are enough comics to draw upon to kickstart a conversation. Having students create their own comics based on historical events is an obvious application. A lot of Beaton’s content is also freely made available on her website.

Johnny Canuck
By Leo Bachle [Edited by Rachel Richey]

Reprints from WW2 comics, Johnny Canuck is a product of a bygone era. Students can explore themes of patriotism and nationalism. Deeper discussions can examine racism and sexism found within these comics from the 1940s. Students could deconstruct the role of comics in forming a national identity, and if that identity was an inclusive one. If they are aware of American war comics at the time, they can compare and contrast them with Canadian comics.

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography
By Chester Brown

I’ve referenced this work in my undergrad at Dalhousie, as well as during my history teachable class at uOttawa. I am always surprised by how few people are aware of this book. It is pretty much set the standard for Canadian history in a comic book. The exhaustive list of references and footnotes at the end are a great way to show students how to backup their assertions when writing papers. There is violence, cursing, and substance use, so this book would be better suited for older students. Chester Brown’s other works are very adult-oriented, so that is something to be aware of too. I have seen this comic in the library of a k-8 school, however, so it is out there.

 

Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection
Edited by Hope Nicholson

An anthology of collected works, focusing on indigenous talent. The artwork is gorgeous, and the stories are timeless. Stories can be selected for suitability, and used in Social Studies classes. Discussing the themes can be a useful exercise in Language classes as well. This work is a great balance to the colonial depictions of Canada’s indigenous peoples in the other titles on this list. Excellent piece of literature.

Nelvana of the Northern Lights
By Adrian Dingle [Edited by Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey]


Nelvana hails back to the golden age of comics (World War Two). While it’s fairly significant Canada had super-powered heroines, the stories in this collection need to be handled with care. Racist sentiments from the time are very evident, as are colonialist attitudes. I would therefore use these stories with older students, aware of these issues, and have them deconstruct these themes. Perhaps have them compare indigenous representation in Nelvana to that in Moonshot.

Northwest Passage
By Scott Chantler

Set in the 1700s, in what would become Canada, this graphic novels follows a band of fur traders. While it looks geared towards younger readers, I wouldn’t advise it. The language and violence in it would be better suited for older students.

The Three Thieves Series
By Scott Chantler 

Not featuring Canada (but created by a Canadian), this swashbuckling fantasy series features a female protagonist (a rare feature on this list). It’s PG in nature, so there isn’t much content that would offend. It’s a great fantasy series younger students would be comfortable reading. This is a series I would like to see in more graphic novel sections of school libraries, but unfortunately not enough people are aware of it.

The Two Generals
By Scott Chantler

Inspired by the stories of Chantler’s grandfather during the Second World War, this graphic novel (self-contained, novel-length, comic book) is ripe for Remembrance Day. Due to the graphic nature of some the violence, it would probably be suitable for intermediate students, or above. I know certain schools in Ontario have been using this book in November, to commemorate Remembrance Day.

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