Drawn from history: Canadian political figures in comics

By Meaghan Scanlon

Most of us are familiar with newspaper editorial cartoons. These one-panel gag comics often feature exaggerated and satirical images of politicians. But did you know that Canadian politicians have also appeared in web comics, graphic novels, and even Super Hero comics?

Kate Beaton’s web comic Hark! A Vagrant frequently features historical figures. Her strip “A History Debate” sees a collection of well-known individuals from Canadian history, including Sir John A. Macdonald, engaged in a discussion about what they can do to make Canadian history less boring. (Obviously, we don’t think it’s boring at all!)

A few Canadian political figures’ lives have been recounted in biographical graphic novels. Two examples are Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown and Hyena in Petticoats: The Story of Suffragette Nellie McClung by Willow Dawson. These biographies may take some liberties with their portrayals of events, but for the most part they are based in reality.

However, Canadian politicians have found themselves in some truly fantastical situations in the pages of Super Hero comics. You may have read recently that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will appear in the pages of a Marvel comic book written by Canadian Chip Zdarsky. This is not the first time the world of comic book heroes has borrowed a character from Canada’s political sphere. In the first issue of New Triumph featuring Northguard, the titular hero uncovers a plot to kill Quebec Premier René Lévesque. Fortunately, Northguard arrives in time to save Lévesque’s life.

In issue No. 120 of The X-Men, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau meets with James MacDonald Hudson, codename: Vindicator, of the Canadian Super Hero team Alpha Flight. Trudeau instructs Vindicator to capture the X-Men’s Canadian member, Wolverine, and bring him home to Canada. Canadian artist John Byrne drew the comic.

A large screen shows the X-Men fighting a giant robot. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau stands in front of the screen along with Alpha Flight team leader Vindicator. Trudeau asks Vindicator to explain who the X-Men are. The words “The Uncanny X-Men” appear in large text at the top of the page. The story title is “Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!” The location of the scene is given as “The War Room of the Canadian Ministry of Defense – Ottowa [sic], Ontario, Canada …”

Pierre Trudeau gets a lesson on the X-Men from Alpha Flight’s team leader Vindicator in The X-Men no. 120, published by Marvel Comics, April 1979. (Reprinted in X-Men: Alpha Flight (AMICUS 44300363) © MARVEL

Perhaps the most unusual depiction of Canadian politicians in comics occurs in Angloman: Making the World Safe for Apostrophes! Angloman, the heroic champion of bilingualism, encounters a series of super-powered characters who might seem strikingly familiar to students of Canadian politics. Power Chin, for example, is a parody of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, complete with the oversized chin that was Mulroney’s trademark feature for caricaturists. Pierre Trudeau appears as The Northern Magus, a mysterious caped figure with a rose in his lapel. The Northern Magus has incredible magical powers and only speaks in rhyme.

Sketches and textual descriptions of three characters – Poutinette, The Northern Magus, and Power Chin.

Character biographies for Poutinette, The Northern Magus and Power Chin from Angloman: Making the World Safe for Apostrophes! (AMICUS 14740760. © Mark Shainblum and Gabriel Morrissette. Reproduced with the permission of Signature Editions.) (AMICUS 14740760)

To learn more about comic book depictions of Canadian history as well as other Canadian comics, visit Library and Archives Canada’s exhibition Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity. The exhibition runs at 395 Wellington St. in Ottawa until September 14th. Admission is free.

Additional resources


Meaghan Scanlon is the Special Collections Librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

One thought on “Drawn from history: Canadian political figures in comics

  1. Pingback: Canadian History Roundup – Week of July 10, 2016 | Unwritten Histories

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s