People study the history of a nation. They study the history of that nation’s literature. They study how wars happened, the facts during and the aftermath. But do they ever write about the history of the Comic Book? The Graphic Novel? War Bears is an homage to “The Canadian Whites” and a history of World War Two.
Moral back home was important, but also important was the moral of the troops. And the comics that “boys (and gals) back home” made kept spirits up. And in Margaret Atwood’s War Bears, you see one of those comics. Based on the actual events: a shortage of American comics, looking for ways to keep up moral, sell bonds and more, a few people made the black and white comics kids like Atwood grew up on.
In a fictious story, Al Zurakowski creates Oursonette, a Nazi-fighting, female werebear. She is a cross between Wonder Woman and a Canadian character Nelvana of the Northern Lights (which I had never heard of before now). While she fights for truth, justice and Uncle Joe, we see the life of Al unfold. Teased by coworkers, his female boss, his Polish immigrant father, his French-Canadian background, the world around him. He learns about himself and life. When the war ends, that is when things start rolling in another, just as important direction. The ending is sweet, realistic and shows how crazy the comic world can be (but in a good way).
This book is as lovely as it is bittersweet (the illustrator, Ken Steacy, gave me those words, but I agree wholeheartedly). There is just as much about life as there are comics on these pages. The art fits the text perfectly, the dramatic difference between Oursonette and the “real world” is perfect. Oursonette is in black and white (hence Canadian Whites) and “now” in color. Bold, funny and in the spirit of the originals. Introductions, forwards and multiple afterwards add to the fun of it all.
While it has much of Atwood’s AngelCatbird feeling, this was much smoother and less corny. The corn is there, just more loveable.