She may not have a cape, a secret headquarters nor a predilection for risky vigilantism. But when it comes to keeping a torch lit on Canada's colourful (but not always coloured) comic book history, Hope Nicholson is something of a superheroine.
Nicholson, 27, is an associate producer and researcher of Lost Heroes, a comprehensive documentary of Canada's own costumed crusaders from the "golden age" of the Second World War (when the import of American comic books to Canada was essentially prohibited) to the present.
At the beginning of the film, in a series of geek-on-the-street interviews at comic conventions, most respondents, when asked about Canadian superheroes, fall back on one of the most famous of all the superheroes, Wolverine.
The doc proceeds to reveal a rich history of older characters with names such as Canada Jack, Freelance, Johnny Canuck, Nelvana of the Northern Lights -- all the way to the contemporary heroes of Marvel super-team Alpha Flight, and Northguard.
The world of comic books is not a film assignment for Nicholson. She cops to the fact that her academic interest in the subject began with being an old-fashioned comics geek when she was growing up in the Maples.
"As soon as I could read, I was reading comic books. I started off reading a lot of Dazzler," she admits, referring to Marvel's "first disco super-heroine" of the '80s.
Where she haunted flea markets to pick up cheap comics as a kid, her passion transmuted to something more serious by the time she was earning a degree in communications at York University. While a marketing co-ordinator at the Winnipeg production company Merit Motion Pictures, Nicholson pitched a doc focusing solely on the golden age heroes, only to learn that a filmmaker in Toronto, Will Pascoe, has already sold his idea about contemporary Canadian heroes to Super Channel.
"I thought it doesn't make sense to have two projects on the market with similar intent," Nicholson says. "So I phoned up producer Tony Wosk and asked, 'Do you need any help? I have all this information and this history built up for my project, and I'd be happy to bring it to Lost Heroes.'
"So I organized the interviews, the visual research, finding the old comic books and getting the rights to everything," she says, adding Winnipeg's Farpoint Films became a co-production company on the project, with Farpoint's Kyle Bornais serving as an executive producer.
Nicholson proved she doesn't just talk the talk when it comes to championing Canada's comic book history. In October of last year, she and researcher Rachel Richey started a Kickstarter campaign dedicated to reprinting every edition of the golden age title Nelvana of the Northern Lights, the adventures of Canada's first superheroine, whose appearance in 1941 actually preceded Wonder Woman by a few months.
Nelvana stands as proof that, under the right circumstances, Canadian characters can triumph, even if it can be a challenge getting them to the marketplace, especially given this country's chronic tendency to sell itself short in the face of the moneyed American comics industry. That big business employs plenty of Canadian talent, including legends such as Joe Shuster, the original Superman artist and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane. But on our own turf, we still tend to be reticent about making myths we can call our own.
"If we can't do it perfectly, we're embarrassed about it, we're ashamed of it, we think that we can't do so we don't even bother to try," she says.
"Plus, a lot of our products don't carry that much interest to people in the south. Or at least that's the general perception. But I actually found out, when printing Nelvana, that half our sales came from U.S. buyers."
Hope Nicholson will be in attendance at the screening of Lost Heroes at Cinematheque, part of the annual Gimme Some Truth documentary film festival.