Canada, O Canada! Canadians tend to get a bad rap, because Americans are more or less in charge of the world and we’re jerks like that. Whenever we need affordable prescriptions, or a place to crash for a few years when they start the draft up, you’re always there.., and we’ve been less than gracious. We make fun of your flag, your baseball teams, the way you talk, and the fact that you’re part French… sorry about that, honestly (er, the making fun of you part, not the French part).
Canada, sadly, hasn’t received the attention it deserves as a bastion of nerdery — probably because you’re culturally and linguistically not that different from us. We’re often surprised to learn that a particular actor, writer, artist, or fictional property is Canadian. We at Topless Robot felt it was high time your nation was honored for everything it has contributed to our subculture. These 10 items by no means represent all things nerdy and Canadian, so feel free to add anything you feel might have been left out in the comments, eh? (Sorry. We had to do it at least once.)
10) Day Job Orchestra
There are not many details available online concerning DJO, an indie progressive rock trio out of Pickering, Ontario, and consisting of Michael Thorne, Pete Swann, and Christ Robertson — not even on the band’s official website. While their music is quite interesting, they are mostly known as the YouTube sensation who redub scenes from popular movies, commercials, clips from C-SPAN, and, most famously, Star Trek with whatever random, nonsensical statements they can think of and whatever fits the mouth movements of the characters on screen. This inspired process has given us nuggets of genius like “Go f*ck a fruit basket”, “I like my ice extra cold”, and “Did you know Christ was a werewolf?”as well as several disparaging remarks about the city of Hamilton, 9/11 conspiracy theories, and gallons upon gallons of apple juice. All in all, they’re very funny, very nerdy, and very Canadian.
In 1994, Vancouver, British Columbia (home to more nerdy TV shows than you can shake a hockey stick at) gave nerd-dom its very first all-CGI half-hour television series. Created by Gavin Blair, Ian Pearson, Phil Mitchell and John Grace, ReBoot followed the adventures of the inhabitants of a computer world known as Mainframe. This setting was deliberately chosen by the creators since it made the limitations of 1994’s CG technology an integral part of the character design rather than a liability (i.e. blocky characters with mechanical movements). Unfortunately, the groundbreaking series didn’t last long in the U.S.; it was canceled in ’96 after Disney bought ABC, only two seasons in, while in Canada it continued until 2001 (though season 3 did show up in the States on Cartoon Network in 1999). Regardless, the show remains a nerd landmark.
8) The Kids in the Hall
Nerd-dom’s secondfavorite sketch comedy troupe (after Monty Python, obviously) first appeared on CBC and HBO in 1989 and later moved to late nights on CBS. Reruns were shown on the Comedy Channel — the network that would become Comedy Central. Scott Thompson, David Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCullough, and Mark McKinney formed their comedy troupe in 1985 and named it after an old Sid Caesar quote: If one of his jokes bombed, Caesar would claim it was written by “the kids in the hall,” his term for a group of young writers hanging around the studio. In 1988, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels saw The Kids’ show in Toronto, and smelled a potential TV series. I’ve always considered The Kids in the Hall‘s relation to its “big brother” Saturday Night Live to be somewhat analogous to the U.S.’s relationship to Canada; SNL is bigger, flashier, and has more popularity (or at least more notoriety), while KITH is smarter, subtler, and much more consistent. And even though SNL might be leaps and bounds more famous and successful, but it’s also had long periods where it’s been frankly godawful, KITH maintained a high standard of quality and humor throughout the entire run of the series — it didn’t really have any “off” periods or seasons, though their humor did lose a little of its edge when they started making shows for CBS in 1993. Which is the better show (or country, for that matter) is, of course, purely subjective.
7) Scott Pilgrim
Canadian artist/writer Bryan Lee O’Malley named the star of his now-famous graphic novel series after a 1998 song by the Canadian band Plumtree called “Scott Pilgrim”. O’Malley was heavily influenced by Japanese shonen manga, and drew particular inspiration from a book called Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga by Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma, even though the only manga O’Malley had read was Ranma ?. Scott Pilgrim became a sort of Japanese-North American hybrid; manga-influenced visually and stylistically, but grounded in the life and experiences of a Canadian 20-something slacker-geek. The series has done a great deal not only to make Toronto a nerd landmark, but its popularity has fed the “Nerd Boom” of the 2000s and 2010s. In 2005, O’Malley won the Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent for the first volume of Scott Pilgrim, the Joe Shuster Award for Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Cartoonist (Writer/Artist) in ’06 and the Harvey Award in ’07. In 2008 Wizard magazine ranked Scott Pilgrim 85th on their list of the “200 Greatest Comic Characters Of All Time” and in 2010 O’Malley received his first Eisner Award for Best Humor Publication. The 2010 film adaptation: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, directed by Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead fame and starring Arrested Development‘s Michael Cera was well received by critics and nerds, but not a huge commercial success… though it has become reasonably popular on DVD and Blu-Ray.
6) Nathan Fillion
Only 14 episodes of Joss Whedon’s sci-fi Western Firefly were made, and only 11 of them made it to air in its initial run. And if that was all the Edmonton, Alberta-born Nathan Fillion had starred in, he would still probably have made this list. His performance as Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds was a large part of the reason the show’s immense fandom arose, and why a show that barely got any TV ratings somehow managed to get a major motion picture sequel. His work as Captain Hammer in Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog was even shorter, but just as memorable (very few people could have delivered the line “The hammer is my penis” as perfectly as Fillion). What’s just as impressive is that Fillion is clearly a nerd himself, whether campaigning to play Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake, pretending to be Green Lantern (above), inserting Firefly references into his otherwise non-nerdy procedural Castle, or playing with a lightsaber, alone, at home. He’s also really funny. In full disclosure, Fillion wasn’t the only Canadian on Firefly; Jewel Staite, who played the perpetually hard-up mechanic Kaylee, was born in White Rock, British Columbia, and has acted in such sci-fi shows as Stargate: Atlantis and Warehouse 13 to boot. But Entertainment Weekly never put her on the cover and called her a geek god. We’re also pretty sure she never got caught playing with a lightsaber on her front lawn, either.
5) The Stargate Franchise
Science fiction doesn’t have the best record for television longevity. Furthermore, shows based on movies have an even greater reputation for abject failure… which makes the success of the Stargate TV franchise particularly noteworthy. Stargate, a film that often goes unmentioned when compared to the enormous box office success of director Roland Emmerich’s other films such as Independence Day, didn’t merely survive adaptation to the small screen. Executive Producers Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper managed to turn a relatively forgotten effects driven sci-fi adventure flick into a fictional universe that thrived for nearly 15 years and three series (granted, Stargate: Universe was a bit of a letdown).
The first two Stargate shows, SG-1 and Atlantis, were among the highest rated programs on the Sci-Fi Channel (later SyFy), and their popularity helped establish the network. All three shows were joint Canadian-American projects produced in Vancouver — also the home of such popular SF programs as Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict, Space: Above and Beyond, Eureka, Sanctuary, and Warehouse 13. SG-1 lasted an unprecedented 10 seasons and two straight-to-DVD feature length films, Stargate: Continuum and Stargate: Ark of Truth. Atlantis survived a respectable five seasons, and a DVD movie was planned to close out the series called Stargate: Extinction, but the project was mothballed in 2011. Universe barely finished two seasons — no great loss, to be perfectly honest. The Stargate franchise offered a great venue for Canadian actors and writers to share their talents with the world… well, at least as much of the world as watches science fiction TV.
4) Sydney Newman
We were amazed to learn that the original creator of probably the most quintessentially British sci-fi series ever made was a full-fledged, native born Canadian. Sydney Cecil Newman was born in Toronto, Ontario, and made a name for himself during WWII producing propaganda films for the Canadian government. This work caught the attention of the CBC, and Newman began working in television. His talents were then noticed by the Associated British Corporation, who controlled BBC rival ITV. They offered him a job producing, and Newman moved to England. His first big success was 1961’s The Avengers (no, the other one), which became an international sensation. After this, the BBC offered Newman the position of Head of Drama, and he left ITV at the end of ’62. In 1963 Newman, an avid science fiction fan, created the phenomenon that is Doctor Who. Among the aspects to the series that Newman is directly responsible for are the concept of a time machine that is larger on the inside than the outside, and the basic character idea of a mysterious “Doctor.” He is believed to have coined the title, but this has been debated (some say the title was conceived by producer Rex Tucker). After two producers turned him down, Newman hired his former production assistant, Verity Lambert, to produce the show. It was her first job producing, and she was not only the youngest, but also the only female drama producer at the BBC in ’63 (she is credited with, among other things, creating the Daleks — a decision Newman was not pleased with at first).
Although Newman passed away in 1997, his contribution to the show has not been forgotten: In the 2007 episode “Human Nature”, The Doctor (as “John Smith”) gives the names of his parents as “Sydney” and “Verity”, and a character in 2010’s “The End Of Time” is named Verity Newman in honor of the show’s creators.
Wolverine, a.k.a. Logan, a.k.a. James Howlett, is hardly the only Canadian superhero; The Great White North has its own superteam Alpha Flight (of which Wolvie has been a member, of course). However, my discussions with a Canadian comics aficionado (that’s right, real, live Canadians were consulted in the compiling of this list!) have led me to believe that many Canadian fans see Alpha Flight as annoying, if not offensive caricatures and stereotypes. So I decided to stick aolely with Wolverine. First appearing in 1974 in The Incredible Hulk #180, Wolverine was created by writer Len Wein and Marvel art director John Romita, Sr., and first drawn by artist Herb Trimpe. He appeared here and there in several different comics as a mysterious agent of the Canadian Ggovernment before joining the X-Men’s “all-new, all-different” roster in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975). His character was further developed by X-Men writer Chris Claremont, the infamous Frank Miller, and Canadian-born artist/writer John Byrne. Byrne championed the character and kept him going when Claremont (who preferred Nightcrawler) was considering dropping him. Byrne, as a non-fictional Canadian, didn’t want to lose the X-Men’s only Canadian member.
Wolvie has, over the years, become arguably the most popular character in the X-Men, emerging as he did in the post-Vietnam antihero boom, a period when violent, anti-authoritarian, morally complex superheroes were supplanting the pro-establishment “boy xcout”-type characters of the previous generation. Along with appearing in several X-Men titles, Wolvie has also done stints in the aforementioned Alpha Flight and the Avengers, as well as starring in his own comic, and a slew of flashback and origin miniseries detailing his long and colorful past. Hugh Jackman has so far portrayed him on the big screen five times (if you count the cameo in First Class).
2) Joe Shuster
Canada has provided the comics world with a number of talented writers and artists, but none is as well-known and acclaimed as the man the Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards Association named their award for excellence after: Joe Shuster, co-creator of Superman with partner Jerry Siegel. That’s right, folks; everyone’s favorite crusader for “Truth, Justice, and The American Way” is half-Canadian. Toronto native Shuster and Cleveland, Ohio-born Siegel began their collaboration by writing a science fiction fanzine, and later broke into comics when they started writing strips for National Allied Publications (the future DC Comics). It took the duo six years to find a publisher for their first Superman story before National Allied Publications picked it to be the title feature of their new periodical, Action Comics, in 1938. Aspects of Shuster’s Canadian upbringing worked their way into the story: Clark Kent (who was modeled after a combination of Harold Lloyd and Shuster himself) originally worked for The Daily Star, named for Toronto’s newspaper, which Shuster worked for as a boy. Furthermore, the cityscape of Metropolis was based on Shuster’s memories of downtown Toronto.
In order to get their creation published, Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to the character to the nascent DC for $130 and a contract to continue providing new material. Because of this, Siegel and Shuster went uncredited as the creators of the world’s most famous superhero for almost 40 years. Decades of legal wrangling finally culminated in 1975, when DC’s parent company Warner Communications, granted the duo a lifetime pension of $20,000 a year plus health benefits, along with their names on the Supes byline (primarily to foster good publicity for the upcoming Superman movie). Siegel continued to work steadily in the business, but unfortunately Shuster faded into relative obscurity, finally leaving the comics industry in the ’70s due to his failing vision. Happily, Shuster eventually received not only the recognition he sought from DC, but from the comics world at large as well: He and Siegel were inducted into both the comic book industry’s Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1993, as well as receiving the aforementioned Joe Shuster Award in 2005. In Toronto, the street Joe Shuster Way is named in his honor.
1) William Shatner
Who else could possibly top a list honoring Canadian Nerdity? The Shat is not only Canadian, he’s Quebecois; both his parents were the children of Eastern European Jews who immigrated to Montreal, and he was born and raised in the city’s C?te Saint-Luc neighborhood (his paternal grandfather changed the family name from “Schattner” to the more Anglicized “Shatner”). His acting career began in his hometown with the Montreal Children’s Theatre. In 1951 he appeared in his first Canadian film, The Butler’s Night Off, then received a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce from Montreal’s McGill University in 1952 and became business manager for the Mountain Playhouse (also in Montreal) before joining the Canadian National Repertory Theatre in Ottawa. In 1954 Shatner began performing at the Shakespearean Stratford Festival of Canada in Stratford, Ontario, alongside future Star Trek VI co-star Christopher Plummer. That same year he was cast as Ranger Bob on the Canadian Howdy Doody Show (yes, there was such a thing). Four years later he appeared in his first Hollywood feature, portraying Alexei in MGM’s production of The Brothers Karamazov. He worked steadily in television for the next eight years, appearing on shows such as Route 66, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Outlaws, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents before nabbing the role that would define the next 40 years of his career: Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, the lead role on the second pilot episode of Star Trek “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (a more “studio-friendly” show than Roddenberry’s first pilot, the rather cerebral “The Cage”). The rest is nerd history.
In 2011, The Shat received the Governor General of Canada’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, as well as an honorary Doctor of Letters from his alma mater, McGill University.