What do Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Banff have in common, aside from being Canadian?
They have all been flattened at the hands, err paws, of giant grizzlies, black bears, polar bears and the Kermode bears of the West Coast, all bent on giving humanity some payback for its hubris and its selfishness.
All this chaos and destruction – sweet, sweet destruction – comes to bear in When Big Bears Invade, the newest title from Canmore-based Renegade Arts Entertainment, written by destructively-minded Alexander Finbow and illustrated by the enthusiastically chaotic Nyco Rudolph.
When Big Bears Invade is a children’s book for adults (it also happens to be suitable for children), and the book rectifies a horrible, terrible wrong: That Canada never gets destroyed.
“I’ve been in Canada for eight years now, and I’ve been a citizen of our great country for two,” said Finbow. “And I was thinking … how come pop culture has overlooked Canada in a very important regard? Quite simply, why is it whenever aliens come to our planet or monsters rise from the depths of the ocean, or Godzilla, or even King Kong pays a visit, why is it they always destroy New York or maybe Washington, London, England or Paris?
“Why don’t they come to Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto? What’s wrong with these great cities? What’s wrong with Canada? Is there something wrong with us? We’re an awesome country; we deserve our fair share of being destroyed,” said Finbow, his voice rising at the indignity of it all.
With that in mind, Finbow set out to right this grave injustice and rain destruction down on Canadian soil and he does so with the help of Rudolph, in a way that is very Canadian: the bears. At it’s surface, When Big Bears Invade is simply a fun-filled read, complete with numerous Easter eggs, or surprises, hidden throughout the illustrations; however, burbling away beneath the humour is an ethical and environmental story.
Given the many wrongs bears have suffered at the hands of humans – whether it be habitat loss, trophy hunting or death by highway, train or garbage – it would be fitting and wholeheartedly deserved for bears to lay waste to Canada.
“The environment can be very divisive, especially here,” said Finbow. “But I don’t think there is anyone who can argue that the bears would be pleased with the way their habitat is being destroyed. If anyone can find me a bear that is happy with that situation, I’ll change my mind.”
And with that, coupled with some very smart humour, it’s hard not to cheer when a Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain (Tunnel Mountain), awakened by a big bear shaman, kicks the Banff Springs Hotel to pieces. It’s also hard not to cheer as Calgary gets swept away in single flick of the land like dust on a blanket or Vancouver goes down in a tidal wave surfed by white Kermode bears, or Ottawa falls prey to a very hungry grizzly that plucks politicians from the parliament buildings like ants.
Rudolph, who was based in Winnipeg until the big bears turned that city into a curling rink, said, as he surveyed Banff from atop Sulphur Mountain, he was surprised to see the Banff Springs Hotel had already been rebuilt.
“We did get a good look at it, and I said ‘I thought it got destroyed!’,” Rudolph said laughing. He added that, despite being from another part of the country, the Banff spread is his favourite, a result of the challenge in illustrating it and its uniqueness.
“It really is this giant buffalo mountain come to life,” said Rudolph. “There is something really challenging and fun in illustrating that, and I hadn’t seen it in person when I drew it, so I had a bunch of reference photos and it is so cool on a completely different level to be out here; it is such a beautiful part of the country.
“I get the best of both worlds; I get to look at it and say, ‘it’s still standing’, but in my imagination and in Alexander’s dream, it is completely leveled.”
Finbow and Rudolph joined forces to level Canadian cities and landmarks after Finbow saw Rudolph work a few years ago that included Beavis and Butthead mashed up with Star Wars and a line of illustrations Rudolph produces that inserts bears into Second World War propaganda posters. Instead of the Royal Canadian Air Force, it’s the Royal Canadian Bear Force, complete with a grizzly dressed in pilot’s garb and a blue-and-white rondel with a bear print instead of a maple leaf.
Finbow invited Rudolph to produce a story from his propaganda posters with plans to publish it as a graphic novel. And when Finbow got the idea for When Big Bears Invade, with his affinity for bears, Rudolph was the natural choice to illustrate it.
“I was immediately interested,” Rudolph said about Big Bears and being able to further develop his bear story.
“(Finbow) and I share a very common passion for larger-than-life bombastic Canadian folklore. There’s this amazing history and geography here in Canada that doesn’t really get highlighted in a way like a country like the United States, for example. They have their pride as a country. They have it so down pat. They’re so celebratory and Canada, we’re so humble with all of this.
“I don’t ever want to see us at the level of that dangerous nationalism like other countries might have. But we could be a little bit more though. We could use some of what we have here and highlight it in a really fun way for larger than life Canadian stories.”
Now that the big bears are rampaging across Canada, there’s plans afoot for three more big bear books, along with Rudolph’s graphic novel. Book one will share an alternate version of what happened when the bears invaded, said Finbow, while books three and four, take the big bears and their destruction beyond Canadian borders.
“The Canadian bears have had enough of what is going on in the States and (they’re) going down to sort things out, and the fourth book is When Big Bears Invade the World. The bears of the world rise up and put us in our place, including panda bears and sloth bears, so it is going to be very silly,” said Finbow.
As part of that silliness, there’s something satisfying about seeing the places we know and love get destroyed – at least in books and movies – and Finbow said that while he’s no psychologist, he’s suspects that it tells us we matter.
“Maybe it feels like we matter if some giant bear can take the time to say ‘hey, you’ve done such a bad job of looking after the environment, we’re going to take you down.’ It sort of gives us some pride if we matter enough to be noticed,” said Finbow.
When Big Bears Invade is available for $19.99 at Café Books and Rusticana Grocery in Canmore and at Indigo in Banff; it’s also available at gift shops throughout the Bow Valley. A digital copy is available via the Renegade website (www.renegadeartsentertainment.com) for $9.99.