How a Marvel Comics Artist Helped Give Newfoundland Its Own Psychedelic Superhero

When Marvel Comics artist Danny Bulanadi died last month, fans around the world took to social media to share his illustrations of well-known and well-muscled characters including Captain America, the Fantastic Four and the Transformers.

But in Canada’s easternmost province, drawings of Bulanadi shared by fans depicted a mysterious masked figure who sought unity with the universe instead of a fistfight.

Captain Newfoundland was the province’s superhero, first created by Bulanadi over 40 years ago. When Bulanadi died in San Francisco on November 3 at the age of 76, he was working on new Captain Newfoundland material for the first time in decades, said Jesse Stirling, whose father and grandfather had the idea of ​​Captain Newfoundland.

“So we have all these half-finished panels and illustrations of Captain Newfoundland, which we might release one day,” Stirling said in a recent interview. “The captain lives, but it will never be the same without Danny Bulanadi. »

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Captain Newfoundland made his debut on the cover of the Newfoundland Herald magazine on January 5, 1980. He was drawn towering over a sprawling purple galaxy, with planets and asteroids floating beneath his billowing blue cape. A luminous silhouette of the island of Newfoundland lit up his masked face.

“Captain Newfoundland: Our Own Superhero,” read the title.

Stirling said his father, Scott Stirling, and grandfather, late media mogul and mystic Geoff Stirling, dreamed up Captain Newfoundland in 1979 after he returned from a meditation trip to an ashram in India.

“(They) were probably drinking orange juice, maybe fasting for a while, doing yoga, meditating, and they decided to find a superhero who wasn’t your typical superhero,” said Jesse Stirling. “It was more to teach lessons of peace and cosmic unity. »

Geoff Stirling founded the Newfoundland Herald — then the Sunday Herald — in 1946, three years before Newfoundland joined Canada. He also launched several radio stations as well as the province’s first television station, now called NTV.

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Viewers became familiar with Stirling’s spiritual inclinations in the 1970s when NTV began broadcasting 24 hours a day. It filled the nighttime hours with spiraling discussions of politics, crop circles and conscience, often interspersed with thrilling animations. Shortly after Captain Newfoundland first appeared in the Herald, an actor playing the superhero appeared on NTV’s nightscape.

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“I’m sure a lot of people will remember the trippy Captain Newfoundland specials, where they had segments about UFOs, ESP and Atlantis, mixed in with clips from Paul McCartney and Queen,” Stirling said. “At the time, it was literally someone with a fencing cape and mask. »

Captain Newfoundland was an ancient intergalactic shapeshifter who could teleport through time and space to become one with the universe. He took many forms, one of which was Captain Atlantis. In the comics, Newfoundland is the tip of the mythical kingdom of Atlantis.

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Jesse Stirling said his father interviewed dozens of illustrators before choosing Bulanadi to bring the captain to life. Bulanadi had worked on DC Comics’ Conan and Batman series, and his artistry stood out.

“He was so proud of his Filipino culture,” Stirling said of Bulanadi, who has become a close family friend. “He was a spiritual guy, a really open guy. In a tribute to Bulanadi on his website, Marvel said he also enjoys performing Filipino love songs. The artist died of congestive heart failure, Marvel said, offering condolences to his “fans around the world.”

Reprints of the Captain Newfoundland comics ran from the back of the Herald until the magazine ceased publication in September. By the end of its more than 75-year run, the magazine was available in some of the province’s most remote communities, ensuring the captain’s mantra – ‘be true’ – resonated everywhere.

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Captain Newfoundland’s philosophy was quite radical in a province that at the time was still largely under the control of Christian churches, says St. John’s reporter Rhea Rollmann.

“It was this breath of fresh air against everything that was going on in the faith-based education system,” she said. “It injected these different cultural and spiritual ideas that we weren’t getting anywhere else. »

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Rollmann, who is transgender, said she still remembers reading the comics in her home kitchen in elementary school in the 1980s.

“I remember a panel where Captain Newfoundland was showing all the different forms he existed through, male and female incarnations,” she said. “This idea of ​​gender fluidity that was portrayed, it really resonated with someone who was growing up trans and didn’t have the words or the framework – there was no education about it at the time. »

Jesse Stirling admits he was teased at school when Captain Newfoundland first appeared. His classmates thought superheroes should have impressive combat moves, rather than a penchant for discussing metaphysics, he said.

But lately, there’s been a surge of interest in the captain. Copies are selling out fast of Captain Atlantis, a new collection of all Captain Newfoundland comics printed on full-color glossy. Stirling and his father hope to finally make a Captain Newfoundland movie, and maybe a video game, he said.

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And of course, they hope to release new Captain Newfoundland comics, even though the original superhero illustrator is gone.

“It’s a real tragedy,” Stirling said of Bulanadi’s death, adding, “He had a lot of great work left to do. »

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 17, 2022.

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How a Marvel Comics Artist Helped Give Newfoundland Its Own Psychedelic Superhero