The Cape Breton Liberation Army and its generals were the brainchild of Sydney Mines artist Paul “Moose” MacKinnon, whose self-published Old Trout Funnies satirized Cape Breton politics and popular culture during the Island’s cultural renaissance of the 1970s and 1980s. MacKinnon also created annual CBLA calendars, between 1979 and 2000, lampooning and lamenting hundreds of well-known Cape Breton personalities through detailed caricatures.
The Funnies, the calendars and other of Paul MacKinnon’s comic creations are the subject of a new book from CBU Press, Old Trout Funnies: The Comic Origins of the Cape Breton Liberation Army (now in stores).
When MacKinnon deposited his material at Cape Breton University’s archive the Beaton Institute a couple of years ago, it was brought to the attention of Dr. Ian Brodie by archivist Jane Arnold. Brodie is the Associate Professor in Folklore in the Department of History and Culture at CBU. His research interests include adolescent folklife, the intersections of folklore and popular culture, and stand-up comedy.
“Jane Arnold brought it to my attention because of my interest in both the intersection of folklore and popular culture and the folk culture of adolescents and young adults in post-industrial Cape Breton,” explains Brodie, who knew there was something to be done with the collection, but wasn’t quite sure what the angle was. “Soon thereafter a call for papers went out about a volume exploring identity in Canadian comics, and I felt that the identity question was one I could explore. Once I got into the project I felt we had a book, in part because these should be made available and I thought it would make an actual contribution to the study of Atlantic Canadian culture.”
Introduced, contextualized and annotated by Brodie, the book reprints all three issues of the Funnies, the lesser-known series Old Trout Minis, the CBLA calendars and some one-off cartoon strips. Brodie explores the themes and the legacy of the Funnies, providing the cultural and historical context for a project that was intensely esoteric and in-the-moment. The book contains a complete set of annotations for all those time- and place-specific references, and a contextualizing essay that sets Old Trout Funnies alongside other examples of 1970s post-industrial popular culture in Cape Breton.
“As the book was about a visual legacy, then-curator of the Art Gallery Laura Schneider was approached with the idea of an exhibition,” explains Brodie, who worked with Schneider and John Mathews to curate the Old Trout Funnies: The Exhibition, on display at the Art Gallery until the end of January.
The official launch of the book will take place at McConnell Memorial Library in Sydney on Wednesday, December 16, 7-9 pm. Mr. MacKinnon will also be at the Martha Hollett Memorial Library in Sydney Mines, on Thursday, December 17, 7-8 pm. Books will be available for purchase and signing.