I’m No Superman: The Comic Collection of Gilbert Bouchard

Gilbert Bouchard’s sudden passing shocked Northern Alberta’s arts community. Through a donation to the University of Alberta, his legacy lives on.

Andy Grabia
10 min readMar 22, 2024

“The Life! A glorious place, a glorious age, I tell you! A very neon Renaissance-And the myths that actually touched you at that time — not Hercules, Orpheus, Ulysses, and Aeneas — but Superman, Captain Marvel, Batman….”

–Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

The Origin Story

Gilbert Bouchard wasn’t raised in Smallville, Kansas, but rather in the small town of Falher, Alberta. Along with his parents Gabrielle and Henri, his brothers Michel and Daniel, and his sister Rachelle, Gilbert lived in what he described in an October 1983 article in The Gateway, the student newspaper at the University of Alberta, as “the rather chaotic world of wilderness and farms of northern Alberta.”

Born francophone, and raised Roman Catholic (he later became a Unitarian who didn’t believe in the existence of God), Bouchard was filled with intellectual curiosity, and fascinated by the how and why of storytelling. Suzette Chan, his best friend, roommate, and editor at the prominent comic book website Sequential Tart, says that though he later became an atheist, Bouchard at one point considered entering the seminary to become a Catholic priest (one of his uncles was a priest). He was drawn to Orders like the Society of Jesus and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate — who were and still are a prevalent force in northern Alberta — mostly because of their text-based traditions and retelling of grand narratives (what Nietzsche called the “metaphysics of the hangman”). Chan believes that this interest in metanarrative and the art of storytelling is part of what drew Bouchard into the world of comic books.

In that same October 1983 article in The Gateway, entitled “Farmland Fantasy and the DC Universe,” Bouchard wrote that as a child, comic books appealed to him because they provided him with a “needed escape.” He wanted to dream about “cities with skyscrapers and bustling newspapers instead of Falher and the Smokey River Express,” and was drawn to “men with ideals, hopes and enough vitality to mold the world.” The superheroes of the comic books were a welcome change from the “grey, stooped, tired men” who were his relatives and friends of his father.

Always an autodidact, Bouchard grew up reading the stash of newspapers and Saturday Evening Posts in his grandparents’ attic. It was while huddled away in that attic that Bouchard first discovered the comic that would for the rest of his life remain his favourite: Frank King’s Gasoline Alley. A comic strip that first appeared in 1918, Gasoline Alley was the first comic to have its characters actually get older, rather than always stay the same age. Bouchard never tired of it, and as he grew older, he developed a further appreciation for many other classic comic strips, including Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie, and Tarzan and Prince Valiant by Canadian artist Hal Foster. Already fuelled by an interest in bold narratives, the comic strips of Bouchard’s early childhood, as well as comic books like Little Lulu and Richie Rich that his mother kept around the house, were the gateway into a universe of capes and superpowers that he never returned from.

Banner for the Bouchard Exhibit, which ran in Rutherford South Library from November 2011 to February 2012.

Make Mine DC

One of the first things any comic book fan or follower of popular culture will note in looking at Bouchard’s collection is that it is almost entirely devoid of any comic books from the Marvel Comic line. That means no Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Captain America, Thor, Incredible Hulk, or Iron Man, nor any of Marvel’s great supervillains like Magneto, the Green Goblin, Galactus, Doctor Octopus, The Kingpin, Red Skull, or Victor von Doom.

In “Farmland Fantasy and the DC Universe,” Bouchard outlined his preference for DC Comics. He saw the company as “the prime comic force,” and their comics as “the thesis for Marvel and all other comic followers.” In contrast to the Silver Age heroes created by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby, who were flawed characters experiencing the daily hardships of life, DC heroes, in particular the DC “Trinity” of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, were “paragons of virtue, true shining beacons of humanity, what all men should strive to be.” Bouchard wasn’t as interested in the realism of Marvel, what Chan calls the “vicissitudes of the everyday.” He wanted the iconic, larger-than-life archetypes, and lies that were “bigger, better, nicer than life.” He wanted gods and their mythologies.

Interestingly enough, it was a comic book that poked holes in and added nuance to those very mythologies that kept Bouchard reading comics. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns redefined not only the character of Batman, but the medium of comic books as a whole. Chan truly bonded with Bouchard over The Dark Knight Returns when it was published in 1986. They discussed the comic for over three hours on the telephone, and Chan says Bouchard was excited about its deconstruction of the superhero trope. The origin story, the costume, the signal, and so many other parts of the mythology are the same, but Batman is now an anti-hero, reviled by many in Gotham for his crime-fighting antics. And he’s not alone. He, along with every other superhero other than Superman, has been forced into retirement. Strangest of all, Batman is old. Bruce Wayne is old. It was a subversion of the entire superhero genre, yet it remained completely familiar to the reader. As Alan Moore, writer of the other seminal superhero text from 1986, The Watchmen, wrote in a foreword for the Dark Knight Returns collection, “everything is exactly the same, except for the fact that it’s all totally different.”

Some of Bouchard’s collected editions of Golden Age DC Comics.

Secret Identities

Bouchard’s impact on Edmonton’s arts and culture scene was nothing short of monumental. Over a 25-year span, in addition to national newspapers The Globe and Mail and The National Post, as well as periodicals such as Queen’s Quarterly and The Dalhousie Review, his writing regularly appeared in The Gateway, The Edmonton Journal, See Magazine, Folio, The Calgary Herald, Legacy, Alberta Venture, The Edmonton Bullet, Other Voices, NeWest Review, and The Prairie Journal. Bouchard also worked in television and radio, including Acultural Cocktail on CJSR, Radioactive on CBC Radio, and Alberta Primetime on Access Television. He was prolific (a search for “Gilbert Bouchard” on The Gateway archives page alone brings up over 400 hits), and his tastes were varied. He wrote about everything, including poetry, theatre, film, television, politics, food, and of course comic books. Former colleague and Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons says that talking to Bouchard was always stimulating, and often exhausting: “[He] always astounded me with the breadth of his interests and his eclectic enthusiasms.”

Simons describes Bouchard as both a “holy innocent” and a “double-agent.” “He had such a boundless enthusiasm for this city, and for its artists — all its artists, whatever media they worked in,” she says. Fish Griwkowsky, a fellow Edmonton arts writer, whose award-winning documentary with filmmaker Trevor Anderson The High Level Bridge is informed by Bouchard’s death, styled him “Gilbert the Good.” Simons’ and Griwkowsky’s language certainly would have pleased a man who grew up obsessed with caped crusaders and their alter egos. Both writers admired how Bouchard maintained a critical eye, but was never distant from the material. Nor was he elitist in his tastes. Whether it was the lofty melody of an aria or the pulpy confines of the comic book, Bouchard kept his mind open, and worked hard to build bridges between “high” and “low” culture.

The World’s Mightiest Mortal

It’s a sentiment that everyone who knew Bouchard agrees upon. He remains an inspiration to Griwkowsky for his caring and integrity, as well as for his continued attempts to “elevate Edmonton’s arts community using whatever resources he could.” When asked how Bouchard should be remembered, Chan responded with a single word: sharer. When it came to comic books, Chan noted, Bouchard didn’t see himself as a collector, a protector, or a critic. He was a fan, but not a fanboy. He was a reader of comics, a lover of comics, and an apologist of comics.

Sadly, we’ll never really know the full extent of Bouchard’s collection, because he often lent or gave away his comics to others to read. The Dark Knight Returns, for example, is not in his collection, despite being one of his favourite comics. Chan says Bouchard probably gave it away, as he did with so many other comics, in the hope of gaining one more convert.

At a tribute held in Bouchard’s honour by Happy Harbor Comics following his death in 2009, Chan noted that Bouchard took care of his comics, but never stored them in mylar bags, which is the usual way that comic book collectors protect their comics. To Bouchard, Chan said, “comics weren’t museum items. They were made to be enjoyed and shared.” The irony of them now being part of an academic library at a public university, where they will be bagged for posterity, is not lost on anyone, yet Chan thinks that Bouchard would have been happy that they have found a home. “He would have liked that his things are shareable,” Chan says.

It’s that sharing, that mix of enthusiasm and unselfishness, which made Gilbert Bouchard such an exceptional figure, and a man beloved by many in Edmonton. In many ways he was a Clark Kent without the phone booth. Raised on a farm and instilled with small-town values, Bouchard dreamed of coming to the big city. Once he reached our fair Metropolis, he stood out as one of its best and brightest citizens. He didn’t leap buildings in a single bound, but he always fought for art, artists, and the creative way. Bouchard was no Superman — who is? — but he was one of the good guys. He will be sorely missed, but through his contributions — such as his writings and the donation of these comic books to the University of Alberta — his legacy will live on.

Gilbert Bouchard passed away in 2009, but through his writings and his donation to U of A libraries, his legacy lives on.

Into The Batcave! The Bouchard Collection

The Bouchard comic book collection is the first major comic book collection acquired by the University of Alberta Libraries. It is a significant collection, a considerable building block upon which the University of Alberta can expand its comic book collection. In fact, the U of A has recently acquired another comic book collection, featuring around 10,000 titles from older comic book eras. Together, these two collections will allow students, faculty, and independent researchers the opportunity to better explore what has been until recently an under-appreciated literary and artistic medium.

The comic books in the Bouchard collection illustrate Gilbert’s impeccable taste. As he lost many of his comic books as a result of moves and his personal generosity, the ones remaining in his collection are not old, rare, or priceless. They are, however, representative of an important period in comics known as the “Modern Age of Comics.” This “Age” began in the mid-1980s, and is particularly tied to the rise of comics with mature content and anti-heroes, as well as the increasing acceptance of bound comic books, or graphic novels, as a proper literary form. Three canonical comic book texts — Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Art Spiegelman’s Maus — were all published in 1986.

As he preferred DC Comics, the comic books in the Bouchard collection are almost entirely from that company or its imprints (Vertigo, Wildstorm, America’s Best Comics). There are very few comics from Marvel, the other great publisher of American comic books. Nor are there very many comics from outside North America. The vast majority are Western comics, with just a small smattering of Manga in the collection.

In addition to the approximately 3700 comic books, there are hundreds of other comic book-related items in Bouchard’s collection, including graphic novels, collections of older comic book titles and comic strips, books on the art, writing and history of comic books, as well as comic book-inspired novels. All told, the Bouchard collection features some of the most important comic book writers and artists of the past 100 years; many of the titles would now appear on fans’, critics’ and academics’ lists of the best comics of all time. Listed below, alphabetically, are some of the many notable writers and artists in the Bouchard collection.

Notable Writers in the Collection

Brian Azzarello

Ed Brubaker

Kurt Busiek

Max Allan Collins

Michael Chabon

Will Eisner

Warren Ellis

Garth Ennis

Neil Gaiman

Geoff Johns

David Lapham

Stan Lee

Brian Meltzer

Mike Mignola

Frank Miller

Alan Moore

Grant Morrison

Dennis O’Neil

Harvey Pekar

George Romero

Greg Rucka

Brian K. Vaughan

Bill Willingham

Brian Wood

Notable Artists in the Collection

Sergio Aragones

Peter Bagge

Dan Barry

Mark Buckingham

John Byrne

Al Capp

Jack Cole

Darwyn Cooke

Howard Chaykin

Don DeCarlo

Hal Foster

Dave Gibbons


George Herriman


Walt Kelly

Frank King

Jack Kirby

James Kochalka

Joe Kubert

Jim Lee

Winsor McCay

Dave McKean

George Perez

Paul Pope

Joe Quesada

Michael Rabagliati

Alex Ross

Joe Sacco

Tim Sale

Charles Schulz

Dave Sim

Dave Stewart

Irving Tripp

Chris Ware

Doug Wright

Originally published in the program for “I’m No Superman: The Comic Collection of Gilbert Bouchard,” an exhibit I curated in collaboration with the University of Alberta’s Bruce Peel Special Collections in 2011.