Captain Alcohol

He might be faster than a speeding bullet if he could only get up off the barroom floor!

In 1973 the government of the North West Territories decided that it needed to battle alcoholism among native groups, so it commissioned Captain Alcohol comics. Post-Iron Man, of course, everyone is aware of alcoholic superheroes but, back in the day, they were pretty unusual.

In issue #1 (which you can read in its entirety here) we learn the story of this incredible being. A strange-looking man is discovered frozen in a block of ice by an Inuit named Kirnik who drags the frozen being back home to Fish Fiord (sic).  The strange being breaks free from his block of ice and bursts through the wall but not before Kirnik grabs a medallion hanging from the man’s neck. The Inter Galactic medallion reads “Captain Al Cohol” (get it?). Anyway, the Captain is subdued (because he doesn’t care to fight back) and is taken to a local doctor, “Flush Fantom — Fish Fiord’s Merciless Man of Medicine”, who you know is a villain just by looking at him. This raises questions about the values being propagandized here. Anyway, Flush gives the Captain a shot of rum which drives him loony and he escapes into the night.

Click on image to read issue #1

Maybe I should say here that the entire comic shows some real off-the-wall humor. Characters use such interjections as “Yikes!” and “Gleep!” and various Inuk exclamations. Well, not to get too involved (you can always read it youself) the Captain fights a polar bear and defeats it by stomping on its paw (see: off-the-wall humor above). Soon enough, he is back in Fish Fiord and reveals his history.

Captain Al comes from the planet Barkelda, almost a utopia except that the Barkelda civilization never learned to control the use of alcohol. One  night, sloshed out of his mind, Captain Al staggers home and stumbles into the house control panel, igniting a fire that kills his wife and children. Captain Al becomes a teetotaller but still has bitter memories. To seek relief he volunteers for a ten-year space mission. But, three years in, the ship crashes on Earth.

The people of Fish Fiord welcome Captain Al but, as they are celebrating, the Ravenmen suddenly attack! Continued in issue #2 (after the fold).

So, when we last saw the Captain, he was being attacked by the Ravenmen, “ghoulish fiends that nightmares are made of. Since the beginning of time, they have made man tremble in the dark.” (Sorry, no complete comic scans of this issue.) After a battle, Captain Al and Kirnik are captured. They escape from the Ravenmen but do not defeat them.

Captain Alcohol #2

Captain Al has to deal with the aftermath of the Ravenmen attack. An Inuit man has taken to drink in order to forget the fiendish creatures. Now he sits in an alcoholic stupor and ponders murdering his wife. (Not so much humor here.) Captain Al struggles with the guy, sobers him up, and delivers a stirring anti-alcohol speech.

The next story in this issue introduces Lois Alley, the “curvaceous beauty” on the cover. Now when was the last time you heard someone referred to as a “curvaceous beauty”? 1973? I thought so. Anyway, Captain Al meets this “strange woman of beauty” (which is a pretty common phrase these days) and things are looking romantic.

Suddenly! The evil Billy Vermin (introduced in #1 but I forgot to mention him) breaks in, bops the captain on the head, and kidnaps Lois Alley! The blow to his noggin has confused Captain Al and he — oh no! — takes a drink. And another. Pretty soon he’s totally wasted. Meanwhile, Billy Vermin is making lecherous noises around Lois. But two Inuit from Fish Fiord, including the guy that the captain got sober, attempt a rescue. But:

Oh, no! Continued next issue!

Yes, continued in issue 3! Which I have right in my hand or you can follow a synopsis here. There’s more than one way to skin a fox! Either way you will want to continue reading. (Right?)

Captain Alcohol #3

So Lois is in Billy Vermin’s clutches and now we learn that his plan is to hold her for ransom — but first he wants some sugar! “Oh, no!” says Lois, “Sob, sob no! No!” “Just one little kiss,” says Billy. But when he leans over Lois she bites his nose! Billy smacks her but his henchman stops him from going any further. “You gotta control yourself, or we don’t make any money off this broad!” Billy can see the wisdom in that and the two villains eat and drink a little and sack out with Lois sobbing on the floor wondering where Captain Al is. “He’s my only chance (gulp!) Sob! Sob!” Meanwhile the captain comes to and, fighting his hangover, takes off after the bad guys. But the booze has sapped his strength and Captain Al is overpowered and tied to a chair. Billy Vermin tempts him with alcohol, but the RCMP arrives and arrests Billy and his sidekick. Captain Al knows that he has failed the good people of Fish Fiord so he does the logical thing: he gets drunk. What happens next has to be seen to be believed:

Yikes!

That’s right! The strange, curvaceous beauty, Lois Alley, is trampled to death by stampeding muskoxen! Now that is either off-the-wall humor or the most intense tragedy ever depicted in four colours!  That page, all by itself, justifies this comic book.

How can you top that? The captain, in his shame, leaves Fish Fiord and hops a plane that drops him in Inuvik. Right away he gets plowed. He wakes up in the drunk tank, welfare gives him fifty bucks, and he goes to the transient center. There Captain Al gets into a card game with sharpers, gets drunk, and loses what’s left of his cash. Next day, stumbling around town, the captain sees a fire. Most people are freaking out but a bearded guy on the edge of the crowd is laughing and shouting “Burn Baby burn!”

The captain is suspicious and follows the bearded man but loses him. He runs into someone who looks familiar but somehow Captain Al can’t place him even though he’s wearing the exact same coat as he was when he was shouting “Burn!” Ditching that false beard has made him unrecognizable. But what’s this? This guy thinks that he has seen the captain before. Hmm, strange. Captain Al thinks so, too, and follows the man. Then he sees:

Transformite? Is this where Mattel got the idea?

He drinks and transforms into the villain called Firey Fritz! Captain Al goes after Fritz but loses him. Later, the captain learns that there is a $1000 reward for capture of the arsonist and he resolves to track down Firey Fritz. And does! This all happens in a couple of panels. You can tell the writer is pushed for space because he has Fritz tell the captain his story in a long, single-balloon monologue that takes up a quarter of the page. It seems that Fritz started drinking as a young boy. Booze turned him into a transformite. He stowed away on a spaceship whose captain marooned him on Earth. Now he’s an arsonist alcoholic transformite!

But that’s not all. Fritz recognizes the logo on Captain Al’s spandex. It’s the family crest! Yes, Firey Fritz is Captain Al’s father! George Lucas probably read this before scripting Star Wars. Anyway, Fritz tells the captain to turn him in. Captain Al does and collects the $1000 reward.

Wow! Can you top that? Well, I can’t because I don’t have a copy of Captain Alcohol #4, which, incidentally was the final issue. But here’s the cover:

Captain Alcohol #4

There’s only one question left to ask: did this comic in any way, no matter how small, help alleviate alcoholism in the NWT? I have one piece of anecdotal evidence. Some friends were living in Inuvik when this comic came out and they told me that no native, Inuit or Indian, was really interested in  Captain Alcohol because all the main characters were obvious non-natives. They saw Captain Al as just another drunken white guy.

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19 comments on “Captain Alcohol

  1. Hannah says:

    Where did you find copies of these comics?

  2. Curtis Austin says:

    Funny to find a post like this. I actually own all four copies of this comic series. It was my late father that was the one commissioned to draw these.

  3. Scott says:

    I am a researcher investigating the use of comics by goverments to inform people about the dangers of substance abuse, and Captain Alcohol in particular. I noticed that you had been contacted by Curtis Austin and was wondering if you had heard back from him or had an email address for him. Also I was wondering if there is any possibility you would be interested in selling your copies of these comics?

  4. Curtis Austin says:

    Hi how would you like to contact me to discuss?

  5. Julie says:

    I’m currently typing up a clip from this comic from an old radio program. The name Wholola, is that how you spell it? It’s very entertaining!

  6. Ryan says:

    This comic book/radio series gets referenced several times in Mordecai Richler’s novel ‘Solomon Gursky Was Here’.

  7. […] top shelf has a copy of Captain Alcohol No. 2, part of a public service series put out by the government of the North West Territories in […]

  8. […] top shelf has a copy of Captain Alcohol No. 2, part of a public service series put out by the government of the North West Territories in […]

  9. John says:

    I remember a Canadian news show talking about this story. The Inuit would receive their welfare checks and spend the money on booze and comics. Naturally it made sense to come up with an anti alcohol theme. Problems as you discussed were that the captain was white, mostly fought Indian villains, but the thing that brought it all down was the super villain in the last episode was Hawkman. The hawk was apparently the Inuits most revered god…go figure. So the indians got even, built casinos on their land and all is forgiven.

  10. Ron Ramsey says:

    The Captain Alcohol series was produced under the auspices of the Department of Social Development, Gov’t of the NWT. The person responsible for their development was Mr. Harold Huggins. I ran the Detox Centre in Yellowknife at the time and I am very familiar with this programme. The comics were issued circa 1972/73.

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