When Ottawa-born Ruth McKee took the Pledge of Allegiance to become an American citizen, she was asked if she’d bear arms against Canada on behalf of the stars and stripes. Her husband, famed comic book writer and TV producer Brian K. Vaughan, laughed at the thought of it. “At the time, I thought it was hilarious, you know, the thought of it—it seems so unlikely that we would ever go to war.” But sometimes the more you think about something, the more likely it gets...
The mighty United States army has advanced on Canada with giant robots and flying gunships, and they plow over everything from the border until they hit wilderness at 60th parallel. Here, just outside of Yellowknife, a rebellion is hatched: Two-Four, a group of Canadians of all backgrounds, has kidnapped a massive robot and is putting it back together in Giant Mine, where they’ve set the place up as an underground hideout. This is the plot of We Stand on Guard.
“What Saudi Arabia is to oil, Canada is to fresh water ... if you’re going to tell a story about fighting over water, this would be such an ideal location for it.”
Now, you are quite justified in asking why the United States would go to war with its affable northern neighbours. The answer is water. “What Saudi Arabia is to oil, Canada is to fresh water,” says Vaughan (alluding to the plenty and not human rights violations), “and especially living here in California, as we’re enduring such a horrific drought, you definitely see that the future is pretty
perilous [for the States].”
Vaughan knew he wanted the main story to take place once the war was basically lost. As much as he wanted to play off the Canadian-American dynamic he’s seen throughout his career (and all the Canadian short-hand in conversations his wife has had with his Canadian collaborators, which he’s jealously listened to without any idea how to chime in), the meat of the story is about insurgency. “This wouldn’t be a military-on-military fight. I wanted it to be asymmetrical warfare, to sort of see where these dead-enders would have been pushed, and so Yellowknife just felt right.”
The cultural similarities between both sides of the border also played into his choice—there are no cultural barriers for his readers to empathize fully with the protaganists. Plus, “I’d be lying if I said that the sort-of cliche’d physical beauty wasn’t a consideration, especially because Steve [Skroce, the Vancouver-based artist] draws that stuff so well. So it’s a combination of your resources and your history as well.”
And, as it turned out, the American government actually had a plan drafted for the odd chance they’d have to annex Canada in the event of a war with Britain. Under the assumption the British would use Canada as a staging point, the U.S. posited that they could sweep upwards through the provinces to effectively secure the continent. (This plan was drafted in the 1920s and ’30s by the military without presidential or congressional approval, was never operationalized, and was declassified in 1974.)
Skroce, who’s worked extensively for Marvel and designed the storyboards for The Matrix that helped the Wachowski Brothers pitch the movie to studios, was also able to fill in the Canadiana. (With shows like The Littlest Robo, there are at least some pros to a pretty bleak Canadian future.)
As of press time, the series had four issues on the stands, but Vaughan hinted the massive stores of arsenic in Giant Mine, as well as the proximity of Great Slave Lake, weren’t peripheral elements in his choice of setting. “All the pieces are in place—if you’re going to tell a story about fighting over water, this would be such an ideal location for it.”