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What if the United States invaded Canada?
It all started with a strange vision screenwriter David Longworth had sometime in the mid-1980s of armoured tractors and combines converging upon a group of soldiers in a wheat field. The machinery had the letters USNA written on them. Unsure what to make of it all, Longworth shared the vision with his writing partner Allan Stanleigh.
"He didn't know what the letters meant," Stanleigh says. "But we realized that this was the seed of an idea — the people's revolution in North America.
"We just took off from there with the concept of the United States and Canada amalgamating after a rebellion."
Longworth's vision — and the letters written on the sides of the armoured farm equipment —morphed into a screenplay written by him and Stanleigh called USNA: The United States of North America. Harry Kalensky, the original bass player for the band Trooper, later joined the pair in their screenwriting ventures and also contributed to the script.
The screenplay was never made into a movie. Stanleigh says that Canadian film companies cited the high costs required for such a project, while American film companies perceived the tone of the script as too anti-American. USNA was shelved — but not forgotten — by its authors.
With the hope of a movie deal stalled, Stanleigh and his partners moved on to other screenplays and writing projects. Encouraged by the interest generated by films such as Sin City and Road to Perdition, both which originally started out as graphic novels, the trio decided to return to USNA long after Longworth had that initial vision.
The result is a 200-page graphic novel that details a dystopian future where the U.S. and Canada have joined into a single country. Much of the novel's tension revolves around the fact that the U.S. has gotten a much better deal in the merger. On top of that, the dominated former citizens of Canada find themselves forced to deal with food shortages and martial law. All this inspires a rebellion within Canada, with the insurgents seeking to restore the Canadian flag, ideals and identity.
"It's a very provocative idea," Stanleigh says. "The idea of the United States and Canada amalgamating has been in the back of people's minds for a long time. The United States has a long history of Manifest Destiny— the idea that Americans are destined to govern all of North America."
Stanleigh says the novel is "an action story that has political undertones" to it.
"It's true that there isn't much rhetoric out there today about Canada and the U.S. amalgamating. But there are always questions about how different Canadians actually are from Americans. The novel goes into that."
In the novel's forward, Calgary author Will Ferguson —winner of the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize — gives with an outline of the history of the often-strained relationship between the U.S. and Canada, providing a juxtaposition of real history with the novel's speculative version.
USNA has another local connection: Alberta College of Art and Design graduate Dave Casey provided the novel's artwork. Casey came on board after the authors' attempts to work with another artist fell through.
"Dave turned out to be great, as you can see by the quality of the art," Stanleigh says."It was a huge project for him. It's not one page, one drawing. It's one page, six drawings."
Part of Casey's task was to bring the novel's myriad of characters to physical life — among them Carol Wheeler, the novel's machine-gun toting protagonist whose search for information regarding her murdered son ends up with her leading a group of Canadian rebels determined to engineer Canada's independence from the USNA.
Stanleigh says that the authors liked the idea of having a strong female lead character.
"We have never been into the idea of the male character who controls everything and is the big hero," Stanleigh says. "We wanted a character who evolved from being innocent about what was going on around her, to someone who would come to understand the values that the rebels were espousing by actually being a part of it."
LONG ROAD TO FRUITION
Now that USNA has been published, Stanleigh and his partners are hopeful that the possibility of the original screenplay becoming a movie will surface again. In the meantime, they are at work on a second graphic novel that will serve as both a prequel and sequel to the work.
"The prequel will be how about the U.S. and Canada become a new country," Stanleigh says. "The sequel will focus on what happens after those tractors meet up with the soldiers in the field."
Although the road to USNA's publication was "a long journey," Stanleigh says it's been worth it.
"For me personally, it was a very emotional experience to finally hold the book in my hand. In a way it's like seeing your baby born.
"That's a very gratifying thing as a writer."