This is the second article in a two-part series about Ron Leishman: his conversion, his faith, and his career. For more about how Ron's family converted to the gospel, click here.
His father’s imprisonment. Struggling to provide supplemental income. A heart attack. Few would consider these events some of the greatest blessings in their lives—but not Ron Leishman. He considers each of these challenges a “pivot point,” a moment when Heavenly Father stepped in to help direct his life.
Canadian cartoonist Ron Leishman didn’t anticipate creating a superhero legend or cartoons that would be featured on everything from billboards to TV shows in countries from Taiwan to Mexico. In fact, cartooning has generally been a hobby or supplemental job for Ron, who taught junior high art for 22 years. But by following the Lord’s direction during unexpected or trying times, Ron has found a level of fame and success he didn’t think possible.
“I am not the sharpest crayon in the box and sometimes the Lord has to hammer at me,” Ron says. “I don’t hear voices and things like that, it is more through experience [the Lord directs me].”
Creating Captain Canuck
After his father was arrested for the greatest gold heist in Canada’s history, 14-year-old Ron Leishman struggled to help his mother and six siblings stay afloat financially while his father served his prison sentence. While Ron recognizes the challenges his unique home life presented, he mostly looks back with gratitude on those events, recognizing that those challenges brought his family closer to the Church.
“If dad had stayed around, our family would have never been active in the Church,” Ron says. But when Ron’s branch embraced his family following his dad’s incarceration, Ron quickly discovered comfort and joy in the gospel—a fact that has shaped his entire life. “The Church is everything,” Ron says. “It gave me purpose.”
But even after Ron followed the path he felt the Lord wanted him to take by starting his mission papers, he was met with frustration and disappointment. Ron’s branch president and district president asked him to stay home to continue helping his mother financially.
Ron at age 19. Photo courtesy of Ron Leishman.
But out of that disappointment came some of the biggest blessings of Ron’s life. “The Lord is in the details,” he testifies. “I didn’t get to go on my mission when I wanted, so there was some loss and disappointment. It wasn’t until later in life it dawned on me there was a reason why I didn’t go when I wanted to go. [My wife and I] would have never met.”
During the three years Ron waited to serve a mission, he not only met his wife, Nancy, he also met a new convert named Richard Comely.
An avid artist, Ron had drawn several comic characters growing up, and one drew Richard’s particular interest, an image of a Canadian superhero with a bright red maple leaf emblazoned across his mask. With that drawing as inspiration, Richard and Ron came up with the idea of Captain Canuck—a wholesome hero who often prays for help and uses his superhuman strength, given to him by aliens, to protect Canada and the world.
At the time Ron left to serve a mission in Brussels, Belgium, at age 23, Captain Canuck was just an idea. He wasn’t yet the legendary icon with his own stamp, maple syrup, TV series, and even an upcoming movie. But during the two years Ron was away serving, 1975-1977, Richard began creating and self-publishing the first independent comic book printed in full color, Captain Canuck—and the endearing Canadian champion soon inundated the country. "Every newspaper, pretty well every magazine, and every television network in Canada did several stories on Captain Canuck," Richard says. Even the prime minister and governor general printed a letter in an issue of Captain Canuck—a first for a comic book.
"The physical strength of Captain Canuck is not what distinguishes him as a hero; it is his dedication to others. We see this same heroism reflected in our friends, family, and neighbors who unhesitatingly help those around them," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote.
Richard quickly leveraged Captain Canuck as a missionary tool by being open about his faith and republishing articles from the Ensign and Church pamphlets in Captain Canuck issues. He even published a letter from Elder Leishman, who detailed the work he was doing as a missionary for the Church.
Half a world away, while Captain Canuck mania was just taking off in Canada, Elder Leishman used the character in his own ways to share the gospel. “When I was on my mission, I was able to use the character in certain situations. Like when I was with investigators, if they had children I could draw them a cartoon,” Ron says. “It was interesting to bring it up when I was teaching a family because it was something that sparks interest and something that helps break the ice. Certainly, the other missionaries were finding out about it,” Ron says. In fact, his fellow missionaries began calling Elder Leishman "the Captain."
During this time Elder Leishman and Nancy were writing to each other, but they were not an exclusive couple yet. But Nancy says, “My dad was so excited about Captain Canuck; he would always go around and say, ‘My future son-in-law created him.’”
Starting an Eternal Family
When Ron returned home from his mission, he anticipated getting more involved with Captain Canuck. And while the superhero may have been a legend, at the time he was not providing a stable source of income. In fact, the challenges Richard and Ron kept coming up against began to impact Ron’s relationship with Nancy.
“We were going to get married on April 1, and we delayed our wedding because I was trying to make it work [publishing Captain Canuck],” Ron says.
Nancy adds, “My father was more worried about me living with a cartoonist and living starving in an attic than me marrying the son of a felon.” After thinking about their future together, Ron “graciously decided to go back to the university and get a teaching degree,” Nancy says. “Ron sacrificed 22 years to have a regular paycheck . . . and not follow his passion.” Ron found a job as a junior high art teacher to support his family, which included five children—three sons and two daughters.
During his time as a teacher, Ron began looking for ways to financially support his sons on their missions. That’s when he got the idea for Toonaday—a subscription-based website where he would provide a clipart cartoon each day.
Less than a year after starting Toonaday, the Leishmans were still worried about how they would support their sons financially on their missions.
“We were going out the door to drive our oldest son down to the MTC, and we were still worried about our finances, and the phone rang,” Nancy recalls. “Ron was wondering if he should go back and answer it, and we did. It was a company that wanted to pay us royalties and take his cartoons and resell them. It funded our son’s mission, and it was such a blessing because we were doing everything on faith.”
About this small miracle, Ron adds, “[The money from the royalties] was almost the exact amount of what it cost for our son’s mission each month.”
As the concept for Toonaday began to change, the Leishmans noticed a change in their income as they acted in faith. During the short time when both of their sons were serving missions simultaneously, the royalties increased to help them meet their needs. When Nancy followed a prompting from her patriarchal blessing to finish her college education, their supplemental income made the possibility a reality. But the biggest blessing came after Ron suffered a heart attack in 2003.