Category Archives: 2018 Canadian Whites

How The Circus Informs Bias in Triumph Comic No. 19

© Copyright 2018 Melanie Fernando, Ryerson University

Intro

The Canadian Whites are a body of comics produced in Canada during World War II after trade restrictions cut off the supply of “luxury goods” from the States. These black and white stories provide a window into Canadian culture during this time period, and the study of them helps us understand our predecessor’s mindset in the creation of a Canadian identity during this time of hardship.

The “Speed Savage” story in the 19th issue of Triumph Comics (Steele) uses racism and othering to vilify the circus and create a Canadian identity through exclusion. In doing so Steele is able to condemn the idea of entertainment and relaxation without alienating its young readers. Within this issue, the circus acts as the hub for villains who murder workers from the munitions factory by shooting them out of a cannon and making bodies mysteriously fall from the sky. Speed Savage, otherwise known as the ‘White Mask’, has to find out where these bodies are coming from and put a stop to it before the factory workers leave their jobs out of fear. By using racialized villains, a distinguished art style for the circus folk, and heavy-handed propagandistic text, this story attempts to convince Canadians to keep working through hardship and not leave their important jobs for recreation by instilling fear in them. As well, by representing many forms of the ‘other’, this comic defines the Canadian identity through means of exclusion. This specific issue was released in 1944, in the midst of World War II, when citizens were tired and fearful of the negative psychological consequences of war (Iarocci and Keshen 204). This comic is an example of how racism might have been used to boost morale and give Canadians a feeling of purpose so that they would continue to support the war effort as the fighting dragged on. The use of racism in tandem with the obviously villainous circus made luxuries such as days off of work seem disloyal to the Canadian identity, and a lack of these things during wartime a more palatable concept.

The Cultural Coding of “Circus Freaks”

In “Speed Savage”, Ted Steele uses pre-existing impressions of the circus as exotic and mysterious to further his own point about the ‘danger’ of entertainment. The circus at this time was known to be filled with people of colour as well as working women, things that were only really acceptable in these travelling shows (Hughes). The circus was one of the few spaces during the early 20th century where it was deemed suitable to have different races mingle, as the goal wasn’t to build bridges between white people and people of colour but to widen the social and emotional gap through exaggeration and stereotypes. Because of the cultural coding surrounding these travelling shows, the circus became both a place of empowerment and degradation for minorities, as it offered otherwise unattainable employment at the cost of humiliation and discrimination of one’s culture (Hughes).

Davis states that “the circus’s celebration of diversity was often illusionary.” (10) as it embodied the racial and gender norms of the time but claimed to be different from the rest of society. This dichotomy made the circus a particularly appealing concept to citizens during wartime as it offered something familiar and comforting under the guise of something mysterious and new that would distract them from their daily hardships. Davis also describes the circus as an escape for young boys who felt as though they were outcasts in their regular life (31). The circus being a place of refuge would be a dangerous concept during wartime, as citizens would be looking for an escape from the fear and lack that surrounded them, but all hands were needed on deck.

This is not to say that the circus was seen purely as an escape, as it was a space filled with visually and socially unacceptable things such as women in tight clothing or black individuals in ‘traditional’ garb (Davis 102, 134). These usually scandalous and possibly horrific images were framed under entertainment and thus were deemed safe to partake in. That said the circus was still thought of, in at least some ways, as a threat. In Hutchison’s article on travelling shows he used Intergroup Threat Theory (ITT), which examined how perceived threats could lead to prejudice, to argue that since the circus relied on exaggeration to shock and entertain the audience, it garnered fear and thus the deepened the prejudice that Canadians felt against the minorities depicted (238).

This fear is made even more clear and utilized in “Speed Savage” as the tension surrounding these mixed spaces expresses itself through the vilifying of the circus members. It is this preexisting knowledge that the circus is filled with exotic and ‘strange’ things that Steele uses to alienate the reader from the idea of entertainment as a whole, as well as unite Canadian citizens. Within “Speed Savage”, the idea of the circus as a place that holds dangerous ‘savages’ is placed in opposition to the honest factory workers in order to create a Canadian identity. By using exoticism and racializing characters from the circus, this comic promotes the war effort and more specifically tells its readers that instead of being associated with something as malicious as the circus, they should be working at the factory and supporting the men out on the home front.

Drawing Lines Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’

In order to solidify a Canadian identity that would urge civilians to support the war effort, Steele drew the villains in “Speed Savage” as more distinguished and detailed than the factory workers to clearly illustrate what a Canadian isn’t. The circus folk are much uglier because of their distinct features, and as a result less relatable than the hard-working Canadians. Specifically, the owner of the circus is drawn in much more detail than the other characters. He has thick eyebrows, a handlebar mustache, is quite bald, and has obvious and defined wrinkles. In some panels, the way he is drawn is reminiscent of an angry ape, as can be seen in the image on the left.

Circus owner yelling orders to kill Speed Savage. Panel from “Speed Savage” Triumph Comics: No. 19. 1944, Bell Features and Publishing
Company Limited, p. 45. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University,
Toronto, Canada.

Drawing the owner, along with the rest of the villains, in this detailed but ugly style shows Canadians what they aren’t and shouldn’t be. While the factory workers all look like average men that the young boys reading Triumph Comics could grow up to be, the circus folk are drawn to look strange and unfamiliar. Speed Savage is the only good guy that is particularly distinguished, as his superhero persona wears a white mask and tight suit. That said, his primary trait is that he is ‘white’ and Canadian, which safely separates him from the racialized villains. 

It is not just racism that is used to create an image of the other, femininity is also exploited and seen in the posture of the villains. This can be observed in the image to the right, when Jeff Blackett, a factory worker that is a double agent for the circus, makes a rather feminine gesture with hands left limp as he is punched by the White Mask. This works as both comic relief for the reader and as a way to further degrade the villains.

Jeff Blackett flails as he gets punched. Panel from “Speed Savage” Triumph Comics: No. 19. 1944, Bell Features and Publishing
Company Limited, p. 40. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University,
Toronto, Canada. 

Attempting to create a Canadian Identity through othering is not a strategy limited to “Speed Savage” or this Triumph Comic issue. During and before World War II the US was a powerhouse in terms of comic production and it was difficult for Canadian publishers to keep up. To combat this, Canadian comics attempted to “take the higher moral ground for culture in opposite to that of the United States”(Beaty 438). Canadian comics had to focus on stereotypes and cliches in order to create a solid identity, and because of the fear of “American cultural domination” heroes such as Speed Savage ended up relying on othering and racism in an attempt to solidify their white Canadian identity (Beaty 438).

A Call to Arms

Ted Steele uses othering and heavy-handed text to unite his Canadian readers during the time of this comics production and rally their support for the war effort. The dialogue in “Speed Savage” directly links race to the circus as well as shames any workers that attempt to leave their post. On the first page, a description of the circus is given by a cigar smoking man seeking to promote his show. He states that they have a “killer lion from India” named Satan and “Fifteen gorgeous gals brought here from old Hawaii” (38). The descriptions that he gives pairs these faraway lands with intrigue and fear as most of the shows promoted sound dangerous in some way. Coding the circus as menacing accomplishes two things at once, it warns the reader not to be pulled in by the idea of the circus for entertainment and it gives Canadians something to fear and thus fight against.

Canadians fear of World War II is addressed in “Speed Savage” through the anxieties of the factory workers. On the second page of this story Speed Savage picks up a newspaper that details how the men at the munitions factory are being killed and this is causing “hundreds (to) leave the job” due to unrest. Which, of course, reflects the deaths of young men in the real world during 1944 happening across the sea. The next panel immediately transitions to later that night as the men at the factory get the news that yet another body has been dropped from the sky. Two of the factory workers talk about leaving work, but another calls them “Yellow rats” for thinking about walking out on their duty to the war effort and says that “Canada needs the shells we’re making”(40). This interaction, along with others like it sprinkled throughout the story, accepts that the reader might be afraid but declares that it is cowardly and unacceptable to walk out on one’s duty. There is a fair amount of shame linked to leaving their job, not just because they would be abandoning their fellow Canadians, but that they would be the same as a “yellow rat” linking them to the ‘other’ that Steele has so clearly illustrated is villainous.

Along with providing an enemy to avoid, Steele gives the reader a role model to aspire to be. Speed Savage acts as the perfect Canadian and encourages the readers to follow his lead. Throughout this story, he blatantly tells factory workers that they are needed at their jobs and can’t leave out of fear. On the last page Speed Savage even turns to the reader and states that “The workers at Carson city can go back to their vital jobs of victory”(46), directly calling Canadians to continue to support the war effort from the home front. 

Conclusion

In Ted Steels “Speed Savage”, the representation of the circus as ‘other’ and dangerous is used to cement a Canadian identity that would make it easier for citizens to push through the difficult war times and continue to support the troops on the front. Steele did this by creating a clear divide between the hardworking factory men that the reader is supposed to identify with and the strange backstabbing circus folk, who are classified as the ‘other’. Using exotism and fear Steels story unites Canadians and vilifies not just the circus but the concept of abandoning ones duty for leisure. He paints the good Canadian as one that is willing to give up their own luxury as well as safety to keep evils such as the circus out of their country. 

 


Works Cited

Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, 2006, pp. 427–39. Scholars Portal Journals, doi:10.1080/02722010609481401.

Davis, Janet M. The Circus Age: Culture & Society under the American Big Top. University of North Carolina Press, 2002, http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b1459347.

Ted Steel “Speed Savage” Triumph Comics: No. 19. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944, pp. 38 – 46. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Hughes, Sakina M. “Walking the Tightrope between Racial Stereotypes and Respectability: Images of African American and Native American Artists in the Golden Age of the Circus.” Early Popular Visual Culture, vol. 15, no. 3, 2017, pp. 315–33. Scholars Portal Journals, doi:10.1080/17460654.2017.1383028.

Hutchison, Paul, et al. “Predictors of ‘the Last Acceptable Racism’: Group Threats and Public Attitudes toward Gypsies and Travellers.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, vol. 48, 5, May 2018, pp. 237–47. Crossref, doi:10.1111/jasp.12508.

Iarocci, Andrew, and Keshen, Jeff. A Nation in Conflict: Canada and the Two World Wars. University of Toronto Press, 2015. catalogue.library.ryerson.ca Library Catalog, http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b2639176.


Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Comics: A Better Reality

Copyright @ Rebekah Orth, Ryerson University

Introduction

Comics may be set in the future or on a different planet, but no matter how out-of-this-world they appear to be, comics are still created in reality. Comics are not produced inside a vacuum they are connected to the historical era that they are created in. As historian Bradford Wright puts it “comic books are history” (Aiken 41). Just like other more prestigious, commonly studied types of literature comics are also worth examination, as they reflect the politics and concerns of a particular historical era (Aiken 41). The link between Canadian Golden Age comics and War World Two is easy to understand as comics of the era featured stories of fighting Nazis and Canadian soldiers winning in warfare. However, it is not that comics just reflect reality, because this would not be very appealing to audiences, especially those that were living through a world war. The most entertaining stories are those that are relatable but also present a better version of reality.  In this essay, I will be arguing that comic books try to present an idealistic version of reality and what people lack in reality is presented to them in their comics. The first half of this essay, I will be using superheroes from different historical eras to demonstrate how comics changed over time to better fit the needs and wants of the current audience. In the second half of this essay, I will be analyzing how specifically, Commando Comics issue number twelve (1944) presents an idealistic version of reality that suits the needs of Canadian children growing up in the World War Two.

New Heros

Comics are always adapting to our changing society. Stories and characters, that were once loved, are often altered or replaced with more modern versions. This constant changing is necessary to better provide an ideal version of reality that suits the needs of the current audience. To demonstrate this, I will be analyzing how different superheroes, from different parts of history, gave their audiences something that society was lacking.

Spiderman, for example, was created during the Cold War. During the Cold War, there was a focus on young adults. Many programs were developed at this time that put American teens “in contact with peers overseas” (Scribner 542). Programs like penpals and overseas studying expanded with the goal of improving foreign relationships and overcome biases that were seen as “the root of international conflict” (Scribner 542). Spiderman being a  teenager himself emphasized this “greater attention to adolescents” (Aiken 47). There is a lot of emphases that Spiderman is friendly, as he is so often called “your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman”, and he is rarely seen killing people, but rather trapping them in this web and then turning them to the police. This gentle approach to justice reflects this attitude of peace and understanding, that society was lacking at the time, and that officials were trying to teach young people during the Cold War.

Just as Spiderman was the first teen superhero, Wonder Women was the first female superhero. Wonder women made her first appearance in 1941 (Akin 46). The main lesson that Wonder Women taught, was that girls did not need superpowers and that they could exceed expectations if they worked hard. For example, Wonder Women is quoted saying “You can be as strong as any boy if you’ll work hard and train yourself in athletics, the way boys do” (Akin 46). This empowering message is reflective of the changing role of women during the Second World War, while men were off at war it became women’s patriotic duty to help the war effort, either on the home front, through volunteer work, or by taking a ‘war job’”(Hall et al. 234). At a time when society is not accustomed to women doing “men’s work” Wonder Woman gives confirmation that women can do it too, and gives readers that confidence that women can live up to society’s needs and expectations.

Similarly to how Wonder Women was creating confidence in females, Captian Canuck was inspiring nationalism in Canadians. Captain Canuck was released in 1975, a time when comics and everything about them was American, “the heroes were American, the settings were largely American, and even the alluring comic-book ads… were American” (Edwardson 188).  Captain Canunk was not just a Canadian version of Captian America, he had a strong moral character that “reinforced conceptions of Canadians as polite, kind, moral, heroic peacekeepers” (Edwardson 186). Canadians were lacking representation in their comics and Captain Cancuck is an icon that fills the gap in the market and gives readers a sense a pride and nationalism that they were not getting from other heroes.

It is interesting to look at the heroes from different moments in history because heroes are often used as teachers for readers. They are representative of what traits society believes are good and moral. Heroes capture an ideal person, and as society’s values shift, what constitutes as an ideal person changes. In the second part of this essay, I will be looking at how Commando Comics issue number twelve (1944), not only gives a portrayal of an ideal person but also portrays an ideal reality for the children growing up in World War Two era.

World War Two Ideals in Comics

Commando Comics issue number twelve was published in 1944, towards the end of World War Two. In order to understand how this comic creates an ideal version of reality for Canadain children of this era, I will be analyzing aspects of the comic that usually generate criticism such as lack of female characters and the negative portrayal of racial minorities.

One major criticism of comic books is that they lack female representation. A study was conducted on comic books from the 1990s to 2005 looking at the number of males characters compared to female characters, the study found that “men represented 85% of total characters” (Facciani et al. 6). And this percentage gets more drastic in older comics. The number of female characters in the twelve issue of Commando Comics is low, as there were only ten female characters. These ten females are either side characters or observers. For example in the comic strip “Corvette” there is only one female character who appears twice in the comice, she says two words “Help!” and “Oh!”  (Darian et al. 4).

Young female, saying the word "oh"
Gordan C. Smith; Corvette, Commando Comics no. 12, July 1944, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

In order to understand why women were so rarely seen in comics at this time, it is important to look at the historical context and how it is at play in this comic. During World War Two, men were disappearing from children’s lives rapidly, “Older brothers, uncles and fathers enlisted in the military… Male teachers slowly abandoned the classroom for service” (Cook). Children were quickly losing the father figures and male role models that they were used to having. The hyper-masculine cast of comic books provides children with those older male role models that could no longer be there for them. This explains why the heroes in this comic are all older males, so they can more easily fit that father figure role.    

Women were not disappearing from children lives in the same way men were. They were busy with “paid war work as well as their normal household responsibilities” but they were still in their children’s lives (Hall et al. 234). There was less reason for females to show in up in comics because children were seeing their mother’s and sisters on a daily basis, and were not missing the female figures in their lives.  In summary, children growing up War World Two were lacking father figures and male role models. Comics present an ideal version of reality by being filled with males and having older male superheroes that children can look up to, while their real-life heroes are away at war.

Just as most comic book characters are male, the majority of characters are also white. A study done on the Modern Age of Comics (1991-2005) found that “aliens, demons, and other types of non-human lifeforms were more likely to be represented than all human racial minorities combined” (Facciani et al 6). It is fair to argue though, that comics during the Golden Age do have more representation of racial minorities. I found that about 63.6% of comics stripes in Commando Comics issue number twelve (1944)  featured a racial background other than white North Americas, such as German, Japenese and Indigenous people.

There is some representation of these racial groups, however, it is the way that these groups are portrayed that is problematic. For example, Japanese characters are drawn in a very particular style. They are drawn with very pointed faces, thin eyes, and large lips (Darian et al. 4). Also, the way their speech is written is done so it reads like they are speaking in a stereotypical Japanese accent. This is seen when one Japanese character says “So Solly” instead of ‘So Sorry’(Darian et al.7).

Four Japanese soldiers
Jon Darian; Clift Steele, Commando Comics no. 12, July 1944, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

This portrayal of Japanese soldiers makes them look like weak unintelligent enemies, they appear to lack a sense of strength and pride that the white North American soldiers are portrayed as having. In the comic strip, there is a close up of a German soldier’s face, his head is floating in the panel and his body is not visible. His eyes are sticking out of his head and his mouth is hanging open. (Darian et al. 14) The way he is drawn makes the German character look crazed and irrational, but it is also a humorous drawing which tells the reader to not take this character seriously. One possible explanation for the racist way that Japanese and German people are portrayed is that it helps build confidence in young Canadians that those races are not capable of winning of the war. This is a time when people were living with worry and doubt about losing their family members as well as losing the war, the racist portrayal of the enemies instills some confidence in the readers that Canadians and Americans are perhaps smarter or more serious and therefore more capable of winning the war. At a time when children are lacking complete confidence in the future of their country, comics provide them with a sense of superiority over the enemy.

Not including women, and presenting different ethnicities in stereotypical ways is problematic, and a modern audience would reject this and they are correct to do so. However, these problematic elements fit the needs of the audience during the World War Two era.  This comic creates an ideal version of reality for the Canadian children of War World Two, it gave them the father figures they were losing and provided them with confidence in their country which they were questioning for the first time

Conclusion

Comics reflect an ideal version of the audience’s society by presenting a fictional world that includes what is absent in the audience’s real world. In the first half of this essay, I use superheroes from different historical eras to demonstrate how comics change over time in order to better suit the needs of the current audience. In the second half of this essay, I examine Commando Comics issue number twelve (1944). I argue that while the comic’s lack of female characters and its problematic portrayal of Japanese and German people would be unacceptable today, it is accepted in the World War Two era because it suits the needs of the audience. I argue that the mostly all-male cast of this comic is because Canadian children were lacking males in their society during the World War Two era. I also make the claim that the humorous racist portrayal of certain characters is done in order to strengthen the potentially wavering confidence that Canada children of that era may have had about their country. It is important to not overly judge comics based on the values and ideals of modern society. It is more beneficial to critically examine comics through the eyes of the intended audience, this provides a better understanding of the comic as well as the era.

Continue reading Comics: A Better Reality

Identifying the Robot as the Enemy in Active Comics: No. 15

© Copyright 2018 Natalia Orasanin, Ryerson University

Introduction

In the midst of the Second World War, the growing trade deficit Canada experienced with the United States resulted in the Canadian government implementing the War Exchange Conservation Act, in an effort to stabilize the Canadian dollar (Bell 1). Canada banned all imports that were considered non-essential, deeming books and comics as luxury items  (Nguyen 1). As a result, Canadian publishers began producing their own comics books, referred to as The Canadian Whites, due to their black and white interiors (Bell 1). Although the production and sale of Canadian Whites such as Active Comics, Commando Comics, and Dime Comics plummeted after the ban was lifted near the end of the war, these comics can be viewed as a portal or window to Canadian society during wartime. Superhero characters were especially popular for soldiers on front lines, representing strength and patriotism — the same characteristics associated with soldiers during the war (Babic 111). Therefore, the character representation in comics provides a glimpse at the historical attitudes and perspectives of the time in which they were produced (Babic 111). Additionally, many comics reflect the anxieties surrounding war time, including the shifting roles of women in society, fears of losing the war to Axis powers, pressure on increased production, and related issues (Babic 111).

I will be examining the ways in which robots are portrayed throughout Active Comics: No. 15. (1944), specifically three key areas: “King Fury and the Robot Menace,” (22 – 28) the front cover, as well as an activity page that prompts the reader to identify all of the hidden robots throughout the issue (11). In the same way that the public view of soldiers was associated with superhero characters, robots in the comic are much more than merely characters, they function as mirrors to the representations of Axis powers during wartime. In this essay, I will show how the portrayal of robots as mechanic, mindless followers is representative of the way Germans and other Axis powers were viewed during the Second World War, and how this portrayal was utilized in comics and newspapers in order to identify the enemy within popular discourse. Further, the identification of the robot as the enemy highlights the resemblance between the activity page and government propaganda during World War II, both instructing individuals to remain on the look out for enemies who are under the control of a dangerous leader.

The “Robot” and the Enemy

The term “robot” was incredibly common in public discourse and Canadian newspapers during World War II. “Robot” appears hundreds of times in The Toronto Daily Star, The Globe and Mail, Hamilton Spectator and many other news sources. Notably, in these articles the word is excessively used to describe members of the Axis powers. In an article, titled “Human Robots” by George Axelsson featured in the Globe and Mail, both the terms “civilian robots” and  “a senseless robot, mechanically obeying his master’s voice” are used to describe the Germans (Axelsson 1). Comparatively, in an article in the Hamilton Spectator, Japanese soldiers are described as having the mentality of robots, completely dependant upon commanding officers and “helpless” without their guidance (“Nothing to Fear From Jap Entry; Men But Robots”). Additional terms found in articles range from “Nazi robots,” “Robots of the German airforce, [who need] a slave – driving general to tell them what to do,” to describing Germans as “slaves” and British pilots as “free men, self – reliant and ground in the dignity of manhood” (“Knights on Winged Steeds”). These terms are all degrading and speak to the lack of agency and mindlessness associated with robots, relating these attributes to the Germans and the Japanese Axis powers.  Another way in which the word robot is used in these articles is in reference to the robot bomb, even coincidentally a 1944 article titled “Menace of the Robot Bomb” in the Globe and Mail. The robot bomb, created by the Germans, is essentially a pilotless bombing aircraft specifically designed to attack the British. The fact that it is pilotless, and unmanned is important as it is a machine that is set out to perform a particular task, decided by those in possession of it. Parallels are also drawn when one takes into consideration that the robot bomb is a an aerial bomb, and that in the comic “King Fury and the Robot Menace” the Germans escape with the robot menace on a soundproof plane that King Fury and the Canadian Military cannot detect (28). In the comic, the robot is considered “good” when in the possession of the Americans, and “bad” when in the possession of the Germans, indicating that the “goodness” or “success” of the machine is completely dependant upon who has control. Seeing as the Germans had predominant control of the robot bombs, and they gain control of the robot in the comic, the robot symbolizes  an empty vessel for potential evil.

The Robot Menace

When comparing the portrayal of robots within World War II newspapers to Active Comics,  the identification of the robot as the enemy is present in the comic “King Fury and the Robot Menace” by Kurly Lipas, as well as the front cover. King Fury pays a visit to Dr. Tone and his daughter Tonee, and is welcomed by a robot identified as Dr. Tone’s newest invention (23). Dr. Tone is excited about the robot, as he can exercise his control over the robot with a remote control, stating that the government can make great use of his invention (23). It was not uncommon in the wartime for robots to be used as symbols for the portrayal of the enemy, as psychologically, many individuals associate robots with manufacturing and militarization (Cheng 1). In her analysis of Kakoudaki’s Anatomy of a Robot, Jennifer Rhee writes that robots are often a mechanical reflection/representation of our own human bodies, and our vulnerability to being controlled by forces external to us (Rhee 408). Further drawing from literary examples, Kakoudaki states that robots are often used to provide labour through elements of control, and that this relationship between the robot and the possessor brings forth notions of dehumanization, objectification and slavery (Rhee 409). In “King Fury and the Robot Menace,” this element of control is largely prevalent as the German’s overlooking Dr. Tone’s home break in to steal the robot. When they enter Dr. Tone’s home, Dr. Tone is so busy directing the robot that one of the Germans knocks him out and gains possession of the remote control. The robot then attacks King Fury and the Germans escape on a soundless plane with the robot, undetected by King Fury or the military (27). The robot in the story demonstrates no sense of agency, and surrenders completely to the individual in possession of the remote control. Control implies that the robot can be in the wrong hands, and Dr. Tone’s distraction when directing the robot to follow him as the Germans invade his home is ultimately the reason he is caught off guard and gets the remote control taken away from him. When the robot attacks Dr. Tone and King Fury as a result of this, the robot also becomes the enemy. Furthermore, the front cover of the issue features a terrified young woman in the arms of a robot that appears as though it is going to hurt her. Yet again, the robot is not captured in any positive light, and the human being is innocent and under the threat of the robot. The cover illustrates the identification of the robot as an enemy, and subsequently the fear of this enemy.

Destroying the Robot Menace

Cover, Active Comics No. 15, January 1944, Bell Features Publishing.
Dingle, Adrian. Cover, Active Comics No. 15, January 1944, Bell Features Publishing. 

There is no denying a rhetorical trend in newspapers describing Axis powers as being robotic, mechanized, thoughtless, and incredibly vulnerable to external influence and control. In “King Fury and the Robot Menace,” the German agents are often being commanded. For starters, it appears as though they are on a mission to steal the robot to bring back to Germany, commanded by an authoritative figure. When in possession of the remote control, the German agent states, “It’s as if I were the robot itself” (24). Ultimately, this quote suggests a mirroring between the German agent and the robot, that is only reinforced by the reverse shot sequence of the Nazi attacking Tonee, and the robot attacking King Fury, both of them striking the other in the head (26). In this way, the robot and the German operate as one in the same. The comic creates these parallels yet again in the second last panel, when King Fury tells Tonee, “If the Nazis ever build up an army of those robots our boys would have no chance against them… somehow with my strength and God’s help, I’ll destroy the robot menace” (28). Language plays a key role here, as the comic features the heroic character King Fury, who “Utilizes his great strength to help destroy the axis dictators,” and “Pits his strength and wits against the robot menace” (22). The term “menace” used to describe the robot directly implies a negative connotation, whereas the terms “King,” “strengths” and “wits” used to describe King Fury attribute his man power to goodness, identifying King Fury as the hero. Moreover, when one of the German agents says “Dis vill be a great day for the Reich,” (in reference to the Third Reich) on the plane, the text only reaffirms the rhetoric that these men are under the control of a leader and carrying out an instructed task. 

Spot the Robots 

"Even Under This Friendly Roof There May Be Enemy Ears." Wartime Security Poster, 1939 - 1945. Canadian War Museum.
“Even Under This Friendly Roof There May Be Enemy Ears.” Wartime Security Poster, 1939 – 1945. Canadian War Museum.

Seeing as the comic establishes the robot as an enemy that the protagonists fear, it is also important to note the preventative measures the comic is advocating for in resistance of these enemies, and how this is a reflection of World War II government propaganda. Comics were often directly marketed to children due to their cheap price, accessible narratives, adventure and sense of escapism (Babic 14). Many of the messages found in the comics directly correlated with the roles children had in society during that time. When the war started, new responsibilities were given to children as their parents either entered the workforce or left to fight overseas (Cook 1). Children were considered involved in the war effort, with posters around schools encouraging children to be on the lookout for spies and to avoid spilling any information or talk that would help the enemy (Cook 1). Spy work as an activity is exemplified on page 11 of Active Comics: No. 15, as the page features a competition titled, “How Many Robots can you Find on the Cover” (11). The competition asks readers to tear off the cover of the comic and circle all of the robots that they can find, looking at every “figure, tree, rock, boat, gun, etc” (11). The page illustrates the activity of being on the lookout for robots, as they may be hiding. Seeing as the robots are portrayed in a negative light throughout the entirety of the comic, the activity speaks to being perceptive and on the lookout for the enemy. The responsibility that is being put on the reader in this comic is exemplified in much of the propaganda regarding security during World War II in Canada. As demonstrated in the “Wartime Security” poster, there was a climate of fear built on the notion that the Germans were constantly listening, stating that enemy ears could be everywhere. Thus, propaganda instructed individuals to look beneath the surface, look out for enemies, and to police themselves in order to ensure national security. The comic does this in the form of  a competition, but it is nevertheless the same idea of surveying others due to a fear that has been ingrained in the individual based on the idea that the enemies can be anywhere. 

Conclusion

The portrayal of the robots within the issue relates to the narratives that dominated government propaganda and newspapers at the time, tying into a much larger representation of the axis powers within the media. Just on the cover, the issue establishes the threat, featuring a woman being defeated by a robot, surrounded by rubble. The portrayal of the robot in “King Fury and the Robot Menace” as being entirely susceptible to control and whose sole purpose is as an object controlled to achieve a means to an end calls to mind the discourse of the time comparing the Germans and Japanese as being controlled by an evil leader, machine like in their actions. Robots as machine like and in the possession of the enemy can also be viewed as a symbol for the robot bombs during World War II and the climate of fear perpetuated by these pilotless bombs, used heavily by the Germans. Overall, the use of robots in Active Comics: No. 15 establishes the enemy as a looming threat, challenging the reader to search for the robots just as children and adults were told to survey those around them. The activity page, when combined with the portrayal of robots throughout the issue, suggests that the enemy was using unassuming vessels to perform dangerous tasks, that could be found everywhere and anywhere, successfully heightening the public’s paranoia towards them.


Works Cited

Axelsson, George. “Human Robots.” Globe and Mail, 13 November 1944.  Democracy at War:  Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, Canadian War Museum.

Babic, Annessa Ann.  Comics as History, Comics as Literature : Roles of the Comic Book in Scholarship, Society, and Entertainment, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2014. ProQuest, doi: 978-1-61147-557-9.

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. 8 July 2015. www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada.

Cook, Tim. “Canadian Children and the Second World War.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. 12 April 2016. www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-children-and- wwii.

Cheng, Ching-Ching, Kuo-Hung Huang, and Siang-Mei Huang. “Exploring Young Children’s Images on Robots.” Advances in Mechanical Engineering, vol. 9, no. 4, 2017. ProQuest, doi: 10.1177/1687814017698663.

Dingle, Adrian, et al. Active Comics: No. 15. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

“Even Under This Friendly Roof There May Be Enemy Ears.” Canadian War Museum. 1939 – 1945, https://www.warmuseum.ca/collections/artifact/1019615/?q=security+poster&page_num=2&item_num=5&media_irn=4248.

“Knights on Winged Steeds.” Globe and Mail, 22 August 1940. Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, Canadian War Museum.

“Menace of the Robot Bomb.” Globe and Mail, 31 July 1944. Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, Canadian War Museum.

Nguyen, Linda. “Artist Part of the Golden Age of Canadian Comic Books; Helped to Create this Country’s Superheroes After WWII, Designed Graphics, Logos for Products.” Toronto Star, 2006. ProQuest, https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/ 439026882?pq-origsite=summon.

“Nothing to Fear From Jap Entrey; Men But Robots.” Hamilton Spectator, 11 December 1941. Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, Canadian War Museum.

Rhee, Jennifer. “Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema, and the Cultural Work of Artificial People by Despina Kakoudaki (Review).” Science Fiction Film and Television, vol. 10, no. 3, 2017, pp. 407-412. Project MUSE, https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/ 674425.


Images in this online exhibition are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Asian Allies in World War II Commando Comics #14

Chinese ally
Captain Frank Hillary. Darian, Jon “Clift Steele and the Mystery of Magon” Commando Comics No.14, p.5. Bell Features 1944.

© Copyright 2018 Whitney Rahardja, Ryerson University

World War II was a victorious era for North America, with their triumph over Germany and Japan. Canada and the U.S benefited their victory from notable allies, mainly the U.K, Soviet Union and France. One of these allies included China. War comics portrayed the Chinese as allies to the West (U.S and Canada), as illustrated in “Clift Steele and the Mystery of Magon” in the 14th issue of Commando Comics, where a soldier code-named Captain Frank Hillary was sent into the Japanese camps as a spy, with the objective of unraveling their heinous plans and military secrets (Darian 5).

Though not directly mentioned in the comic, Hillary’s Asiatic features confirmed that he was in fact, a Chinese ally. Both China and the West shared Japan as their common opposition, therefore they co-operated as allies in defeating Japan, as recorded in World War II history. This exhibit explores the relationship between China and the West as allies, focusing on the role of the Chinese as sidekicks, which resulted in a victorious glory for both nations.
In the 1940’s, comics reflected hope for a better future after the war, where enemies were defeated by North American heroes like the beautiful and mighty Nelvana, the clueless yet lucky Loop the Droop, and the youthful symbol of hope, Captain Marvel Junior. In some of these comics, it is suggested that the heroes had assistance from Asian allies.

First, the depiction of Asian characters in World War II comics will be examined. Aside from their mutual physical attributes of caricatured eyes and high cheekbones, unlike the Japanese, Chinese characters are illustrated as courageous, full of leadership and ambition (Goodnow and Kimble 58). These courageous Chinese are also drawn in comics that featured the American air force team known as The Flying Tigers. Historically, the Flying Tigers were an American based Volunteer Group (AVG) of fighter pilots founded in 1941, because Chinese fighter pilots were incapable of being trained to prevent Japanese forces from entering through Western China, and into Burma (Troha 85). This showed early co-operation and partnership between America and China.

So why can’t the Chinese be the heroes? Goodnow and Kimble stated that, “The Flying Tigers story lines had established the Chinese as a kind of contemptible and erratic sidekick, not a fellow hero” (63). This could be for a variety of reasons, such as the fact that China did not have advanced aircraft technology and training, which prevented them from defeating the Japanese on their own. China was, however, a large nation with sufficient military. Combined with the U.S and Canadian army, China became a powerhouse in driving the Japanese out of their country.

This cultural stereotype of the Chinese being bound by their feudal tradition dates back to the political relationship between China and the U.S in 1944, where the Chinese government experienced internal turmoil between the Nationalists and Communists, making them unstable in planning their defense against Japan. American aid came when U.S Army Commander, General Albert C. Wedemeyer used his strategic reasoning and tactful approach to integrate himself with the Chinese Nationalists. Wedemeyer was able to identify the weaknesses and lack of coordination within the Chinese government that made them vulnerable to Japan’s attacks (Wang 238). At this stage, the Japanese had begun their notorious Ichigo Operation in April 1944, which has taken over most of Central China. When Wedemeyer realized that China was falling further under Japanese control, he made it a priority to drive Japanese forces out of China. In terms of war strategy, Wedemeyer ensured his tactics were compatible with those of Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-Shek, with whom Wedemeyer cooperated well with (238).

Going back to the comic series, how is it acceptable for Asians to remain as sidekicks, and not as equals with the West? Despite the physically unattractive, grammatically incorrect depiction of Asian characters in comics, there is evidence to suggest that the Chinese had a more significant role in the war. Aside from serving as allies, the Chinese also benefited from the West, which has allowed them to experience modernism, economic growth and global empowerment.

Asians in Contemporary Films

Sino-Japanese War 1938
Willem Dafoe and Luo Yan in Pavilion of Women. Dir. Ho Yim. Universal Studios 2001. Image retrieved from eBid on 20 November 2018.

An issue from Critical Arts journal introduces a new era of Chinese and Western collaborated movies in which, unlike in the comics, Chinese characters are pictured as decently cut, well-dressed and attractive individuals who speak correct English with only a hint of their native tongue. Set during the 1938 Japanese invasion, the film Pavilion of Women defies all stereotypes of Asian women being sexual objects for Western men’s desire, and Asian men as mere sidekicks (Yang 249). Here, the marriage-oppressed, Chinese female lead of Madame Wu is “led to the ‘correct’ track of freedom and liberty” by the male character of Andre (251), who is an American missionary-doctor, while still maintaining her independence and ability to make a decision that liberates her household from the chains of feudalism. This differs greatly from most Asian movies that are solely created for Western audiences, where the female Asian protagonist does not do much other than falling in love and being rescued by her “white male saviour”. Though this does not contribute directly to the argument of Asians as loyal allies, it does show early co-operation and a positive relationship between China and the West in a World War II setting.

What can be derived from the above points? First, it’s an undeniable fact that the role of Asians in comics and films cannot exceed the heroic roles of Western characters. From World War II, it had been a clear fact that the Chinese needed help from the West; therefore the Flying Tigers air force was formed. Even the late Chinese Nationalist, Chiang Kai-Shek stated his disappointment in the West’s view of China as only needing aid (Wang 244). But is this really a bad thing? The answer is no. For there are many factors influencing the Chinese governance that made it difficult for them to achieve victory. One is their strict influence of Confucian teaching (Wang 246), which puts values in social order and limits of individuality, and is greatly implemented in their military strategies. For this reason, Western influence became crucial in modifying those traditional, feudal strategies into tactics that could bring victory. The West provided a ‘bridge’ that guided China toward a path that promised victory over Japan, and China returned the favour by crossing that bridge to the West as allies, forming a partnership. Similar how in Pavilion of Women, the character Madame Wu was led out of feudal oppression in the correct path by the American missionary-doctor Andre. This film not only shows racial integration between China and the U.S, but also features early feminism in Asia. In a wonderful irony, this film was released in 2001, just before China made its entry into the World Trade Organization (Yang 250).

Modern China and Japan

On a great, triumphant ending, Asian roles in comics and the battlefield is not a gesture of the West in belittling them, but is a gateway that allows Asians to showcase their courage, cleverness and heroic deeds that contributed to the victory of World War II. Integration with the West has resulted in positive outcomes for China and Japan, as both nations  have become advanced and industrialized today, each holding a powerful position in the global economy. Both China and Japan have come out of Imperialism and have become modern nations that continue to benefit from Western ideology, while maintaining the uniqueness and exoticism of their people and culture.

 

Works Cited

Darian, Jon “Cliff Steele and the Mystery of Magon”. Commando Comics No.14, pp.1-6.
Bell Features Canada, 1944.

Goodnow, Trischa, and James J. Kimble. The 10 Cent War: Comic Books, Propaganda,
and World War II. University Press of Mississippi, 2016.

Troha, Anthony L. “Historical Note on the ‘Flying Tigers’. “ Physics Today, vol. 55,
no. 7, 2002, pp. 84-85. Ryerson University Library & Archives. Accessed 10
November 2018 from https://physicstoday-scitation-
org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/doi/abs/10.1063/1.1506771

Wang, Peter C. “Revisiting US-China Wartime Relations: A study of Wedemeyer’s
China Mission”. Journal of Contemporary China, vol.18, no. 59, 2009, pp. 233-
247. Ryerson University Library & Archives. Accessed 20 October 2018 from
https://journals-scholarsportal-info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/details/
10670564/v18i0059/233_ruwrasowcm.xml.

Yang, Jing. “The Reinvention of Hollywood’s Classic White Saviour Tale in
Contemporary Chinese Cinema: Pavilion of Women and the Flowers of War”.
Critical Arts, vol. 28, no. 2, 2014, pp. 247. Ryerson University Library &
Archives. Accessed 20 October 2018 from https://journals-scholarsportal-
info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/details/02560046/
v28i0002/247_trohcwwatfow.xml

 

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Shaping Childhood: The Significance of Educational Propaganda (Wow Comics No. 12)

© Copyright 2018 Kisha Rendon, Ryerson University

Introduction

Comic books have been regarded through multimedia platforms, scattered on the spectrum of both print and film. When thinking about comics, we envision certain theatrical conventions that were popularized by the D.C. and Marvel American franchises. It would be safe to say that each of us have encountered a superhero movie, or at least an advertisement for one. Coincidentally though, we do not often encounter Canadian comic books in our time the same way people had encountered them during the years of 1941-1946. These years will be remembered as the “Canadian Golden Age of Comics” (“Canadian Golden Age”); when Canadian comics were a revered form of media, and served a greater purpose than providing simple entertainment. During this time, Canadian children turned to comics as an escape from reality, where stories of victory and war time toys would scatter the pages and fulfill their imaginations.

When analyzing an archived copy of Bell Features’ Wow Comic Issue No.12, I found a pattern in the structural scheme of the comic book. This specific issue held a total of six comics/storylines. Three of the said stories were war related with propagational connotations. This especially caught my attention because in comparison, the issue has eleven advertisements/newsletters that are educational/are related to the war effort.

Fig. 1. Front Cover (recto) of "Wow Comics Issue No.12" in four toned printing using the colours magenta, yellow, cyan, and black. The "Bell Features" 10 cent logo is seen on the right hand side underneath the large print words; "WOW COMICS".
Fig. 1. Front Cover (recto) of “Wow Comics Issue No.12”. April 1943, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

This can be exemplified on the back cover (verso) of the book where there is an advertisement for model airplanes following the comic “Whiz Wallace: Bombers to Victory” created by C.T. Legault (54), which happens to be centered around fighter pilots and aircrafts. Another obvious structural theme was the use of letters or cartoonish lettering over imagery in these advertisements/newsletters, althemore pronouncing the contrast from modern day advertising, which is highly based on imagery and film media. Comic books in this time heavily relied on the use and understanding of literary conventions, thus highlighting the weight at which advertisements/newsletters were used as educational tools.

Although the success of Canadian Comics were a result of the War Exchange Conservation Act (W.E.C.A.) enacted in 1939 (Thomas), through the exploration of the Bell Features Publication Wow Comics Issue No.12, it is reasonable to say that the attempt to refurbish the popular culture of comic books brought forward a medium to propagate Canadian nationalism and the war effort. As well, this research exemplifies that comics hold a larger issue surrounding the ideology of childhood and how children were perceived by the government. Through the exploration and analysis of this specific comic (Issue No.12), I will shed light on the hidden purpose the printing press served in the alternate use of comic books, and will further develop the reasons and educational values expected of children during this time.  

Birth of Printing Press: Coming to Comics

Fig. 2. Archived propagational poster from the Canadian War Savings Committee, printed in three tones (red, black, and white) utilizing the image of two children collecting war stamps to encourage the support of the war effort.
Fig. 2. Unknown. “Canada, War Savings Committee, ‘We’re doing our bit! We’re buying War Savings Stamps’ (Ottawa, n.d. [1942])”. War, Memory and Popular Culture Archives – The University of Western Ontario – London, Ontario, 1942. Wartime Canada http://wartimecanada.ca/sites/default/files/documents/War%20Savings%20Stamps.pdf. Copyright is in the Public Domain.
During the first world war, issues of censorship were circulating in Canada and amongst other countries. This time period highly relied on the printing press in order to convey announcements and war time news, which transformed the concept of print into “propaganda machine” (“Government Propaganda”). This propaganda paradigm follows in the time of the outbreak of the Second World War. Print was cheap to produce which provided as an effective source to promote the war effort and patriotism, while also doubling as a way to conserve the dollar. Newspapers were the prime example of an advocate of wartime broadcasting and easily became an agent in shaping/maintaining a sense of value. The enactment of the War Exchange Conservation Act propelled individualized production in Canada in attempt to save the Canadian dollar (Kocmarek 148). The prohibition included the halt on the importing of American magazines and comic books. A new industry for printing, independent from the United States, emerged from the importation ban.

Children would read comics as a pastime or form of entertainment. Thus, when the import of American comics was discontinued, the child industry was left open for exploitation. Publishers utilized the prohibition of American comics to establish Canadian comic printing companies such as Bell Features. Founders of Bell Features Publications utilized the publicity of the war time status to establish a Canadian printing press, especially by targeting influential youth who were adamant on supporting different gimmicks in contribution to war effort participation. This resulted in the eruption of the time period called the “Canadian Golden Age of Comics” (1941-1946).

Undercover Propaganda

This time brought to light new Canadian heroes, and thus, Canadian based comic book series came to life. To name a few iconic figures; “Crash Carson”, “Nelvana”, “Johnny Canuck”, and etc., were among most of which who followed the mold of an average patriotic citizen, turned sacrificial, brave superhero. Furthermore, Canadian comic books would specifically include true victory stories like that of “Tommy Holmes V.C.” (24) to instill patriotic ideologies in children, and further encourage enlisting in the war and their participation in the war effort. So although on the surface level, comics served as a form of entertainment, publishers would often times include propaganda in forms of advertisement and newsletters, including war toys and self promotion to support, therefore maintaining the war time environment and propagation. Interestingly, during the Golden Age of Comics, education became a crucial aspect in shaping children’s values (Cooke 2), leading back to why true war stories were included in the collection of comics in this issue, and developing the acceptability of “educational” propaganda in children’s entertainment. Through the inclusion of subtle value based advertisements and newsletter additions in between comics and victory stories, comic print cultivated a new level of propagation that changed the meaning of childhood during the war.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “propaganda” is defined as displays of often one sided idea/opinion based information displayed through images, broadcastings, or publications intentionally spread to influence people’s opinions. Propaganda was commonly seen during both the First and Second World Wars to do exactly this in regard to the upholding of patriarchal values and beliefs. The Cambridge definition of the word “propaganda” insinuates the use of subliminal messaging. In the Wow Comics Issue No.12, there are instances of comics that follow the idea of subliminal messaging. Taking the example of Parker’s Tommy Holmes once again, the comic follows the real life victory encounter of Tommy Holmes being a Canadian soldier, and how he won the Victory Cross. The educational value of this comic, shows to have propagational background in the sense of glorifying enlistment into the front line and educational value through the teaching of a real time event. This is amplified then, by the following overzealous inclusion of advertisements in the children’s print.

Advertisements are typically used to depict messages through mass media. Often times advertising is meant to persuade the purchase of goods or services (Goodis and Pearman), which can be exemplified in this comic issue through the promotion of model plane sets on the back cover (verso). The page is printed in four tone (red, yellow, black, and white) and is displayed with two miniscule drawings of the “Identoplane” box and a boy yelling. All other details on the page are written in different fonts and lettering that mimic/direct the way they are to be read. However, through the comparison of this advertisement against advertisements found in modern day, it is visually more word oriented versus the media we see now. In an article written by Beth Hatt and Stacy Otto in 2011, they discuss the use of visual culture and imagery in advertisements as a way for accessibility to the audience (512). Thus, by using word based advertisements and newsletters in children’s comic books, there needed to be a target audience who could read and understand the content, and were overall meant to be in possession of these comics.  

The Canadian Effort: Educating Youth

Fig. 3. Illustrated newsletter printed in black and white, and drawn by Canadian artist Al Cooper. Newsletter describes a German Nazi plane called the "Torpedo Aircraft", along with informational text boxes.
Fig. 3. Al Cooper. “Informational newsletter on the ‘Torpedo Aircraft'”. Wow Comics Issue No. 12, April 1943, p. 32. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

These findings lead to the question about how children were educated during the war time. The use of comics was an easy solution in educating children through advertisements and newsletters that actually served as politically driven propaganda. Ultimately, the most popular example of educational use in comic books leads back to the highly weighted importance of participating in the war effort. The advertisements for related Bell Features comic books advertise comics aimed toward both boys and girls. In analyzing Issue No.12 further, page 32 stood out as an independent/unique newsletter amongst the others. This newsletter is a stand alone page that has two text boxes with information on the “Torpedo Aircraft”. The page is accompanied by three illustrations of a Nazi German aircraft drawn by the infamous Canadian illustrator, Al Cooper. At first glance the newsletter could be mistook for an advertisement or a one panel comic due to its cartoon-like demeanour, but upon deeper analysis the page is a definite informational newsletter. The newsletter appears to be specifically beneficial to the male audience as it discusses the Torpedo Aircraft in two entire text boxes; which is an example of male gender content. However, during the war time schools as a whole became highly involved in the contributions to the war effort.

Through the outbreak of the war and the installment of the W.E.C.A, school began to revolve around supporting the front line. Educational systems led and focused on contributions to propagational campaigns that would help save the dollar. An example of this would be classrooms being transformed into sewing rooms for girls, where they would “learn” how to sew/knit for the Red Cross organization, and articles would go to servicemen and victims of bombed areas.

Fig. 4. Unknown. Archived. Captured in black and white, vintage photograph of three boys working on the mechanics of an aviator machine at Wester Technical School.
Fig. 3. Unknown. “Archived vintage photograph of boys working on aviator machine”. City of Toronto Archives
www.toronto.ca/archives, 1930, Toronto Guardian, City of Toronto Archives. Copyright is in the Public Domain.

Boys on the other hand were to “learn” how to produce scale models of aircrafts that would go toward training pilots and gunners. Furthermore, this explains why the verso of the comic advertising “Identoplanes” is printed in colour, and makes sense of the use of letters versus images as building aircrafts was associated with school. Education was being strategically interwoven into popular culture through the comic book medium. Moreover, students would often receive education on defence and war emergency training. The type of education included would be how to recognize enemy aircrafts and understanding how they function (Millar “Education”), which is the exact information included on the newsletter from page 32. This thus encompasses the image and value of education as presented to children through political propagation as it was important for students to be educated on certain war time concepts to better protect themselves.

Building Childhood: Concluding Thoughts

The government imposed many political standings over Canadians which is clearly presented through newspapers and printed propaganda, reaching out to parental figures at home, while children were more often concerned with new war toys and other popular culture novelties. School systems held the great responsibility over shaping the values and ideologies of children in a time where there was no structure of understanding or definite knowledge to when the war would end. The war time brought significant changes to the social environment of many families in Canada, which in turn, highlighted school as a facility of direction. Education taught children how to observe and retain knowledge from the world around them, and still plays an important role in shaping personal perspectives. It is important to recognize that children are impressionable and will reflect actions and mistakes. For example, when there is a high standard set on expectations of a noble soldier like Tommy Holmes, children will reflect on that image and mimic it’s value. Therefore, the manipulation of comics as war educated propagational mediums, holds potential power for abuse. Although comics served as entertainment, they were also popular tools used to educate children on serious topics ranging from political ideologies, moral values, and racial categorization. If used/misused with from an ignorant standpoint, there could have been severe consequences in the social development of war time children that would last far into the future.

The most interesting thing about analyzing the issue of childhood education through propaganda in comic books is the lack of thorough research done on this topic. The Golden Age of Comics arose multiple issues that have been overlooked in scholarly work such as: the importance of word oriented/educational advertisements and newsletters in children’s comic books and the purpose that they serve. The values of education in correlation to comic books and popular culture is almost nonexistent. This is concerning considering the weight at which the government influenced Canadian values and ideologies during the Second World War. Continually, there was minimal research regarding how children experienced the war time and war effort movements. Although young and impressionable, the social results of their own experience has not been thought to be analyzed thus far. It was through compiling this research that I found it difficult to produce a connective argument, as this argument does not yet exist, but should exist. It was not hard to point at a page in the comic book and correlate it to a post-war time issue/concern. Wow Comics embraces a great ordeal of information through example illustrations of propaganda and subliminal messaging in story lines. I believe that comic books are detrimental to future studies and analysis on World War II and the experiences of those who lived through it.  

In conclusion, through the analysis of the structure of the Wow Comics Issue No.12 and it’s significant use of advertising and newsletters, comic books are proven to have served as educational tools for children during the Second World War. The printing press and pulp print built an opportunity for publishers such as Cyril Bell, to bring forward publication firms such as Bell Features Comics and develop the initial platform for popular culture propaganda. However, it was the importance of education that ultimately motivated the inclusion of subliminal propaganda in comic books. Furthermore, this research envelopes the notion of the child as an important figure in the construction of social values through their impressionable nature, but also the leading figure of direction through their capability to mold the future of Canada. Essentially, the government simultaneously established manipulation and dependence on the education of children through comic books, locking themselves in a feedback loop entailing both the political figures and the children to rely on one another.   

 


 

Works Cited

Clemenso, Al, et al. Wow Comics, no. 12. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, April

1943, pp. 1-65. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166674.pdf

Cook, Tim. “Canadian Children and the Second World War | The Canadian Encyclopedia.” The

Canadian Encyclopedia, 12 Apr. 2016,

https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-children-and-wwii.

Cooke, Ian. “Children’s Experiences and Propaganda.” British Library, Creative Commons, 29

January 2014,

https://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/childrens-experiences-and-propaganda.

Cooper, Al. “Torpedo Aircraft.” Wow Comics, no. 12. Bell Features and Publishing Company

Limited, April 1943, p. 32. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166674.pdf

Good, Edmond. “Wow Comics Issue No.12” Wow Comics, no. 12. Bell Features and Publishing

Company Limited, April 1943, cover page (recto). Bell Features Collection, Library and

Archives Canada.

http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166674.pdf

Goodis, Jerry and Brian Pearman. “Advertising.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Canada,

4 March 2015, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/advertising.

Hatt, Beth, and Stacy Otto. “A Demanding Reality: Print-Media Advertising and Selling

Smartness in a Knowledge Economy.” Educational Studies, vol. 47, no. 6, 2011, pp.

507–26. Scholars Portal Journals, doi:10.1080/00131946.2011.621075.

Legault, C.T.. “Whiz Wallace: Bombers to Victory.” Wow Comics, no. 12. Bell Features and

Publishing Company Limited, April 1943, pp. 54-63. Bell Features Collection, Library

and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166674.pdf

Millar, Anne. “Education during the Second World War.” Wartime Canada,

http://wartimecanada.ca/essay/learning/education-during-second-world-war. Accessed 30

September 2018.

Parker. “Tommy Holmes V.C.” Wow Comics, no. 12. Bell Features and

Publishing Company Limited, April 1943, pp. 24-31. Bell Features Collection, Library

and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166674.pdf

“PROPAGANDA”  Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/propaganda. Accessed 20 November

2018.

“Save While Supporting the War.” Wartime Canada. 1942. The University of Western Ontario,

London, Ontario. War, Memory and Popular Culture Archives,

http://wartimecanada.ca/document/world-war-ii/victory-loans-and-war-savings/save-whil

e-supporting-war

Thomas, Michael. “Canadian Comics: From Golden Age to Renaissance (Includes Interview).”

Digital Journal, 18 Aug. 2015,

http://www.digitaljournal.com/a-and-e/arts/canadian-comics-from-golden-age-to-renaissa

nce/article/440981. Accessed 30 September 2018.

“WarMuseum.ca – Democracy at War – Information, Propaganda, Censorship and the

Newspapers.” Canadian War Museum, 14 Nov. 1940,

https://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/information_e.shtml.

“Western Technical School – Boys Working on Aviation Motor.” Toronto Guardian. 1942.

Western Technical School, Toronto, Ontario. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item

19594, https://torontoguardian.com/2016/08/vintage-school-students-photographs/

 

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

 

Violence Against Women in Active Comics No.9

 

Copyright © 2018 Anjali Jaikarran, Ryerson University

Introduction

Women are multi-faceted individuals who play many roles and undergo an abundance of experiences, however, society, on many occasions tends to delegate them to roles and experiences far beneath them. In the ninth issue of  The Active Comics (1943), two particular comics portray women being subjected to violence at the hands of another. In ‘The Brain: The Scarlet Zombie’, the villain threatens to strangle a female character if she does not relinquish information the villain believes she has. He follows through with his threat, wrapping his hands around her throat as the woman is paralyzed with fear (Bachle 24). Earlier, within the same comic, the villain’s monstrous creation, the Scarlet Zombie is seen

M, Harn. Panel from “Thunderfist.”
Active Comics, No. 9, January 1943, p. 58. Bell Features Collection,
Library and Archives Canada.

roughly grabbing the woman and tossing her across the room (22). In ‘Thunderfist’, another superhero comic, the hero’s love interest is taken captive by a Japanese spy when she attempts to follow up on a lead for a story she is pursuing. The villain binds her to a chair with rope to keep her from escaping so that he may use her as leverage (Harn 58). Examples from the reality surrounding women’s contributions and tribulations during WWII will be drawn on to shed light on the discrepancy between reality and the portrayals of women in the comics as a reflection of the value of women in Canadian society during the 1940s.

Women’s Contributions During the War

        The Second World War focuses on fearless soldiers laying down their lives on European soil for their country. Men are immortalized in history for their contributions, while the women are overshadowed by their counterparts. On the homefront, women inhabited every occupation possible to provide aid during the war. Stanley Hawes’ film, Homefront (1944), a propaganda film intended  to boost morale and incite patriotism, depicts women taking part in hospitality endeavours: anywhere from running canteens for weary soldiers to forefronting blood transfusions in the medical field as nurses. These women are said to be  ‘the living link between home and the inferno’ (Hawes, Stanley). In this propaganda film, women were seen as important and crucial to the war effort; without the aid of these formidable women, soldiers would not have been able to fulfill their duties to their nation. In the story, ‘Thunderfist’, the captured woman is a reporter who is following a lead on a possible story related to the war (Harn 58). Although her contribution is of a different sort than those aiding in domestic or medical affairs, her job lands her in a dangerous position as the captive of a Japanese spy. If the creators and illustrators of the comics had wanted to draw parallels alongside what was occurring within the real world, they would have created strong female heroines instead of male ones. They could have also created ones that worked alongside the male heroes as their equals. This is not the case with the female heroine in ‘Thunderfist’ as the woman is forced to wait for the male hero to come to her rescue, insinuating that she is incapable of saving herself, delegating her to a role without allowing her the chance to prove herself.

       On the front lines, women in WWII made an equally significant impact: “About 350, 000 women served in the [American] military… 14 000 were WACs, 100, 000 were WAVEs, 23, 000 were marines, 13, 000 were SPARs, 60, 000 were Army nurses, and 14, 000 were Navy nurses” (Campbell 251-253). While these numbers are not as staggering as those of men that enlisted during the war, however, it proves that women were not insignificant on the warfront. The most noteworthy reason for women choosing to enlist were “patriotic and emotional reasons” (Campbell 254). They risked their lives, left their family and friends behind to serve their country and help end a war that tore them from safety and normalcy. Propaganda was also essential in their involvement, there are many posters and films geared towards enlisting these brave and fearless women to the war front. One example is a propaganda film titled, ‘I’m the Proudest Girl in the World,’ which is a Hollywood-esque musicale that gives further insight into the duties of women during the war (Roffman, Julian). This musicale number can be seen as glamorous and whimsical, in which in the women are presented as driven, eager, and pragmatic. The discrepancy lies within the comics, where women are depicted as weak and subservient, waiting to be saved from one man (the villain) by another (the hero). In reality, women went towards the danger alongside the men as real life heroines.  Another propaganda piece is a poster titled, ‘The Spirit of Canada’s Women’, this poster depicts fierce women in uniforms whom are flagging a woman on a horse (Odell, Gordon K.).  The woman on the horse is assumedly Joan of Arc. This furthers the idea that the women portrayed alongside her are equally as strong and brave. However, in the comics, when they try to portray strength or bravery, the villains easily force them to back down, either through physical or verbal abuse; enforcing the ideal that men are the dominants while women are the submissives as a reflection of the societal views of the era. The Canadian government would have been desperate and in need of additional support if they were advertising for the enlistment of women in the war, thus, the portrayals within the propaganda film and poster are purely circumstantial as it benefited what was necessary at the time. The contributions made by women both on the home front and the front lines were influential to the war effort, the stereotypical portrayals of them in the comics do them a great disservice. Furthermore, the sexual violence they were subjected to is not only a slight against their contributions but their humanity as well.

Sexual Violence During the War

      Sexual violence against women  is known to be a consequence of war. ‘A Dictionary of Gender’ defines violence against women as:

   “‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life’. Such violence is widespread in both the public and private sphere, and may take the form of domestic violence or rape in war’” (Griffin, Gabrielle).

     Throughout the course of the war, women were subjected to sexual violence by American, Canadian, British, French, and Soviet soldiers alike. The exact amount of rapes is unknown but they could range from tens of thousands to millions, which were incited in no small part by a desire for revenge against the Germans for their assault of ‘non-Aryan’ women in the East (Matthews, Heidi). The idea itself of revenge by means of committing the same heinous acts perpetrated by the Germans gives strong insight into the value of women by men. Women, both in the comics and in the real world were merely token pieces used by men for their own convenience. In both ‘The Brain: the Scarlet Zombie’ and ‘Thunderfist’, the female characters are used by the villain for their own means. In ‘The Brain’, the woman is a source of information for the villain, when he does not get what he

L. Bachle. Panel from “The Brain: The Scarlet Zombie.”Active Comics, No. 9, January 1943, p. 24. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

desires, he throttles her in retaliation (Bachle 24). While in ‘Thunderfist’, the woman is used to both lure the superhero into the villain’s clutches but also to stop her from foiling his plans to blow up a ship harbour (Harn 58).  In a way, the women pose a threat to the villains as they need the women to commit their evildoing, but without their cooperation, the villains resort to physically assaulting the women to elevate their role as the antagonist.

    This does not justify the sexual violence experienced by women in reality, but only serves to make the depictions in the comics more problematic. In her dissertation, ‘Silenced Voices: Sexual Violence During and After World War II’, Cassidy Chiasson states:  “…sexual violence should not be brushed off as a consequence of this type of war since it is a problem with long-lasting negative effects on its victims. Sexual violence appeared in many forms during World War II, not just as rape. Mass rape was a major problem, but women also fell victim to sexual violence because of complicated situations and circumstances they were placed in.” (Chiasson 1) This conclusion makes the violence illustrated in the comics insensitive, it trivializes their suffering for the sake of creating an entertaining storyline. Statistically, psychological symptoms are more severe and frequent in victims of sexually related violence in war in comparison to non-sexual violence in war: “Results of the current study revealed that rape survivors reported greater severity of avoidance and hyperarousal symptoms compared to survivors of other war-related traumas; these symptoms are between 0.29 – 0.41 higher for victims of sexually related assaults in comparison to other war related traumas.” (Kuwert et al., 1062)  These statistics suggest that the comic creators are only mocking and devaluing the women who had become victims of sexual violence during the war. If they had any concern for women, they would have excluded it or allowed the women to save herself and exact revenge on the villain, but she remains in the clutches of the villain and her trauma until the hero rescues her.

     The article, ‘A Content-Analysis of Race, Gender, and Class in American Comics’ discusses the concept of benevolent sexism and its relation to submissive women and violence in comics: Benevolent sexism refers to delegating women to roles that are stereotypical and confining. These roles insist that the women have the protection of men. Furthermore, portrayals of violence against women has declined in comics but the ideas of benevolent sexism and the ‘damsel in distress’ still remain ( ‘A Content-Analysis of Race, Gender, and Class in American Comics’). However, this is only done in an effort to evoke a reaction from the male hero as they hold a significant relationship with him as a love interest or a friend.  In reality, circumstances forced women to learn agency and the find means to survive: untold numbers of women in the “German-occupied territories found themselves forced into survival prostitution. Due to the atrocious living conditions and strict legal regime, women and girls of all ethnicities resorted to this… They bartered sex for food, shelter, documents, and jobs,” (Jolluck 523). Thus, being in said state (at the ‘mercy’ of the villain) leaves the the female character no choice but to wait for the hero to come to save her as society typically has women in roles that do not allow them the agency to fend for themselves.

      Similarly to reality of the war, the villains are violent towards the women in both comics in an effort to elicit feelings of degradation and submission from them. Chiasson illustrates again the widespread severity of the sexual violence in WWII, “One must understand that this type of sexual brutality and dominance over women occurred on almost every side, and was not limited to one or two militaries. For example, when the Germans entered the Soviet Union, they raped, pillaged, and acted with extreme brutality,” (Chiasson 1). By degrading and hurting the women that are valued by the male heroes, the villains are exacting revenge on the heroes. This is because during the era, a woman’s value was seen in relation to the value she had to a man, and this still occurs today. Based on the values of the era, in her helpless state, the woman is at her most useful state as she elevates the status of both men. She elevates the villain when he captures her because it serves to make him more dastardly. While, when she is saved by the hero, she glorifies his heroic stature. Sexual violence is not to be trivialized as the victims suffer from severe physical and psychological trauma. The violence within the comics display a lack of concern regarding how female readers would react to it while the violence during the war occurred simultaneously; women both fighting for their country and their lives.

Conclusion

     The comics, ‘The Brain: The Scarlet Zombie’ and Thunderfist’ within the ninth issue of the Active Comics portray women being subjected to violence by the male villains. The female character in ‘The Brain: the Scarlet Zombie’ is physically assaulted by both the villain and his creation (Bachle 24). While, in ‘Thunderfist’, the woman is tied up to prevent her escape in the midst of doing her job as a reporter (Harn 58). These women are forced to become victims in these comics as the values of society in the era have bleed into these stories. Their contributions upheld the war yet they were undervalued and assaulted in both media depictions and real life as a result of normalization of said behaviour. In the 1940s, it is perpetuated, whether in reality or within a fictional story, a women’s value is tied to a man; based upon how she builds his masculinity. In truth, women are nothing less than the resilient, fierce, and exemplary individuals they strive to be in the face of adversity; whether it is it is in war or in everyday life.

 

                                                                                          Works Cited

Bachle, L. “The Brain: The Scarlet Zombie” Active Comics, no. 9, Bell Features, January, 1943, pp. 20-28. Canadian Whites Comic Collection, 19-41-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Bachle, L. Panel from “Thunderfist.” Active Comics, No. 9, January 1943, p. 58. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Campbell, D’Ann. “Servicewomen Of World War II” Armed Forces & Society, vol. 16, no. 2,     Jan. 1990, pp. 251–70. Crossref, doi:10.1177/0095327X9001600205.

Chiasson, Cassidy L. Silenced Voices: Sexual Violence During and After World War II.   University of Southern Mississippi, Aug. 2015.

Facciani, Matthew, et al. A Content-Analysis of Race, Gender, and Class in American Comic     Books. Vol. 22, no. 3/4, 2015, pp. 216–26.

Griffin, Gabriele. “Violence against Women.” A Dictonary of Gender Studies, Oxford   University Press, 2017,                                                                                                                                               http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780191834837.001.0001/acref-9780191834837-e-410.

Harn, M. “Thunderfist.” Active Comics, no. 9, Bell Features, January, 1943, pp. 54-63.     Canadian Whites Comic Collection, 19-41-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections,   Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Harn, M. Panel from “The Brain: The Scarlet Zombie.”Active Comics, No. 9, January 1943, p. 24. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Hawes, Stanley. Home Front. National Film Board of Canada, 1940. www.nfb.ca,                             https://www.nfb.ca/film/home_front/.

Jolluck, Katherine R. “Women in the Crosshairs: Violence Against Women during the     Second World War.” Australian Journal of Politics & History, vol. 62, no. 4, Dec. 2016, pp.     514–28. onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca, doi:10.1111/ajph.12301.

Kuwert, Philipp, et al. “Long-Term Effects of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Compared   with Non-Sexual War Trauma in Female World War II Survivors: A Matched Pairs Study.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 43, no. 6, Aug. 2014, pp. 1059–64. Link-springer-     com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca, doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0272-8.

Matthews, Heidi. “Allied Soldiers — Including Canadians — Raped Thousands of German   Women after Second World War: Research.” National Post, 8 May 2018,                                             https://nationalpost.com/news/world/allied-soldiers-including-canadians-raped-     thousands-of-german-women-after-second-world-war-research.

Odell, Gordon K. The Spirit of Canada’s Women. 1942,                                                                                 https://www.warmuseum.ca/collections/artifact/1027798/. Canadian War Museum   Archives (online).

Roffman, Julian. ‘I’m the Proudest Girl in the World!’: A WWII Recruitment Film. 26 Feb. 1944,      https://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/im-the-proudest-girl-in-the-world.

 


Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Strategic Japanese Misrepresentation In Media During World War II

By: Madison Trafford

Introduction

Media in Canadian society during World War II largely covered the subject of war, which translated through all forms of media, including comic books. The 21st issue of Commando Comics, a comic book from the Canadian Whites collection published during World War II, displays the prominence of war-related media. Additionally, much of the content in this issue is regarding race, particularly portraying Japanese people as the antagonist of the stories. What this exhibit will discuss is that this issue 21 of Commando Comics reflects the general societal view of Japanese people as “the enemy” during World War II, as well as representing Japanese people in a negative light in order to shape public opinions of Japanese people. This reflection of society within the comic is evident through the consistent pattern of Japanese people being the antagonists of the stories, as well as the physical content in the issue portraying Japanese people in a stereotypical, offensive way, such as referring to them in derogatory terms. The importance of this is that this purposeful shaping of public opinion resulted in mistreatment and discrimination against Japanese-Canadians that would continue for decades following World War II. 

Distorted Portrayals, Derogatory Terms

This issue of Commando Comics displays the overt racism prevalent at the time it was written, through the way Japanese Characters are referred to and the stereotypical way in which they speak and act. The most prominent way this is evident in the comic is the use of the word “Japs” to refer to Japanese people. In the story “Doc Stearne”, the antagonists, which are Japanese soldiers, are referred to as “Japs” six time in the first three pages of the story(Dexter, 44-46). This excessive use of the offensive term confirms that not only is the overall tone towards the Japanese strongly negative, but also that the author of the story, Fred Kelly, did this very deliberately; It is a very strongly offensive term, and the repetition serves to emphasize this. As for the word “Japs”, it is a crude, shortened version of a word encompassing an entire race, showing direct disrespect and outright hatred for the race as a whole, through refusal to use proper terminology. This is significant, as the Canadian Whites, the group of WWII comic books in Canada, were popular and widely-read. Therefore, the messages and ideals that the stories in issue 21 of Commando Comics presented were being spread throughout Canada, cementing a very anti-Japan mentality into Canadian society. 

Another aspect of the physical comic book and its illustrations that demonstrate the same anti-Japan sentiment is that the antagonists of the stories sometimes are not explicitly identified as Japanese, but are drawn to look Asian, leading the reader to believe that these characters are also Japanese. Additionally, in the Doc Stearne story, Japanese writing characters are presented in a speech bubble above a Japanese character’s head. This is significant, as the Japanese character not speaking English creates even more of a barrier between Japanese people and the comic’s English-speaking readers, leading to misunderstanding and discrimination. The visual portrayal of antagonists as Asian in the stories and the use of a language barrier make it very clear that these characters are Japanese, and therefore the fact that the antagonists of many of the stories are Japanese further confirms the idea of Japanese people being the ultimate enemy. 

The significance of this negative portrayal of Japanese people lies in the fact that this was done deliberately in comic books in order to sway public opinion regarding Japanese people, and therefore create a country united against the enemy of Japan. In a journal article published in the Pacific Historical Review called “This is Our Enemy”, the way in which war and media are intertwined is discussed: “The comics are drumming up a lot of hate for the enemy, but usually for the wrong reasons—frequently fantastic ones (mad Jap scientists, etc.). Why not use the real reasons—they’re plenty worthy of hate!’’ (Hirsch, 54) This quote demonstrates the anti-Japan mentality that existed in the Western world during World War 2, as the speaker clearly has many reasons to hate Japan. Additionally, they are not concerned about public opinion being swayed by comic books, but encourage hate towards Japan. This supports the claim that the negative portrayal of the Japanese in comic books swayed public opinion about the race as a whole, as well as that this was done deliberately by comic book writers.

Japan: The “Enemy”

Race is a prominent theme throughout the entirety of issue 21 of Commando Comics, as the majority of the protagonists of the stories are white Canadians and most of the antagonists of the stories are either Japanese or unspecified Asian. For example, in the story “Doc Stearne”, Doc Stearne, the white male protagonist, fights a group of Japanese kamikaze corps. Most of the stories in this issue that feature  Japanese antagonists present them in a very negative and violent light. For example, in the story “Ruff and Reddy”, the antagonists, a group of presumably Japanese men are very violent, kidnapping the protagonist as well as highjacking the protagonist’s plane. (Dexter, 10-15) The presentation of Japanese people as violent and as the enemy, not only paints all Japanese people, and even all Asian people as bad people, but leads the public to believe this rhetoric and act accordingly.

  In Ann Gomer Sunahara’s book, “The Politics of Racism: The Uprooting of Japanese Canadians During The Second World War”, the effects of World War 2 on Japanese people in Canada are outlined: “[…]the events of the eight years between 1942 and 1950 left Japanese Canadians in a state of trauma that has been compared to that of a rape victim.[…] Although conscious that they were innocent victims, Japanese Canadians felt humiliated by their degrading experiences.” (Sunahara, 1) The use of the phrase “innocent victims” is significant in this quotation, as it reflects the reality of the situation during

Canada Wartime Information Board. Propaganda poster. Don’t depend on Hara-Kiri – Finish the Job. Canadian War Museum. 1945. Public Domain.

World War 2, which was that Japanese Canadians were innocent of the war crimes of the Japanese.  The negative, antagonistic way in which the Japanese are portrayed in issue 21 of Commando Comics greatly contrasts this reality. This reveals that comic book writers were deliberately using overly negative portrayals of Japanese people to negate the reality of their innocence. The distorted portrayal of Japanese people as the ultimate enemy in this comic led to massive ramifications for Japanese people in Canada at the time. 

Additionally, the image displayed in this section demonstrates the way in which media was used to cement Japanese people as the enemy, as it shows two white English Canadians standing over the body of a Japanese dragon they killed. Even in media like posters, Japanese people were deliberately being presented as the enemy that was to be destroyed. Being that this is a propaganda poster, the presentation of the Japanese as the enemy, signified by a Japanese dragon, is significant; Japanese people were deliberately displayed as the enemy in media, such as propaganda posters, in order to shape an anti-Japan sentiment throughout Canadian society.

The Ramifications 

The portrayal of Japanese people as the enemy in WWII comic book issues had lasting ramifications for Japanese Canadians for decades to come, impacting the lives of decades of Japanese Canadians. As previously discussed, the portrayal of Japanese people in issue 21 of Commando Comics is very negative, labelling them as the enemy in many stories, and this portrayal of the entire race led to the public opinion of the Japanese to become increasingly negative. The years surrounding World War 2 held a large amount of discrimination for Japanese Canadians; Japanese people were constantly being shown as awful enemies, leading society to view Japanese Canadians in the same light, which then led to incredible discrimination and mistreatment. 

In the Canadian Historical Association booklet “Ethnic Minorities During Two World Wars”, this discrimination is discussed: “The day after the destruction of Pearl Harbour, The Royal Canadian Navy confiscated 1300 fishing boats, for fear that their Japanese Canadian owners would use them to guide an invasion force[…]” (Thompson, 16) This quotation directly outlines the discrimination against Japanese Canadians due to the war crimes of the Japanese, highlighting the ingrained anti-Japan sentiment present in society during World War II. Additionally, the majority of this discrimination is a result of the public opinions of Japanese people and the need to please English Canadians, as well as calm their fears about Japanese Canadians, even if these fears are unjustified. Issue 21 of Commando Comics displays clearly the use of media to reflect public opinion in opposition of Japanese people. The significance of the large role media had on public opinion is the impact that these opinions had on Japanese Canadians. Another excerpt from the booklet “Ethnic Minorities During Two World Wars” states that “[…] Japan’s rapid series of military successes inspired a public hysteria which in turn forced the federal cabinet to implement policies of rapidly escalating severity.” (Thompson, 16) The term “public hysteria” is significant, as this shows that public opinion had a direct impact on the treatment of certain groups. 

In Commando Comics issue 21, many of the stories display the way that Japanese people are viewed in society, through the negative portrayals of Japanese people. “Ruff and Reddy” and “Doc Stearne” are not only almost always Japanese or unspecified Asian, but are also shown as violent and evil. In an excerpt from “Doc Stearne”, a woman is captured and tortured by a man, the man saying: “Sato! Throw the woman into a cell until I devise a

Fred Kelly. Page from “Doc Stearne”. Commando Comics, No. 21, 1946, p. 45. Bell Features Collection.

suitable torture to loosen her tongue.” (Dexter, 45) This page is included on the left, as this displays the clear anti-Japan sentiment present in much of the comic book. An additional story in the comic book that clearly displays the way in which the Japanese were viewed in society at the time is the story “Salty Lane”, in which a white Canadian convoy is destroyed by unspecified Asian soldiers. Not only are both of these examples presenting the Japanese, and even encompassing all Asian people in a very violent light through violent actions, but also presents the people themselves as evil.

The damaging way that comic books shaped public opinion of Japanese people, through the generalization of Japanese people as evil and the violent acts they commit, directly affected the way that Japanese Canadians in society as a whole were treated. This is also displayed directly by the included page, as it shows the strong anti-Japan sentiment present in society. The damaging effects of the discrimination against Japanese Canadians, like the confiscation of Japanese Canadian property, are therefore a lasting result of World War II comic portrayals of the Japanese.

Conclusion

Throughout issue 21 of Commando Comics, Japanese characters are presented in a stereotypical and offensive light, through the use of derogatory terms like “Japs”, and the Japanese characters are almost always the enemy in the stories. This clear distortion of Japanese people as a whole had a direct impact on public attitude towards the Japanese in Canada, shown through the fact that public hysteria directly led to the mistreatment of Japanese Canadians. The portrayal of Japanese people in this comic book was not only deliberately used by comic book writers to shape public opinion, but it therefore also shaped the way in which Japanese people were subsequently treated, revealing the extent of power comic books have over society. 

 

Works Cited

Aslin, H. Don’t Depend on Hara-Kiri – Get The Job Done! 1946, Canadian War Museum, www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/propaganda/poster19_e.shtml.

Hirsch, Paul. “‘This Is Our Enemy’: The Writers’ War Board and Representations of Race in Comic Books, 1942-1945.” Pacific Historical Review, vol. 83, no. 3, Aug. 2014, pp. 448– 86. JSTOR, doi:10.1525/phr.2014.83.3.448.

Kelly, Fred. Commando Comics, No. 21, 1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166550.pdf.

Kelly, Fred (a). “Doc Stearne”. Commando Comics, no. 21, 1946, pp. 44-50. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166550.pdf.

Sunahara, Ann Gomer. The Politics of Racism: the Uprooting of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. Lorimer, 1981. http://www.japanesecanadianhistory.ca/Politics_of_Racism.pdf.

Thompson, John Herd. Ethnic Minorities During Two World Wars. Canadian Historical Association, 1991. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/008004/f2/E-19_en.pdf.

 


Images in this online exhibition are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

The “Noble Savage” Stereotype as a Political Tool in Active Comics, No. 11

© Copyright 2018 Mila Kulevska, Ryerson University

Introduction

The phenomenon of the “noble savage” stereotype emerged as a response to the crude and primitive depiction of Indigenous groups within literature. The common ethnic stereotyping that type-casted Indigenous characters as barbaric and savage-like in nature was a fundamental aspect of Indigenous representation; this was a widespread literary concept up until the 18th century (“Noble Savage: Literary Concept”). As a result, writers and philosophers attempted to counteract this discriminatory stereotype with another form of literary misrepresentation. The character of the “noble savage” symbolizes the purity and innate goodness of the Indigenous populace that has not been corrupted by westernized civilization (“Noble Savage: Literary Concept”). Although this phenomenon is viewed as inherently heroic, the stereotype is representative of the often superficial means that the Indigenous were exalted for. While with historical perspective it is evident that such racializations were romanticized and non-reflective of the Indigenous minorities they portrayed, these stereotypes were initially intended to steer public opinion and strengthen nationalistic pride. These nationalistic sentiments are exemplified within the character of Red in Active Comics, no. 11 (1943). Within both the issue and the story of “Dixon of the Mounted”, Red is the only Indigenous character depicted. His limited representation speaks volumes of the portrayal of Indigenous people within literature, as he is used sparingly and is characterized as inarticulate and simple-minded. Still, his role is ultimately heroic, and he helps the main character Corporal Dixon to capture a drug lord on Canada’s home front.

During a time when Canadian Indigenous people were mistreated and erased from the public eye, the role of Red as a protector is worth focusing upon. In the text, Red performs many noble deeds that are uncharacteristic of the Indigenous stereotype of the time. This creates a change in perspective and national identity relating to Indigenous populations and Canadians as a whole. Even though his role is a romanticized idealization, the stereotype of the “noble savage” strengthened the sense of unity in the country which was important to increase the low morale during the Second World War. Nevertheless, when a greater enemy, the axis powers, arose during the Second World War, unity within the country became more important than the prior racial tensions. Thus, in an attempt to unify the country, the media began to close the perceived gap between Indigenous people and the Caucasian majority. Although the “noble savage” idea was inaccurate and fabricated to be propaganda through literature, it promoted unification of the country while maintaining the disparity between the two groups.  


The wide distribution and appeal of the Bell Features comics fortified this depiction of Canadian identity within popular culture. The portrayal of heroic Indigenous characters was a means to build national pride. Thus, the literary idealization of the Indigenous populace and the use of the comic industry as a political tool will be studied to evaluate how these concepts were used to elevate the “noble savage” stereotype as more than just a romanticization, but also a nationalistic discourse to support the Canadian home front.

The Phenomenon of the “Noble Savage”

To begin, the “noble savage” is a fabricated concept to demote the Indigenous people to dim-witted, but inherently courageous and noble characters (“Noble Savage: Literary Concept”). Although this stereotype had ancient roots and had existed for centuries before, it reached unprecedented popularity in Canada during the 20th century. The billboards and tobacco figureheads of the time period demonstrate that the representation of the Indigenous populace of pre-Second World War Canada was akin to tokenism as a novelty item. In the public sphere, the Indigenous people were dehumanized and reduced to caricatures. This glorified stereotype which was deep-rooted in literature is no more evident than in the character of Red. The narrative of “Dixon of the Mounted” follows the protagonist Corporal Dixon on a mission set in Northern Ontario. The series issues a synopsis, which reveals that Dixon is investigating a marijuana drug ring on an Indigenous reserve. Throughout the storyline, comradery is established between Red and Corporal Dixon through multiple instances, as Red saves the Corporal and declares his subservience for the protagonist. Although Red is purposefully written by author René Kulbach as inarticulate, constantly referring to himself in

A page from "Dixon of the Mounted" showing Red saving Corporal Dixon after he is injured.
Fig. 1. René Kulbach. Page from “Dixon of the Mounted”.  Active Comics, no. 11, May 1943, p. 3. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

the third-person and speaking in broken-English, the trapper goes out of his way to aid the Corporal on his mission. An in-text narration in the third panel of Figure 1 reads: “The Indian finds his stunned friend and brings him to the sleigh to bandage his head” (3). This line perpetuates the derogatory portrayal of Indigenous within popular literature: the reference to Red as an “Indian” rather than referring to him by his name is a derogatory typecasting, further emphasized by the mention of Corporal Dixon as his “friend”. In essence, this compartmentalizes the larger issue of ethnic stereotyping by establishing a power dynamic between Red, as a good-natured “Indian” who would go to drastic measures to protect his country and his white Canadian “friend,” the Corporal. This dehumanization is an effective introduction to enlighten and open audiences to diversity by showing Indigenous characters in a non-malevolent manner. The valiance and courage of Red throughout the mission fortifies his role as a “noble savage” character. His actions in protecting his reserve and exposing the drug ring are ultimately recognized as home front efforts. In this manner, the “noble savage” stereotype is employed as a nuanced propaganda approach throughout the comic to inspire and coax the readership into engaging in the war effort.

The Political Climate for a Canadian Identity

The significance of the creation of an Indigenous ally such as Red cannot be rationalized without an understanding of the political landscape in which he was created. After trade restrictions led to a ban of American comics during the Second World War, the boom of the black-and-white “Canadian Whites” comics documented a shift in popular culture and development of a national identity (Bell “Comic Books”). The tribulations to build a consistent political ideology for Canadian citizens was notably challenged in the years leading up to the Second World War. As a result of several misleading propaganda campaigns enrolled by the United Nations, most of the Canadian war efforts were discredited within the public sphere. The lack of global recognition was infamously punctuated by the British Royal Army in a propaganda campaign that maintained the false beliefs that British efforts in the war were unaided and solitary, implying that Canadian war efforts were futile (Bumsted 291).

Lieutenant-Colonel J.F.R. Akehurst looks at Sergeant Tommy Prince's Military Medal, black and white.
Fig. 2. Christopher Woods. Lieutenant-Colonel J.F.R. Akehurst, Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion, First Special Service Force, Examines Sergeant Tommy Prince’s Military Medal, Which Was Awarded for “Distinguished and Gallant Service” at Anzio. Buckingham Palace, London, England, 12 February 1945, 1945, Faces of the Second World War Collection. Library and Archives Canada. Public Domain.

These publicized allegations were an under-acknowledgement of Canada’s substantial assistance and support of the allied forces, as they enlisted roughly 1.1 million soldiers, at least 6,000 of which were Indigenous minorities, including Sergeant Tommy Prince as seen in Figure 2 (Bumsted 291).  Regardless, there was significant advocacy for Canadian values, such as humility and responsibility, in attempts to raise troop morale. An emphasis on the underlying value of freedom and honour for the better of the collective community was a humble approach perpetuated as an integral aspect of Canadian values. This notion was also referenced by Bumsted as he notes that the Canadian populace served in the war with no “ulterior motives or expectations of advantage” (289). However, the overarching message of the Canadian propaganda differed from the tactics of the British Royal Army, which emphasized independence and dignity. Rather, the Canadian identity valued humility over dignity and the protection of allies for the greater common interest. These values are exemplified by the plot lines and heroes championed within the comics, who are framed by ideologies regarding compassion and servitude, which can be interpreted as humility (Grace and Hoffman 4). Following this manner, Red’s depiction reflects the core Canadian values that were being promoted at the time. For instance, Red is written patriotically in the way that he sees the merit in the Corporal’s needs above his own and lends his aid for the greater purpose of Canada’s protection. Red’s humbleness and devotion to the protection of his allies, as well as his nation’s common interest, capture the distinct Canadian identity values of the time in a manner that the comics could contrast from the British values. For that reason, Bell Features comics saturated literature through their popularity and availability, consistently perpetuating these Canadian values to strengthen the national identity. Thus, themes of Canadian patriotism became major selling-factors in the absence of the American comic books and solidified the industry as a cultural influence within literature.

The Ideal Wartime Civilian Populace

The concept of the “core notions of national membership” is investigated by authors Takeda and Williams by portraying how Canadians were expected to be an active participant in their country, particularly during the wartime (80). To be a member of one’s nation during the Second World War implied that citizens needed to be active participants in the war relief efforts, by building comradery with each other. The authors’ note that this was projected through propaganda and literature to establish a sense of “political stability” (84). This, in turn, discouraged ethnocentrism and promoted tolerance. Tolerance was important during the war, since a single force could not be considered unified if it were plagued by inner conflicts that weakened the whole. This emphasis of unification is exemplified within the Canadian comics, which employed diverse characters as a means to reinforce national unification; such ethnically diverse characters had never been depicted to this extent prior to the wartime. By promoting characters such as Red within the literature, comics were simultaneously inspiring their readers with nationalism and empathy for the diverse people of Canada. This had the ultimate effect of improving the unification of the country. Thus, the Canadian comic book industry was a part of an overarching wartime effort to strengthen and unify the bonds between the individual members of the Canadian population.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the comic book genre facilitated empowerment by engaging young readers with more diverse heroes, promoting acceptance and actively creating a stable Canadian home front. The widespread popularity and distribution of Bell Features comics advocated Canadian values and fortified the depiction of the Canadian identity. Essentially, serving Canada involved responsibility and active engagement in the war efforts, no matter ethnicity or political view. The representation of Indigenous minorities was building nationalistic pride and responsibility as a Canadian citizen, which in turn was being promoted to the young readers of the time. The notion of defending Canada reflected the core Canadian values, humility and protecting allies, and was intended to inspire nationalism in the youth (Grace and Hoffman 4). Through an analysis of Indigenous representation, the significance of the “noble savage” stereotype, and the comic book genre’s influence within Canadian literature as a political tool, the character of Red in “Dixon of the Mounted” encouraged unification among the Canadian population and bolstered the Canadian home front during the wartime. Indeed, the national discourse promoted through the use of such heroic Indigenous characters elevates them as a cornerstone for what the Canadian identity should entail: humility, and tolerance for the diversity which makes up our nation.

Works Cited

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Canada, 8 July 2015, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada.

Bell, John. Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe. Dundurn, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=611683#.

Bumsted, J. M. The Peoples of Canada : A Post – Confederation History. Oxford University Press, 2008. ProQuest, http://search.proquest.com/docview/887547210/citation/526E25B14D344555PQ/1.

Campbell, Grant. “William Collins during World War II: Nationalism Meets a Wartime Economy in Canadian Publishing.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, vol. 39, no. 1, 2001, pp. 45-65,  https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/bsc/article/view/18199.

Kulbach, René. “Dixon of the Mounted.” Active Comics, no. 11. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, May 1943, pp. 1-8. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166512.pdf

“Noble Savage: Literary Concept.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 April 2016. www.britannica.com/art/noble-savage.

Grace, Dominick, and Hoffman, Eric. The Canadian Alternative: Cartoonists, Comics, and Graphic Novels. University Press of Mississippi, 2017. Ryerson Library.

Takeda, Nazumi, and Williams, James H. “Pluralism, Identity, and the State: National Education Policy Towards Indigenous Minorities in Japan and Canada.” Comparative Education, vol. 44, no. 1, 2008, pp. 75-91, https://journals-scholarsportal-info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/details/03050068/v44i0001/75_piatsnimijac.xml

Woods, Christopher. Lieutenant-Colonel J.F.R. Akehurst, Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion, First Special Service Force, Examines Sergeant Tommy Prince’s Military Medal, Which Was Awarded for “Distinguished and Gallant Service” at Anzio. Buckingham Palace, London, England, 12 February 1945, 12 February 1945. Faces of the Second World War Collection. Library and Archives Canada, 3191549, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/second-world-war/faces-second-war/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=7.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Females as Supportive Sidekicks to the Male Protagonists in Active Comics No. 14

© Copyright 2018 Sarah Morris, Ryerson University

Introduction

The 1940s not only brought on the devastation that was the Second World War, but also helped with the advancements and changing roles of Canadian women. The Second World War, being larger than that of the First World War meant that Canadian women had to step up to replace the countless men that had to head overseas as soldiers. Women all over Canada were moving into the everyday and militaristic workforce (Yesil 103). Women had become much more prominent in society, and this is what began to be seen in the female characters of Canadian comics. The fourteenth issue of Active Comics, released under Bell Features, in Toronto, Canada, during 1943 is where these prominent female characters are seen. There are four specific comics from the fourteenth issue that are significant to the research of supportive female characters being “Capt. Red Thortan”, “Thunderfist”, “King of Fury”, and “Active Jim”. The female characters that play big roles in these comics are “Missy Howath”, “Dave’s unnamed sister”, “Tanya”, and “Joan Brian”, respectively. Each of these female characters play important roles in their comics when it comes to helping the male protagonists fulfilling their heroic duties. It is these supportive female characters that then aid the research topic of why female characters were so commonly depicted as supportive sidekicks to the male protagonists (heroes) in the fourteenth issue of Active Comics.

Having a better understanding as to why these female characters were shown as supportive sidekicks can reveal how the real women of Canada were being perceived in media and everyday life. The perception of women during the early and mid-20th century is complicated as there was advancements, but also disadvantages. Women were being seen as strong and independent during the war, but they were also only being shown as the supporters. It was the male soldiers who were being seen as the heroes of the war, while the women were there to aid them. The female characters in Active Comics represent this contrast of being seen as independent, and as only sidekicks. These more supportive and helpful roles that the female sidekicks play can be linked back to the Canadian Women’s Army Corps during the Second World War, the changing roles of women from the 1930s to the Second World War, and even the strong influence of the popular Nancy Drew novel series.

The CWAC and “King of Fury”

The female sidekick in “King of Fury”, Tanya, is a perfect example of the real Canadian women who held positions in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) (Dundas, Durflinger). Tanya, who works with the Nazis, has a higher ranked position than some of her male counterparts. When Tanya asks to be let inside the prison cell of one of the male protagonists, the Nazi soldier allows her in, although the soldier is reluctant, as explained by the narrator, he cannot say no to her (Lipas 29). Like Tanya, many Canadian women also held high positions in militaristic jobs. Mary Dover was the second highest ranked women in the Canadian forces, and was well respected by both men and women (Thrift 10). Tanya and Mary Dover  are similar through their high ranked positions, and their support for the men in their lives. It is understandable to see a woman in Canadian comics with such a high ranked position, when many women in Canada were the same.

A photograph of Mary Dover in uniform taken in 1942.
“Mary Dover (1905 to 1994)”. Alberta Champions, 1942. http://albertachampions.org/ Champions/mary-dover-1905-1944/.

The support that Tanya provides for the male protagonist can also be linked back to the women of the CWAC. As Mary Dover once stated:

“As men are needed to take their place in the field of battle, so the women are needed in theirs behind the lines…” (Thrift 9).

The women of the CWAC and Tanya are all supporters, and would explain why, despite having higher positions, are still only the sidekicks to the male protagonists. Mary Dover was known to say that once the war was over, the women would leave their positions, and go back to their household duties (Thrift 7). This is comparable to when Tanya is injured by Nazi gunfire, and the male protagonist must bring her to safety. in the end, the women of the CWAC will go back to their household duties and Tanya will be saved by the male heroes. The women of the CWAC and Tanya of “King of Fury”, although independent women with high ranked jobs, are still only the sidekicks to the heroes. Seeing the female character as a sidekick to the male hero is not only seen in “King of Fury”, but also “Capt. Red Thortan” with Missy Howath.

Changing Roles of Women and “Capt. Red Thortan”

Over the course of the Second World War, the roles of women went through a drastic change (Yesil 103). Women began working in predominantly male based professions, like factory work, as men took their place as soldiers for the ongoing war. The changing of Canadian women’s roles can be seen in the abundant amounts of Canadian war propaganda, which urged women to join the working force. The changing of female roles is also depicted in Canadian comics, with many female characters playing supporting roles for the male protagonists.

Canadian propaganda poster from 1943 titled "ATTACK ON ALL FRONTS".
Rogers, Mr. Reginald Hubert. “WARTIME PRODUCTION POSTER, ATTACK ON ALL FRONTS”. Canadian War Museum, 19730004-030, Wartime Information Board, 1943. https://www. warmuseum.ca/collections/artifact/1019736/.

The comic “Capt. Red Thortan” shows this supportive female role through the character Missy Howath. The Japanese, who have captured Howath and Red (the male protagonist), say that Howath is a very wealthy Dutch woman. It is later revealed that Missy Howath must be in a position of power or has slight influence as an unnamed Indigenous man frees the male protagonist, Red, so they can go and help Howath. It is Missy Howath’s unknown influence (as of issue fourteen of Active Comics) that frees the male protagonist from captivity, leading to her own liberation. However, Missy Howath’s character, despite her power, still conforms to the early 20th century’s idea of “stereotypical femininity” (Hall, Lopez-Gydosh, Orzada 234). After she is saved, Missy praises Red for saving her, as if Red’s escape from captivity was of his own doing. Although Missy Howath enabled Red’s escape from prison, she is still merely portrayed as the supporter, while Red is shown as the hero. The roles of supporter and hero were also being seen in the real world with Canadian women and men. Even though Canadian women were stepping up to take on the previous jobs of the men, they were still only the supporters to the ‘real’ heroes of the Second World War, the male soldiers. However, these changing roles of Canadian women were not the only things influencing Canadian comics as other aspects of the entertainment industry were as well.

Nancy Drew’s Influence in “Thunderfist” and “Active Jim”

The Nancy Drew novels were a series that, after first coming out in 1930, became immensely popular with children and young adults (Boesky 189). Nancy Drew was an iconic heroine character, known for her independence and brilliant detective skills (Cornelius). These traits are also present in the female characters of Canadian comic books, such as “Thunderfist” and “Active Jim”. Both these comics include female characters who aid the male protagonists of the story with their detective skills. Dave’s unnamed sister in “Thunderfist” is the one to inform Thunderfist (the male protagonist) about the gangster’s plot to steal money, and possibly murder her brother. If it was not for the information that Dave’s sister presented, then Thunderfist would never have known about the dire situation.

A scene with Active Jim and Joan Brian from the comic "Active Jim".
Dariam. “Active Jim”. Active Comics, no. 14, 1943, pp. 53-56, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1943, Toronto. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166515.pdf.

Nancy Drew’s influence is even more prominent in the character Joan Brian from the comic “Active Jim”. In “Active Jim”, Joan and Jim overhear important gossip from some girls in their university. At Jim’s request, Joan quickly enters the girl’s conversation, and acquires the details that they need to continue on with their mission of stopping the Nazi supporters. Joan Brian is very similar to Nancy Drew in the fact that her role is to infiltrate and obtain information that will aid her in her missions (with Jim). The only difference with the female characters in comics, compared to Nancy Drew is that they are not the heroines in the story. These female comic characters have more realistic standings with the real women of Canada as they were both the supporters of the men. The women were the sidekicks, and not the ‘heroes’ of the war, as that went to the male soldiers. However, this does not mean that women were not treated fairly, compared to their male counterparts. The truth of how women were seen during the Second World War is not as obvious as many would like to think.

The Complicated Roles of Women

It is almost impossible to know exactly how women, as a collective, were treated during the Second World War as it is unfair to ultimately decide that all women were either treated as lesser or as equals to men. It is better to assume that the roles and treatment of women were improving, but with the prolonged presence of some misogynistic aspects. When analyzing the roles that the female characters in Active Comics played, they can be seen as both independent women and stereotypical “damsels in distress”. Characters like Tanya and Missy Howath despite possessing higher positions of power, still are saved by the male protagonists. Tanya is described as a “burden” (Lipas 31) that the male protagonist has to carry to safety, while Missy Howath throws herself into Red’s arms when he saves her. Both women are the reason that the male protagonists are able to escape, yet it is the males who are shown as the heroes of the comics. It is the same with the characters of Joan Brian, and Dave’s unnamed sister, who are influenced by Nancy Drew, despite not being the heroines of the story, like Nancy Drew is in her novels. The female sidekicks are the main reason why the male heroes are able to complete their missions, and without the women, the men would not be able to function, in both the comic world and the real world.

Conclusion

The common depiction of female characters as supportive sidekicks to the male protagonists in Active Comics issue fourteen is a research question that requires further investigation to fully be understood. Not being able to ask the Active Comics illustrators and writers, means that the exact intentions of the supportive female characters cannot be known. The influence of the evolving roles of Canadian women, and the Nancy Drew novel series are very likely to be the inspiration for the female characters in Canadian comics. Tanya and Missy Howath both share similarities with the improving roles of Canadian women during the Second World War. Tanya is a women of high standing in the military, as were the women of the CWAC. Missy Howath is an example of women being seen with more influencing positions, as she is someone that the Japanese are interested in. Joan Brian and Dave’s unnamed sister share detective like similarities with the popular heroine of the novel series Nancy Drew. However, these women are not fully in control of the story, as that goes to the male protagonists that they aid. Tanya is described by the narrator as being a burden to the male protagonist when he has to carry her, while Missy Howath throws herself into Red’s arm to thank him for saving her. Joan Brian and Dave’s unnamed sister, although sharing many similarities with Nancy Drew, they are not the heroines of the story, like Nancy Drew is. The female comic characters, although helpful, are merely the sidekicks to the male heroes, like how Canadian women were the supporters for the male soldiers.


Work Cited

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Patriotism in Active Comics no. 5/ Instilling the Canadian Identity

 

©Copyright 2018 @Yousef Farhang, Ryerson University

Introduction

American comics were popular during WW2, and the Canadian youth immensely enjoyed reading them. However, the Canadian Whites, “due to the black and white interiors that distinguished them from the four-color American comics of the period, arose in response to the wartime importation ban on non- essential goods that removed American comic books from Canadian newsstands” (Beaty 429). These comics were used an entertainment medium for young readers, and influenced the role of youth during the war. Political messages were spread in newsletters and narratives of these comics to direct the readers into being faithful towards their country. In Active Comics no.5, the repeating theme of loyalty portrayed by Active Jim and other narratives, portrays the political aspects of the comics during the war, and how these messages were ultimately used to instill the Canadian identity into both the male and female readers. These comics advertise allegiance in their narratives, while also challenging the political issues of the war.

Themes in Comics: Loyalty

The Canadian Whites were not just a medium for entertainment. They included a variety of themes in their stories to influence the readers. Active Comics no. 5 (May 1943) is filled with stories about different superheroes who fight evil and represent the Canadian identity through their actions. In fact, Active Jim, “an athletic and clean-cut young man who serves as the spokesman and figurehead of the Club and who, from this issue on, merits a regular story in Active Comics until issue 24” is the voice of a Canadian youth during the war who advertises loyalty and how vital it is to be allegiant (Kocmarek 157). By using a character such as Active Jim, the writers not only made these comics interesting, but they also effectively included themes of loyalty which influenced patriotism to the children and adolescents who read these comic books.

As previously mentioned, the comic books were not only there for entertainment. Ann Babic, in her 2013 novel Comics as History, Comics as Literature, says “the stories within [the comic book’s] pages are more complex than a tale of a hero surpassing a villain” (Babic 15). In the Canadian White comics, there are some deliberate choices of themes in these comics. The comics bring political ideas to readers through their theme of good versus evil, which is portrayed by the superheroes and the villains. Active Comics no. 5 portrays the themes of good vs. evil by having two narratives where the hero of the story stops a villain who attempts to betray their own country. To illustrate, in the first story if Active Comics no. 5, “Dixon Of The Mounted,” Dixon, who is the protagonist of the story,

Steele, T.A. (w.a). Active
Comics. Dixon of the Mounted. No.5, May 1942, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

finds out the sheriff of the town is helping the villain of the story get away with his crimes. Similarly, in the story “The Brain,” the mayor of the city deceives everyone into thinking that he is helping the hero of the story, The Brain, save the city from Dr. Black who is a corrupted villain. However, The Brain is able to outsmart the mayor, and reveals that he was in fact Dr. Black. Aside from having racial intentions in naming a villain “Black,” which is interpreted as people of colour being evil, both of these short narratives were written to portray the themes of not only good versus evil, but also the theme of loyalty. In both stories, the villains were of high authority (sheriff and mayor) and are both breaking the law. In this way, the writers of the comics were able to show how being disloyal is being evil and it leads to not succeeding. Although the theme of loyalty is covert here, it is obvious that the plot of these stories had a message behind them and were done deliberately. To glorify loyalty and patriotism, Active Jim is a utility used by the writers of the comics to remind the audience of their duty towards their country. In fact, “Active Jim’s Monthly Message” does the same job as those two narratives. As mentioned before, in this monthly message, Active Jim praises loyalty and explains the importance of being loyal towards the “king and country” (Active Comics no. 17). This section of the comic is dedicated to a whole message about why allegiance is important. With the corrupted characters losing in every story, and the theme of loyalty and its benefits being spread in the comic, it is evident that that the repetition of this theme is vital because it is glorifying loyalty and denouncing corruptness.

Loyalty was taken seriously when it came to the Second World War. The pressure of war forced governments to do as much as they could to minimize any betrayal of loyalty. In fact, they praised loyalty through propaganda and newspapers. For example, in “French-Canadian Loyalty Demonstrated at Montreal,” a newspaper article from April 14th 1942, it is mentioned that “loyalty is, and always has been, one of the greatest qualities of French-Canadians” (“French-Canadian Loyalty Demonstrated at Montreal”). This praising of allegiance illustrates how much loyalty was important to Canada, and how conveying themes of loyalty in comics was not out of the ordinary and in fact, done deliberately.

Challenging The Norms of Political Messages

During the war, political messages were spread using many different mediums from television, radios, newspapers, and, of course, comics. While political messages that glorified Canada are easily spotted in Active Comics no. 5, political comments that are against Canada are not expressed overtly. However, when looking at both the art and the narratives of these comics, it is safe to assume the writers did have their own opinion of their government and what they thought of it. Going back to “Dixon Of the Mounted” and “The Brain,” these two stories do have messages that challenge the corruptness of the government of Canada itself. For instance, Dr. Black, who ends up being the mayor, wears a hat that has the British flag on it. This hat is very hard to see in the comic because it is shaded extremely dark. However, when looked closely, it is obvious that the hat does have the

L, Bachle. Panel from “The Brain”Active Comics, No. 5, May 1942, p. 18. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

British flag on it. The hat is significant because the artists of the comics were pointing fingers at the people in authority who ran the government (Dr. Black does after all end up being the mayor) and questioning their faithfulness towards their country. Similarly, in “Dixon of the Mounted,” it is the sheriff who is corrupted, even though it could have been anyone else in the story. Also, the sheriff being corrupt is only mentioned towards the end of the story, and they did not put much focus on that part; the writers did not challenge these norms by being blatantly obvious. This is vital because it shows how furtive the writers must have been to share their own unpopular and unwanted (by the government) opinion. This could have been because they knew what the government wanted the audience to take away from the comics, and that was to become more loyal towards their country instead of questioning if the government is corrupt or not. These issues of corruption are ways in which the writers broke thorough norms and challenged authority, while also pushing allegiance towards the readers. By doing this, the authors were able to express their own ideas through small details in the comics, while also being able to help the readers become more attached to their country and perhaps join the war for their country, since that is what their childhood heroes (the superheroes) have advertised in the comics they read.

The Male & Female Audience of The Comics

It is clear that these comics were used to push messages of loyalty to the readers and influence their ways of living during the war. However, it is vital to understand who these audiences were, and why they would be influenced by these comics. The comics “were read eagerly by the adolescents and pre-adolescents of Second World War” (Kockmarek 156). “During World War II, Canadian comics were the only option for comic book readers, [and these comics were] different from their American counterparts in their scope as well as their levels of violence and patriotism” (Reyns 15). The Canadian Whites being the only accessible comic, forced the readers to read these comics and also helped the messages these comics contained reach all the comic book fans, which were “both boys and girls” (J.L. Granatstein and F.Oliver). Knowing that both male and females read the comics, it is certain that Active Jim’s monthly message to stay loyal during the war was therefore for both the male and the female audience. It is easy to assume women did not have a role in the army, and therefore that his message most likely was not directed to the female audience of the comics. However, this is entirely false. Women were active in the war effort just as much as men, and they had many responsibilities such as “street car drivers to aircraft designers – and 1.4 million women were employed, a participation rate of almost one in three, at the wartime peak in 1945” (J.L. Granatstein and F.oliver). Understanding the role of women in connection to the comics is significant since that means the political messages of loyalty were just as much directed towards the female readers as the male readers.

Instilling The Canadian Identity

The superheroes are the characters who express loyalty towards Canada, and the evil villains are the ones described as “crooks” (Active Comics no. 5 11). The children who read these comics praised these heroes and wanted to be like them. This is why all the superheroes are men who are loyal to their countries. According to Beaty, the superheroes in these comics represent the Canadian identity (Beaty 431). With this being said, the superheroes were “not just entertaining fantasy figures” (Beaty 431), and indeed they played a much higher role. The roles of heroes such as The Brain were to show what a good soldier is like and how important it is to not lose your self identity. However, having superheroes who have powers was not very productive in influencing the readers. Therefore, the comics that “were often doled out by teenage creators only a little older than” the readers themselves” (Kocmarek 157), used characters like Active Jim to leave more room for the readers to relate to the comics. Active Jim did not have any powers and was an ordinary teenager during the war. He was the perfect example of a hero who was “exciting, but not overly exciting; active in the war, but not so active as to accomplish much of significance” (Beaty 430). Including relatable characters was done deliberately to help the readers connect to the characters more which ultimately helps the influence of the heroes become much higher; if the heroes did something completely unimaginable for the readers, the young readers would not be able to put themselves in the position of the hero and therefore not relate to the Canadian identity.

Conclusion

The Canadian Whites have been part of the Canadian culture since the Second World War and have been a great medium to influence the children of war. These comic books were not only used as entertainment in a time of war, where Canada was having difficulties with American goods; they were also used to influence the young readers to become more patriotic towards their home country. The political messages of allegiance spread by the narratives such as “The Brain” and “Dixon of The Mounted,” as well as “Active Jim’s monthly messages,” all contributed in helping the comic writers shape the Canadian identity and influence readers to not betray their own country and even join the war to support their leaders and families.

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