Category Archives: 2017 Canadian Whites

Cover of Wow Comics No. 8, part of the Canadian Whites collection.

The Everyman Hero in Canadian WWII Comics (Wow Comics No. 8)

© 2018 Kelley Doan, Ryerson University

When Canadians think about comic book heroes, most of us refer to characters that are American: they were created in America, they represent American ideas and ideals, and most of the stories are set in American cities or places that, if fictional, are easily recognized as intended to be American. However, while entertainment in Canada does tend to be overwhelmed by American influence, there was a golden age of Canadian comics during which artists and writers took advantage of a pause in access to American content to create Canadian heroes.

Cover of Wow Comics No. 8, part of the Canadian Whites collection.
Title: Wow Comics No. 8
Creator: Bell Features and Publishing Company
Source: http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166671.pdf

In examining Bell Features’ Wow Comics No. 8, I realized that something seemed different about the main characters. These Canadian comic book heroes, in contrast to their American counterparts, were without superhuman powers or superscientific weapons, and this was true of largely all Canadian comic book heroes of the time. For example, in Wow Comics No. 8, heroes Dart Daring, Jeff Waring, Crash Carson, and Whiz Wallace were all simple adventurers (Legault et al.). Most of them were everyman heroes – the average citizen with a passion to set things right and an exceptional dose of courage – with whom readers could identify rather than idolize. Two major contributing factors brought about this new class of comic book hero. Cultural differences in Canada were reflected in their character, particularly a differing notion of what is heroic. More relevant, though, is the impact of propaganda which was used to muster support for the Canadian war effort and was found in all forms of media at this time, including those directed at children. An exploration of the more prominent Canadian comic book heroes as purveyors of the message of unity and call for support sheds some light not only on the origin of future Canadian comic book heroes, but also indicates reasons – beyond a fraught publishing industry – that those later heroes struggled to find more than a niche audience.

Canadian Comics: The Origin Story

Comic books made their debut in the late 1920’s, rising from the popularity of the comic strip. Comic strips were meant solely for entertainment, unlike the already established political cartoon, and the comic book followed suit. There were a number of Canadian comic strips in print, but American artists and publishers had established a foothold in the genre early on, and Canadian comics found little success in syndication beyond our borders (Bell and Viau, “Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929-1940”). Even within Canada, publishers faced financial challenges, in part due to the popularity of the American comic books flooding the market thanks to a much stronger American publishing industry (Edwardson 184).

The Daisybelle comic strip by Gene Byrnes from The Funnies No. 2, 1936.
Title: “Daisybelle”
Creator: Gene Byrnes
Source: http://digitalcomicmuseum.com/index.php?dlid=5640
Copyright: Public Domain

As the popularity of comic strips, known as “the funnies”, increased, the adventure genre strips emerged. Among the first of these was Superman. While he is frequently said to be a Canadian creation – the National Film Board included him in one of their Heritage Minutes and he was part of a collection of stamps commemorating Canadian comic book heroes – the truth is that the connection is very minimal. Superman’s creator, Joe Shuster, was born and lived in Toronto until he was eight years old. He then moved to the United States where he created Superman, who fought for “Truth, justice, and the American way” (Beaty 428). Superman was more than an adventurer, though. He was the first of the superheroes, with powers beyond those of a human being. Children on both sides of the border saw the appeal immediately (Bell and Viau, “Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929-1940”s). Canada’s own Mordecai Richler was a fan, remarking that, “They were invulnerable, all-conquering, whereas we were puny, miserable, and defeated” (Richler 80). Whatever his heritage, Superman’s popularity paved the way for an ever-increasing roster of superheroes, including Batman, Arrow, and Flash Gordon.

Many superheroes got their start in comic strips, and comic books began as compilations of the strips; but publishers rather quickly noticed that comic books had a greater potential, one which included longer-form storytelling and experimenting with elements not possible in strips. Children embraced this new medium as much as they did the superheroes that filled the comic books’ pages, and a new sector of American publishing took off like a speeding bullet. Emphasis is on the American industry, because although there were thousands of fans and a large market in Canada, those Canadians who were part of the comic book boom generally had to move to America to work (Bell and Viau, “Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929-1940”).

A child at the Children's Colony, a school for refugee children in New York, N.Y. reading a Superman comic.
Title: New York, N.Y. Children’s Colony, a school for refugee children Creator: Marjory Collins Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:N.Y._Children%27s_Colony_04108v.jpg Copyright: Public Domain

As war approached, though, this would change drastically. On the heels of Canada’s declaration of war in 1939 came the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA), which restricted the importation of non-essential goods including comics. The embargo prompted the formation of Canada’s own publishing industry comprising a group of publishers and their works known later as The Canadian Whites, and provided an opportunity for Canadian artists to produce their own heroes (Bell and Viau, “Canadian Golden Age of Comics, 1941-1946”): heroes which better represented the Canadian audience; heroes who used Canadian cultural references; heroes who could relay messages to the audiences that felt so much more connected to them, a point which did not go unnoticed.

 

Propaganda in Comics: The Art of Persuasion

The word “propaganda” often conjures ideas of nefarious government deeds, but that is not always or even often the case. It is simply a form of communication with a cause at the heart of its agenda, and can be completely benign or even beneficial. Much like marketing, it is a form of persuasion, but propaganda is enhanced by ideology. As an integral part of a democracy (Batrasheva 8), it is not hard to understand why propaganda is used during war time, when it is of vital importance for governments to unite citizens in support of the war effort.

In 1942, the Wartime Information Board was created from the previous entity, the Bureau of Public Information, changing the mandate from simply providing war-related information to the public to using techniques of persuasion to manage Canadians’ perceptions of and feelings about the war (Young 190-91). Following on the Bureau of Public Information’s failure to rouse support in more traditional and grandiose ways, the Wartime Information Board created the idea of a “people’s war”. Canadians disliked American “brouhaha and victory parades”. They felt that patriotism was being forced upon them, but were inspired by the idea that neighbours together could fight the enemy and build a better society (Young 192-93). It was a young idea that needed a young method of relaying the message.

Among the messages necessary to impart to Canadians during World War II was the integral idea that the war effort, despite the tremendous impact on their lives, was important and good; among the motivations for that message was avoiding the need for conscription and a repeat of the 1917 crisis (English) which divided the nation because French Canada felt disconnected from the cause (“The Conscription Crisis”); in fact the Canadian government eventually avoided the need to send conscripts overseas until nearly the end of the war (Jones and Granatstein). While support had to be stirred in both the men who would go overseas to fight and the women who remained and took on the extra work of supplying the needs of the troops in addition to maintaining their families and communities, it was also important to address the children, whose fathers were suddenly absent and in many cases may never return.

Canadian WWII industrial propaganda poster
Title: Canadian WWII industrial propaganda poster
Creator: Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Company Limited
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Our_Answer_All-Out_Production,_Canada,_WWII_Propaganda_Poster.jpg
Copyright: Public Domain

Wartime propaganda is typically of the integration type, seeking to unify society to a common goal (Batrasheva 12). The transference technique, which connects the intended message to something the audience respects or reveres (Batrasheva 16), is especially useful with children as it emulates the parental role. To reach children, the most obvious choice was their current favourite: comic books. Since the favourite characters of the day were already adventure heroes, it was simple enough to send those characters off to war. Combining transference with the plain folks technique – a method aimed at connecting well known figures to activities that should be imitated (Batrasheva 18) – which appealed to both children and those who were on board with the “people’s war” ideal, one of the obvious methods of communication was through entertainment, particularly using popular figures who represented both the war effort’s message and connected with the average citizen. Comic books, with their young market, were an effective medium., particularly since the heroes in Canada’s World War II comics already differed from American heroes in one crucial way: they were not supermen, they were everymen.

Not All Heroes Are Super

The more well-known comic book heroes of the day were American, and the hero among these that best represented American nationalism and support for the war effort was Captain America, who first appeared in 1941. While Captain America began as an average citizen who passionately wanted to go to war and fight the Nazis, he was a sickly man who was not able to enlist. However, he was offered the chance to participate in a government experiment during which he received the Super-Soldier formula and was exposed to “vita-rays”, after which he had a perfect (though still human) body. His physical prowess was enhanced by a shield made of an impenetrable, indestructible, and fictional metal (“Captain America”).

While Captain America is written as a human, the level of perfection raises the character to a level unattainable in reality and carries a super-real shield thus elevating him to the level of superhero. Examining the real-life people that Americans celebrated as war heroes, I found many highly decorated people such as actor Audie Murphy, who at age 19 “manned a machine gun on a burning tank and made a desperate solo attack against German forces”, for which he won the Medal of Honor, and upon which he built his film career (Andrews). This type of hero reflects a preference for a hierarchy of supporting characters following one extraordinary leader, and supports ideals of patriotism and rarefied bravery, and the message that with the support of American citizens the government will send a hero to save the day.

Title: “Johnny Canuck”
Creator: Leo Baschle
Source: http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166581.pdf

On the other hand, Canada’s main wartime nationalistic comic book hero, Johnny Canuck – who first appeared in 1942, the same year as the Wartime Information Board – was the kind of hero that most Canadians could become. Many knew someone of similar ability, be it their family, friend, or neighbour. Johnny Canuck was an excellent athlete who regularly fought Hitler with his bare hands. Although he had no superhuman powers, weaponry, or armour (Beaty 430) he was designed to be “Canada’s answer to Nazi oppression” (Bachle et al. 1) In fact Leo Bachle was an adolescent when he created Johnny Canuck, drawing him in his own image and including friends and even his teachers in the stories. Johnny Canuck was truly an everyman hero (Plummer).

A photograph of Elsie MacGill during her CCF tenure.
Title: “Elsie MacGill during her CCF tenure.”
Creator: Elsie Gregory MacGill
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elsie_macgill.jpg
Copyright: Public Domain

Of course, Canada had some decorated heroes as well, but given our smaller more supporting role, the everyman hero better represented Canadian ideals and mirrored the real-life heroes they venerated, such as Elsie MacGill who led the Hawker Hurricane manufacturing project that supplied fighter planes to Allied Forces and became known as Queen of the Hurricanes, and Leo Major who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for liberating an entire city by himself, but did so by using his intelligence to trick the Germans rather than brute force (Ferreras).

Conclusion

While Canada and America were united by participation in World War II, their roles were very different. The messages relayed by propaganda to the citizenry were also dissimilar, but this is at least as much due to cultural differences, as Canadians generally saw their mostly supporting role as every bit as important as that of the American troops, not to mention that Canada was involved earlier (Young 190).

While later Canadian hero Captain Canuck – one of the few to emerge in the decades following the war – did have superpowers, he embodied many of the characteristics of Johnny Canuck, and is often confused for a later interpretation of the Canadian Whites hero (Edwardson 189-91). Canadian society had moved on, but Captain Canuck clung mostly to the everyman values that portrayed Canada as “a “peaceable kingdom”” (Edwardson 184), an idea created by the Wartime Information Board to connect to audiences. Later readers had no need for this type of character and, once again inundated with American escapist entertainment, spent their dollars in support of American superheroes.

Nevertheless, the Canadian Whites are an interesting and all too often overlooked part of our literary history. They represent the tenacity of Canadians in the face of war and in the pursuit of entertainment; our ability to band together to fight the enemy in hope of a better world; and our ability to come together and create a whole arts industry that represents Canadians more than it imitates American content, when given the space to do so.


Works Cited

Andrews, Evan. “Audie Murphy’s World War II Heroics, 70 Years Ago.” HISTORY.Com, http://www.history.com/news/audie-murphys-world-war-ii-heroics-70-years-ago. Accessed 10 Jan. 2018.

Bachle, Leo, et al. Johnny Canuck. Chapterhouse Publishing Incorporated, 2016.

Bachle, Leo. Johnny Canuck. 1945.

Batrasheva, Yeldana. Children and the Media: Propaganda Methods Aimed at Children during World War II. 2016, https://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=12&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjzrqeH2d_WAhWlx4MKHX3iBnkQFghNMAs&url=https%3A%2F%2Felearning.unyp.cz%2Fpluginfile.php%2F58141%2Fmod_data%2Fcontent%2F1862%2FBatrasheva%252C%2520Yeldana_510135_Senior%2520Project%2520Thesis.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0UPYbTLSCTXTppKgA-utKz.

Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, Oct. 2006, pp. 427–39.

Bell, John, and Michel Viau. “Canadian Golden Age of Comics, 1941-1946.” Collections Canada, https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8300-e.html. Accessed 7 Jan. 2018.

Bell, John, and Michel Viau. “Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929-1940.” Collections Canada, https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8200-e.html. Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

Byrnes, Gene. Daisybelle Comic on Page 32 of The Funnies. 1 Nov. 1936. http://digitalcomicmuseum.com/index.php?dlid=5640, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daisybelle_-_The_Funnies,_No._2_02.jpg.

“Captain America.” Marvel Directory, http://www.marveldirectory.com/individuals/c/captainamerica.htm.

Collins, Marjory. New York, N.Y. Children’s Colony, a School for Refugee Children. Oct. 1942. Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:N.Y._Children%27s_Colony_04108v.jpg.

Edwardson, Ryan. “The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and the Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Superhero.” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 184–201.

English, John R. “Wartime Information Board.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/wartime-information-board/. Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

Ferreras, Jesse. “11 Canadian War Heroes We Can’t Forget On November 11.” HuffPost Canada, 9 Nov. 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/11/09/canadian-war-heroes-remembrance-day_n_8475820.html.

Jones, Richard, and J. L. Granatstein. “Conscription.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/conscription/. Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

Legault, E. T., et al., editors. Wow Comics: No. 8. Bell Features and Publishing Company, 1942.

MacGill, Elsie Gregory. Elsie MacGill during Her CCF Tenure. Apr. 1938. Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elsie_macgill.jpg.

Plummer, Kevin. “Historicist: Toronto’s Golden Age of Comic Books.” Torontoist, 20 Nov. 2010, https://torontoist.com/2010/11/historicist_torontos_golden_age_of_comic_books/.

Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Company Limited. Canadian WWII Industrial Propaganda Poster. 1940s. WWII propaganda poster (Immediate source: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/301459768779680901/), Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Our_Answer_All-Out_Production,_Canada,_WWII_Propaganda_Poster.jpg.

Richler, Mordecai. “The Great Comic Book Heroes.” Hunting Tigers Under Glass, McClelland and Stewart, 1968.

“The Conscription Crisis.” CBC Learning, http://www.cbc.ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP12CH2PA3LE.html.

Young, William R. “Mobilizing English Canada for War: The Bureau of Public Information, the Wartime Information Board and a View of the Nation During the Second World War.” The Second World War as a National Experience, HyperWar Foundation, https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/Canada/Natl_Exp/NatlExp-14.html.

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.

Using Humor As A Method to Promote Propaganda with Dizzy Don No. 8

© Copyright 2017 Sahra Alikouzeh, Ryerson University

Introduction

Fig. 1. Manny Easson. Panel from “The Mystery of The Million Dollar Baby” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 8, 1943, Bell Features & Publishing Company Limited. p. 1. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166599.pdf

This post will focus on Manny Easson’s eighth comic issue, titled “The Mystery of the Million Dollar Baby”, apart of Bell Features, Great Canadian White Collection. The Great Canadian White Collection is a series of comic books published between the years 1941 to 1946. Due to the importation banning of American comics, this revolutionized an era titled the “Canadian Golden Age of Comics”. (Bell) Issued during World War two, the method of using humor in texts was a popular choice by authors as it not only provided reader’s a mere moment of distraction from the stressful times occurring, but to also allow readers to explore an alternative escapist reality. This post will also discuss the use of the main character, Dizzy Don, who is the protagonist of this comic book intended for children, and some of the influential effects this text has. Understanding how hard the toll of the war was on the Canadians at home, the easygoing nature of the comic book genre can be seen as a stress-reliever suitable for all.

Through the use of humor, authors also took the time to incorporate their own messages within their text to sway the reader’s perspective.

Canadianization

Dating back to the moment in World War 2 where Canada joined the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Canada provided an indispensable amount of contribution to the generation of British air power. Despite the eventual success due to the tag teaming by both the Canadian air force and the British, Canada made sure to enforce the continued national identification of their personnel. The reason being that national identification allowed for the increase of Canadian political independence. Despite the mixed review received from Britain about the separation, many Canadians embraced the newfound “Canadianization” (Johnston, 2015) Going ahead with this bold move, it was one that was successful as Canadians celebrated, ensuring the importance of their national identity. National identity also increased the amount of Canadians distancing themselves from those whom were seen as non-Canadian. This distance led to the emergence of the anti-immigration perspective.

Fig. 1. Manny Easson. Panel from “The Mystery of The Million Dollar Baby” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 8, 1943, Bell Features & Publishing Company Limited, p. 5. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166599.pdf

In order to feel patriotic there is the aspect of appreciating one’s culture and then there is also the put down of other cultures, as a form of whom is to be regarded as superior. The Nazi’s are mocked in this panel due to the faux imitation of their accents. Mocking is a sign of discrediting intelligence and belittling the culture and foreign language being spoken. It provokes this feeling of alienation, humiliation, and disrespect to those of the mocked heritage. This displays how some Canadians felt about German foreigners and their own air of superiority.

Germanophobia

During the time of World War 2 as many soldiers were abroad fighting, Germans in Canada were suspicious of their fellow Canadians. There were many posters and propaganda alike, floating around in promotion of hailing Canadians at war, while at the same degrading the Germans. The method of spreading information through mediums such as texts and the media, allowed the importance of these immigrants’ presence to go unacknowledged and ignored. Instead German immigrant’s importance was replaced with the title of an “enemy alien” (Bassler, 1990) Those with German descent in Canada began to see him or herself as unwanted, to their Canadian neighbors. In comic books there was the mockery of German accents, creation of the German characters as evil and made to look angry, all endorsing these negative stereotypes.

Fig. 1. Manny Easson. Panel from “The Mystery of The Million Dollar Baby” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 8, 1943, Bell Features & Publishing Company Limited, p. 3. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166599.pdf

There is a clear binary present as the happy American family is depicted and immediately right after, there is the aggressive German Nazi’s. By illustrating this family as those whom would sacrifice their life in order to save their kin, “The ambassador and his wife huddle around Adorable in an effort to save her life” (Easson, 1943) displays the good North American family image. Something the North American readers would be proud of to relate too. Meanwhile, representing the Germans as those opposing this happy lifestyle, with adjectives such as “merciless” when drawn as attackers.

Fig. 2. Manny Easson. Panel from “The Mystery of The Million Dollar Baby” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 8, 1943, Bell Features & Publishing Company Limited, p. 5. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166599.pdf

Humor and Propaganda

Propaganda is the aggressive dissemination of a distinct point of view for a specific purpose. Using persuasive techniques, images, wording and messages to manipulate targeted audiences. By having them assume the propagandist’s perspective is the correct vantage point of view that should be adopted, believed and acted on. (McRann, 2009) Humor allows writers and artists of all kinds to attain a method of expression. Texts embedded within comedic expressions can have large impacts on its audiences, winning over hearts, wars and minds. Humor was used as an approach during the war to construct a national identity, decoding the importance of humor, especially to children during the time of war. Wartime cartoonists were big on getting children involved in the war efforts through their drawings. (Penniston-Bird & Summerfield, 2001) These cartoonists would embrace the gender roles by drawing little boys as soldiers while also promoting the theme of national identity to little girls as well, reminding them to remain patriotic and not make amends with the opposition.

Fig. 3. Manny Easson. Panel from “The Mystery of The Million Dollar Baby” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 8, 1943, Bell Features & Publishing Company Limited, p. 2. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166599.pdf

Dizzy Don is introduced as a comedic radio host, who leads the adventures in many of The Funny Comic book issues alongside his pal Canary Byrd. As the main protagonist in this children’s comic book series, his comments and actions are depicted clearly in the story, including his sentiments. Canary Byrd starts off his interaction with Dizzy on the radio saying: “Say Dizzy – when our grocer told you that domestic sardines are 15 cents and imported 25 cents which did you take?” and Dizzy’s response: “Domestic, why should I pay their way over?” (Easson, 1943) Being introduced as a comedian aids the harsh message of how Dizzy feels about foreigners from abroad coming into his homeland. Although the banter can be taken lightly due to Dizzy’s stature as a comedian, the context of the racist message is still present right at the beginning of the story. This also displays clear patriotism, as the support for domestic products over imported is not even something to be questioned by Dizzy.

Conclusion

Humor, especially the sort that is a medium for social and political commentary, plays an important role in the community of a wartime nation. Furthermore, understanding the intention behind a text can be problematic as it reveals discovery on the social impact of the audience. (Penniston-Bird, & Summerfield, 2001) This comic uses the method of humor to promote anti-immigration sentiments, due to the light hearted stance the genre takes, in which the audience is expected to put their guard down. This creates a dimmer focus on the serious aspect of the topic when being discussed, resulting in non-consequential results from its readers. Unknowingly, this targeted audience does not realize the influence Bell Features authors’ texts have on their daily interactions and perspectives, as it creates racist stereotypes and promotes exclusion of those whom are of German descent. This aids explanation as to why there was the continuous racist endorsement; especially as many German Canadians during the war were put under a lot of scrutiny. Putting this in a children’s book allows these ideologies to also exploit the future generation and further these thoughts. Through the use of the main character Dizzy Don and his interactions, he was used as a platform to spread anti-immigration sentiments embedded within humorous texts.

Works Cited

  • Twark, E. Jill. “Approaching History as Cultural Memory Through Humor, Satire, Comics, and Graphic Novels.” RULA Archives & Special Collection, Ryerson University. Toronto, Ontario. https://journals-scholarsportal-ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/pdf/09607773/v26i0001/175_ahacmthscagn.xml. Accessed 30 Nov 2017.
  • Easson, Manny. The Funny Comic and Dizzy Don No.8: The Mystery of the Million Dollar Baby. Bell Features, 1943. Print.
  • Johnston, E. Iain. “The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and the Shaping of National Identities in the Second World War.” RULA Archives & Special Collection, Ryerson University. https://journals-scholarsportalezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/pdf/03086534/v43i0005/903_tbcatpiitsww.xml. Accessed 30 Nov 2017.
  • Bassler, Gerhard P. “Silent or Silenced Co-Founders of Canada? Reflections on the History of German Canadians.” Canadian Ethnic Studies = Etudes Ethniques Au Canada; Calgary. vol. 22, no. 1, Jan.1990, pp. 38–46.
  • Penniston-Bird. C. Summerfield. P. “Hey! You’re Dead! The multiple uses of humor in representations of British national defence in the Second World War.” RULA Archives & Special Collection, Ryerson University. https://journals-scholarsportalinfo.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/pdf/00472441/v31i0123/413_ydtmuoditsww.xml. Accessed 30 Nov 2017.

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.

 

Under-representation of Women in Whiz Wallace

© Copyright 2017 Ashlyn Good, Ryerson University

Introduction

Women have been misrepresented for years in comics, especially during the second world war. They were underrepresented within comics because they were not given credit for everything they did do during the war effort, and should be able to at least have a better depiction of themselves within media if they do not get the credit they deserve in real life.
This exhibit will be exploring the portrayal and interpretation of gender roles in comics during World War 2 in Wow Comics No. 9. The story of Whiz Wallace will be analyzed to demonstrate the struggles between power among the gender roles, the language used to describe and differentiate between characters and their roles, as well as the illustrations used which help to depict the discrimination that is implied within the comic.

 Language and Interpretation of Character

The language used within this issue of Wow Comics is very discriminatory especially during that time period. It is important because it affects the way we interpret and perceive women in the text. In Whiz Wallace, the language that the author has used implies that Elaine is evidently weaker than Whiz and seems to be dependent on him to save her. This allows the audience to interpret her as the lesser gender which is unfair to women because during that time period in real life they were actually quite useful and sometimes even more useful than men. According to the book, The 10 Cent War: Comic Books, Propaganda, and World War 2, “part of the traditional cultural structure placed men as protectors and women as protected” (Kimble, 39). In Whiz Wallace, Elaine is the more vulnerable character and depends on Whiz to save her most of the time.  Elaine is portrayed as this weak woman whom can not seem to defend herself while Whiz is depicted as strong and masculine. This means that gender roles were significant during this time and it is clearly depicted in the story of Whiz Wallace that Elaine was meant to be protected and not the protector because of her gender.

C.T Legault. Panel from “Whiz Wallace.” Wow Comics No.9, Bell Features and Publishing Company, pg. 57. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives.

In addition, another character who is also a woman is portrayed as slightly vulnerable even though she plays a powerful role: the Cobra Queen. She is a very powerful female character in this comic but unfortunately even she ends up depicted as vulnerable and more feminine rather than a strong female character. In the comic, the queen is introduced to readers as sad and void (Legault, 60) and as you continue to read on to the next page, the language used to describe the queen begins to change simultaneously. First she was a queen, then she was “queen-like”, then she became a “beautiful princess”(Legault, 61) and later on, she becomes a queen again. The change in description is significant because this means that the author gradually takes power away from this character and by doing so, exerts power onto the opposite gender almost automatically. Since this character was made more vulnerable because of language used to describe her, it proves that during this time period, men were automatically seen as the heroes or the protectors and labourers. Men are the ones who put in the most work according to the train of thought of other men during that time period and the language used within this comic is used deliberately to create an interpretation about a certain character(s).

Fig. 2: C.T Legault. Panel from “Whiz Wallace.” Wow Comics No.9, Bell Features and Publishing Company, pg. 60. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives.

Illustration and Interpretation of Women

The depiction and illustration of women within this comic is very significant because it adds to how readers interpret their character, especially women. Women are usually highly sexualized within media and it has been this way for a very long time because of the patriarchal society that has impacted it. In Whiz Wallace, the Cobra Queen and Elaine both wear more slim-fitting clothing which exposes more skin creating a more sexualized, alluring appearance which creates a sexualization which brings about the interpretation that women are sexual objects that are portrayed in order to visually please men. During this time period, women were out doing manual labour on the homefront while men were at war. This meant that a change in roles would mean a change in style as well. According to an article written about women during the war, “this change of dress is symbolic of the change in American women’s roles during the war. This adoption of masculine dress, by literally wearing the pants, is an outward expression of the cultural shift in women as homemakers to women as worker”(Hall, 237). Even though women were of great use to the war effort at the time, they were still portrayed as sexual objects with a vulnerable and feminine touch within the comic, especially in Whiz Wallace because even at the end of the comic, the Cobra Queen is clearly attracted to Whiz, even though he is merely an Earthman. Overall, “there are fewer women than men… portrayed as interested in romance or as less-powerful adjuncts to male characters, the women are shown in skimpy clothing and in poses that accentuate their curves while male characters are portrayed as athletic and action-oriented” (Cocca, 7). This demonstrates that women will be seen as lesser than men and the author of the comic has depicted that women are sexual beings which are created in order to please men.

 

“Mansel in Distress”: Power Struggle Between Genders and Characters

In the comic, there is an interesting power struggle among gender roles within Whiz Wallace, because of the differences and similarities between Elaine and the Cobra Queen, in contrast to Whiz, and his more masculine role. According to the book, Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation, “the superhero genre in comics… underrepresents women in position of power, both as real life creators and as fictional characters” (Cocca, 1). In this comic, the Cobra Queen is a strong female character in the sense that she is the one to save Whiz and Elaine from the army of dwarves that were ready to kill them. The Cobra Queen is introduced as a vulnerable character, who is sad and who seems to have a void as though she is missing something, but then she becomes this powerful character who takes charge and gets rid of the dwarves in order to save Whiz and Elaine. She is an interesting character because she is still portrayed as more vulnerable from Whiz even though she saved his life because near the end of the comic, she seems to be attracted to Whiz and it seems as though there could be a sort of love triangle or even a conflict because there is Elaine who also depends on Whiz for protection and potentially attraction. She calls him a “handsome earthman” (Legault, 63), which means that she must be attracted to him in some way.

In contrast, Elaine is portrayed as more dependent on Whiz to protect her because in the comic she does not seem to be able to take care of things on her own without referring back with Whiz. For example, when the couple was getting attacked the army of dwarves, Elaine was not able to handle it and had to wait for Whiz to save her because her character is depicted as weak and vulnerable and clearly unable to handle herself (Legault, 57). They are referred to as a couple in the comic which means there must be some sort of relationship between them and since Elaine depends on Whiz more, this clearly demonstrates that Whiz is the one with the power between the three characters.

Furthermore, Whiz is depicted as masculine and strong which men usually are within media, especially during that time period, which exerts a type of power which is clearly demonstrated throughout the entire story. Even though Whiz is sort of a ‘mansel in distress’ in this comic, he still contains a significant power of the women in the story. He attracts both female characters with his looks which sexualizes the women within the comic proving them to be more vulnerable than men, making them lose their power almost altogether. The characters in this comic struggle metaphorically with power in relation to who is the more dominant gender.

 

Conclusion

Overall, women are misrepresented within comics as well as during the war effort at that time. In this comic, even though there was more stronger, female character, she was still depicted as vulnerable with very feminine qualities. Then there was Elaine, who was depicted as the typical damsel in distress, awaiting Whiz to save the day. According to the book Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation, “the underrepresentation of women… and the repetition of inequalities in fiction… are unacceptable and can and must be changed” (Cocca, 5). This means that women should have been given a chance in real life as well as in the media to show how useful they really were as opposed to weak and useless.

Works Cited

  • Legault,​ ​E.​ ​T.,​ ​et​ ​al.,​ ​editors.​ ​​Wow Comics: No. 9.​ ​Bell​ ​Features​ ​and​ ​Publishing​ ​Company, 1942
  • Hall, Martha L., et al. “American Women’s Wartime Dress: Sociocultural Ambiguity Regarding Women’s Roles During World War II.” The Journal of American Culture, vol. 38, no. 3, 2015, pp. 232–42. Scholars Portal Journals, doi:10.1111/jacc.12357.
  • Bloomsbury.com. “Superwomen.” Bloomsbury Publishing, www.bloomsbury.com/us/superwomen-9781501316579/.
  • Goodnow, Trischa, and James J. Kimble, editors. The 10 Cent War: Comic Books, Propaganda, and World War II. University Press of Mississippi, 2016.

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.

Commando Comic No.19: Effects of Propaganda on Canadian Children

Dawn Erley

ENG 810-011

Prof. Tschofen

29 November 2017

 

In the comic Commando Comic No.19., propaganda against Japanese people is prevalent. The stories “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” and “The Young Commandos” use images that resemble Golem in reference to the Japanese, thus framing them as monstrous people. This propaganda instills a negative view of Japanese people in the minds of Canadian children, and is dangerous as it could lead to future racism.

 

Comic Context

 

Commando Comic No. 19 Title Page.

Moyer, Hy, et al. “Commando Comic No.19.” Commando Comic No.19, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1945, pp.1-56.

 

Commando Comic No.19 was created in 1945 during World War Two. (Moyer et al.) Previous to the war, Japan invaded Manchuria in 1932 and China itself in 1937. (Keery 11)When the war officially began, Japan attacked Hong Kong on December 8th 1941. (Keery 14) Following this attack, the 1,860 Canadians that were left surrendered. (Keery 17) These men were tortured, and as a result of malnutrition,“264 Canadian Prisoners of war died” by 1945. (Keery 17) American President Roosevelt was concerned about these events, so he created an embargo on oil sales to Japan in 1941, thus cutting down their oil supplies by 93% .(Keery 11) This embargo is what led to the “surprise aerial attack on the U.S naval base” on December 7th 1941, igniting war for the American people. (encyclopaedia brittanica) The attack on Pearl Harbour was initiated by Japanese Prime Minister Tōjō Hideki (encyclopaedia brittanica), and  “climaxed a decade of worsening relations between the United States and Japan” that had begun with the invasion of China in 1937 (encyclopaedia brittanica). 2,300 people died during this attack. The states were united and war was declared against the Japanese on December 8th 1941. (encyclopaedia brittanica) A few short years after Pearl Harbour which involved Canada, The United States, Commando Comic No. 19 was released.

 

Propagandistic Elements of “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator”

 

Throughout the comic “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” there are several propagandistic images and words aimed at the Japanese. For example, the three crewmen named “Gabby”, “Suds” and “Marty” all sit in a lifeboat following a plane versus submarine battle. (Moyer et al. 3) This fight leads the reader to believe they are soldiers. “Gabby” sees an island in the distance, “Marty” wonders if there may be ‘Japs’ on it and “Suds” says “they’ll not take me alive —- their cruelty to prisoners knows no bounds.” (Moyer et al. 3) This panel informs the reader that these men view Japanese people as being cruel without bounds as well as people who take prisoners. However, Canadians also took prisoners during World War Two, as noted by Jacques Dextraze, a Canadian soldier:

“…and we take some prisoners… When the man in charge of the prisoners comes to a bridge – he had made them run almost three miles – he says: ‘no, you lot blew up the bridges, you are going to swim.’ Well, you can well imagine that a man who has run three miles and then tries to swim… Most of them drowned.” (Dyer 236)

 

Moreover, the creators of this comic are being hypocritical, as soldiers from their own country have both taken prisoners and showed them unimaginable cruelty, so cruel that Dextrase noted “fifty bodies of drowned men” in this one instance. (Dyer 236)

“Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” follows “Gabby”, “Suds”, “Marty” and later on “Salty”. The reader associates themselves with these men – much like when an individual watches a film and puts themselves in the shoes of the main character, called typing-. Therefore, an impressionable child would take the crew’s views whilst reading this narrative. Upon further inspection of the characters names, which always appear in quotations in this story, some references seem apparent. The first character “Marty” could very easily be a reference to a man named Marty Robbins.

 

Marty Robbins

“Marty Robbins.” Discogs, Discogs, 2017, www.discogs.com/Marty-Robbins-Good-N-Country/release/2952993

 

“Robbins enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II,” he operated an LCM and when waves smashed it, “the crew was stranded on Bougainville Island”, an island that was occupied by the Japanese in 1942. (Diekman)  His situation can be compared to that of “Marty” and the crew, who are working on a ship and end up stranded on an island inhabited by the Japanese as well. It is not unreasonable to believe that this story’s creator based it on real world events that took place just before its release in 1944. Additionally, the course of Robbins life would have been widely broadcasted in Canada as he was a famous country singer. (Diekman) The inclusion of this names is critical as Robbins is considered a wartime hero, thus children would want to associate themselves with him and would be inclined to take on his position against the Japanese.

A few more examples of the propaganda in this comic are when “Salty” and the crew use a “sneak play” and refer to the Japanese as “dirty jungle fighters” . They follow the Japanese to their garrison and decide to take them out. “Salty” strangles a Japanese man from behind and says, “this is one of your own strangle holds ‘nippee’—– how does it feel?” (Moyer et al. 5) as he snaps the mans neck. This dialogue implies that the Japanese are guerilla fighters, and later on, as the soldiers walk back to the garrison, they refer to the Japanese as “dirty jungle fighters” (Moyer et al. 7), thus solidifying this implication. However, the Japanese are not the only people to use guerilla warfare. Serres Sadler of the Calgary Highlanders reflected on the atrociousness of battle, stating that “when you think back about some of the things you did, and they did to you, it was totally frightening.” (Dyer 242) Therefore, “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” references famous war heroes and bashes the Japanese for wartime techniques that both the American and Canadian army used during World War Two. This was done in an effort to brainwash children into viewing the Japanese as dirty and sneaky while simultaneously instilling a sense of Canadian nationalism.

 

Propagandistic Elements of “The Young Commandos”

 

“The Young Commandos” also contains propaganda. An example of this is the title page. It contains three Japanese soldiers -as noted by the circles on their helmets meant to represent the Japanese flag, the stereotypical slit eyes and buck teeth – punching a white male – as noted by his thick eyebrows, slicked hair and sharp jawline-. However, this symbolic image of the Japanese harming Canadian soldiers is not the disturbing element, it is the Japanese soldier in the background of the image with blacked out eyes, goblin ears and buck teeth. This representation of the Japanese as demonic and goblin-esque dehumanizes the Japanese and foreshadows the propaganda that is to be found on the pages following. (Moyer et al. 23)

Later on, the comic’s creators decided that in place of names for the Japanese characters they would simply insert an assortment of lines that resemble Japanese text without actually being such. (Moyer et al. 24) This is highly offensive to the Japanese as it pokes fun at their language. As the reader further progresses through the story, the white prisoners of the Japanese are brought up on a platform for a public execution, all the while the prisoners refer to the Japanese as ‘Japs’. (Moyer et al. 26)  A prominent detail in this segment of the story is when the executioner, a Japanese male, is shot in the eyeball. Here, in this triangular panel located directly in the centre of the page, is yet another image depicting the Japanese as Golem. The man’s eyes are angled with exaggerated pupils, his eyebrows are angled downwards in an evil fashion and his ears are elvish. (Moyer et al. 26) This repetition of the Japanese as goblins instills an association between the Japanese and monsters in the minds of children. Following this snapshot, Captain Reddy and some ‘guerillas’ -Japanese soldiers- come barging onto the scene of the execution, killing as they go. The Japanese stranglehold mentioned in the comic “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” is used against the enemy by a Japanese guerilla fighter. (Moyer et al. 27) The Japanese soldiers being attacked are once again presented similar to Golem as they are killed by their own people. They surrender, and the Japanese that helped the white soldiers are praised for “[keeping their] people’s fighting spirit alive.” (Moyer et al. 28) Perhaps this is a message to Japanese born children and young adults living in Canada to help with the war effort. It shows that in defeating the Japanese, despite the fact that the ‘guerillas’ were Japanese, they will be thanked and accepted.

 

Japanese Culture in Canada

 

The beginning of Japanese culture in Canada can be traced to the arrival of Manzo Nagano, who arrived in British Columbia in 1877. (Grypma 10) After a few years, “Japanese people of many backgrounds were immigrating to Canada.” (Grypma 11) Despite the discrimination they faced as noted by the “federal Parliament’s 1902 Royal Commission of Inquiry on Chinese and Japanese immigration into British Columbia” (Grypma 12 ), and the 1907 Vancouver Riot in which “white mobs rampaged the Chinese and Japanese quarters of the city, assaulting citizens” (Grypma 20-21), many Japanese men volunteered for World War One. They supported the war effort, thinking that their support would lead to “the public’s support of Chinese [and Japanese] Canadians” (Grypma 21). In World War Two, “the federal government had [still] maintained a fairly steadfast opposition to recruiting Asians” (Grypma 61). The British government had to essentially convince the Canadian government to allow for Asian soldiers, as they needed volunteers for the SOE spy mission in Asia. (Grypma 61)

British Columbia Internment Camps

 

Image of Japanese Canadian Children during Japanese Relocation

“Young Japanese Canadians Being Relocated in British Columbia, 1942.”

The Canadian Encyclopedia, 23 Feb. 2012,

www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/japanese-internment-banished-and-beyond-tears-feature/.

The internment of  Japanese people in British Columbia began in 1942 when the Canadian Government “incarcerated over 15,000 Japanese Canadians in fifteen hastily built internment camps located in isolated mountain valleys throughout the interior of the province of British Columbia.” (McAllister) It began shortly after the news of Pearl Harbour came through. A fear of Japanese invasion in Canada ignited, and was kept up by the sensationalist press. (Marsh) However, the Japanese Canadians did not “constitute the slightest menace to national security” as noted by Major General Kenneth Stuart. (Marsh) The British Columbian politicians of the time turned the very presence of the Japanese into a scandal, speaking of them “in the way that the Nazis would have spoken about Jewish Germans”, said Canadian diplomat Escott Reid. (Marsh) Japanese Canadians suffered from from 1942 – 1949 because of the actions of those overseas.

British Columbian Internment Camps are best described in Takeo Ujo Nakano’s poem entitled, “Within the Barbed Wire Fence: A Japanese Mans Account of His Internment in Canada”:  

“Against such a thing as tears, resolved, when taking leave of home.Yet at that departure whistle, my eyes fill. Initial detention in the Livestock Building at the PNEgrounds in Vancouver; reek of manure, stench of livestock, and we are herded, milling – jumble of the battlefield. Leaving the CPR station in Vancouver for the interior; many passed this way, my countrymen.This train whistle they must have heard, and passed. Their feelings come to me. At the road camp to which Japanese Canadian men were sent, primeval forest! Feeling as though in violation, cutting down standing trees before watchful guards. Cutting firewood. And his decision two decades later to become a Canadian citizen. As final resting place, Canada is chosen. On citizenship paper, signing, hand trembles.” (Nakano)

This account highlights the pain the Japanese went through, and the struggle to decide to identify as Canadian afterwards. This internment lasted for a few years after the war ended, and Commando Comic No.19 was created during this time period. This comic may have helped to perpetrate the attack against the Japanese in Canada, and justify government actions in the minds of Canadian children, creating a dislike for the Japanese.

German Propaganda Posters in Comparison to Commando Comic No.19.

 

“Der Jude Kriegsanstifter Kriegsverlangerer.” MADMENART, www.madmenart.com/war-propaganda/der-jude-kriegsanstifter-kriegsverlaengerer/.

The images in these stories can be compared to German propaganda posters of the same time period. The main similarity that can be drawn between “Der Jude” and the images throughout these two stories is the presentation of the “other” as monstrous. For example, in Der Jude the Jewish population is shown as one large, looming, evil figure. The figure appears to be evil because it is much larger than the other, smaller people in the poster. The darkness of the poster in terms of colour also adds a shadowy dimension to the figures face, making it appear even more frightening. (MADMEN) This poster can be compared to the image of the Japanese man with blacked out eyes on the title page of “The Young Commandos”. His blacked out eyes, the use of exaggerated lines on his face, and his large teeth also frame him as monstrous. (Moyer et al. 23) Moreover, these stories and propaganda share much in common, therefore making it plausible that these stories are in fact propaganda.

 

Effects of Propaganda on Children

 

To understand the effects that Propaganda would have on a child, it is first crucial to understand the effects that communications have on the general public. What follows is a list of principles and effects of communications as noted by the research of Wilbur Schramm:

  1. Mass Communications are capable of causing learning to take place and of changing attitudes and opinions in their audiences, the extent of the learning and changes being limited by the related variables in the situation.
  2. The amount of factual information retained is highest immediately after the communication is received, and thereafter decreases in a curve of forgetting. As facts drop away, general conclusions emerge, and these conclusions ally themselves with new material which agrees with the individual’s original attitude toward the content. Thus the amount of opinion or attitude change may at times increase while the amount of factual retention is decreasing.
  3. The amount of learning from mass communications, when other variables are controlled, is proportional to the intellectual ability of the member of the audience. (Schramm 404-405)

 

These first three principles highlight the fact that mass communications can influence opinions on specific subject matter. Information is mostly retained right after the communication is received. Later on, the facts drop away and general conclusions are made about the communication, thereby changing the individual’s original attitude towards the material. Lastly, it states that varying levels of education produce varying results of learning from the communication, meaning that a child for instance may absorb more information than an intellectual adult. The next most important principles of the effects of mass communications are numbers six, eight and twelve:  

  1. The cumulative effects of mass communications are powerful. The communications blend into and form a large part of the individual’s environment, and contribute to the attitudes and opinions which remain as the facts are forgotten.
  2. Persons are more likely to learn from a communication if they like it, than if they do not.
  3. Repetition, especially repetition with variation, appears to contribute both to factual and to attitude learning. (In the latter case, it seems to serve as confirmation and as an indication of membership in a majority) (Schramm 405-406)

 

These three principles state that communications become part of the targets environment. If the individual likes the communication they will learn the intended messages, such as the fun, faced-paced nature of a comic which is meant to be enjoyable. Additionally, if repetition is included in the communication the individual will have a perceived sense of belonging to a majority. Therefore, the children reading these  stories  will take the information in them as the majority’s view, and be more inclined to believe what it is telling them.

In conclusion, the propaganda within the Commando Comic No.19 stories “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” and “The Young Commandos” had the power to convince Canadian children that the Japanese were monstrous people. Mass communications leave a prominent impact on people, and without the recognition that these stories were created to have an impact, children are left to vulnerably absorb their contents and take them as fact, thus making it okay for future racism against the Japanese people.  

 

Works Cited

“Der Jude Kriegsanstifter Kriegsverlangerer.” MADMENART, www.madmenart.com/war-propaganda/der-jude-kriegsanstifter-kriegsverlaengerer/.

Diekman, Diane. “Marty Robbins.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 19 July 2017, www.britannica.com/biography/Marty-Robbins.

Dyer, Gwynne. Canada in the Great Power Game 1914-2014. Vintage Canada, 2015.

Grypma, Sonya. “China Interrupted.” WLU Press – Transforming Ideas, Aug. 2012, www.wlupress.wlu.ca/Books/C/China-Interrupted.

Keery, Paul, and Michael Wyatt. Canada at War: a Graphic History of World War Two. Douglas & McIntyre, 2012.

Marsh, James H. “Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/japanese-internment-banished-and-beyond-tears-feature/.

“Marty Robbins.” Discogs, Discogs, 2017, www.discogs.com/Marty-Robbins-Good-N-Country/release/2952993.

Mcallister, Kirsten. “Photographs of a Japanese Canadian Internment Camp: Mourning Loss and Invoking a future1.” Visual Studies, vol. 21, no. 2, 2006, pp. 133–156., doi:10.1080/14725860600944989.

Moyer, Hy, et al. “Commando Comic No.19.” Commando Comic No.19, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1945, pp. 1–56.

Schramm, Wilbur. “The Effects of Mass Communications: A Review.” Review of Effects of Mass Communication by Carl I. Hovland & The Effects of Mass Media by Joseph T. Klapper. Journalism Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 397–406.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Pearl Harbor Attack.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 23 Feb. 2017, www.britannica.com/event/Pearl-Harbor-attack.

Violette, Forrest E. La, et al. “Within the Barbed Wire Fence. A Japanese Man’s Account of His Internment in Canada.” Pacific Affairs, vol. 54, no. 2, 1981, p. 399., doi:10.2307/2757416.

“Young Japanese Canadians Being Relocated in British Columbia, 1942.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 23 Feb. 2012, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/japanese-internment-banished-and-beyond-tears-feature/.

 

Using Racism In Comic Books To Fight For Social Justice

Introduction:

It is no secret that as of late, Hollywood has benefited from turning comic book pages into live action adaptations, evident in the recent box office hit Thor: Ragnarok, and the widespread anticipation for the upcoming release of Justice League. Although widely popular today, comic books and the fan base that followed had a much humbler beginning, especially in Canada. In 2016, comic books in the “U.S. and Canada reached

Figure 1: The cover page of Issue 16. Upon first glance, it’s obvious the story will be taking place in the Wild West.

$1.085 billion” in sales, with the market growing nearly “five percent” from 2015 (Comichron 2016). “By the late 1920s, newspaper comic strips — the “funnies” — were an established popular art form in North America, and quite distinct from political and gag cartooning” (Library & Archives Canada, 2017). While more newspapers began publishing comic strips, it was not until 1941, with Bell Comics, that comic books in Canada began to gain traction. Largely targeted towards children, these comic books aimed at entertaining their young audience with stories of mystery and heroics. While the tone of comic books was often light hearted and educational to an extent, in the case of The Funny Comics wit

h Dizzy Don no. 16, there are several instances where racial stereotypes were on full display, with the most noticeable being the inclusion of an “African man ape”. Regardless of intention, every minute detail in a comic is carefully chosen, holding valuable meaning and making it crucial to the story’s plot. In issue sixteen of The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don (Figure 1), African race and culture is subjected to a  stereotypical portrayal, a deliberate choice aimed at questioning the social attitudes of the time regarding race, be it African-Canadians or Japanese-Canadians, acting as a stylistic choice to highlight differences between cultures.

Overview of the Comic Book:

Figure 2: This is the first time in the comic book that we are introduced to something related to the African culture.

Issue sixteen of The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don (Figure 1) is very much a self-contained wild-west story, incorporating western scenery with stock characters to deliver an authentic old-western story. Stepping away from his traditional outfit of a suit and bowtie, Dizzy Don, in the third act of the comic book, is seen sporting cowboy attire, further distinguishing his surroundings from that of the opening city scene. While characters and names such as “Two-Gun Dan” are very much grounded in the western portion of the story, there seems to be three distinct instances where certain things seem almost out of place; the “African blow darts” (Figure 2), the deadly “two fang viper snake” and the “African man ape” (Easson 1941). When dealing with a setting most commonly associated with  cowboys, anything related to Africa seems arbitrary and out of place. More shockingly, Mr. Monk, the “African man ape” who serves as the villain of the story, is depicted in what appears to be a racially fuelled illustration of what Africans look like; depicting Mr. Monk as an animal rather than a human being as you can see in Figure 3. At one point near the end of the story, Mr. Monk must justify his appearance in relation to his criminal organization, stating that he “has a brain bigger thanmost men” (Easson 1941). It is comments such as these in relation to how evil African artifacts, animals and individuals are portrayed, that it becomesevident that there is a clear distinction being made between Dizzy Don, a white male who appears to be upper-class, and the villain, Mr. Monk, a dramatic interpretation of what an African male looks like.

Depicting Ones Traits, Flaws and Culture in Literature:

Comic books not only offer a quick escape into a world of wonder, but sometimes, they serve to engage with the reader to help denounce unequal roles of power amongst different individuals. In a journal article written by Sean Carleton, Carleton introduces a term he refers to as conscientization, defining it as “a pedagogical process defined by critical engagement with understandings of the world that leads people to actively reject established rationalizations of unequal power relations and oppression” (Carleton 2014). He argues that in comic books, “conscientization is first of all theeffort to enlighten [people] about the obstacles preventing them from a clear perception of reality…. Conscientization effects the ejection of cultural myths that confuse people’s awareness” (Carleton 2014).

According to Carleton, while some comic books may be racially motivated, most of the time, inaccurate depictions of racial groupings or cultures is meant to be understood as a signifier towards racial intolerances. What this means for The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don

Figure 3. Near the end of the story, we are finally introduced to Mr. Monk (the African Man Ape). Here, he is depicted as animal like, closely resembling an actual ape rather than a human being.

no. 16 is that Mr. Monk (Figure 3), while clearly of a different race, should not be perceived as the writers racially fuelled opinions but rather, writers understanding of racial indifferences. By depicting Mr. Monk as such, the writers effectively question why we immediately  associate the “man ape” with black individuals, especially from Africa, calling into question our own personal prejudices as a way of correcting them. The writers therefore, rather than filling the pages of their work with hate, are explaining to the readers that what they are reading is completely fictitious, and that individuals portrayed in comic books are not at all how individuals of a certain grouping are in real life.

Brian Johnson, in his journal titled Son of a Smaller (Super) Hero, explores the work of Mordecai Richler, a prominent comic book writer whose protagonists often fall short of heroism. In it, Johnson details how Richler’s characters always appear to be less then heroic, with villains closely playing on stereotypes of the time. Johnson explores how in actuality, portraying villains in stereotypical ways is only done to make the reader aware of the villain and how different he/she is from the protagonist. According to Johnson, “the protagonist must face off against this villain, and only then can he/she be the hero” (Johnson 2010). The only reason why comic book writers choose to portray villains in such a stereotypical way is so that the readers will be able to make a clear distinction between the hero and the villain. Not only are the African poison darts and poisonous viper snake all tasks which Dizzy Don must face off to become the hero, but, and more importantly, Dizzy Don must overcome a villain as strong as Mr. Monk, the man ape, to become the hero at the end of the comic book.

Understanding Racism in Canada During WWII:

One interesting commentary on black representation in literature comes from David C. Este, in his journal article titled Black Canadian Historical Writing. In it, Este’s goal is to critique several different contributions to the “discipline of Black Canadian History beginning in 1970” (Este 2008). Roughly up until the early 1970’s, “black Canadian history from a historical perspective, was largely untapped”, and so began the quest for historians to find out all they could (Este 2008). Este chooses to asses a few known historical works, trying to note what life as an African-Canadian was like, and how the community responded. However, Este primarily references author Robin Wink’s Blacks in Canada: A History, and the knowledge he had to offer. In it, Wink understands that “African-Canadians have always faced discrimination, and it will not change until they are fully immersed in Canadian culture” (Este 2008).

To highlight the racial indifferences between African-Canadians and Canadians, Wink focuses on his understanding of black churches, and the major road block it created for African-Canadian immersion into Canadian society. To Wink, “creating this distinction between Black and White churches did more harm than good”, as he felt that there needed to be integration for a tolerance to form (Este 2008). Relating this back to literature, Este feels that improper depictions of the African culture are not signs of racial prejudices, but rather, should be symbolic of cultural differences, and at the time, lack of immersion.

While it is important to understand that racial depictions in comic books were not intended to be forms of racism for the most part, in Canada, during WWII, the Japanese-Canadian community, especially in British Columbia, faced hateful discrimination daily. If one is to understand why comic books were poised at educating readers, especially children on social issues, specifically racism, it is crucial to understand events happening in Canada during the 1940’s that would cause this need. Jordan Stanger-Ross, in his journal article Suspect Properties: The Vancouver Origins of the Forced Sale of Japanese-Canadian-Owned Property, WWII, discusses the uprooting of hundreds of Japanese-Canadians from British Columbia during WWII, as a way of exploring racism in Canada through a Japanese-Canadian lens. One important detail mentioned is that the government of British Columbia justified the uprooting of hundreds of Japanese-Canadian homes by claiming that “there were many houses which were in a state of decay”, when this was the case for only a few homes, and even then, the residents were not to blame as it was the landlord’s responsibility to provide proper living conditions (Stanger-Ross 2016). In no way was British Columbia’s government justifiable in uprooting so many families, especially, when only a few housing units were in such bad shape that it called for relocation. Stanger-Ross also takes issue with the 1942 decision to “uproot the 22,000 Japanese-Canadians”, but primarily focusses on 1943, when British Columbia’s government decided to “sell all the property which belonged to the individuals uprooted without consent or right” (Stanger-Ross 2016).

More unsettling is the fact that Stanger-Ross identifies the cause of this uprooting, tracing it to “a few individuals with racist attitudes and ideologies towards the Japanese culture began creating stories about how Japanese neighbourhoods were uninhabitable by whites, as their culture was drastically different” (Stanger-Ross 2016). If one is to understand that comic books can be seen as a form of social education and justice, it is important to outline the need for change, evident in the treatment of Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia during WWII. It is fitting to suggest that comic book writers used their work, by portraying other cultures as wildly different, that they intended to make the distinction between real life and fiction, clearly represented in the depiction of Mr. Monk, where every African stereotype is played upon and used to teach a lesson.

Parties and Individuals Involved in Combatting Racism in Canada:

To further connect comic books to social movements, Stephanie Bangarth, in her journal article, explores Premiere Hepburn’s decision to “accept Japanese-Canadian workers” on his farm during 1942 (Bangarth 2005). Recounting the tension between Japanese-Canadians and Canadians during WWII, Bangarth commends Premiere Hepburn’s decision to not only allow for “Nisei” workers to work on his farm harvesting onions, but also on his push towards the social justice of Japanese Canadians (Bangarth 2005). The clear lack of acceptance amongst Canadians towards their fellow Japanese-Canadian citizens is emphasized through Hepburn’s letter to British Columbia’s government, where he wrote, “Canada must provide a living for those Japanese which have to be moved from the Western defense zone. Either we place them in relocation camps and feed and clothe them with no benefit to the State or to themselves, or we find some way that they can help us to win the war” (Bangarth 2005). Bangarth chooses to note Premiere Hepburn’s desire for social justice to highlight the lack of social justice for Japanese-Canadians, but also in determining that more needed to be done to help, and that there were individuals and institutions whose goal was just that. While not much has been recorded in terms of  comic book writers intentions, it is fitting to suggest that stories such as The Ghost of Two-Gun Dan, rather than assume they were hatefully constructed, are far more likely to be a tool to promote social change and educate children on racial tolerance, by instilling that stereotypes belong in comic books and other literature, but have no basis in real life.

Conclusion:

In issue sixteen of The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, African race and culture is subjected to a stereotypical portrayal, a deliberate choice aimed at questioning the social attitudes of the time regarding race, be it African-Canadians or Japanese-Canadians, acting as a stylistic choice to highlight differences between cultures. While there were certainly individuals in Canada during WWII that believed in racial differences, not all Canadians were like that, and majority of comic book writers tried their best to differentiate between what is depicted in a comic book, and what is true in real life. It is the oddly placed cultural items combined with the racially depicted Mr. Monk that allow one to understand while at times certainly racist, the overall goal was to promote social cohesion and racial acceptance across all cultures living in Canada.

Works Cited:

“Archived – Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929 – 1940.” June 24, 2002. Library and Archives Canada. https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8200-e.html

Bangarth, Stephanie. “The Long, Wet Summer of 1942: The Ontario Farm Service Force, Small-Town Ontario and the Nisei.” Canadian Ethnic Studies, vol. 37, no. 1, 2005, pp. 40-62, Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database; International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS); Political Science Database; Politics Collection; Sociology Collection, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/215635958?accountid=13631.

Carleton, Sean. “Drawn to Change: Comics and Critical Consciousness.” Labour, no. 73, 2014, pp. 151-177,9, Business Premium Collection; Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database; International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS), http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1546469398?accountid=13631.

“Comics and graphic novel sales up 5% in 2016.” Comichron: Industry-Wide Comics and Graphic Novel Sales for 2016, www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales/industrywide/2016-industrywide.html.

Easson, Manny. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don. Issue 16. 1941. Bell Feature Comics.

Este, David C. “Black Canadian Historical Writing 1970-2006: An Assessment.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 38, no. 3, Jan. 2008, pp. 388–406. SAGE Journals, doi:10.1177/0021934707306573.

Johnson, Brian. “Son of a Smaller (Super) Hero: Ethnicity, Comic Books, and Secret Identity in Richler’s Novels of Apprenticeship.” Canadian Literature, no. 207, 2010, pp. 26-40,200, Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database; Research Library, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/879053731?accountid=13631.

Stanger-Ross, Jordan. “Suspect Properties: The Vancouver Origins of the Forced Sale of Japanese-Canadian-Owned Property, WWII.” Journal of Planning History, vol. 15, no. 4, Nov. 2016, pp. 271–89. SAGE Journals, doi:10.1177/1538513215627837.

 

Canadian Identity in Triumph Comics #18

© Copyright 2017 Gillian Dizon, Ryerson University

Introduction

The comics published by Bell Features during World War II are a cultural backbone for what a given society at the time wanted to define as the nationalistic ideology of Canadian identity. Thus, superheroes, their sidekicks and their antagonists came to fruition to address these behaviours or characteristics for all audiences. Generally speaking, if one were to consider these superheroes and their journeys as an example of perfection and goodness, then their antagonists must serve as a way to illustrate to the readers what is considered evil or antithetic to Canadian identity. Tasked with motivating young Canadians during the war effort, the various heroes of Triumph Comics #18 (Ace Barton, Captain Wonder, and Nelvana of the Northern Lights) of Triumph Comics #18 (1944) are often antagonized by villains who are marked by cultural or ethnic stereotypes of Japanese, German and Indigenous people. Understandably, two of these cultural groups derive from the countries the Allies have been warring with during WWII, however, villainizing entire populations of people to young readers would have deleterious effects – especially since many of these ‘villains’ had resided within Canadian borders. This exhibit will analyze the nature of what the writers of Bell Features has decided was necessary to frame Canadian identity and the problems that arise from poor, stereotypical writing.

Comics: Mythology for Kids!

Comic book superheroes are ultimately symbolic. During the golden age of comic books, these characters are meant to embody the ultimate moral good. Understanding the influential power within comic books as something that is akin to mythology would best describe why the portrayal of these characters are so effective and why nations contextually accepted these portrayals – no matter how problematic – at the time of their publishing. As Bart Beaty describes in The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero (2006) that heroes “serve to protect the national interest within superheroic narratives, but they also serve to illuminate national interests in the real world as iconic signs” (428). Beaty further demonstrates that as contemporary mythologies, the actual construction of a hero draws largely from classical mythology (The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero; 2006, 428).

The heroes of Triumph Comics (1944) are no exception to the methods of mythology-based creation. Nelvana of the Northern Lights (Triumph Comics, 1944) created by Adrian Dingle is an example of the “man-god” (The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero; 2006, 428) trope. The first recognizable thing about Nelvana is that she is first discovered by soldiers as a polar bear mounted, otherworldly, magical apparition within an aurora borealis (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 2). Between Nelvana, Ace Barton and Captain Wonder (and briefly, Speed Savage), all three embody the classical heroic attitude Beaty describes as “a dedication to the principles of justice” (The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero; 2006, 428). For Nelvana, her single in this issue of Triumph Comics has allowed her to speak only twice in the comic and yet the only words she tells to the group of men she had just saved from wolves was a vow that she will protect them from the horrors of their enemies (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 9). As for Captain Wonder and Speed Savage in a collaborated issue, the White Mask is described as a “two-fisted, gun packing aid to JUSTICE!” (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 52) while Captain Wonder shames a man for betraying his country for his own profit (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 29). Finally, for Ace Barton’s issue, he is described to be an ace pilot for the R.C.A.F. who tirelessly fights the Japanese despite being outnumbered and stranded (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 38-44). All four of these superheroes serve as an example of classical heroes found in myth who are enhanced beings with an inherently morally good heart.

Antagonists: The Japanese

Now to examine what Triumph Comics had understood the Japanese to be at the time of their comics’ conception. As previously stated, the Japanese and the Germans are vilified because they are part of the Axis Powers and have generally become a real life menace for countries that fight for the Allies. On top of crudely drawn features, throughout the entire issue of Triumph Comics #18 (1944) racial slurs such as “Japs” (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 9) and “Yellow Peril” (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 42). But to really drive home the concept of these people as monsters, the artists have depicted these people with less than human features and behaving in an animalistic manner (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 42).

Figure 1. The “Japs” from Ace Barton. Triumph Comics #18, 1944.

There’s very little difference in the Japanese antagonists in this issue of Ace Barton. The bigger antagonist has slightly more depth as a double agent for the Japanese army but is still drawn in a way that makes him resemble a monster and with no exposition about his character as anything more than a villain. A moment later he commands hordes of Japanese soldiers (pictured above) to chase Ace through the jungle like a pack of dogs (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 40-43).

On a visible and symbolic level, readers of this issue of Ace Barton can sympathise with Ace in comparison to the Japanese not only because he is the hero of this narrative but because he is simply more human in his behaviour. In an article entitled Aboriginality and the Arctic North in Canadian Nationalist Superhero Comics, 1940-2004 (2005), Jason Dittmer and Soren Larsen “Given the visual nature of most superhero media, this reductionism also requires this coherent subjectivity to occupy a specific body, one that is gendered, raced, and super-powered” (53). From a careful observation of this issue, the authors of Ace Barton had intended their young audience to take the Japanese is expendable, traitorous or hostile. Regarding Beaty’s work, he describes that the pantheon of Canadian superheroes “illustrate a set of tensions that surround the intersection of popular culture and federal institutions within Canada” (The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero; 2006, 427). Given the history of Japanese internment camps during this time period, stripping the humanity from the Japanese isn’t a taboo subject for the 1940s.

Germans

Figure 2. Captain Wonder vs. Nazis. Triumph Comics #18, 1944, pg. 29

In Triumph Comics #18 (1944) Nazis are an often central antagonist appearing in Captain Wonder, Captain Wonder Meets Speed Savage and one-off strips between the larger comic issues. In this publication’s single of Captain Wonder, unlike the Japanese of Ace Barton (Triumph Comics #18, 1944), the Germans are drawn not in animalistic or monstrous ways but rather as menacing people. However, they still exhibit the same behaviour of having no real, in depth motives besides a need to destroy and kill. Since the Germans are a main opponent for the Allies, and therefore Canadians, in WWII, wartime comics are quite active in heavily vilifying the Nazis. In fact they are shown to be an even more fearful antagonist than the Japanese because in the each of the Captain Wonder issues, the Nazis have infiltrated into Canada and successfully killed many civilians (Triumph Comics #18, 1944).

To contrast these Germans against the Canadian superheroes would be presumably an easy task because of how evil they are; but arguably, this places Canadian protagonists into becoming just as unrealistically good. In Beaty’s article he elaborates that when it comes to Canadian comic culture “Canadian superiority [is] rooted in historical circumstance” (The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero; 2006, 434). There is no way of defining moral rightness for the heroes of Triumph Comics #18 (1944) without having to use blatant, one dimensional comparison. Dittmer and Larsen would regard the power in representation because when considering countries as imagined communities, “that power is just as manifest in

the everyday production of national representations as it is in the enforcement capabilities and reifications associated with the organizations dedicated to government” (Aboriginality and the Arctic North in Canadian Nationalist Superhero Comics, 1940-2004, 2005, 54).

Nelvana …and then the rest of the Natives

The most interesting meta-literary comparison between racialized heroes and villains would be how the authors have depicted Indigenous people.

Figure 3. Nelvana of the Northern Lights in Triumph Comics #18 (1944)
Injun Moe (Figure 4.). From Triumh Comics #18 (1944)

Arguably, the most visual difference between Nelvana and Injun Moe would be how closely Nelvana is drawn to possess Euro-centric features. Injun Moe however, has darker skin for being printed on colourless pages and his hair is tied into braids, adorned in feathers. Since Nelvana is made to fit the heroic, white-centric ideal of Canadian patriotism, she is allowed to be characterized with positive, protagonistic traits associated with her other superhero counterparts as she is seen saving Canadian soldiers from wolves (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 8) and swearing to them that she will protect them from harm (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 9). Injun Moe is racialized ridicule as he is seen taking hyper-literal meanings from other characters such as the bird pictured in the above panel (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 21). The next single within this issue, TANG! (Triumph Comics #18, 1944), also depicts Indigenous antagonists; this time, an entire tribe who ambush a white man and his fellow white sidekick, apparently justified by a cry from a Native chief that “the white men want to disturb [their] peace!” (Triumph Comics #18, 1944, 14). These characters, unsurprisingly, have are draw with ethnic features and traditional dress in comparison to Nelvana. In these three singles, Indigenous people have ranged from heroic, stupid and hostile.

Dittmer and Larsen have addressed this issue regarding Nelvana’s key to heroism as being tied to whiteness and that her ethnic culture isn’t addressed at length (Aboriginality and the Arctic North in Canadian Nationalist Superhero Comics, 1940-2004, 2005). Thus, Nelvana stands as a symbol of the Canadian North more than she is a positive representation of Indigenous people. From another author, Sherrill Grace, Dittmer and Larsen refer to her work to describe this fraudulent sense of cultural representation “that these countervailing ideas are integrated into a powerful discursive formation that ultimately privileges Canada’s southern urban interests over those of northern residents” (Aboriginality and the Arctic North in Canadian Nationalist Superhero Comics, 1940-2004, 2005, 55). Nelvana would have a stronger, more positive impact as a Native character if it weren’t for her imposed whiteness and that every other poor, appropriated depiction of Native (or generally non-white, non-Canadian) people appear in all the major comic narratives of Triumph Comics #18.

Conclusion

What is even more unclear about trying to tie Canadian identity to these heroes is also exhibited in an article by Ivan Kocmarek who writes in Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications (2016) where Adrian Dingle, the creator of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, that the stories in Triumph-Adventure Comics will “all have a Canadian background” but “ have no indication or assumption of anything “Canadian” in their stories” (150). With that in mind, how can these comic books, which are made to drive the ideology of Canadian identity, be impactful and clear to impressionable, wartime readers? The culture of Canada continued to be undefinable because it is lost within the exaggerated characteristics of their superheroes and supervillains and not honed to any real culture within Canada but is instead framed around defaming other cultures. All in all, this comic book, despite how much it lacks in meaning, serves as a touchstone for the mindset of authors and culture-creators within 1940s and a foundation for better comics to proceed.

Continue reading Canadian Identity in Triumph Comics #18

Damsel in Distress: Through the Ages

Darline Hasrama

500752483

Professor Tschofen

ENG810- 011

Damsel in Distress: Through the Ages

 

If you have ever seen a movie where a woman is in a problematic situation and she is heroically saved by a man, and you thought “oh, how romantic”, then congratulations because you have been damseled.  This trope of “damsel in distress” has been widespread throughout several media mediums and each brings its own variation of it.

Introduction:

The trope of damsel in distress was most prevalent in Commando Comics issue #20, where it can be observed in a number of stories, particularly in “The Lovely and Unknown Polka.Dot Pirate”.  However, being as this comic issue was published in 1943, it is not the first variation of the trope.

The trope of damsel in distress has had been used for many years and but has surprisingly retained many of its redeeming qualities.  Through watching the films “The Train Wreckers” and “The Black Pirate”, it can be compared that the identifications of an independent woman, an aggressive, dangerous situation, and the inevitable rescue of the woman by a strong man are notable throughout all mediums.

Importance:

For this research paper I will be comparing the trope of damsel in distress over two silent film mediums, and compare how the trope has either evolved leading up to and including Commando Comics.  The objective of this research is to show how a trope that is considered to be very fluent in characteristics throughout all mediums can potentially differ and grow as the years carry on.  This topic is an important area of research because there has not been much extensive research comparing the trop through the ages.  Most research explains how the trop is normally used to explain a certain message about women and their relationships with men and why these are prevalent is everyday society, however, none of them address their progression.

Mediums:

The first medium is the primary source which is the Commando Comics issue #20.  The trope can be identified in “The Lovely and Unknown Polka.Dot Pirate”.  The second medium is film.  In this case, there are two silent films.  The first is “The Train Wreckers” from 1905, this is the earliest film depiction of a damsel in distress.  The second is a more popular option called “The Black Pirate” from 1926.

Commando Comics:

Commando Comics, no. 20, Jan. 1943, pp. 1-36. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
Commando Comics, no. 20, Jan. 1943, pp. 1-36. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

The primary evidence that can be found is in the short story titled “The Lovely and Unknown Polka.Dot Pirate” in the Commando Comics issue #20.  In this story the Polka Dot Pirate is the intended protagonist heroine who saves the day (and incidentally men).  The Polka Dot Pirate figures out how the victim was murdered.  Her smart are noted by the villain who says “she’s wise” (Commando Comics p. 25).  This quote from the villain points out her intellect in figuring out how the victim was murdered.  It seemed that she had won the day but all of a sudden her colleague comes out of nowhere and punches the villain out.  He does this right as the villain is about to leave.  This shows a power struggle and implies that the woman is incapable of defending herself.  Men are presented as a physical dominant force that will overshadow a woman’s intellectual ability to save the day.  This ultimately made the female protagonist look like she needed to be saved from a violent situation by a man.  It is in opposition to the panels where she is taking charge over the speed boat to catch up to the villain while exhibiting serious physical moves, demonstrating her adventurous side when she is pursuing her target.  By having her be a serious heroine who chases after the antagonist, it is a surprise to see that she is eventually overpowered by a man in a physical altercation.  The short story also does not end with her having the upper hand, it ends with her male partner having the upper hand giving the readers the illusion that he is the true hero of this story.

Another feature that accompanies the trope of damsel in distress is the appearance of the damsel.  Women in comic books are normally given a provocative and overtly sexualized outfit for the pleasurable viewing of males.  (Facciani, Lavin) In this particular short story the Polka.Dot Pirate is the only character in the story who is not in regular clothes, instead she is depicted in a superhero costume.  She is wearing a cape and a mask, which is traditional of a superhero.  Her top portion of the outfit is a low-cut and figure hugging top.  There is a deep V cut into her shirt which is a vantage point meant to show off her feminine physique.  Her top also seems to be a crop top, bearing the midriff.  Her superhero outfit seems to be less about actual functionality and comfort which a crime fighting woman should adorn, and more so about sexuality used to point out the heroine’s clear feminine qualities.

Her outfit is misogynistic to overtly point out that the Polka.Dot Pirate is to be associated with sexuality as opposed to saving the day.  Her outfit can be associated with research provided by (Lavin) which shows that women’s outfits were drawn to be more so provocative because it is what men liked to see during the war which explains the Polka.Dot Pirates attire.  It can then be thought of as a reflection of the modern world in 1943.  Women were receiving more recognition for their intelligence and other skills, however, this cannot be socially accepted in the eyes of a working man.  It is then because of the upcoming and modern thoughts of a woman handling more than previously thought was possible, that it had to so forcibly be overshadowed by a man so that men still felt like they asserted dominance over women.

The Train Wreckers:

"The Train Wreckers (1905) - Edwin S. Porter | Thomas Edison." YouTube, Nov. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfzjkWD6Z3o
“The Train Wreckers (1905) – Edwin S. Porter | Thomas Edison.” YouTube, Nov. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfzjkWD6Z3o

“The Train Wreckers” is about a woman who falls in love with a train conductor, and so she figures out that his train is going to be overrun by train wreckers and she saves the train.  The second time the train wreckers ambush and tie her up to the railroad, and she must then be saved by the men in the train before she is run over.

The chief evidence that surrounds the trope in this silent film is that after she saves her love and the other passengers on the train the first time, she is applauded and it seems like a great moment for women saviors.  Nonetheless, she is then ambushed and tied up to the train tracks which visually is the most well known trope of a damsel in distress in film culture. (source) It then follows the general script of her very nearly escaping death before being rescued by his friends and she celebrates profusely that her life is saved.

The contradiction of woman saving men and then almost in retaliation man saving women, shows a power struggle of sorts in regards to what gender can superiorly save the other.  It manifests the general ideal that once women can prove they are capable of saving others and being the hero of the day, it is viewed almost as an abomination by men, hence the tying up.

The Black Pirate:

"The Black Pirate (1926) Full Movie [BluTay 720p]." YouTube, Feb. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Z3LAAitmJO.
“The Black Pirate (1926) Full Movie [BluTay 720p].” YouTube, Feb. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Z3LAAitmJO.
            “The Black Pirate” which was released in 1926 stars the legendary Billie Dove, a woman who at the height of her fame was dubbed an actress who perfectly depicted the damsel in distress. (Gussow).  She is a princess aboard a pirate ship who was kidnapped by the lead pirate.  When the son, the male savior, takes over the ship for vengeance, he decides that the princess is so beautiful that he simply must save her.

“The Train Wreckers”, without the traditional clichéd tied to the train tracks bit, “The Black Pirate” demonstrates that even in 1926 women were seen as sexualized objects of affection.  Even though the main objective of the movie had no immediate involvement of the princess, her character was a subplot meant to create more content.  Because of her sexualized presence in the film and the male go-getter action of the pirate battles, it can be interpreted as a male centric fantasy. (Lavin)

Analysis:

Comparing the two movies that have 21 years between them, the storyline and trope has definitely evolved to be more plot centric and action based but the roles of the female characters have decreased in function.  The earliest version sees the female character actually playing an active role in saving the men and being the primary hero which is the most similar to “The Lovely and Unknown Polka.Dot Pirate”.  However, the point of the evolution between these 21 years is not only the decreased role of the female but also the transition of the fashion style.  The fashion style is an important evolution because it is a depiction of how significant the image of a helpless woman has been advertised.  Fast forward 17 years and the comic book is a combination of the main attributes of each film as opposed to an evolution in the right direction.

In the comic, the Polka.Dot Pirate includes a brief element of the woman being the primary savior of the man before she is in turn saved.  Since the man was murdered, it is up to her to figure out and apprehend the villain and then for the male companion to save the day.  This is the connection between the 1905 medium and the 1943 medium.  This shows that the aspect of the female savior is a continued trait that comes back and is popularized due to the power struggle that appears between the men and the women where the man seems to get the last say.  In the comic there is also the other element pertaining to how the Polka.Dot Pirate is dressed. (Dunne, Lavin) She is dressed differently than her male counterparts and is seen in short, scantily clad clothes that show off her figure.  This is a connection between the comic medium and the 1926 silent film medium.  This is a principal similarity between the two because it shows how the way the women are portrayed in the eyes of their male creators.  In the 1905 film, the female character is dressed more conservatively to accurately portray the fashion standards of the time.  As the fashion standards evolve so does the visual representation of female heroines who are outshined by men.  The fashion standards could be reflective of the societal values of time.  In 1905 it was very common for women to be wives and homemakers, as opposed to starring in an action films.  In the 1920’s it was more socially acceptable, although still promiscuous to see women in a more bodacious outfit such as flapper dresses.  As the 1940’s roll in, the ladies focused more on comfortable clothes that allowed them to be traditional caretakers as well as a worker.  Even though women had a rougher image due to the circumstances surrounding the era, they were glamourized and sexualized in places where men were able to hold onto the idea of the ideal woman.

Conclusion:

The trope of damsel in distress has certainly evolved from 1905 to 1943, but it was because of those earlier adaptions that the trope was able to manifest itself and become a combination of the two different variations.  The comic “The Lovely and Unknown Polka.Dot Pirate” infuses the elements of “The Train Wreckers” by having a female lead be overshadowed by the lesser involved male character and also immerses elements from “The Black Pirate” by having these women dress in scantily clad outfits.  This evolution is an indication that the trope is ever changing but inherently incorporates past themes.

 

 

 

 

 

Citations

Commando Comics, no. 20, Jan. 1943, pp. 1-36. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection,

1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Diekman, Amanda B and Emily K. Clark. “Beyond the Damsel in Distress: Gender Differences

and Similarities in Enacting Prosocial Behavior.” The Oxford Handbook of Prosocial 

Behavior, 2015, pp.376-386.

Dunne, Maryjane. “The Representation of Women in Comic Books, Post WW11 Through the

Radical 60’s.” PSU Mcnair Scholars Online Journal, Vol.2, no. 1, 2006.

Facciani, Matthew et al. “A Content Analysis of Race, Gender, and Class in American Comic

Books.” Race, Gender & Class, Vol.22, no. 3-4, 2015, pp. 216-226.

Gussow, Mel. “Billie Dove, Damsel in Distress in Silent Films, is Dead at 97: Obituary (obit).”

New York Times, 1998.

Lavin, Michael R. “Women in Comic Books.” Serials Review, Vol.24, no.2, 1998, pp. 93-100.

“The Black Pirate (1926) Full Movie [BluRay 720p].” Youtube, Feb. 2017,

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Z3LAAitmJO.

“The Train Wreckers (1905) – Edwin S. Porter | Thomas Edison.” Youtube, Nov. 2012,

www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfzjkWD6Z3o.

 

 

“Propagandizing the Wartime Canadian – A Study of Wartime Media in Triumph Comics No. 19”

© Copyright 2017 Dylan Gibbons, Ryerson University

Introduction

During WWII, after having print materials such as comic books and magazines restricted from other countries, Canada in turn experienced the “First Age of Canadian Comics” from Bell Features and lead artists such as Adrian Dingle (Kocmarek 148). Predicated on the need to bolster the Canadian dollar during the war, the early years of comic books in Canada are particularly interesting, being that art and story telling were never at the core of the media, as they might have been in other countries. As this paper will show, this implicitly entails an agenda. The comics were designed not only with economic prosperity in mind, but also with the explicit agenda of adding to patriotic, nationalist attitudes, the promotion of traditional British niceties and politeness, and to instill in the reader the necessity of supporting the war effort (Kocmarek 150). These tropes and underlying motivations behind the creation of this media are blatant in most comics of this time, including the primary source material of this exhibit, Triumph Comics: No.19.

Perhaps what is most significant is what the comic signifies within the broader context of the war effort: a shift from simply believing that the Allies’ enemies in WWII are bad to a collectivised message with focus on patriotism and doing one’s civil duty in supporting the war effort. This exhibit will analyze Triumph Comics: No. 19, created in 1944, with reference to other contextual sources, to show how this comic was used, similarly to other media released at the time, to propagandize the Canadian people into adhering to certain normative attitudes and into making certain economic decisions, and show how this was not at all random, but implemented by government institutions.

Manufacturing Normativity

Perhaps the most explicit implementation of propaganda the comic gives us is found in Ted Steele’s ‘Speed Savage’ story (38-46). The story follows the superhero the ‘White Mask’ and his attempt to administer justice in wartime (WWII) Canada. In the comic, the main villain is one who is trying to sabotage the war effort by shooting factory workers out of a cannon (Steele 42-45), wherein they plummet to their death, subsequently frightening the citizens and preventing them from working (Steele 39). However, what is more interesting is that the White Mask’s heroism involves, not only defeating the villain, but assaulting a frightened factory worker who no longer wants to support the war effort through the creation of missile shells (Steele 39-41).

“Speed Savage”, Pg. 40-41. 1944. Triumph Comics, No. 19.

Upon closer examination, this tells us that in wartime Canada the highest form of villainy is someone derailing the war effort and the highest form of heroism is the patriotic perpetuation of the war effort, by any means necessary. That the citizen who has lost faith in the war effort becomes criminal in the eyes of the hero suggests a propagandistic element behind the making of this comic and the attempt to manufacture a new normativity of radical nationalism. Here we find a double-sided message on the part of the comic’s creators. We see a desire to instill supreme, unwavering support of the nation by glorifying patriotism and, conversely, the threat of being removed from the group and becoming enemy if you fail to comply. The comic shows us, quite crudely, the repercussions for not engaging with the community and subscribing to the war effort narrative: beaten up by a masked ‘superhero’, while all your friends cheer your beating on. This makes explicit the agenda the government and emerging comic book industry were sending to the audience, in this case, children: assimilate, be patriotic, or face ostracization.

Upon further investigation, this turns] out to be exactly what was intended. During WWII, the Canadian Government enacted an institutional campaign to create propaganda over multiple media, including this comic, utilizing fearmongering and patriotism with the hopes that these two incentives would suffice in promoting the purchase of war time bonds (Brownell 67-74). Citizens were even recommended to rent out their spare rooms to workers so there would be more space to create armaments, as shown in an animation titled Empty Rooms Mean Idle Machines (National Film Board of Canada). In this way, even the privacy of one’s home was meant to be infiltrated and politicized. Overall, each and every media, from film to poster to comic book, was coopted, to a greater or lesser extent, in the pursuit of propagandizing the Canadian populace for various reasons, mostly economic.

“Victory Bonds Flier”, 1944. Collections Canada.

Gives Us Your Money and Do Your Patriotic Duty!

In an article titled “Building Citizenship: English Canada and Propaganda during the Second War”, William R. Young illustrates the process of Canadian propagandas shift from promoting unified hatred of an enemy to the promotion of collectivism, or ‘Canadianism’ (123) and having shared goals to promote support for the war effort during WWII. Simple hatred of an outgroup, such as what is seen in Ross Saakel’s ‘Ace Barton’ and the hostile portrayal of the Japanese, was found to be a limiting approach that failed in selling Victory Bonds (Canadian war bonds) during WWI. Simply propagandizing a nation into hating another was not sufficient in creating unity within Canada, nor did it help in the efforts to convince Canadians to invest in these bonds, thus new methodologies were conceived. The idea of shared goals was much more effective in collectivising otherwise disjointed groups, such as Indigenous Canadians, Francophones, and Anglophones (Young 124-125). Thus, the Wartime Information Board (the institute in charge for the creation of propaganda) undertook the task of convincing Canadians to make evermore sacrifices to support the war effort (Young 125-130); Prime Minister Mackenzie King signed off on all of this (Young 125). This is not to say that hatred for the enemy was discouraged in subsequent media, which nearly every story in Triumph Comics: No.19 shows to be the case. However, this is always coupled with sentiments of doing one’s duty, protectionism, ingroup preference, etc., which is very much explicit in the aforementioned ‘Speed Savage’ story.

The comic’s title story, Rene Kulbach’s ‘Tang’, also has this tactic imbedded; though, it fails dreadfully. The story is clearly a parody of the popular American television show The Lone Ranger, with a one-dimensional Indigenous sidekick and all. The story displays a meager attempt to amend race relations, despite the story, on the surface, supposedly being uninvolved with the war effort. This attempt is made through the conceptualization of ingroups and outgroups. While the protagonist’s Indigenous sidekick, Hank Steel (of course possessing a highly Westernized name), is made and dressed to appear as part of the ingroup, in the third through sixth panels Buddy Brackenbridge (the protagonist) slaughters a group of Indigenous raiders, Buddy remarking as he fires his gun, “One Redskin less…” (11). This, and that Hank Steel is only given the capacity to make observational one-liners, leads to the conclusion that Hank is being made out to be ‘one of the good ones’. This shows the incapacity of the artists to understand outgroups, unless members of those outgroups assimilate into the ingroup and take up the role of flatterer, sidekick, and tag along, incapable of expressing complex thought or emotion. Fundamentally, despite being an attempt to create a unity between races, it misses the mark of genuineness by several leagues. However, it is an attempt nonetheless, and one that likely would not have been made without the previously mentioned government initiative to create unification between Canadians. Certainly, the protagonist’s, and, potentially, the artist’s, attitudes towards Indigenous people more generally suggests this.

A Change in Gender Roles (Sort of… For now)

Another major part of government propagandizing was changing the role of women in the absence of a large male workforce; this is reflected in the conflicting consistency of presenting women in the comic. Most of the female characters are presented in their stereotypically helpless gender role; however, there is also the emergence of something quite new: a female superhero, Nelvana of the Northern Lights (Dingle 1-9). Even in this case, the female protagonist is given little action or dialogue, but it is still noteworthy in that she is portrayed as being dignified and maintaining the aspect of self-sufficiency – something that would have been reflective of a primarily female population needed for factory work. It is important to note this dualism: women are expected to play their assigned roles as perpetual ‘damsels in distress’, as seen in Ross Saakel’s ‘Captain Wonder’ (20-26), but are now having their identities affirmed so as to be dignified in the archetype of the heroine, the polar opposite of the damsel.

Perhaps one might postulate that this is not evidence of propaganda, rather evidence of the natural progression of women’s improved agency in society. However, in hindsight, nothing about this societal shift was natural, rather an explicit symptom of government campaigns to manipulate women into occupying the factory assembly lines to support the war effort. By 1944, nearly half of adult women had joined the work force (Harttman 16), which was aided by government changes in policy to allow women to serve their country in the production of military equipment and armaments. During this time, numerous government campaigns were implemented to achieve this, and women’s participation was won primarily through the amalgamation of femininity with the idea and setting of factory work to promote female friendly environments where women could see themselves working (Hartmann 17). This was evident not only within the factory, where monthly beauty competitions were held as an appeal to women’s desire not to come off as too masculine, but can be viewed in several wartime propaganda posters, particularly posters aimed at selling victory bonds. These posters were explicitly created with the intent of coercing the female populace into joining the factories, again, by appealing to a sense of patriotic duty (Halbesleben 77-78). The assault was, then, twofold: feminize the workplace to hoodwink women into desiring the monotony of factory life, and, in case this was not sufficient, guilt them into supporting the war effort with persistent talk of duty.

“War Time Propaganda Poster”, 1940-1945. Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum.

This was only to be flipped on women post-war, however, with reverse campaigns promoting the return to ‘the kitchen’, along with significant drops in the wages of women who wanted to continue factory work (Hartmann 17-18). What these factors suggest is that women’s labour was not only expendable to the Canadian government, but was actively exploited. What was, later, perhaps, falsely interpreted as societal recognition and acknowledgement of women’s capacity to fill traditionally male occupied positions was more realistically active manipulation. Furthermore, if government institutions had truly felt that women were equal to men, that they too could be superheroes and not just damsels, then they would not have been so apt to discourage female workers from factory work upon the return of the male populace. This, in part, may explain why the character of Nelvana, despite being a superheroine, still embodies stereotypes of female passivity. What this shows is the disingenuousness of the comic’s attempt to create a female protagonist that is empowering, but rather that the comic only followed trends of the Canadian wartime, helping to create the façade of recognition to facilitate women’s propagandizing.

Conclusion

Having comprehensively analyzed Triumph Comics: No. 19 and affectively contextualized the media, it is evident that the collection of comics is nested in and is an example of wartime propaganda for expressly economic purposes. What may cause the greatest disdain from this exhibit’s findings is the span of such propaganda, targeting women, children, men, and even reaching towards racialized groups. One may make certain allowances given the context, WWII, and make the case that all was a matter of necessity. However, regardless if such allowances are valid, the comic still serves as a prime example of a nations attempt to create a collectivist culture using fearmongering and nationalism. Subsequently, and rather unfortunately, this leaves the origin of Canada’s comic book industry muddied from the start, having less to do with art, and more to do with politics and propagandizing the citizenry.


Works Cited

  • Brownell, Kathryn Cramer. “‘It Is Entertainment, and It Will Sell Bonds!’: 16mm Film and the World War II War Bond Campaign.” The Moving Image, vol. 10, no. 2, Feb. 2011, pp. 60–82. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/415434.
  • Canada, National Film Board of. Empty Rooms Mean Idle Machines, 1942. www.nfb.ca, https://www.nfb.ca/film/empty_rooms_mean_idle_machines/.
  • Dingle, Adrian, et al., editors. Triumph Comics: No. 19. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944, pp. 38-46. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Halbesleben, Jonathon R. B., et al. “‘We Can Do It!’ Recruitment and Socialization Through WWII War Effort Posters in the United States.” Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship; Sheffield, vol. 8, no. 4, Oct. 2003, pp. 68–85. Business Premium Collection, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/203912716?accountid=13631.
  • Hartmann, Susan M. “Women, War, and the Limits of Change.” National Forum; Baton Rouge, vol. 75, no. 4, Fall 1995, pp. 15-19. Periodicals Archive Online, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1297782757?accountid=13631.
  • Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée, vol. 43, no. 1, Mar. 2016, pp. 148–65. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/crc.2016.0008.
  • Victory Bonds Flier. 1944, http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/pam_archives/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayEcopies&lang=eng&rec_nbr=2847132&rec_nbr_list=3635777,3635761,2847102,3635772,3665095,2846950,2847132,2846866,2847027,2847157&title=Enlist+Your+Dollars+in+Bonds+for+Victory+%3A++seventh+victory+loan+drive.&ecopy=e010695630-v8. Library and Archives Canada, MIILKAN no. 2847132.
  • Wartime Propaganda Poster. http://www.airmuseum.ca/postscan.html. Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum.
  • Young, William R. “Building Citizenship: English Canada and Propaganda during the Second War.” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’Études Canadiennes; Peterborough, Ont., vol. 16, no. 3, Fall 1981, pp. 121–132. Periodicals Archive Online, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1300019791?accountid=13631.

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 educatio

Commando Comics No. 21: The relation of Heroism and Villainy to the Damsel in Distress

© Vincent Maher 2017, Ryerson University

Introduction

In Commando Comics No.21 ‘Doc Stearne’, written by Fred Kelly (44-50), its story introduces somes stakes that revolves around a select group of characters coming into conflicts with the antagonists, the Imperial Japanese Army, located in Northern Canada. The selected story arc of show how representations assigns the role of both the protagonists and antagonists. What then emerges are the constructions of what those representations show with regards to each character, which is why I would like to delve into how women are shown enhances the construction of heroism. The focus on seeing what is provided within the comic arc would be to take a look at the interactions of the characters in the comic, and take a look as to how they are positioned and drawn. The first step in delving into the representations featured in the story, ‘Doc Stearne’, there are representations that are solely focused on specific groups that limit itself with the division of how gender assigns the roles of the all the characters that exist within this respective story. Three major ones that can be identified within the story are the heroes, villains, and the captive damsel in distress. Each of these three play a role in the story that allows the plot to advance from beginning to end, since each side would continue to act upon their own goals in order for that story’s completion to be certain. Within the content provided in the slides of the comic’s pages, the characters all play their respective roles given by the artists for themes to emerge. Showcasing the Japanese in the comic depiction of a World War II scenario, alongside main protagonists delves into the notion of the comic leaning towards how the theme of heroism is enhanced. That focus on heroism seems to have been centered on the main protagonists in the story, the explorers, with respects to their own goals. “World War II had drastically changed the position of race in comics and, by implication, in America’s popular imagination.” (Lenthall 18.)

The story

For the summarization of the storyline that takes place within ‘Doc Stearne’, it begins and it sets the stage with the introduction of the protagonists and the antagonists. The antagonists, the Japanese, show themselves to set themselves against the main protagonists, by capturing one of the protagonists’ friends. The explorers are now setting themselves in their own goals by chasing after the Japanese that have taken their friend, Gloria. So as that short story begins to move and events continue to unfold, it’s a direct march for the explorers for them to infiltrate the Japanese hideout to save Gloria. To note, Gloria is the only existing female character that exists within the comic, but both the explorers and the Japanese are shown to have only consisted of male characters. There are further questions that are to be taken into account, to ask possibly on how significant these representations are with how the comic has been drawn. To ask these questions would mean to ponder further on why characters are placed in their respective roles, and why their respective roles have come together to interact with one another. ““Historian Bradford Wright has written, “Comic books are history.” As primary sources of popular culture, they have emerged from a specific context, reflecting the politics, prejudices’ and concerns of a particular historical moment. Comics have also shaped the outlook of America’s young people.” (Aiken 1).

Villains and Heroes

The explorers in the story are meant to be a placeholder in the comic’s presentation of to show what the stakes are for the characters. So one question is, how have these representations allowed the comic to display its features on what is villainized and what is praised as the heroic ones? And what other features besides the characters exist in the comic itself? So first things first, there comes the depictions of the drawings and depictions of the explorers. Since the explorers are pinning themselves willingly against the Japanese Kamikaze holdout, they have to be drawn a certain way since they are supposed to be a small band against an entire army that’s awaiting them. Throughout the story, the explorers are drawn as silhouettes, showing their movements as they are in constant motion, appearing rather tense and showing a bit of anger on their faces.

Commando Comics No. 21 “Doc Stearne” January 1946, Bell and Features Publishing, p.47

Since they are moving into a space which they aren’t welcome, they are forced to move into the Japanese hideout since they have had a deed that they had also considered unwelcoming, which came in the form of capturing the explorer’s companion, Gloria. So in return, they are retaliating with brute force, which the strategy that they use to retaliate via an explosion would result in the Japanese hideout going up in flames.

As for the Japanese soldiers that are featured within the comic themselves, they all appear to be tensed up as some of them are preparing to stand guard to defend their own territory. But in addition, since the story is taking place in Northern Canada, they would most likely be making attempts to maintain their location on foreign soil that they don’t belong in. One of the main incentives for them to stand their ground and guard their hideout is due to the fact that they have Gloria in their captivity. And as for Gloria herself, she is the only female character to be drawn into the comic’s story.

Commando Comics No. 21 “Doc Stearne” January 1946, Bell and Features Publishing, p.50

The story would not even begin to move anywhere, nor would it have revealed any of its threats, in this case the Japanese, without Gloria’s initial capture in the beginning of the comic’s story. So this is where ‘Doc Stearne’ and its characters are split up in terms of their roles. The explorers are supposed to represent the heroes fighting to free Gloria, while the Japanese are presented as the villains who are trying to keep Gloria from getting away, as she is shown restrained with her arms tied and lifted above her. This is where we can bring gender into question with regards to determining these roles.

How does Gender fit?

To bring gender into question with relation to this story is, how this comic has distinctively and uniquely presented its own story is how it has been fabricated to display its own messages and themes together in a compressed package. First off, the story is only six pages long, and the rescue mission is shown to be cut away into very quick segments of a single story. Potentially, this comic could have been written to an extent where the writers decide for them to write a fully fleshed out story, but they instead choose the faster path and give us six pages instead. The very interesting distinction that this comic has allowed us to get is how the main protagonists are more hidden behind silhouettes, and yet the antagonist are the ones that possess a face throughout. Also incorporating itself into the presentation of the comics is the results that comes with the ending results of the protagonists and antagonists, with regards to what’s left behind after the progression of the story continues. The actions that are taken by the characters, and who’s shown to have been affected, ultimately comes from the carnage of the environments around them. And keep in mind that these protagonists, though they were shown to display some competency towards wielding weapons, were only explorers and not a league of superheroes, or an elite band of soldiers.

“JAP BEAST AND HIS PLOT TO RAPE THE WORLD” Propaganda Image. Country Press, 1942.

They weren’t obligated to attack the Japanese, since they, as explorers, wouldn’t have wanted to have any sort of conflict with them.

Commando Comics No. 21 “Doc Stearne” January 1946, Bell and Features Publishing, p.45

But now that the Japanese have caused that disturbance to the explorers, it has now marked the two male groups against one another, while the one female character waits to see the end result of whose side she will stay with at the end of the story.

Historical relations and inspiration

So it is now time to connect the dots with the comic and bits and pieces of research to understand the significance of the comic’s featured imagery and its uniqueness of its own story telling format. This is to explore the significance of the previously listed images and drawings from this comic. Let’s start with the Japanese antagonists. Recall that in the story, they have been portrayed as the main driving force against the heroes, and they have been portrayed in a way that makes them look tense, standing guard in their respective positions as they were protecting their hideout. “This preoccupation mixed the unknowns of a complex language, an ‘alien’ race and an ‘exotic’ culture with the response from Europe and America to a rising Asian power and the re-ordering of the world of nineteenth-century empires.” (Everest-Philips 7). With this statement, it relates back to the narrative of the comic with Everest-Philips’ comments on the response of the Imperial Japanese Army and how they had been received previously during the time of the war. This could indicate towards the inspiration that Fred Kelly would have had to draw upon to create the material and drawings, depicting the Japanese in his comic and the reactions that the explorers had with their presence and actions. Furthermore, relating back to the protagonists of the story, the explorers, “Allegations of foreign subversion often play an important part for political leadership in promoting a sense of national unity, clarifying national values and providing a high moral sanction and sense of righteousness.” (Everest-Philips 21). The “righteousness”, the “clarification of national values”, “high moral sanction” connects towards the explorers while the “foreign subversion” is connected towards the drawings of the Japanese in the comic, as a presence being intrusive in attempts to dominate and assert their will and power. Despite the attempt in the comic to showcase the Japanese as dominant figures, they still remained to have been left for the heroes to show their own retaliation on sequences such as page 49 and 50 resulting in a giant fire as the aftermath of their response. Raiding the base to free Gloria paints them as the righteous characters who are fighting against the Japanese who are considered the antagonists of the story as a purging event for them to pay for their intrusion. This also ties in with the tragic event that had put an end to the Second World War: the Atomic bombs being dropped on Japan. “The most powerful symbols of Japan’s defeat were the atomic bombs. It was the sheer scale of the destructiveness of these bombs that anointed the Japanese for ever as victims of the war.” (Shimazu 10). “Due to the highly politicized nature of the atomic bombs as the symbol of extremities — both peace and war — memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become an internationalized memory of the war.” (10). Due to the fiery exit that the heroes are shown in the comic, as they are walking away with as the victors and with Gloria in their safety. The artists who have created and drawn this comic in 1946 would have had fresh bits and pieces with the fresh highlights of the end of the Second World War just occurring the previous year. In the crafting of this story, making those decisions to draw this story arc would have been influenced by that complete collapse of Japan’s Empire in 1945. The sense of victory and triumph could have been further celebrated with the releases of these comics, in a way, humiliating and tarnishing the image of the former empire, leaving the heroes to be shown as the righteous ones with freeing a character who could not fight for herself.

Conclusion

The chosen representations drawn and written specifically for this short story has been shown as a by-product with responses given an artistic treatment shown by comic artists wishing to capture a piece of the passing war. Depicting these characters in this related story has shown the types of characters that comic artists at the time would have been inspired to draw, and in the case of ‘Doc Stearne’, it has shown that inspiration being brought together into a tightly compressed package. In conclusion, ‘Doc Stearne’ in Commando Comics No. 21 has shown itself to reinforce those values of constructing the image of heroism through gender roles, while ultimately painting the image of a defeated enemy that has had their invasive tyranny come to an end thanks to the efforts of the depicted heroes fighting against that tyranny.


Work Cited 

Aiken, Katherine G. “Superhero History: Using Comic Books to Teach U.S. History.” OAH Magazine of History vol. 24 no. 2, April 2010 pp 41-47.

Everest-Philips, Max. “The Pre-War Fear of Japanese Espionage: Its Impact and Legacy.” Journal of Contemporary History. vol.42 no.2, April 2007, pp. 243-265.

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

Lenthall, Bruce. “Outside the Panel – Race in Americaʼs Popular Imagination: Comic Strips before and After World War II.” Journal of American Studies. vol. 32 no.1, April 1998, pp. 39-61.

Shimazu, Naoko. “Popular Representations of the Past: The Case of Postwar Japan.” Journal of Contemporary History vol. 38, no. 1, January 2003 pp. 101-116.


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.

Dizzy dons cape of justice

© Jade Maxam 2017, Ryerson University

 

 

Introduction

The crime genre has delighted young and old since it’s appearance in 1841. Stories of mystery and danger draw readers into a dangerous world dominated by the immoral, often following the steps of a single bastion of justice, the detective. Some are professionally employed within the police force, some independent, while others are amateur private eyes in their spare time. However, despite the various backgrounds a P.I may come from, one thing always dominates the genre; violence. Often the detective is put in a position where they perpetrate some form of violence on a criminal or those associated with them. Dizzy Don is no exception. In the Funny Comics with Dizzy Don # 18: Bottled Death the protagonist, Dizzy Don, opens fire on a group of gangsters chasing him through an abandoned mine. This is especially startling given that Dizzy Don is a professional radio show host. He has no direct ties to law enforcement nor does he hold any kind of authority in the instance, however Dizzy Don is pardoned from any kind of charges at the end. The message passed on to the reader by these actions is that when in the pursuit of justice, violence committed by civilians is excusable and is seen as heroic.

 

American aspirations

Canadian comics while unique in their own rights, are by no means original. Many of the stories or conventions found in Canadian whites are very similar to American comics that would have been found on the market in pre-pulp ban times. By copying the stories and styles, the comic writers may have unintentionally copied American sentiments into the Canadian versions of these comics. Prohibition was a popular topic for movies and comics at the time (Fried, 333), especially within the crime or amateur detective genre. While Prohibition never reached the same magnitude in Canada yet, they topic was easily accessible to those reading the comics because of the heavy influence from the US. The comics were neither censored nor reviewed by any kind of board, essentially allowing creators to broadcast their stories unhindered. Until 1954, commercial American comic books were not subject to any formal censorship organization (Hirsch viii). As a result, all kinds of pro-war and pro-nationalism themes could be disseminated throughout the country since comic books had increasingly larger readerships than newspapers.

 

The effects of American culture clearly had a heavy influence on Canada and the range of topics covered within comics. The names of Rat Face and Giggling Gerty as well as their caricature style faces are reminiscent of Chester Gould’s comic series Dick Tracy, which was in circulation at the time. Manny Easson follows the same ideology that criminals are the personification of evil, and that evil is not pretty. While the villains of Dizzy Don are not grotesque, they are not attractive in the conventional way (Fried, 335). Rat face’s nose it so pronounced his head is essentially a sideways triangle, while Hamchin is more chin than person. By making these characters strange looking the reader is less likely to sympathise with them, nor reproach them for not behaving in the lawful good manner we come to expect of a protagonist, even in a crime novel, where violence is permitted for the sake of justice. The same can be said for our hero Dizzy Don. His unconventional features, most striking of all are his eyes, make him an odd-looking character. Since he does not look like the square jawed hero of comics, we associate him less with benevolent justice, and thus allow him to commit less than heroic acts.

 

 

Violence and P.Is

While both superheroes and detectives have violence in their comics there is often a difference in representation. Super heroes fight with villains, punching, kicking or using weapon. The depictions are often more graphic and direct than in detective comics, in superhero comics the hits are more campy than gritty. Rarely shown is the death of the villain unless it is integral to the plot. Often the villain is captured and sentence to jail time instead. Detective comics on the other hand are less direct, often showing the aftermath of said violence and focusing more on the apprehension. Sometimes the villain is killed in combat by the detective or an assistant. Typically, this is done with a gun, the weapon of choice for private eyes. Dizzy Don follows these conventions as seen when Don is firing the gun into an unseen group of gangsters. It is not explicitly shown that someone was killed in the bullet spray however it is heavily implied that some gangsters are hit, allowing Don and Gerty more time to escape the angry mob. On the second occasion when Don blindly fires his weapon, he empties the gun of all it’s bullets. While their accuracy was lowered the second time due to bright lights, it is still likely that more gangsters were injured. While done by a different gun entirely, justice is achieved when Rat Face kills himself with his pistol to escape the clutches of the police. The ending follows the formulaic story arc seen in Charles Biro and Bob Woods true crime piece Crime Does Not Pay “Crime Does Not Pay was designed to prevent juvenile delinquency. Each story ended with the subject either dead or in jail” (Fried, 339). The death of Rat Face proves that though an individual may not have much power, their actions can still impact the situation. In the end, Dizzy Don is able to defeat Rat Face.

“Dizzy Don fires gun”.Manny Easson. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don # 18: Bottled Death. Bells Features and Publishing Company Limited

 

 

 

Violence leads to Justice

The necessity of violence for justice was a prevalent view during both the world wars. Many men and women took up arms, many of whom may have been pacifists in previous situations, to protect the ones they love and their way of life. This sentiment can be seen by Dizzy Don when he fires on the gangsters. Dizzy Don is a radio show host and uses his sharp wit as a weapon throughout the comic and one-shot pages.  It is his main form of offense, seen when Dizzy Don is initially captured by the gangsters. He tries to use humour to de-escalate the situation. When that fails he is forced into an abandoned mine shaft where he is bound with lit sticks of dynamite. Once faced with the reality that humour will not help him he chooses a more aggressive approach. The character giggling Gerty facilitates this by first freeing Dizzy Don from his dynamite shackles, then by supplying him with the Tommy gun that he unloads on the mobsters on two separate occasions.

 

“Dizzy Don runs out of bullets”
Manny Easson. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don # 18: Bottled Death. Bells Features and Publishing Company Limited

Guns, while not the weapon of choice for many super heroes, were the symbol of justice for the detective. Often relying on wit, and persuasion, the detective would try to outsmart the enemy when confronted, however, in instances when that could not be achieved they did what was necessary. Unlike the true crime comic series Crime Doesn’t Pay, Dizzy Don did not feature “graphic depictions of blood, gunshot wounds, and beaten bodies. Violence was explicit; it was not left up to the reader’s imagination.” (Hirsch empire, 82). Over the top depictions of violence are typical in adult detective novels and graphic novels. Dizzy Don’s creator Manny Easson takes a cue from Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit, and avoids overtly violent scenes and uses subtler literary devices. “Eisner has depicted the bank robbery with both menace and humor, but without showing bloodshed, injury or death” (Fried, 339). A similar example of this within the comic can be seen where Dizzy Don attempts to use humour to distract the mobsters and convince him to let him go, despite having discovered their illegal alcohol plot. Much like a soldier on the battle field Dizzy Don tries to outsmart the opponent. Dizzy Don chooses to work smarter, not harder, to escape. In war brute strength is not the only asset a soldier has. By outsmarting the enemy, they can do much more damage than could be done with strength alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Moral Sacrifice

During the war many sacrifices were made. Foodstuffs that were common place in households had become scarcer. Luxury items were no longer being imported with the same enthusiasm as before; among these luxury products were comics. The idea of sacrifice was the driving force behind the success of war time rationing. Moral sacrifices were being made as well. Killing is difficult for most people but it becomes even harder when the enemy is also human. Many of the hero comics deal with clear cut distinction between good and evil. Detective dramas have a much murkier representation, with the detective sometimes acting as criminal would. The same could be said for soldiers, killing and destroy their enemy’s land much in the same the enemy would do to you. By exposing the reader to more complex representations these comics were subconsciously preparing them for the moral ambiguity of war. Dizzy Don fires at the mobsters out of self preservation as well as moral righteousness. The alcohol Rat Face is manufacturing contains wood alcohol, essentially making his product poisonous. Even though many people have died or suffered serious health problem consuming it he shows no remorse. Following comic book logic those who work for Rat Face are morally wrong and thus their deaths are not tragedies but necessary evils. Dizzy Don did not directly kill Rat Face however he had a hand in the events that led to his death. Soldier fighting in World War II did not directly fight Hitler or Mussolini however their actions would have an indirect effect on those leaders. The kinds of villains a detective often faces are pure humans, those without any biological advantages. They posses no super powers, and are thus grounded in our reality more than a super villain. Batman, whose original comics were more noir than superhero comic, fought ordinary, albeit evil, humans in his early days. Fried analyses the human origins of Batman’s most notable villains, “His best – known villains, such as the Joker and Two – Face, started out as ordinary human beings” (335). Dizzy Don’s villains are human, much the same ways villains throughout history were ultimately human.

 

Works Cited

Fried, Arthur. “Crime in Comics and the Graphic Novel.” A Companion to Crime Fiction. Edited by Charles J. Rzepka, and Lee Horsley. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, MLA International Bibliography, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/913253278?accountid=13631, doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1002/9781444317916

Hirsch, Paul S. Pulp Empire: Comic Books, Culture, and U. S. Foreign Policy, 1941-1955, U of California, Santa Barbara, 2013, MLA International Bibliography, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1532763845?accountid=13631.

Weigel, Richard D. “Dick Tracy and World War II.” Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-Present), vol. 12, no. 2, 2013, MLA International Bibliography, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1696270311?accountid=13631.

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