Category Archives: Dime Comics

Racial Opposition In Dime Comics No. 15

© Copyright 2017 Benson McDaniel, Ryerson University

The WECA and the Comic Book Vacuum

In 1939 Germany invaded the Sudetenland; two days later England declared war on Germany and just a week after that Canada declared war alongside the Crown, thus entering what would come to be known as the Second World War. The Canada of 1939 was a small nation, despite its geographical vastness, with a population of just over eleven million, most of whom contributed to a resource economy deeply rooted in agriculture. By the close of the war, Canada had more than a million people serving in uniform (Scott 7). The staggering margin of the nation’s population that were personally invested in the war effort is an indication of the holistic dedication Canada showed during the Second World War. With nearly a tenth of the population serving hands on, Canada, at home and abroad, was truly at war.

War is an investment for any nation, and it is an especially dire investment when a nearly a tenth of a nation’s population is personally serving in the effort. For these reasons, on December 6th, 1940, William Lyon MacKenzie King introduced the War Exchange Conservation Act, or WECA, to protect the Canadian economy and aid the dollar. The War Exchange Conservation Act limited imports, specifically on luxury or nonessential goods, and among the paper products banned from the Canadian border were comic books (Kocmarek 148).

In is within the ensuing comic book vacuum that the genesis of the first generation of Canadian born comic books, the Canadian Whites, is found. In as little as three months, Canadian entrepreneurs mobilized resources and began to create titles in order to fill the empty space on Canadian magazine racks and in the lives of Canadian children. First came Anglo-American’s Robin Hood and Company Comics, soon followed by Maple Leaf’s Better Comics title, which though primarily composed of reprints included the appearance of the first Canadian superhero, coincidentally called Iron Man. That summer, Anglo-American expanded its line to include the Freelance title, and by September, Bell Feature’s Wow Comics and Hillborough’s Triumph-Adventure Comics were also on the stands (Bell 2015). Soon, Canada had a wide range of its very own comic book titles, complete with uniquely Canadian heroes

Among these comic books was Dime Comics, from Bell Features. Dime Comics’ content was a diverse mix of titles, including mysteries, crime stories, single page jokes, comedic strips, and superhero titles, but heaviest on titles focusing on military affiliated action heroes, fighting for Canadian interests abroad. Given that not only was Canada at war but it was that very war which allowed the Canadian Whites to come into existence it should come as no surprise that the ongoing fight features heavily in Dime Comics. In Dime Comics No. 15 alone, six titles, “Rex Baxter”, “ “Hitler” Has… Troubles!!”, “West Wewak”, “Lae Task Force”, “Scotty MacDonald” and “Johnny Canuck”, revolve around the war effort abroad.

“Rex Baxter” sees a heroic RCAF embroiled in a strange plot involving mystical figures and science fiction technology, all of which the title character is constantly looking to apply to the war effort. “West Wewak”, “Lae Task Force” and “Scotty MacDonald” all center on fighter pilots and ground troops attempting to advance through the jungles of South East Asia, while “Johnny Canuck” finds the eponymous Canadian superhero stranded in those same jungles, lost and trying to find his way out. Unfortunately, another primary theme present in most of the content of Dime Comics No. 15, is the racialization of villainous figures. Characters of Asian and South East Asian descent are consistently identified as villainous figures and figures of suspicion and deceit, not because of their geopolitical affiliation but rather because of their racial identity. In fact, these characterizations of racial others are not limited to stories set abroad, embedded in the geopolitical conflicts. Within a Dime Comics No. 15 “Nitro” story, the titular character, the superhero and masked avenger Nitro, identifies enemy figures as villainous and dangerous because they appear to be Hindu. Given India’s place in the commonwealth and its role as an ally to both Canada and the United Kingdom, the role of race as a determining factor in identifying enemy characters is undeniable.

Racialization and Otherness in Dime Comics No. 15

Dime Comics No. 15’s “Nitro” begins unassumingly; Nitro’s mild mannered alter ego, Terry King, receives a visit from a family friend, Carol Fane. Carol informs Terry she has been receiving death threats regarding a ‘Hindoo’ artifact her father, Sidney, has recently recovered from India. Despite the colonial overtones, the first pages of the title are relatively unassuming—that is, until the final frame of the second page, in which Carol is grabbed and hauled into a car by captors whom Nitro characterizes as “foreign looking thugs”. As Nitro begins to pursue the car, he shouts, “OKAY YOU FANATICS GET SET TO MEET YOUR ANCESTORS!” (Lazare 14).

Black and white image, the final panel of the second page of "Nitro", Dime Comics. No. 15
G. Lazare (a). Dime Comics. No. 15
June 1944,Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

Here, Nitro could have identified his enemies by their actions—kidnapping a friend, throwing her in a car and taking off, any number of all round nefarious or suspicious behaviors—but instead its their ethnic identity that he identifies them as antagonists.

An identical occurrence can be observed in a military story later in Dime Comics No. 15, “West Wewak”. “Breezy” Bartlett, an RCAF pilot, is flying over the Solomon Islands when he is attacked by a Japanese Zero.  Just before ejecting, Bartlett looses a hail of bullets into the Japanese planes, proclaiming “COME AND GET IT, YOU SLANT EYED BABOONS! HAVE SOME GOOD CANADIAN BULLETS RIGHT IN THE PUSS!” (Legault 20). Later, after seeing an American assault on a Japanese base begin, Bartlett attacks a Japanese gunner, yelling “GANGWAY, YOU ALMOND-EYED LITTLE MEN OF BANZAI!” as he does (Legault 22).

Again, the enemies of the protagonist are not identified as so by their allegiance to enemy foreign powers—their colors, their insignia, their loyalties—things that may evolve and change overtime, things that may be forgotten after the war, things that are transient and not inherent to their identity, but by their racialization. The Japanese enemies of ‘Breezy’ Bartlett aren’t portrayed as his enemies because of their imperial mandate, the cruelty of their policies, or any other more nuanced reality, but because of their features which are inherent to their race: their Asian eyes, their Japanese stature. The message is clear: Bartlett’s enemies aren’t his enemies because they serve the Axis, but because they are the Axis—as evidenced by their racial features.

Later, on page 29 of Dime Comics No. 15, a “Scotty MacDonald” story features the titular hero and an American ally, Jim O’Hara, sent to rescue a Chinese allied agent. Once they’ve rendezvoused with their man, Sin Tong, Jim says to Scotty, “THINK HE CAN BE TRUSTED SCOTTY. [sic] HE’S A MYSTERIOUS LOOKING CHAP. HE MAY NOT BE THE M’COY!” (Cooper 30). One might expect the portrayal of Chinese people in Dime Comics to be more sympathetic, given their role as an ally (not that this prevented racist depictions of Indian people), yet again a character expresses sentiment specifically centering on an Asian person’s appearance. His behavior, his credentials, these things which any reasonable person would judge another person’s character, are secondary to the man’s racial identity. Paired with the racist caricature of Japanese soldiers which follows in the remaining panels of “Scotty MacDonald”, an opportunity for a positive representation of Asian characters is passed upon, and even an allied soldier is portrayed as rather shifty because of his Chinese appearance (Cooper 32).

The final title of Dime Comics No. 15, a “Johnny Canuck” story, offers even more racist caricatures.

Black and white image, the title page of a Johnny Canuck story, Dime Comics. No. 15
L. Bachle (a). Dime Comics. No. 15
June 1944,Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

The cover page showcases an immense, menacing face, who’s pierced ears and head wrapping betray his foreign allegiance to readers.  Based off of this cover page, one might assume the Indian man terrorizing the exhausted hero might figure in the story as the primary antagonist, a villain deserving of such a frightening depiction; however, the character in question appears nowhere within Dime Comics No. 15’s “Johnny Canuck” title (Bachle 32). Why then does he populate the cover page? One can only assume because his racialized visage is meant to project villainy, fear and malice, traits that the artist, Leo Bachle, clearly associates with Indian peoples.

The Racial Home Front

What motivated the racist content of Dime Comics No. 15?

While the depiction of Japanese soldiers is abhorrently racist, its genesis is not a mystery. In December 1941, the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese air force, and alongside the United States and its allies, Canada declared war on Japan. Soon after the attack, the Canadian government used the War Measures Act—in order to declare each and every Japanese citizen—naturalized, Canadian born and immigrant alike—an enemy alien. Even Japanese Canadians who had served in the Canadian military during the First World War were subject to this draconian law (Fukawa, Hickman 68). Basic rights such as habeas corpus were annihilated by enemy alien status. The Japanese had their finances seized and their agency, already limited by racism and prejudice, entirely revoked. Japanese Canadians were then required to register with the RCMP as aliens (Fukawa, Hickman 72). At the beginning of 1942, the eviction and internment began, as Japanese Canadians were ordered to evacuate their homes and report for detention (Fukawa, Hickman 82). During the evacuation of Japanese Canadians from Vancouver, citizens were held in livestock stables and other makeshift buildings in Hastings Park (Fukawa, Hickman 86). By decree, the Canadian government essentially dehumanized the Japanese in every way—they revoked their rights, their status as citizens, and even kept them in holding areas intended for animals. All of this, not because any evidence was ever produced showing any Japanese Canadians held allegiance to Imperial Japan, or that there was any indication of a threat posed by radicals within Canada, but simply because Japanese Canadians were Japanese. Like the Japanese characters demonized in “West Wewak” and “Scotty MacDonald”, their enemy status wasn’t confirmed by any facts, any actions, their character or their conduct, but by their racial status, they Asian appearance.

As vile and reprehensible as they are, the depiction of Japanese people within Dime Comics can be rationalized. The Japanese were the enemy, for geopolitical reasons rather than racial ones, but the conflation of the two is understandable given that the Canadian government quite literally made the same mistake, and with the full power and resources at their disposal, not only treading into racist folly in theory but in action, permanently altering the Japanese population of Canada and leaving scars—financial, racial and yes, physical—that would never fade.

The depiction of racialized figures belonging to allied states, on the other hand, offers no such accessible and understandable explanation. India, as a British Commonwealth nation, was an ally to Canada and the rest of the Allied forces. What then is the source for the bizarre animosity directed to both explicit and implicit Indian and Hindu figures?

The majority of Hindu immigration to Canada began in the 1960s, with droves of professional Indian men and women, along with their families, arriving to find their place in Canadian society. The majority of Hindu immigration before this time occurred in British Columbia, far from the Torontonian home base of Bell Features comics (Coward 3). The west coast location of the pre-war Hindu immigration did not however prevent institutionalized racism from taking place, similarly to how it would take place decades later. Between 1900 and 1908, nearly 5000 South East Asians, mostly Indian peoples, largely Sikhs but Hindus as well, immigrated to BC. Until 1908, this process ran rather smoothly, but after eight years the small, frightened, racist white population pressured the government into taking measures to combat the imaginary invasion, just as the government would combat another imaginary invasion during the Japanese internment. Legislation was passed in 1908 not only to prohibit South East Asian, and specifically Hindu peoples, from voting, serving in public serving, on juries or as school trustees, professing law or pharmacy, working public contracts or purchasing crown timber, but also to prevent any further immigration through “continuous journey” laws (Coward 8).

While it may at times seem random and senseless, the racialization of the South East Asian figures of Dime Comics is not without precedent—precedent laid by the Canadian government itself. The Canadian Whites are as Canadian as any stories come—full of courage, daring exploits, heroism and alliances forged through adversity—but just like the history of Canada, there are negatives present as well: colonialism, racial violence, prejudice and exoticism. The Canadian Whites are spotted, they are flawed, just like Canada itself, and like Canada itself, if we are to move on as a people, we must acknowledge these flaws and seek to understand from where they came and how they might be avoided in the future.


WORKS CITED

  • Kocmarek, I. “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, 2016, pp. 148-165. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/crc.2016.0008
  • Bell, John. “Comics Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., 2 July 06. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.
  • Lazare, Gerald (w., a.) “Nitro.” Dime Comics, No. 15, June, 1944,  pp. 14-16. Canadian
  • Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives
  • Canada
  • http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166578.pdf
  • Legault, E.T. (w., a.) “West Wewak.” Dime Comics, No. 15, June, 1944,  pp. 20-22. Canadian
  • Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives
  • Canada
  • http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166578.pdf
  • Cooper, Al (w., a.) “Scotty MacDonald.” Dime Comics, No. 15, June, 1944,  pp. 29-32. Canadian
  • Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives
  • Canada
  • http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166578.pdf
  • Bachle, Leo (w., a.) “Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics, No. 15, June, 1944,  pp. 32-35. Canadian
  • Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives
  • Canada
  • http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166578.pdf
  • Hickman, Pamela and Masako Fukawa, Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Japanese Canadian Internment in the Second World War, James Lorimer and Company LTD., 2011.
  • Coward, Harold G., et al. The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada, and the United States. State University of New York Press, 2000. SUNY Series in Religious Studies. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=44052&site=ehost-live.

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.

Dog Fights and Ace Pilots

© 2017 Kayla McKenzie, Ryerson University

Dog Fights and Ace Pilots: Dime Comics No. 17

Introduction

Tricolour; red, yellow, and blue. Comic book cover.
Dingle, Adrian (a). Dime Comics, No. 17, October 1944.
Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf

The Second World War was a taxing period for both adults and children. Many sacrifices were made, included halting the import of none essential goods. The introduction of the War Exchange Conservation Act of December 1940 brought about such reforms. Children were hit quite hard, as they lost their Comic book heroes (Bell 30). It was a loss not only of a source of entertainment but a loss of their comic book friends.  Canadian children also had to cope with the harsher realities of wartime. Prime among this was watching their family members go to war, with the possibility of not returning. But in true Canadian spirit, Canadian comic book publishers formed. These companies were; Maple Leaf Publishing, Educational Projects, Anglo America, and Bell Features (Pascoe). Bell Features introduced a great line up of all Canadian heroes that represented the ideologies of Canadian values and appearances. Their heroes included the likes of Rex Baxter, Nitro, and Johnny Canuck.

Rex Baxter, Nitro, Johnny Canuck and other various heroic figures featured, highlighted Canadian values and what a good Canadian looked like during that time. This was important as it provided a static visual representation of “nation and nationalism” in a time of great uncertainty and self-discovery for Canada (Edwardson 185). Though through retrospect, it is unfortunate that the representations of Canadian identity had a contingency of race.  These iconic characters are among the roster of heroes that became known as “The Canadian Whites” a uniquely Canadian contribution to The Golden Age of Comics. The reign of The Canadian Whites on Canadian newsstands was regrettably very brief, as publishers ran into many problems after the war. In the period of 1945-1947, The Canadian Whites disappeared (Bell 49). Though the Canadian heroes were not around for a long time, they were a critical contribution to the morale of Canadian youth and the formation of Canadian identity for children during the war.

Relatively Realistic Super Heroes

The Canadian Whites are considerably different from current superheroes such as those from the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. For the most part, they lack “super powers” though many showed great physical strength (Pascoe).  With the notable exceptions such as Adrian Dingle’s “Nelvana of the Northern Lights” and Vernon Miller’s “The Iron Man” few of the Canadian Whites were endowed with supernatural powers such as flight (Bell 43). In the world of comics, they were realistic superheroes, for the harsh realities of wartime.

In Dime Comics No. 17 (October 1944) Adrian Dingle’s story “Pepper Pot Captures a Spy”

Dingle, Adrian (w, a) “Pepper Pot Captures a Spy” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 24-28.
Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

clearly highlights the value of physical strength and raw patriotism to the Canadian superheroes. During a session of brutal one on one physical combat with a Nazi spy, Pepper Pot wins. He was equipped with only his exceptional strength and love of Canada. The comic states, “It was because he [en]visioned his beloved land of the Maple Leaf in the hands of the Nazis and all the horror which would subsequently follow that Pepper Pot went wild! Quick as lightning his legs came up and wrapped themselves in a scissor grip” (Dingle 28). Such imagery was essential for imparting to Canadian youth that all they needed was strength and a great love of Canada to serve their country.

 

 

Attracting Canadian Children in the 1940’s to the Airforce

In Dime Comics No. 17, there is an inescapable presence of airplanes. Three separate adventures are set almost entirely in the air, with many others featuring airplanes to various degrees. By order of appearance, the first story is “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret”. Rex Baxter and Gail speed through the sky in a stolen bomber to search for their friend Zoltan. The second story is “Scotty Macdonald”. Scotty and his pals O’Hara, and Tana are fleeing after setting a Japanese aerodrome on fire. The third story is “The Flying Fool”. Frank Kent channels his rage over the loss of his brother into an unauthorized vengeance mission.

Fictional WWI Dogfight
Legault, E.t. (w, a) “The Flying Fool.” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp.36-39. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf

Comics are categorized as children’s literature. The target audience is children, though “child” is a broad category as it spans from children who have just learned to read, all the way to young adults. The featuring of combat pilots in the comics may be viewed as a tool for recruitment. E.T. Legault’s “The Flying Fool”, is a prime example. Kent’s successful vengeance mission could easily inspire young Canadians. It is presented as “…the diary of Frank Kent, Dare-Devil Pilot Canadian Ace of the Skies” (Legault 36). The presentation of this story as a found journal adds an extra layer of realism.

The loss of a brother is a story line that would have hit home with many of the story’s readers, who have family members that are serving or who were lost in service to their country.

to join the in a combative manner or actively contribute to the war effort in other ways. Kent is the kind of hero that any able-bodied boy could realistically become. That is if they have the combination of the right skills, training, and equipment. If Kent’s story did not encourage young adults to join the war effort, it was at least able to offer them solace in a time of great loss.

Adrian Dingle’s “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” shows the theme of rescue. Soldiers did not only die in the war, but they faced the threat of becoming prisoners of war. Which was very dangerous, as it could lead to being tortured for Allies secrets or death. If the torture rendered results, it could put fellow servicemen in grave danger. Zoltan’s anguish is clearly depicted as he is shown collapsed on the floor with a bayonet pointed at him. The closure in the panel states “Zoltan’s thought-train with rex is broken, his morale is shattered! As if to mercifully screen him from the grim thoughts of his impending death, the Xalantan’s mind goes blank and he falls senseless to the floor of his cell.” (Dingle 4). This story acts to show children that there is hope of rescue for servicemen that have been captured by the enemy.

Al Cooper’s “Scotty Macdonald” repeats the theme of recusing with the addition of escape. Macdonald and his friend not only successfully steal a plane from a Japanese military aerodrome, but he manages to gun down the Japanese pilot that is following them. Macdonald is so confident that he utters lines such as “It’s a cinch they won’t attack us – we could fly circles around them” (Cooper 19) and “Righto! We’ll teach the beggars we’re not in the mood to play follow the leader”(Cooper 20). Macdonald’s success brings a glory to being aa pilots and will recruit children to the war effort.

“Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” and “Scotty Macdonald” both feature women. In “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” Gail proves herself to be a capable pilot when Rex tells her to take over flying so he could use the “thought-machine” on board to try and contact Zoltan (Dingle 2). All goes well for Gail until the engines fail, and the plane crashes.  Gail’s piloting contributes to the mission, as Rex would not have been able to fly the plane and locate Zoltan with the thought-machine by himself. In “Scotty Macdonald” Tana does not fly the plane, but she provides an active lookout. Though she is rather passive in this issue’s story, her presence is still important. Gail and Tana convey to Canadian youth that women are capable of stepping into important roles abroad and at home.

Cooper, Al (w, a) “Scotty Macdonald” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 18-23.
Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Cooper, Al (w, a) “Scotty Macdonald” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 18-23.
Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Success of Real Canadian Pilots

In all the three adventures that are set almost entirely in the air, the pilots are successful on their missions or survive a crash landing only to continue their mission in the next issue. The outlandish success of the Bell Features Universe’s pilots initially seems to be merely a product of the hyper reality of the Comic book genre. However, there was a well-documented history of the accomplishments of Canadian pilots in the First World War. During the First World War, Canadian servicemen served as members of the British forces (English 5). Of the British Empire’s ten best pilots, five of them were from Canada (McCaffery 9).  Of the Canadian pilots who fought in the First World War, Billy Bishop of Perry Sound Ontario was the most famous. (McCaffery 93). Bishop mastered the “deflection shot” which made up for his average pilot skills, his expert marksmanship was formed from during his childhood hunting in the woods (Pigott 48). This is an example of how the Canadian Landscape formed its heroes.

During World War Two, Canada was an independent country. This was crucial to the formation of Canadian identity, as the remarkable achievements of Canadian fighter pilots solely belong to Canada. Though Canada was still associated with Britain, who was also a member of the Allies during the war. It was a time for Canadian pilots to be known solely as Canadian pilots.  This meant that there was an emergence of Canadian “Ace pilots”.  The status of Ace pilot is a prestigious honor bestowed on only the most accomplished pilots. To gain such a prestigious statues pilots must have a minimum of five recorded aerial victories. (Tennyson 223)

Buck Mcnair was a was a top scoring Canadian pilot in the second world war. There are two notable instances that he survived extreme conditions. He survived the English channels frigid waters for several hours only to quickly returning to combat. When shot down a second time, he suffered severe burns and blurred vision this too did not prevent him from returning to combat (McCaffery 173).  His tenacious courage makes the out allows the triumphs of the comic books superheroes plausible.

Russel Bannock was one of the most successful pilots that fought for the allies in the Second World War. Though as he was a night pilot, his kills directly saved lives as he shot down German bomber planes. In his field, he was without equal (Pigott 19). Pigott notes that from a time he flew a “Mosquitoes” aircraft model as an inimitable detail, as it was particularly fast and maneuverable aircraft (19). This is important to note as in Dime Comics No. 16 Scotty Macdonald is noted to fly that same plane model (Al Cooper 42. This again reinforces the similarities of the real Canadian pilots and their superhero counterparts.

Visual Saturation of the War Effort

If the cap fits, wear it!
National Film Board of Canada
Ephemera, 1940, English
Public Domain
http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMDC-IFTHECAPFITS&R=DC-IFTHECAPFITS
Roll ’em out!
Canada. Director of Aircraft Production
Public Domain
http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMDC-ROLLEMOUT&R=DC-ROLLEMOUT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Canadian Whites comic may have been children’s most intimate exposure to Wartime propaganda. As the act of reading is a solitary activity, allowing the comics to form a private connection with children. But there were many posters that were viewed publicly for group consumption. The wartime posters further enforced the same notions. The  “If the Cap Fits Wear It!” and the “Roll ‘em Out” posters present children with more practical but none the less indispensable contributes to the war effort. The Caps at the center of the poster are; a women’s head scarf, a farmer’s hat, and conductors hat. This indicates that the work of Canadians on the home front was vital to supporting those abroad. The second poster echoes this sentiment as it does not feature fighter pilots, but the workers that build the air crafts

Conclusion

The Canadian Whites filled the emptiness left in the heart of Canadian children during the war. They gave Canadian children a strong sense of Canadian identity and a mass culture to unity around, in time that Canada was emerging as an independent country on the global stage of the Second World War. However, it was imperfect in that it was not an inclusive identity for all Canadians. Race and gender were not equally included the adventures of the Canadian Whites. Yet it was a means of support, inspire, and entertainment for most Canadian Youth of the Second World War.

 

 

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.


 

Works Cited

 

Cooper, Al (w, a) “Scotty Macdonald” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 18-23. Bell                      Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf

 

Bell, John. Invaders from the North, edited by John Bell, Dundurn, 2006. ProQuest Ebook            Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=611683.

 

Dingle, Adrian (w, a) “Pepper Pot Captures a Spy” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp.         24-28. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf

 

—.  “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret.” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 1-7. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf

 

Edwardson, Ryan. “The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and the        Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Superhero.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 37,   no. 2, 2003, pp. 184-201, doi:10.1111/1540-5931.00063.

 

English, Allan Douglas. Cream of the Crop, MQUP, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central,         http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=3331472.

Legault, E.t. (w, a) “The Flying Fool.” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp.36-39. Bell Features  Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf

 

McCaffery, Dan. Air Aces: The Lives and Times of Twelve Canadian Fighter Pilots. Lorimer, 1990. Scholars Portal Books,            http://books1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/viewdoc.html?id=37765.

 

Pascoe, Will. Lost Heroes., 28 February 2014. McNabb Connolly, film.            www.mcnabbconnolly.ca.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/RyersonGeneralListing/titles/LHI-LH.

 

Pigott, Peter. Flying Canucks, edited by Peter Pigott, Dundurn, 2012. Ebook ,          https://toronto.overdrive.com/media/1184391

 

Tennyson, Brian Douglas. Canada’s Great War, 1914-1918, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers,     2014. ProQuest Ebook Central,             http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=1874264.

Themes of the Representation of Violence and War through Canadian Identity and the Portrayal of the Axis Powers in Dime Comics Issue No. 22

©Copyright 2017 Abigail Tamayo, Ryerson University.

Introduction

Published by Bell Features, Dime Comics’ 22nd issue of the Canadian Whites comic books was released in April of 1945. It is one of twenty-nine published comic books issued by Dime Comics from 1942 to 1946 during and after World War Two.

Dingle, Adrian (a). Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features: Cover, Bell Features collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Dingle, Adrian (a). Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features: Cover, Bell Features collection, Library and Archives Canada.

From front to cover, the comic issue contains several action, adventure and science themed stories and includes two activity pages. The stories included in the comic issue are as follows: “Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” written and illustrated by Adrian Dingle, “Chick ‘n’ Fuzz” written and illustrated by Bill Thomas, “Oolay the Eskimo” story by Cal, “Nitro” written and illustrated by Jerry Lazare, “Professor Punk” written and illustrated by Harry Brunt, “Johnny Canuck” written and illustrated by Leo Bachle, “Let’s go back and face the draft, he says there’s a war on here too!” story by Mickey Owens, “The Mongoose” written and illustrated by Bill Thomas, “Firebug’s Fiasco” written and illustrate by Jerry Lazare, “Drummy Young” written and illustrated by Jerry Lazare, “Monster of the Deep” written and illustrated by Fred Kelly, and “Murder Star” written and illustrated by Tedd Steele. Although the comic was released around the end of the war, there were still strong instances of national identity presented throughout the issue which battled the depicted characterization of the axis powers. Within the writers and artists’ representation of violence and war, the differences between Canadian identity and that of the Axis Powers were distinct. Readers can easily distinguish the ethnicity and political positions of certain characters due to the stereotypes we are aware of now, implanted within their words and appearances.

Bell features publishing originated due to the government’s program of “Eliminating non-essentials” (“We Must Do Without”), and their existence contributed to the Canadian Whites’ influence in popular culture during World War Two. Dime Comic’s issue no. 22 manifested Canadian ideologies in its production, becoming a form of Canadian propaganda by perpetuating Canadian identity in the comic through its superheroes and the depiction of an anti-axis powers political view through its Japanese and Nazi-German characters.

Representation of the Axis Powers

The comic issue incorporates various elements of representation when conveying the diverse characters that appear in its stories. A crucial reoccurring essence of representation that is worth observing is how the axis powers are represented in the comic issue. The way in which the Axis Powers are represented provided readers in the 1930s with a manufactured vision of who the enemy was, and when compared to their pre-conceived notion towards Canadian identity it benefited an uplifting movement that encouraged national pride and Canadian nationality as “the good guys”.

Characters in this issue ranged from being Canadian, American, Japanese, and Nazi-German. The characterization of all characters in the issue were done by Canadian writers and artists. The writers and artists of this issue had the tendency to represent “the other” in World War Two, referring specifically to the Japanese and Nazi-German characters in the issue, through the racialization of their Japanese and Nazi-German characters.

In this comic issue, Nazi-Germans appear in the comic issue as unintelligent individuals, at least in comparison to the Canadian characters that appear alongside them. Emphasizing on how ludicrous and ill-advised the Nazi-Germans are in the stories they appear in, provides the reader with a tone-deaf representation of actual Nazi-Germans during World War Two.

 

Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret

Written and illustrated by Adrian Dingle, “Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” is the first comic that appears in the issue. The story features the characters Rex Baxter and Gail Abbot who rescue Zoltan from a Japanese prison camp from the south pacific. The panels on the pages represent various moments in time, first placing the reader in a radio station (Dingle 1-2), then immediately into the action; Rex Baxter running towards a plane and in the sky (3-5), and communication between Americans, Canadians, and Rex Baxter. (6-7)

Within the language of the story, Dingle includes several World War Two slang terms. To refer to a Japanese person; anything Japanese Dingle shortens the word to simply ‘Jap’, however Dingle also makes use of a more offensive term in synonymous to a Japanese person: ‘Nip’ which originates in the 1940s as an abbreviated form of the term ‘Nipponese’. (“Nip3”) Tension had risen in the beginning of 1942 between Canadians and the Japanese since the attacks on Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941, resulting in a sense of distrust of Japanese-Canadians which lead to the imprisonment of Japanese-Canadians in internment camps. (Marsh) They remained detained in these camps, located along the pacific coast, for the duration of the second world war until the war ended in 1945. (Marsh)

Dingle, Adrian. Panel from"Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta's Secret." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Dingle, Adrian. Panel from”Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Another offensive term referencing the Japanese is the word ‘squints’, which is a racial reference to the physical features of a Japanese Person.

Dingle, Adrian. Panel from"Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta's Secret." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Dingle, Adrian. Panel from”Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Chik ‘N’ Fuzz

Written and illustrated by Bill Thomas, “Chik ‘N’ Fuzz” follows two main characters Chik and Fuzz (notably a racist story due to Thomas’ depiction of Caucasian and African Americans through the two main characters) who are on their way to England when they intercept a Nazi-German submarine and take the opportunity to wreak havoc from within enemy lines. The Nazi-German characters in this story are easy to point out due to Thomas’ use of the characters’ speech bubbles and appearance to convey his Nazi-German representation.

Thomas, Bill. Panel from"Chik 'N' Fuzz." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Thomas, Bill. Panel from”Chik ‘N’ Fuzz.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Note the emblematic Swastika of the German Nazi party on bands around the arms of the German soldiers. (Jeff) The characters also speak in a thick German accent which Thomas depicts through the intonation of the words he writes in the speech bubbles for the Nazi-German characters. In one frame, the Nazi-German characters appear to “Heil Hitler”.

Although Thomas’ representations of Nazi-Germans are watered-downed versions of real Nazi-German’s during World War Two, the representation provides readers with a basic concept of identifying Nazi-Germans.

Thomas, Bill. Panel from"Chik 'N' Fuzz." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Thomas, Bill. Panel from”Chik ‘N’ Fuzz.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Thomas, Bill. Panel from"Chik 'N' Fuzz." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Thomas, Bill. Panel from”Chik ‘N’ Fuzz.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Johnny Canuck

In his comic, Leo Bachle’s character Johnny Canuck is captured and held captive by Japanese soldiers and is tortured for information. Bachle’s depiction of the Japanese soldiers in the comic reveal a racialized appearance and speech, apparent in how he drew the soldiers and the diction he used in their speech bubbles.

Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Maximum Advantage in pictures: propaganda as Art and History. From a Poster. This is the Enemy. Public Domain.
Maximum Advantage in pictures: propaganda as Art and History. From a Poster. This is the Enemy. Public Domain.

The dehumanization of the axis powers was not uncommon during the second world war, due to the increasing amount of propaganda posters made by the allies. The appearances of the Japanese were often caricaturized as ghastly monster-like individuals, inflicting malice to instill fear in the audiences the posters were propagandized towards. One American anti-Japanese propaganda poster called “This is the Enemy” shows a Japanese soldier holding a dagger in one hand with sharp-nails on the other, appearing to claw and reach for the woman who is running away in terror.

The Japanese soldier on the poster bears the Japanese Rising Sun Flag on his hat which was Japan’s flag during the late 19th and early 20th centuries but has since then changed due to its connection to the military significance during World War Two, wherein it acted as Japan’s insignia as an allied force of the Nazi-Germans who they shared similar ideologies with. (Kim) The racialization of Japanese persons in propaganda posters utilizes racial stereotypes to distinguish ‘the other’ and inflict fear of ‘the enemy’. This form of propaganda permeates Bachle’s comic, evident in the portrayal of the Japanese characters who are depicted as ruthless, remorseless and violent individuals.

 

National Identity

Two of the comics in this issue, “Nitro”, and “Johnny Canuck”, feature superheroes highly popularized during World War Two, Nitro and Johnny Canuck respectively, who Guardians of the North listed as members of a group of comic superheroes purposed to personify the Canadian spirit embedded within Canadian identity. Unlike the typical superhero who is characterized to have supernatural abilities, Nitro and Johnny Canuck are uncharacteristically portrayed to use more mundane abilities in battles. Nevertheless, the two share the ability of superhuman strength though in their comics “Nitro” and “Johnny Canuck” have them seen using intellectual based abilities, natural of a regular person alongside their superhuman ability. In Nitro and Johnny Canuck alone, it is evident there is a plethora of representation of Canadian identity which is primarily projected through the superhero’s actions, thoughts and words, and even so far as the way they are drawn by their artist.

Nitro
Lazare, Jerry. Panel from"Nitro." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Lazare, Jerry. Panel from”Nitro.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In Jerry Lazare’s “Nitro”, Nitro appears to the reader firsthand as Terry Allen, a regular person who at the crime scene assesses the situation to an officer nearby, revealing his sharp attention to detail when pointing out a piece of evidence went amiss. He then switches into his alias, Nitro, to confront the perpetrator of the crime. He bears a skin-tight costume with the letter “N” on his chest, boots and gloves, and shorts held up with a belt that also has the letter “N” on its buckle.

 

 

Lazare, Jerry. Panel from"Nitro." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Lazare, Jerry. Panel from”Nitro.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Lazare, Jerry. Panel from"Nitro." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Lazare, Jerry. Panel from”Nitro.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Nitro is not only strong physically but mentally too. His enemy (“Curly” Edwards) admits inevitable defeat because Nitro is ‘To wise for his own good.’

In the face of danger Nitro defeats his enemy, showcasing his ability to use his quick wit and intelligence alongside his fighting skills. His contribution to Canadian identity surfaces in his near ‘normality’, emphasizing the concept that having superhuman abilities is not a necessary quality for a person who wants to help in the instance of a crime, rather instead if a person is willing to help and makes the effort of helping someone of authority then that person has done their part. It is a subliminal message of Canadian Nationalism that permeates a lot of the superhero stories produced by Dime Comics. The comic mirrors the implications of Canadian propaganda released during World War Two which focused on a collective group coming together for the greater good- wherein using a nation’s shared strength, intelligence, and the force in unity– Canadians contribute to the war time effort. On the Homefront, Canadians were encouraged to support the Canadian military service men through thriftiness, conservation of food and duel, recycling and reuse of resources, and loans (victory bonds) which would finance the war. (“War and Military”)

Library and Archives Canada. From a Poster. The Men Are Ready...Only You Can Give Them Wings :  Canada's war effort and production sensitive campaign. Public Domain.
Library and Archives Canada. From a Poster. The Men Are Ready…Only You Can Give Them Wings :  Canada’s war effort and production sensitive campaign. Public Domain.
Library and Archives Canada. From a Poster. If You Don't Need it... Don't Buy it. Public Domain.
Library and Archives Canada. From a Poster. If You Don’t Need it… Don’t Buy it. Public Domain.
Canadian War Museum. From a Poster. Save Waste Bones -They Make Glue For Aircraft .. And Are Used For Explosives... Public Domain.
Canadian War Museum. From a Poster. Save Waste Bones -They Make Glue For Aircraft .. And Are Used For Explosives… Public Domain.
Canadian War Museum. From a poster. Invest and Protect. Help Finish the Job. Public Domain.
Canadian War Museum. From a poster. Invest and Protect. Help Finish the Job. Public Domain.
Johnny Canuck
Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Guardians of the North refers to Johnny Canuck as “Canada’s superhero.” Johnny Canuck was created by Leo Bachle and was used as a figure of response to the outside threats during World War Two. (Reynes-Chikuma et. al.) Johnny Canuck, also often referred to as Captain Canuck, helped legitimized a pre-conceived consciousness of Canadian identity, reinforcing the perception as Canada as a “peaceable kingdom.” (Edwardson 184) In his article, Ryan Edwardson explains the use of comic books which as a visual medium, encourages the imagination to be used, thus resulting in a conscious construction of the nation and national identity. (185) In issue no. 22, Johnny Canuck is placed under captivity by Japanese soldiers and is tortured for information, but later is thrown into a jail cell where he meets an elderly man who validates his persona as Captain Canuck while also validating the image of Canadian identity.

Captain Canuck became a part of Canadian consumer culture (195), especially as he mirrored Canadian nationalistic values that were propagandized towards Canadians on the Homefront in posters– moralism, natural strength, and self-sacrificing persona to name a few. (186) One artist pointed out the success of using propaganda posters as a tool to send messages, noting the artwork’s ability of permeating a message in an instant and aesthetically pleasing manner, alongside the tendency for posters to be internalized rather than analyzed, made them effective. (“Canadian WWII Propaganda posters”) In issue no. 22, Johnny Canuck exhibits the traits of a selfless hero whose perseverance goes unnoticed.

Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Johnny Canuck’s strength is tested here, as he blames his lack of food and water on his being weaker than usual. The elderly man who is with him encourages him to drink the water and eat the bread he has hidden under his bed to help him regain his strength.

Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Mental_Floss. From a poster. We Are Saving You, You Save Food. Public Domain.
Mental_Floss. From a poster. We Are Saving You, You Save Food. Public Domain.

When creating most of the propaganda posters made during World War Two, government officials consulted old posters from the first world war and other resources at the Public Archives. (“War and Military”) Johnny Canucks’ need to be fed to maintain his strength mirrors the message of a Canadian propaganda poster that was made during World War One, tiled “We Are Saving You, You Save Food” which also includes the following statement: “Well fed Soldiers Will Win the War”

 


Bibliography

Bachle, Leo (w, a). “Johnny Canuck”. Dime Comics, no. 22, April, 1945, pp. 23-28. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166584.pdf

“Canadian WWII Propaganda Posters.” Air Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. http://www.airmuseum.ca/postscan.html

Clark, Jeff. Uniforms of the NSDAP: Uniforms, Headgear, Insignia of the Nazi Party. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2007.

Dingle, Adrian (w, a). “Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret”. Dime Comics, no. 22, April, 1945, pp. 1-7. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166584.pdf

Edwardson, Ryan. “The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and the Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Superhero.” Journal of Popular Culture 37.2 (2003): 184-201. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. http://journals2.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/pdf/00223840/v37i0002/184_tmloccoaccbs.xml

Lazare, Jerry (w, a). “Nitro”. Dime Comics, no. 22, April, 1945, pp. 15-20. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166584.pdf

“Nip3.” Oxford Dictionaries. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/Nip#Nip_Noun_500. Accessed 22 March 2017.

Kim, Dongwoo. “Why One Should Never Use the Japanese Rising Sun Flag.” Web. http://thewandereronline.com/why-one-should-never-use-the-japanese-rising-sun-flag-by-dongwoo-kim/

Marsh, James. “Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears.” The Canadian Encyclopedia 2012. Web. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/japanese-internment-banished-and-beyond-tears-feature/

Reyns-Chikuma, Chris. “Exploring Canadian Identities in Canadian Comics [Special Issue].” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Litérature Comparée 43.1 (2016): 5. Print.

Thomas, Bill (w, a). “Chik ‘N’ Fuzz”. Dime Comics, no. 22, April, 1945, pp. 8-13. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166584.pdf

“War and Military.” Archive. Library and Archives Canada. N.p., n.d. Web. https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/posters-broadsides/026023-7200-e.html

“We Must Do Without.” Editorial. Toronto Telegram, April 13, 1942. Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, Canadian War Museum. http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5043709

Canucks and Commies: Canadian Nationalism in Dime Comics No. 11

© Copyright 2017 Maggie Ly, Ryerson University

Edmond Good. Dime Comics. No. 11, October 1943. Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Russia occupied a strange space in the conscious of Canadians during World War II. Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, proved decisive for the course of the war, yet the USSR’s transition from foe to friend was not instantaneous. They found a reluctant ally in Canada, but fear of betrayal and hidden Communistic agendas persisted through the war. Public demand to disband the Communist Party of Canada grew and ‘Commies’ were likened to fascists and Nazi sympathizers (Caccia 162). As the manpower and potential of the Red Army was realized, the Canadian government began using propaganda in the form of posters and print, radio statements, and rallies (many of which were held in Toronto) to absolve the Soviet Union’s uneasy reputation and create support for the Eastern front (164). Among the variety of print medium in Canada, the comic emerged as a powerful form of propaganda and a site to build and break national identities.

Published two years after Barbarossa, “The Spirit of Russia” is a continuing series in 11th issue of Dime Comics (March 1943). The story was created, written, and illustrated by one of Bell Feature’s key artists, Leo Bachle. It follows Johnny Canuck’s adventure in Soviet Russia where he is saved from the grips of a German soldier by a Red Army sniper. The sniper takes Johnny to a Russian camp where Nick, a Soviet commander, gives Johnny the new Soviet fighter plane called The Spirit of Russia to fly to Cairo. He takes down several Lufftwafte fighters on the way there and commends the plane for its flying ability (Bachle 40-46).

The Canadian Whites and the Comic in the Context of War

Nick recognizes Johnny Canuck.
Leo Bachle. Panel from “The Spirit of Russia.” Dime Comics, No. 11, October, 1943, Bell Features, p. 42. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166574.pdf.

“The Spirit of Russia” belongs to a collection of comics called the Canadian Whites produced during Canada’s Golden Age of Comics from 1941 to 1946. The War Exchange Conservation Act of 1940 banned the import of luxury goods and enabled Canadian publishers to establish themselves without American competition (Bell). Canadian companies like Bell Features (formerly Commercial Signs of Canada), Maple Leaf, and Anglo-American published many titles including Dime Comics, Active Comics, Triumph, and Three Aces. When the ban was lifted, Canadian companies could not compete with American ones and in 1946, the Canadian Golden Age of Comics was over (Bell).

The propaganda value of the Canadian Whites come from the combination of circumstance and the literary features of comic books. The War Exchange Conservation Act meant that the Canadian Whites were created by Canadian artists and writers for an exclusively Canadian audience. Where America had Superman and Captain America, Canada filled with Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Johnny Canuck, and other Canadian national superheroes (Bell & Viau). For those few years, readers of comics had something special of their own. Insulated from the outside world, they experienced the ideas and meanings shared from one Canadian to another.

The comic is the medium for those Canadian narratives. Like other literary forms, they communicate through stories that allow us to find meaning in characters’ actions and words. Stories are powerful ways to communicate, and the comic transforms story-telling. Presented as an intertextual sequence of moments, a series of flashes before our eyes, they combine words and images to make content easily digestible to readers. This is especially important during times of war. War comics capture the “simplicity of human behaviour” (Hirsh & Loubert 139), a condition that makes us see evil as absolute evil and good as unconditionally good. In Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History, Fredrik Strömberg describes it as the way in which humans naturally see the world (9).

Most of the stories in the Canadian Whites can be considered simplistic in narrative deliverance, but they are often larger than life, reflecting the experience of a war that completely enveloped the lives of Canadians. They depict the captivating adventures of superheroes doing extraordinary things. These adventures occur in the equally terrifying and exciting setting of war where the heroes can defeat outlandish villains and real-life enemies like the Nazis. Thus, the simplistic and blatantly didactic quality of the comics resides within exciting narratives that appeal to readers because it helps them make sense of the war. In the same way that comics transformed story-telling, the war transformed the Canadian Whites into a medium with mass appeal to propagate nationalistic messages about Canada’s position in World War II.

Wartime Rhetoric: Propaganda in World War II

World War II Propaganda Poster
Albert Cloutier and Eric Aldwinckle. Notre Armée a besoin de Bons Canadiens. Acc. No. 1983-30-111. Library and Archives Canada Posters and Broadsides in Canada, www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/posters-broadsides/026023-7200-e.html.

“Just one of many forms of self-expression and communication available to us” (McCloud162), comics exist among other forms of propaganda in the Second World War. Canada’s Wartime Information Board (WIB) produced propaganda in various forms. It controlled the sharing of information to promote war efforts and increase public support and moral. The poster is perhaps the most like comics. It uses a combination of image and text and often propagate war narratives in oversimplified stereotypes of good and evil. Some propaganda posters illustrate images of brave and heroic Canadian soldiers likened to other figures with those ideal characteristics, such as the knight (Cloutier & Aldwinckle). The Wartime Information Board was also heavily involved in the media. Canadian war correspondents worked within guidelines established by the WIB and some “acted as official state propagandists” (Engler 162). Articles like “Churchill, King, Lapointe Confident that Dominion Will Supply Huge Demand” (Hamilton Spectator) and “Happy Commercial and Cultural Tie is Promised with Russia” (Saturday Night) were subject to censorship regulations. Beyond print propaganda, rallies, press conferences, films and radio worked to shape public opinion to suit the needs of the country. Their strategies of persuasion and dissemination are reflected in the Canadian Whites. Like comics, traditional forms of propaganda exploit words and images, using simplicity to counter the complex emotions of war.

Enemy or Ally?

World War II Propaganda Poster
Harry Mayerovitch (a), and Canada Wartime Information Board. Carter? Caron? Caplan? Canakos? Cantrowicz? Canadian! 1944. Acc. No. 1981-32-10R. Library and Archives Canada Posters and Broadsides in Canada, https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/posters-broadsides/026023-7200-e.html#cont.

At the surface of “The Spirit of Russia” is an effort to bolster the relationship between Canada and the USSR. Johnny Canuck is saved just in time by a skilled Soviet sniper. A Red Army captain whom Johnny affectionately greets with “Hey Nick…. you old walrus!” (Bachle 42) is depicted as an old friend of Johnny’s. The Spirit of Russia can handle the risky flying maneuvers that Johnny performs. The inclusion of the USSR into the narrative of a prominent superhero reflects Canada’s propaganda efforts to improve public perceptions of the Communist nation. In 1932, the Wartime Information Board admitted that it was hard to overcome negative impressions of Russia (Granatstein 79). Polls that year indicated that 47% of Canadians wanted to see Canadian-Soviet relations improve while only 25% did not (80). Propaganda efforts to improve Soviet reputation in Canada is well-documented. Rallies were documented in news articles like one titled “Toronto’s Homage Paid to Russia At Monster Rally” published by The Globe and Mail (1942). Many posters aimed to relieve tension among cultural and ethnic groups in Canada. The positive portrayal of Russians, their skill, and quality of their war resources reflect Canada’s effort to change public perceptions of a former foe.

German soldier recognizes Johnny Canuck.
Leo Bachle. Panel from “The Spirit of Russia.” Dime Comics, No. 11, October, 1943, Bell Features, p. 46. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166574.pdf.

Delving deeper into “The Spirit of Russia”, it is evident that Russians are consistently undermined. The Russian sniper who saves Johnny’s life occupies only two frames and disappears from the narrative altogether (Bachle 41). He remains unknown to Johnny, who wakes up singularly focused on delivering his message that will help the Russians. The Soviet Captain Nick’s authority and rank is devalued in his encounter with Johnny. Upon recognizing Johnny, he dismisses the nurse’s request to order Johnny to rest. He also admits that Johnny will be better flying without a convoy, suggesting that a Russian assistance will only hinder the Canadian superhero (42). Finally, The Spirit of Russia is undermined when the Germans recognize Johnny Canuck as its pilot. The trap they set for the Russian plane is thwarted when Johnny, a threat greater than the guns of the fighter, is recognized by the enemy (46). Combined with the depiction of Johnny Canuck as the ideal Canadian, these examples reveal a trend in the simple narrative of Canadian superiority over Russia.

Shades of Canadian Nationalism

The trend of the devalued Russian in “The Spirit of Russia” points to its Canadian nationalist subtext. However, the Soviet Union is not the only cultural scapegoat of a missing Canadian identity in World War II. German and Japanese portrayal is often used to characterize difference in comics. They are portrayed as pure evil, lacking intelligence, morals, and in many cases, good looks. From the same issue of Dime Comics, Scotty MacDonald’s fight with the Japanese reveal them to be just that (Cooper 48-56). They fit the black-and-white stereotypes used to effectively fuel propaganda, but Russia does not. Compared to the portrayal of definite enemies, the representation of Soviets defies binary portrayals of good and evil.  Tall and brave people who spoke English without an accent, they were also less than the Canadians they were allied with. If World War II’s pro-Russian propaganda had the same undertones as in “The Spirit of Russia”, it could account for why Canadians had such little faith in Canadian-Soviet Relations.

Photograph from Toronto Star
“Canada and USSR Friends in War and Peace.” Toronto Star 1945. Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive. Toronto Star License.

Where nationalist subtexts did little to increase public support for the USSR, it helped build a Canadian national identity. Canada was not considered a major power in the war and it was still not independent of Great Britain. Dittmer and Larsen note that a collective Canadian identity is often thought to originate from fear of Canadian inferiority (738). Canada was ready for a larger role on the world stage, and the USSR’s position after Barbarossa proved to be the perfect opportunity. It was a large, dominating nation with a uniting ideology that bound its constituent countries together. It was also in a place of limbo between good and evil. In “The Spirit of Russia”, the Soviet characters stick out because they reside in that grey space between the stereotypical, black-and-white depictions of good and evil. The story exploits the vulnerable position of the USSR, painting Russians in colours that are deceivingly non-Canadian. It propagates an underlying narrative that Russians are only good allies because Canadians are better people. “The Spirit of Russia” creates a complex portrayal of Russians who are not evil nor completely good, building Canadian identity through a covert act of exclusion.

Cultural Fallout

The rise and fall of Canada’s Golden Age of Comics parallels Russia’s positive relationship with Canada. Like the Canadian Golden Age of Comics, the relationship between Canada and the USSR was held together by the weak bonds of wartime necessity, and within those bonds, Canada found a course to promote nationalism and a unique national identity. In Dime Comic’s 11th issue, “The Spirit of Russia” (1943) reflects propaganda efforts to align the public interest with Canadian nationalist ideals. In narratives that move beyond demonizing the enemy and sanctifying a former foe, the portrayal of USSR Soviets reveal how difference is manufactured as colossal gaps of disparity and minute nuances of difference to build an exclusive Canadian identity.

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.


Works Cited

Bachle, Leo (w, a). “The Spirit of Russia.” Dime Comics, no. 11, October, 1943, pp. 40-46. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166574.pdf.

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Anthony Wilson-Smith, 8 Jul. 2015, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada/.

Bell, John and Michael Viau. “Canadian Golden Age of Comics, 1941-1946.” Beyond the Funnies: The History of Comics in Canada and Quebec. Library and Archives Canada, 31 Jan. 2015, www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8300-e.html.

Caccia, Ivana. Managing the Canadian Mosaic in Wartime: Shaping Citizenship Policy, 1939-1945, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.

Cooper, Al (w, a). “Scotty MacDonald.” Dime Comics, no. 11, October, 1943, pp. 48-56. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166574.pdf.

Dittmer, Jason and Soren Larsen. “Captain Canuck, Audience Response, and the Project of Canadian Nationalism.” Social and Cultural Geography, vol. 8, no. 5, Taylor & Francis Group, 2001. Scholars Portal Journals, resolver.scholarsportal.info/resolve/14649365/v08i0005/735_ccaratpocn.xml.

Engler, Yves. A Propaganda System: How the Canadian Government, Corporations, Media, and Academia Sell War and Exploitation, Fernwood Publishing/RED Publishing, 2016.

Granatstein. J.L. “Changing Alliances: Canada and the Soviet Union, 1938-1945.” Canada and the Soviet Experiment: Essays on Canadian Encounters with Russia and the Soviet Union, 1900-1991, edited by David Davies, Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc., 1987, 75-87.

Hirsh, Michael, and Patrick Loubert. The Great Canadian Comic Books, Peter Martin Associates, 1971.

“Russia Anxious, Eager to Make Lasting Peace.” Toronto Daily Star, 3 Jul. 1945. Canadian War Museum Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/intro_e.shtml.

Strömberg, Fredrik. Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History, Ilex, 2010.

“Toronto’s Homage Paid to Russia At Monster Rally.” The Globe and Mail. 23 Jun. 1942. Canada War Museum Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/intro_e.shtml.

The Active and Passive Woman in Dime Comics No. 2

© Copyright 2017 Shae Loeffelholz, Ryerson University

Comics were a growing art across North America in the mid-1900’s. Kids would save up their change

Leo Bachle. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada
Leo Bachle. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

for that month’s issue and spend days reading then waiting for the next issue to come out. In September of 1939, the outbreak of World War II brought on many economical problems in relation to trading with the United States (Bell). The William Lyon

 

Mackenzie King government passed the War Exchange Conservation Act in 1940; this act prohibited nonessential goods to be imported into the country, including American comic books (Bell). This inspired Canadian writer’s and artist’s to produce their own comics dubbed the Canadian “whites” because of the black and white interior pages in 1941 (Bell). The second issue of Dime Comics was published in April 1942, featuring favourite Canadian heroes Rex Baxter, Johnny Canuck, and Scotty McDonald; true manly men with their confident attitude and muscular physique, all excellent role models for young boys to look up to. What does seem to be missing from this issue is the active presence of women, that is, women in roles where they are not the ones being saved or treated as a sidekick to her male counterpart.

Gail Abbott – the only named female in the comic –, a mysterious female spy, and a perky blonde all are portrayed, though not necessarily negatively, in ways that fail to show the strength that woman had at the time and their advancements in society.

Summary

The opening comic is “Rex Baxter and the Island of Doom”, also holding the largest feature on the cover, where Rex and his female companion, Gail are “captured” by Zoltan and his men. Rex’s first task is to rescue his damsel in distress from the strange men who abducted her while he was away. Upon confronting them and also being captured, Rex learns the men are completely harmless and help Rex defeat an enemy submarine.

Edmond Good. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Panel from rex Baxter. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada
Fig. 1. Edmond Good. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Panel from rex Baxter. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

Throughout the comic, it seems as though Gail is there by accident, spending her time grasping for Rex or standing in the background, ignored. The event that most contrasts her actions around Rex occurs in the top left panel on page 10 when h

e calls her his “friend”, while on the next page she is seen holding him for protection and he ignores her for the majority of the comic (Good 10-11). When it is decided that Rex must accompany Zoltan back to his home land, Rex tries to leave Gail on the deserted island before she begs to be taken along (Fig. 1).

 

 

Women have a very minimal role in this episode of “Johnny Canuck”, visually featured in four panels over 18 pages. The first time is in an underground spy ring where Johnny is flanked by two women, and a third sitting seductively on the ground talking to the captain. It is not until the final pages that we meet Etta in one of Hitler’s camps, ready to be sent to the guillotine. She is the most active female in this issue as she is the reason for Johnny escaping his near death. On his return to the spy ring, he finds out that she is also a spy and calls her “a raven-haired beauty”(Bachle 39).

The “Goofs and Gags” section features three comics, in one of which a petite blond is seen wandering through a battlefield setting and retreating to the arms of a soldier after being scared by the gunshots; he then takes her away because she is not meant to be there (Fig. 2).

O’Henly. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Goofs & Gags. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada
Fig. 2. O’Henly. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Goofs & Gags. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

Women in Comics

Women throughout popular fiction intended for male audiences are often placed in the damsel-in-distress trope, a beautiful woman found in a situation where she needs to be saved, and is most often wearing something revealing; a trope clearly seen in this issue of Dime Comics. In an journal article by Paige Braddock, she discusses the issues surrounding female characters within comics. Even in a modern setting, these problems are not old news as they are clearly featured in this issue of Dime Comics; “female characters should always have small feet, hands, and waists” and always good-looking (22). On each of the women, the only things that seem to be big about them is their bustline and their hair, adding to their sex appeal. Even active females within comic books such as superheroines stick to this mould even though they act like men (23).

One reason why women are passive within male dominant comics is because male characters often have more opportunity for action (22). Women are typically seen as

Leo Bachle. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Panel from Johnny Canuck. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada
Fig. 3. Leo Bachle. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Panel from Johnny Canuck. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

housewives and meant to stay within the home doing domestic activities. In Rex Baxter, his original plan is to leave Gail on the island – alone – while he goes with Zoltan to defeat the Axis Powers. Though the island is not necessarily the ideal “home” that a woman would be situated it, anything is better than going out and assisting in battle. The cover art

 

for this episode also shows Gail’s highly feminized figure; her large bust, and thin arms contrasted by her captor’s hands, as well as the colour red which is a striking colour associated with sexuality.

One of the more demeaning lines is actually spoken by a Minister to Johnny Canuck where he claims that Etta was captured because of her beauty which (Fig. 3), though it sounds like a compliment, would not be deemed as acceptable in modern times. Though she is known for her brains, Etta’s looks are what stand out to the male characters in the episode and she is the one that has to be saved – even though she had a knife with her in her cell proving her capable of attempting to escape.

On the Job

Though the comics discussed present women as weak and unhelpful, that was the opposite of their actual involvement in the war efforts. Since World War I women had been in the labour force due to many men leaving their jobs to go fight, creating jobs for women in both office and factory positions (Anderson). As the years went on, women gained more rights including the right to vote in all provinces by 1922 and the right to hold political office in 1919 (Anderson), and more women were attending university being roughly 25% of post secondary students (Thrift 2) It took years after the war had begun to form an official association of women in the military, and many notable women fought for the right for Canadian women to be involved, including Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, who became the commander-in-chief of the volunteer Auxiliary Territorial Service (Gossage 32).

On August 13th 1941, the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) was announced, providing jobs to women typically performed by men, and became an official part of the Canadian army by March of 1942 (Wood) – the month that the second issue of Dime Comics was being created. The reasons for enrolling in the CWAC are very interesting; 40% of women said they enlisted because they were patriotic and wanted to support their country and loved ones, wh

Canada. National Salvage Committee. Housewives! Wage war on Hitler. Broadside. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection Public Domain.
Fig. 4. Canada. National Salvage Committee. Housewives! Wage war on Hitler. Broadside. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection Public Domain.

ile others wanted bigger opportunities and excitement (Wood). The women in my comic, despite being held back by men, do want to get involved in some way and are very adamant about it; Gail persuades Rex to allow her to go with him to fight (Good 19), and Etta was actively involved in espionage before being captured (Bachle 39). Clearly it is not the case that women do not want to be involved because much of the female population of Canadian was involved in the war in some way, be it through factory, clerical, or medical jobs, or even donating what they could (Fig. 4). The image of the tag along that the women are meant to portray within the three comics is a restriction put on them by men within fiction; even in the real world, men were strongly opposed to women having more responsibility and the possibility that they would wear the same uniform (Gossage 40).

 

Meanwhile, women in Russia had already been allowed to join the army with notable fighter being Valerie Khomyakova, “the flying witch”, who was the first woman to take down an enemy aircraft at night before being killed in action (Gossage 47).

Mary Dover was a large figure in the CWAC, becoming Commanding Offic

er in 1942 and being a large inspiration to many of the women who had enlisted. She fought for the proper training of women and made sure they gained the public’s respect throughout the war, strongly advocating for their femininity; “if you talk to them as I have done so many times and listen to plans and hopes for the future, for ‘After the War’, you will find that

 

almost without exception, they are looking forward when this job is done … and turning their minds to homes of their own made safer for them and their children by the contribution made during the war years. That, to me, is REAL femininity” (Thrift 7).

Gail and Etta were trying to get involved only to be overshadowed by the male hero of the story; apparently, there cannot be more than one hero in a story, and men and women cannot share the spotlight.

Women in Popular Media

Though the women in this issue are highly sexualized for a children’s comic, using femininity to promote women’s involvement was not uncommon. In an essay by Michelle Denise Smith analyzing women in fiction and magazines during the war, she believes that Canadian popular culture helped to shape femininity in a time of patriotism (6). The most popular female image at the time was the idea of the home and domesticity, and according to Smith, the home was also equal to Canada as a whole (7). Promotional posters were also very popular, as seen in Figure 5, and often donning the CWAC slogan “We serve that men may fight” (Wood).

Canada. Dept. of Public Information. We’re in the army now. Broadside. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection Public Domain.
Fig. 5. Canada. Dept. of Public Information. We’re in the army now. Broadside. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection Public Domain.

More adult directed fiction published in magazines were more accepting of women’s active role in the war, often fictionalized stories promoted their involvement in any ways; “Lady Going West” by Jenethea York was publishing in Canadian Home Journal in June 1942 and is the main focus of Smith’s essay (14). The story follows a British woman who falls in love with a Canadian soldier and moves to Canada where she is faced with the friendly atmosphere that is Canada, and decides that she will do whatever she has to to stay with the soldier, further proving the nation-as-home image that Canada promoted. Smith also notes that main character, Theodora struggles to find her place in Canadian society because of her lack of education and experience in the real world, being form a rich family (19). This observation makes that of being an active woman in society and getting as much education as possible even more of an asset when it came to the war.

Dime Comics were not about promoting equality or catering to the young girls that might be reading along with the boys who these comics are clearly directed at. Each of the stories have to do with exceptional but very ordinary men who have no super powers but still save the day, and the girl, in the end. Boys have someone to look up to, whereas the girls are faced with female characters who are pushed to the back burner into passive roles.

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.


Works Cited

Anderson, Doris. “Status of Women.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/status-of-women/. Accessed 9 Apr. 2017.

Baddock, Paige. “Women in Comics.” Phi Kappa Phi Forum, vol. 84, no. 3, 2004, pp. 22-23. Research Library, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/235179647?accountid=13631

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada/. Accessed 9 Apr. 2017.

Gossage, Carolyn. Greatcoats and glamour boots: Canadian women at war, 1939-1945, revised edition. Dundurn Press, 2001. Scholars Portal Books, http://books1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/viewdoc.html?id=37268#tabview=tab1

Smith, Michelle Denise. ““Hello, Canada! It’s fine to have you here”: Canadian Nationhood, Women and Popular Fiction during the Second World War.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, vol. 4, no. 1, March 2009, pp. 5-22., DOI: https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1177/0021989408101648

Thrift, Gayle. ““This is our war, too”: Mary Dover, Commandant of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps” Alberta History, vol. 59, no. 3, 2011. Academic OneFile, http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=rpu_main&id=GALE|A264270504&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&authCount=1#

Wood, James. “Canadian Women’s Army Corps.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-womens-army-corps/.

Dime Comics no. 21 as RCAF Propaganda

©Copyright 2017 Jessica Suljic, Ryerson University

Introduction: The Origin of Bell Features

During World War II, Canadian comics experienced a ‘golden age’ (Bell). Due to the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) passed in 1940, luxury goods like comic books were banned from being imported (Kocmarek 148). Several publishing companies filled the gap, and Bell Features was established. Bell Features published Triumph-Adventure Comics and Wow Comics with enthusiasm concerning the chance to portray Canadian nationalism in comics previously unseen. This new development in Canadian comics faced a reality of cheaper production methods compared to the previously popular American comics, so the comics produced did not have the luxury of vibrant colour printing, and appear antiquated and primitive from their shoddier artwork (152). The reversion to black and white printing between the front and back covers created a distinction between American-made and Canadian-made comics. The comics published during this era were dubbed ‘the Canadian Whites’, and a new addition to symbolic Canadian identity was born.

Dingle, A. Dime Comics. No. 21, June 1945. Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

Amongst the other series produced by Bell Features, Dime Comics was published under the genre of “action-adventure-science”, i.e. science fiction. Issue no. 21 comic reads more like propaganda, featuring stories set on the war front in abundance. It was released June 1945, during the end of WWII; the European front had ended with Germany’s surrender, but Japan had yet to (Stacey). The continuation of battle on the Asian front is explicitly represented in the narratives set in Japan with Japanese enemies. I take careful note of “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret”, “Johnny Canuck”, and “Action in the Pacific”.

First, Rex Baxter and Gail Abbot rescue their alien accomplice, Zoltan, from a Japanese prison and then escape by stealing a Japanese aircraft (Dingle 1-7). Action lines are seen establishing dynamism amongst the various flying shots. Next, Johnny Canuck bravely takes on a seemingly impossible bombing mission, then bombs a Japanese railway and shoots from his bomber aircraft at Japanese enemy planes (Bachle 23-29). He winds up captured, and the story ends with a cliff-hanger. Last, Robert Segal arm/2c in “Action in the Pacific” introduces the action-driven flying fighting scenes with an illustration with a bomb splashing in the sea and Segal flying off (Alexanian 44-45), and leads into a dogfight against the Japanese. These three stories have in common a usage of “Jap” and “Nip” alongside caricatured portraits of Japanese men to dehumanize the enemy while Canada still fought on the Asian front, a white European-looking male protagonist with strong, masculine features, an emphasis on human qualities and existing technologies to defeat enemies, and exciting and dynamic flying fighting scenes.

Leo Bachle. Panel from “Johnny Canuck”. Dime Comics, No. 21, June 1945, p. 23. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The Fighter Plane Iconography

The common image that characterizes issue no. 21 is the fighter plane. Aircrafts are scattered throughout various plotlines, like in one panel of “Nitro” (Lazare 13) and in the premise of “Chik ‘n’ Fuzz” (Thomas 46), but accentuated heavily in the three stories outlined above. Accompanied by guns and bombs, the fighter plane provides distinct imagery that moves along the action, stylized with action lines and sharp contrast to build tension and motion. The compelling image provides a source of pride to associate with the

heroism of Canadians against perceived inhuman Japanese enemies. “Johnny Canuck” opens with a ¾ page illustration of the titular hero posed with flexed, enlarged muscles and a machine gun with rows of ammunition, next to his parked plane. Johnny Canuck is a humbly-abled hero possessing limited super-strength, appearing to be an exceptional athlete (Beaty, 430). This is one example of the correlation of the lack of supernatural heroes (i.e. heroes with ‘super powers’ or unnatural abilities) and the heavy fighter plane imagery. I argue that this correlation accounts for the perceived propaganda of Dime Comics, acting as a recruitment method by appealing to its demographic of young boys.

The lack of supernatural characteristics paired with the hyper-masculine attributes allows for a stronger identification of the hero by the reader. The fighter planes and war heroes are juxtaposed with positive masculine presentations, with a dominant male presence in the protagonists showing traits of intelligence, cleverness, and physical and mental strength. The heroes fight for justice and justice wins, allowing young readers to idolize such heroism in the war effort. Despite the detail in the illustrations done by Adrian Dingle, Leo Bachle, and Aram Alexanian resulting in readers identifying less personally with the characters (Mcloud 36), the details are used to define and sculpt the hyper-masculinity of the heroes with chiseled facial features and enormous muscles renders a distinctly masculine and super-human figure. With their design, the characters represent a young boy’s aspirations which leads to a personal association when juxtaposed with the all-white, all-male faces of the heroes. This is placed inside the context of Canada during WWII, where much of the public’s ideas surrounding the war are formulated and reinforced with propaganda. Taking the forms of posters, film, and more, propaganda reflects Canada’s identity, ideology, and priorities concerning the war. Kocmarek highlights the importance of Canadian identity for the golden age comics, stating, “Being born and bred during the Canadian experience of the Second World War would infuse ensuing books with its themes and tropes almost to the very end of their runs.” (149). With this he means an inherently Canadian narrative will emerge, superseding outside influence, through the fact of Canadian production. In a simplistic narrative form, Dime Comics reveals the relationship between children and the war.

The Super-human Pilot

 

In his book on the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII, English notes, “Canada embarked on a massive aircrew-training program known as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP)” (English, 5). The project commenced a natural following of the glamorized image of the aircraft. Expanding military air forces comes with distinct challenges, particularly of recruitment and selection. In WWI, Canada lacked a national air force altogether (English 19). Officials made elementary mistakes regarding the physical requirement of flying. What would be considered neglectful now, like enlisting flyers with vision impairment or experiencing battle exhaustion, was the norm, and some cases justified by a perception of flying as a rest from fighting. A revolution of recruitment, selection, and training was necessary due to the unprecedented strain on the military’s medical branch. Psychology and its progression plays a key role in the advancement of selection methods. Post-WWI, Canada began a recruitment campaign, starting May 1917, and selection methods began to change. English observes, “One advertisement for ‘The All-Seeing Aviator’ asked for “clear-headed, keen-young men … possessing a fair education and sturdy physique” (23). Johnny Canuck and Rex Baxter prove themselves as quick-witted in their respective narratives. Johnny Canuck masterly flies his plane and aims at enemy planes, and Rex Baxter outsmarts trained Japanese military men. Robert Segal also attained mastery over the aircraft and skillfully dodges enemies and hits targets. This trait of expertise in flying is the super-human characteristic all the characters possess in lieu of typical super-natural abilities.

Dime Comics presents flying as brave and adventurous, without realistically depicting the dangers and risks associated. Johnny Canuck engages in air warfare and faces a crucial hit to his plane that forces him to land, and he says, “No use! …This ship’s a goner! ..And I’ll have to drop right into those Jap rats’ laps!” (Bachle 25) While bullets are being shot at him, Leo Bachle wrote in that it was shrapnel from his own bomb hit that brought the plane down, implying his enemies are too incompetent to aim. Canuck’s pessimistic phrase is significant because it shows the courage of the hero to face any oncoming challenges, on land or in air. Being captured by the enemy is fatal in war and, as previously mentioned, Johnny Canuck is a mere mortal. He displays traits of intelligence and mental strength that make him desirable for military flying.

Superhero Justice

Bainbridge outlines the effect had on morality during war-time. He claims, “Perhaps unsurprisingly, superheroes traditionally enjoy their greatest popularity during times of transition and uncertainty” (746). The heroes in Dime Comics are not pacifists, but the narrative requires the reader to trust in the hero’s sense of justice which justifies violent actions. Johnny Canuck blows up a railway station and brings down an enemy aircraft, but the bloodied bodies and dying faces are not pictures. Robert Segal similarly releases bombs and bullets on enemies, mid-air. The comic would be too graphic for its demographic of children to read if it portrayed a realistic image of war and violence, but the moral uncertainty of war-time permits a distorted image of fighting, justice, and heroes and enemies as accessible. Canadian war posters provide insight and context for the Canadian identity and experience during the time.

“Roll ‘Em Out”. 1940. Director-General of Aircraft Production. Baldwin Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

This ephemera documents a history of propaganda, and precisely by their nature they present a necessary snapshot to capture and understand WWII on the home front. The 1940 poster inscribed with “Roll ‘Em Out” glamorizes the strength and power of airplane technology and the hard work of Canadians working in factories carefully painted in the image of the Royal Air Force insignia at the time. The man looks strong and powerful, while remaining childlike by appealing to the familiar image of a child playing with toy airplanes. Establishing a national identity during war-time includes ensuring the war effort is nation-wide. Hero worship for the military frequents Canadian WWII propaganda yet factory workers, those conserving their essentials as per WECA, and those investing in the war effort through victory bonds and the like are celebrated similarly to boost morale and give everyone a part and responsibility in the success of the Canadian military. Dime Comics is placed within the hero worship portion of Canadian propaganda due to its dynamic and attention-grabbing aspects, abstractly depicted through brave men with a duty for their nation and prevailing against impossible odds, to work parallel to pre-existing ephemera posters and advertisements which instill comradery in each individual’s contributions to the war effort.

Conclusion: A Lesson in Homogeneity and Hegemony

The appearance of propaganda in all its forms is important to study and to familiarize oneself in order to avoid ignorance in politically-charged contexts, like in war or other moments of moral uncertainty, which would lead one to overlook products that promote shifting ideology to serve the state. The Canadian military had immense incentive to ensure Canadian citizens upheld positive views about its involvement in WWII, particularly to promote the air force to improve the risky activity of flying with better selected and trained pilots. Pride and respect for one’s nation is natural, but the cultural conditioning of its citizens by the state is not. While Dime Comics was merely a commercial product, unlike other instances of propaganda ephemera, the political is sold commercially to profit from a culture homogenized and hegemonized intimately by state action. Children are susceptible to adopting ideology pushed by media and commercial products, and should arguably be barred from indoctrination through children’s literature, but especially if a product asserts its war-specific moral code. Young readers are drawn to comics, like Mccloud states, “When you enter the world of a cartoon—you see yourself” (36). The young, male comic book readers idolize masculinity in the forms of service to the nation displayed by the protagonists in Dime Comics no. 21. With a critical approach to commercial ephemera, the Canadian identity can represent a dynamic and intelligent population unwilling to submit to the state’s attempts to sway public opinion to comply with its efforts when they do not serve the Canadian people.

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.


Works Cited

Aramian, Alex (w, a). “Action in the Pacific.” Dime Comics, no. 21, June, 1945, pp. 44-45. Bell

Features, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166583.pdf

Bachle, Leo (w, a). “Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics, no. 21, June, 1945, pp. 23-29. Bell

Features, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166583.pdf

 

Bainbridge, Jason. “‘The Call to do Justice’: Superheroes, Sovereigns and the State during

Wartime.” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, vol. 28, no. 4, December 2015, pp. 745-763. Springer Link, DOI: 10.1007/s11196-015-9424-y

Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.”

American Review of Canadian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, October 2006, pp. 427-429. Scholars Portal Journal, DOI: 10.1080/02722010609481401

Bell, John. “Comic Books In English Canada”. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica

Canada, 8 Feb 2006.

Dingle, Adrian (w, a). “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret.” Dime Comics, no. 21, June, 1945,

pp. 1-7. Bell Features, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166583.pdf

English, Allan D.. The Cream of the Crop: Canadian Aircrew 1939-1945, McGill’s Queen’s

University Press, 1996. Scholars Portal Bookshttp://books1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/viewdoc.html?id=33850

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, March 2016, pp. 145-165. Project Muse, doi:10.1353/crc.2016.0008

Stacey, C.P.. “Second World War (Wwii)”. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada, 16

Jul 2013.

 

 

Japanese Representation as a Reflection of Canadian Culture in Dime Comics No.18

©Copyright 2017, Graham Payne, Ryerson University

Introduction:

The art, stories, and media that a culture produces are integral parts of understanding that culture. “Canadian Whites” is a blanket term referring to a comic book movement which started in response to the Wartime Exchange Conservation Act which was enacted when Canada joined the Allies against the Axis powers during the Second World War. The Wartime Measures Act restricted the flow of non-essential goods across the border between Canada and the United States of America. This created a dearth of many leisure products, including comic books. The Whites were completely Canadian productions, as they were comics created by Canadians for Canadians. Reading through the Canadian Whites makes it obvious that they are products of their time, and heavily influenced by the war. But as you continue to read through the stories, troubling patterns emerge, patterns which echo one of the darker and often repressed parts of Canadian history, the treatment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. Examining the creative media of a culture can provide us with a reflection of its values, beliefs, and morality. Dime Comics No.18 (December 1944) provides a useful lens to examine and understand this aspect of Canadian history. The stories within this comic provide an unfettered look at the widely held and socially accepted bigotry of the time, which targeted people of Japanese descent.

Bigotry as normality:

When examining the Canadian Whites, it’s important to understand the cultural context in which they were made. Even before the Second World War broke out, there had been long standing resentment against people of Asian descent in Canada. According to Ann Gomer Sunahara in her book “The Politics of Racism: The Uprooting of Japanese Canadians During the Second World War”, people of Asian descent were considered inferior to people of European descent. Sunahara describes this as a “passive, unconscious racism” (3). Passive, not in the sense that it wasn’t harmful, but rather that it was the prevailing ideology of the time and it promoted negative stereotypes of those of Asian descent within Canada. Citizens of European descent would not have considered themselves as racist, as they were adhering to the social conditioning which led them to believe in inherent differences between themselves and their Asian counterparts. European Canadians had been born and raised in a culture that perpetuated this narrative, which was of their supposed superiority over those of different ethnicities. These beliefs can be seen in exemplified in several stories within Dime Comics No.18.

H. Brunt. Panel from “Lank the Yank” Dime Comics, No. 18, December 1944, Bell Features, p. 43. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

One of the stories within Dime Comics No.18 is an episode in the continuing series “Lank The Yank”, a comic series created by Harry Brunt. In this episode, the titular Lank encounters a group of Japanese soldiers. When Lank retreats into a nearby body of water, the Japanese soldiers pursue him and foolishly end up drowning like lemmings. The comic portrays the Japanese as being too stupid to not walk into danger. It also portrays them as not having the ability to swim. Finally, they are mocked for being short as they drown in water which Lank strides through easily (pg 9). Lank in contrast, is smart enough to lure them to their doom. The message from this comic is that the Europeans are biologically and mentally superior. This comic makes the Japanese objects of ridicule and makes the death of three human beings an ethnic joke. “Lank the Yank” summarizes the culturally systemic prejudice of Canada in the 1930’s-40’s.  

A. Dingle. Panel from “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” Dime Comics, No. 18, December 1944, Bell Features, p. 43. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In the essay “Henri Tajfel’s ‘Cognitive Aspects of Prejudice’ and Psychology of Bigotry” Michael Billig examines the work of past articles regarding the social psychology of prejudice. According to Billig, as humans we have an innate need to organize and categorize both physical and social information about the world that we inhabit. Humans, he suggests, create cognitive shortcuts which allow our minds to make sense of the vast swaths of information around us. These cognitive shortcuts help us to make sense of this information. However, these categorizations can distort our understanding of reality, especially when this leads to defining people as members of a larger social group, rather than as a collection of individuals. Individual human beings of any culture are infinitely more complex and varied than any characterization of race or ethnicity could allow. Broad characterization, suggests Billig, leads to exaggeration and the presumption of stereotypes. In this way, prejudice can be defined as as a “cognitive interpretation of the social world” (178), a false understanding of people based on misinformation gained from one culture about another. An example of such exaggeration can be seen in the first story of Dime Comics No.18, “Rex Baxter and Xalantana’s Secret”. In this episode of the comic series “Rex Baxter”, the main antagonist, a Japanese general, is little more than a racist caricature with exaggerated physical and behavioral features, depicting Japanese people as physically ugly and violently sadistic. The general has huge buck teeth, while all other Japanese have eyes so slanted they appear to be closed. They speak in broken, grammatically incorrect English, and talk of taking women as prizes of war, which is clearly meant to imply some inherent savagery. In the study “Teaching About Racism: Pernicious Implications of the Standard Portrayal” by Glenn Adams, Vanessa Edkins, Dominika Lacka, Kate M. Pickett and Sapna Cheryan, racism is understood less as a personal problem and more of a cultural one. It’s easy to understand racism as the problem of individual minds, but that does little to address the root issues. While there are certainly individuals who hold racist ideals, the true danger in racism lies in ingrained socio-cultural bigotry, or as they call it “the essence of racism” (350).

A. Dingle. Panel from “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” Dime Comics, No. 18, December 1944, Bell Features, p. 43. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Racism over time becomes embedded in collective rhetoric, which is then in turn used to justify itself. The representations of the Japanese soldiers matters, as these caricatures add to the rhetoric of the time. One particularly poignant line in “Rex Baxter” is delivered by Rex Baxter after his companion Gail expresses trauma after taking the life of a Japanese soldier. Rex responds by saying “No Dear, not a man, a rat!” effectively reducing those of Japanese descent to vermin, to be killed indiscriminately (5). This bigotry and devaluing of the lives of people of Japanese descent became common within Canadian culture, and was present at the highest levels of the Canadian government at the time. Sunahara references the now infamous quote from Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King personal diaries, “It is fortunate … that the use of the bomb should be used on the Japanese rather than upon the white races of Europe” (15). The Prime Minister is of course referring to the atomic bombs launched by the Americans on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, clearly valuing the lives of European civilians over those of Japanese heritage.

What was happening on the home front:

When discussing the Canadian Whites and their representation of people of Japanese descent, it’s important to remember for whom they were made. The Whites weren’t created for those soldiers actually fighting against Japan and the other Axis Powers during the Second World War, but rather for those on the home front. Canada in the 1930’s to 40’s was an increasingly paranoid country. As the war dragged on, the public became more and more irrationally concerned that those of Japanese descent were waiting for an opportunity to harm Canada. As Ann Gomer Sunahara reports, particularly in British Columbia, the general consensus was suspicion and a lack of trust for those of Japanese racial origin, and a mistaken belief that their continued presence in Canadian society was a threat to public safety. Sunahara notes that astoundingly, both the Canadian Military and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were firmly of the opinion that those of Japanese descent within Canada were not any kind of liability, “at no point were Japanese Canadians ever a threat to Canadian society” (3). One of the most colourful ways of understanding the phenomenon comes from essay “The Canadian Japanese and World War Two” by Forrest E La Violette, which describes popular public opinion as a crescendo of demands to remove the Japanese from Canadian society.

L. Bachle. Panel from “Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics, No. 18, December 1944, Bell Features, p. 43. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The Canadian public, in their fear, stopped seeing those of Japanese heritage as individual human beings, but rather as a part of some great amorphous “other” with which their country was currently at war. The depictions of Japanese people in the Canadian Whites were symptomatic of the culture they were produced in. In the episode “Johnny Canuck” in Dime Comics No.18, by Leo Bachle, the titular Canadian spy Johnny Canuck is deceived and betrayed by a Japanese man masquerading as a Chinese official. Even before the betrayal, Johnny Canuck says that the spy looks “like a jappy”, implying some inherent untrustworthiness based on his appearance (43). According to Audrey Kobayashi in her paper “The Japanese-Canadian Redress Settlement and its Implications for “Race Relations”, she suggests that there had always been discrimination by European Canadians against those of Asian descent. However as the war kept going, and the Japanese were more and more vilified, the war became a perfect excuse for more bigoted voices within Canada to call for the ejection of the Japanese Canadian population. The so called “Jap problem” (38) was based in little more than hateful rumors and speculation that those of Japanese ancestry were waiting for a signal to betray and attack Canada from within. This, of course, resulted in one of the darker chapters in Canadian history, the forced internment of Japanese Canadians by the Canadian government. “Between 8 December 1941 and 31 March 1949, Japanese Canadians were uprooted from their homes, deprived of property, possessions, dignity and civil rights, including the rights to work freely, to vote, and in the case of those who were subsequently ‘deported’ to Japan, to their status as Canadians” (Kobayashi 2). According to Sunahara, in February of 1942, just one month after the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, the Federal Cabinet of Canada ordered the expulsion of Japanese Canadians living from within 160 kilometers of the Pacific coast. It just so happened to be where the majority of Japanese Canadians lived and 22,000 Japanese people were displaced. The Japanese population of Canada was scattered across the country, spread across internment camps and long abandoned ghost towns, robbed of both their physical possessions and their dignity in retribution for the actions of a country they had few ties to. These motifs of dehumanization and vilification can seen throughout Dime Comics No18, which reflect the attitude toward of Japanese Canadians, which resulted in the mass displacement, internment, and violation of their basic human rights. By vilifying the Japanese to a cartoonish degree, the Canadians of the 1940’s justified these unjust actions.  

To conclude:

The Canadian Whites, especially the stories within Dime Comics No18, are reflective of Canadian culture at large. The depictions within the Whites of the Japanese people as vile subhuman, unintelligent savages, whom characters kill with the same guilt as one has for killing a rodent, shows us the exact attitude which existed within Canadian culture at the time. Bearing in mind that the majority of those who read the Whites were civilians who were locked in a state of paranoia about a war half a world away, it’s no surprise that their prejudice would turn on landed Japanese immigrants and second generation Japanese Canadians. The Whites reflect this theme of hate, bigotry, and dehumanization, which permeated Canadian culture and lead to one of the most shameful episodes in Canadian history.

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.


Work Cited & Bibliography:

Kobayashi, Audrey. “The Japanese-Canadian Redress Settlement and its Implications for “Race Relations”.” Canadian Ethnic Studies = Etudes Ethniques au Canada, vol. 24, no. 1, 1992, pp. 1-19. Periodicals Archive Online, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1293139767?accountid=13631.

Billig, Michael. “Henri Tajfel’s ‘Cognitive Aspects of Prejudice’ and Psychology of Bigotry.” The British Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 41, 2002, pp. 171-88, Nursing & Allied Health Database; ProQuest Sociology Collection; Science Database, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/219174061?accountid=13631.

Davis, Laura K. “Joy Kogawa’s Obasan: Canadian multiculturalism and Japanese-Canadian internment”. British Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol 25, Issue 1, May 2012, pp 57-76. Ryerson University Library and Archives,http://online.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/doi/pdf/10.3828/bjcs.2012.04

Sunahara, Ann Gomer. The Politics of Racism: The Uprooting of Japanese Canadians During the Second World War. Toronto, Ontario, James Lorimer & Company 1981.

La Violette, Forrest E. The Canadian Japanese and World War II: A Sociological and Psychological Account. Toronto, Ont, University of Toronto Press, 1948.

“World War Two & Interment.” Www.sedai.ca, SEDAI: The Japanese Canadian Legacy Project, www.sedai.ca/for-students/history-of-japanese-canadians/world-war-ii-internment/. Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.

Dingle, Adrian (w, a). “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret.” Dime Comics, no.18, December, 1944, pp. 2-7. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Brunt, Harry (w, a). “Lank the Yank.” Dime Comics, no.18, December, 1944, pp. 8-9. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Bachle, Leo (w, a). “Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics, no. 18, December, 1944, pp. 41-47. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

 

Our Great Gendered Expectations: Dominant Masculinities in Dime Comics 23

© Copyright 2017, Mariam Vakani, Ryerson University

INTRODUCTION:

The early moments of Canada’s declaration of war against Germany saw a time of economic turmoil. By the end of 1940, the Foreign Exchange Control Board introduced the War Exchange Conservation Act, which essentially banned the import of non-essential American goods, which included comic books and pulp-fiction periodicals, in hopes of conserving the American dollar. (Bell, 30). The American comic-books enjoyed by Canadian children disappeared from the newsstands, leaving a gaping hole in the popular culture of the time.

This gap was quickly noticed by children, and just as quickly exploited by the four independent publishing houses that reacted immediately to this business opportunity, beginning what would later be known as the Golden Age of Canadian Comics. First led by Maple Leaf Publishers and Anglo-American, the Golden Age was marked by the onslaught of creative Canadian heroes and stories written by Canadian artists. Amongst these artists and publishers was Adrian Dingle, who had first worked with Hillborough Studies on their only title, Triumph-Adventure, but later joined the brothers Cy and Gene Bell in creating what would come to be known as the greatest publisher of Canadian comic books, Bell Features. Amongst their several titles was Dime Comics, which ran through the end of 1946.

The black and white paneled pages of Dime Comics showcase many stories of bravery and damnation, demonstrating the complex creativity that was born during the war. Issue No. 23 of Dime Comics was published in October of 1946, little more than a month after the war officially ended. The issue includes full-length comic stories, shorter spreads, and direct insight into the world that inspired the fictional stories. Amongst the themes that we see in this particular issue is that of the idealized masculinities embedded in the stories of superheroes, promoting a framework of stereotypical hegemonic masculinity that was both a standard to which the men of the era were held and a dream that adolescent readers aspired to become.

WHAT MAKES A HERO: COMIC BOOK PHYSICALITY AND HYPER-MASCULINITY

Photograph of a soldier from WW2, carrying a gun through the forest
“Private H.E. Goddard of The Perth Regiment, carrying a Bren gun while advancing through a forest north of Arnhem, April 15, 1945 Netherlands. Credit: Capt. Jack H. Smith Canada. Dept. of National Defence Faces of War Archives at Library and Archives Canada

“…Hyper-masculinity is the most visible and most mute way of responding to the anxiety generated in the North American male’s search for masculinity” (1103) writes Klein, author of the journal article, “Comic Book Masculinity”, in which he discusses the links between body-builders and internalized misogyny and homophobia. In addition to their valiance, the superheroes must also fit a certain physical type. Each of the men is broad-shouldered and chested, with a strong jawline and chin; they are young and handsome and ready for action. A strong build was one of the physical demands of war-time strength.

Even in the case of exhaustion, as we find Johnny Canuck in during his kidnapping, the male superhero is always ready for action, Terry Allen is instantly prepared to become Nitro and save the day, Drummy Young is immediately ready to engage in physical combat with the enemy; their bodies work in their favour and are undeniably strong, flexible, and healthy. “There seems never to be a hesitation or a backward glance: the superhero knows what he has to do, even if this implies only being on the move—performing, in a word,” states Yann Roblou (79), discussing the hyperbolic activity of the male superheroes’ body. No matter the situation, the heroes are never to be seen as fazed in their speech or in their body language.

WHAT’S A MAN TO JUDGE: THE MORAL INTEGRITY OF COMIC BOOK HEROES

Comic book masculinity also extends itself to expectations of male vitality: they must always be ready for combat and be above feeling pain. Indeed, even when Johnny Canuck succumbs to pain and fatigue, he is revitalized by the end of the page and announces that he is ready to “take another crack at the Japs.” (Bachle) While exhaustion and fatigue are felt by the superhero, he must be quick in recovery and be ready to continue his duties.  The Faces of War collection at the Library and Archives Canada depicts the male soldiers of the Second World War, all of whom have the same strong build and vitality that we see in the heroes of Dime Comics. The physical build was a reality as much as it was a fictional depiction, though the comic book drawings were a hyperbolic version of that reality.

Issue No. 23 of Dime Comic hosts four interesting male characters: Rex Baxter, Nitro, Drummy Young and Johnny Canuck. Each of these men embody an idealized masculinity, characterized by their rationale, justice and sense of protection. Hutchings writes, “almost all attempts to characterize (military) masculinity include risk taking and rationality as well as discipline, endurance, and absence of emotion.” (393)

Rex Baxter, the “United Nations Counter-Spy”, leads his squadron through the air and is faced with the threat of new invasions from Hitler.  Nitro, the second hero that we see, is the alter-ego of Terry Allen, a patriotic Canadian shown buying war bonds with his fiancée, Lynn, when the bank is robbed. Terry Allen turns to Nitro, determined to save the day, whilst remaining a concerned fiancé and leaving the crime-scene with Lynn when she is shot.

Drummy Young, a model citizen, realizes that a radio-show host was a Nazi spy, using his platform to provide Nazi forces with the latitudes and longitudes of ships at sea, thus enabling their attacks. Drummy stops the “bad guy” on time, preventing further harm to Canadian servicemen at sea. Finally, we see Johnny Canuck, weakened in an enemy dungeon, but watch as he escapes, avenges the death of his prison-mate and seeks vengeance for the lives of all those who “endured a living death” in the dungeons.

It is interesting to note that while not all these characters are military men, per se, they clearly demonstrate the making of soldiers, in their particular strength of character, sense of justice and moral integrity. Perhaps it could be said that their remarkable feats of bravery were meant to demonstrate to children the power of the ordinary citizen- that by being vigilant and active, they, too, could play their part in the war.

EXCEPTION OR EXAMPLE?

Hourihan writes, “the hero’s task is to defeat the forces of chaos, fear and ignorance and so ensure the survival of the state, the realm of civic order and rational behaviour.” (88) This concept is evidenced in the characterization of each of these ultra-male superheroes; they are meant to act as defenders of peace and protectors of Earth. Rex Baxter tackles the peculiarity of seeing strange planes in the sky with a cool-headed approach, a curiosity and a strong sensibility of the possibility of danger. Johnny Canuck, fatigued from his capture and time in the enemy dungeon, still recognizes his moral responsibility to avenge the deaths of his prison-mates, and, once he escapes and is reinvigorated, is immediately ready to reengage with the enemy soldiers.

Nitro holding his fiancee, Lynn, with a speech bubble that says,"Looks like i'll have to forget Simms for now, Officer, this girl's life is worth more than a dozen like him."
Jerry Latare.
Panel from “Nitro” Dime Comics, No.23 October 1946, p.15.
Bell Features Collection,
Library and Archives
Canada.

Drummy Young does not have explicit ties to the military in the same way that Rex and Johnny do, but, by being a vigilant citizen, Drummy finds the Nazi spy amongst a group of radio show hosts and saves the lives of hundreds of servicemen at sea. When the bank is robbed while he is buying war bonds with his fiancée, Lynn, Nitro rushes to stop the heist until he turns to find that she has been shot. At that point, he exclaims that “this girl’s life is worth more than a dozen like him!” (Latare) and leaves in order to find medical help for her. Nitro presents a duality of masculinity, conflicted when faced with a situation in which he must act as savior both to the masses and to his fiancée, Lynn, and is ultimately rewarded when he must fight the robber to obtain a blood sample for the transfusion that Lynn needs to survive.

This determination to save the day, the careless disregard for one’s own well-being, and the unwavering faith in their own goodness and conviction in the causes they fight for characterize our heroes, and our expectations of Canadian men. Our saviors fit the characteristics of being tall, muscular, conventionally attractive white men who seek protection for those that are weaker than them, placing the safety of women, children, and the elderly above their own needs.

TALL, WHITE AND HANDSOME: THE BIASES IN THE HEROES WE CHOOSE

Furthermore, the dominance of the white, muscular, heterosexual male superhero is asserted when he is placed against the backdrop of immoral characters and apathetic women, who play foil to his excellence. Within the black and white pages of Dime Comics, the hero exists in a metaphorically black and white moral binary, where he is the unequivocal force of goodness in a world that is populated by petty thieves, Japanese enemy soldiers, and Nazis.

As such, we begin to question exactly what differentiates our male hero from the antagonist, when they both engage in violent behaviour in the defense of their causes. The simple answer is that the heroes we follow, Johnny Canuck, Drummy Young and Nitro, (as we do not see Rex engage in combat with anyone) truly believe that they are protecting the weak as they fight. The more complex answer would be that the artists and writers have their own ideological biases that bleed through their stories –the masculinity that is acceptable is that which is in accordance with the commonly held values of the Canadian people, and through the blatant othering that is present throughout the stories, we are made to believe that the superheroes are dispensing justice.

Additionally, the women that are placed around the men serve little more purpose than props or plot devices, such as where Lynn distracts Nitro from his work saving the bank and Gail Abbot, Rex Baxter’s girlfriend, exists in the background as he expounds on the conflict. We find the men in drawn as unquestionably more intelligent and interesting than the women around them, and continue to read them as such. The men exist, then, as unequivocally good because they are never confronted with their equal opposites, only men who are meant to be read as evil and women who are purposefully written as unintelligent.

While the truth of the matter is that the Canadian superheroes were fighting to protect the weak and the helpless, it cannot go unstated that “such figures are not helpful role-models for ordinary boys and men who are full of normal imperfections, who must live in a mundane world where there are no unequivocally evil enemies to fight against…” (Hourihan, 72). The comic book hero exists in a vacuum, there is no goodness but him and he has little evil in him, at all.

HEROES TO OUR CHILDREN:

Johnny attacking his captor who is begging for mercy, while Johnny's speech bubble is him talking about how he is seeking vengance for the lives lost.
Leo Bachle. Panel from “Johnny Canuck” No.23 October 1946, p.43
Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

However, this does not negate the fact that these heroes were role models to children both during and after the war. They stood as symbols of patriotism, created by artists specifically for the purpose of providing Canadian children the same patriotic heroes that American superheroes were for American children. As narrated by John Bell in his book Invaders of the North, Johnny Canuck was created by a fifteen-year-old Leo Bachle, who amused a Bell Features investor with his criticism of the artwork of some of the Bell Comics. (50) Upon request, he showed the investor some of his own artwork and was hired the next day as a freelance artist for Bell Features, soon creating Johnny Canuck, who stands to this day as a symbol of patriotic Canadian heroism. Johnny Canuck was a hero who constantly came in contact with Hitler, frequently “slugging the Nazi dictator”, and in essence, became a catalyst of wish-fulfilment for many of the children who had to watch the war from home.

Despite the aggression and structured expectations that the comic books seemed to be setting forth, that the heroes also presented themselves as a means through which the child-readers were allowed to partake in a war they had to see from the sidelines is undeniable. It is also undeniable that the heroism and war-like behavior of the comic-books was an exaggerated, over-sentimentalized versions of what war-time masculinity should look like. Neither of those facts override the other but exist simultaneously as the context which created the comic culture of the time.

CONCLUSION:

The stories of Rex Baxter, Nitro, Drummy Young and Johnny Canuck portray a double-ended societal expectation and youthful desire to be the hero of the war. These heroes exist because they were needed, in the way fiction is, to comfort, appease, enlighten and intrigue children, although not necessarily to teach them the realities of war as it played out for soldiers on the home-front. They portray the aggression and masculinity that was deemed appropriate for the time, channeled, unfortunately through their hatred for the “others” and the sense of masculine superiority and dominance that exists within the stories; but there remains the fact that the heroes and their worlds provided a sanctuary in which Canadian children could dream themselves into super-heroes and military men, fight alongside their fathers and brothers and make their way towards a victory.

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.


Works Cited

  • Bachle, Leo (w, a). “Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics, no. 23, October, 1945 pp. 39-45, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.    http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166585.pdf

  • Bell, John. Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe, Dundurn, 2006.
  • Hourihan, Margery. Deconstructing the Hero: Literary Theory and Children’s Literature. Routledge, 1997.
  • Hutchings, Kimberly. “Making Sense of Masculinity and War.” Men and Masculinities, vol. 10,    no. 4, September 2007, pp. 389-404. Sage Journals. DOI: 10.1177/1097184X07306740,            http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1097184X07306740

  • Klein, A. “Comic Book Masculinity.” Sport in Society, vol. 10, no. 6, November 2007, pp. 1073-1119.      Scholars Portal Journals. DOI: 10.1080/17430430701550512,           http://journals.scholarsportal.info/details/17430437/v10i0006/1073_cbm.xml

  • Latare, Jerry (w, a). “Nitro.”  Dime Comics, no. 23, October, 1945 pp. 11-16, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.        http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166585.pdf

  • Roblou, Yann. “Complex Masculinities: The Superhero in Modern American Movies.” Culture, Society and Masculinities, vol. 4, no. 1, 2012, pp. 76-91. Men’s Studies Press. DOI: 10.3149/CSM.0401.76

Post-War Women as Portrayed in Dime Comics #25

© Copyright 2017 Julie Veitch, Ryerson University

Primarily red, yellow and blue front cover of Dime Comics #25.
Clayton Dexter (a). Dime Comics, no. 25, February, 1946, cover. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

This exhibit examines the representation of women in Dime Comics Issue #25 (February 1946). Particularly, it will be looking into why, in this issue of Dime Comics more than the previous issues, female characters are portrayed as being more powerful and active in their narrative. Previously, women in comics had mostly just been eye candy, but in this issue, the female characters are active in the storylines- if still somewhat scantily-clad in some cases.

As such, this exhibit seeks to prove that this issue of Dime Comics demonstrates the post-war view of women as active and powerful people who helped war efforts on the homefront. The theory here is simple: when women took over the jobs that were previously done by men and could do them well, the perception of women began to change and this is reflected in the female characters presented in this issue.

Research into this topic has revealed that while there is writing on women in comics, these writings tend to focus more on American superheroes such as Wonder Woman and Supergirl, more recent heroes, or if they do focus on Canadian female superheroes, it is usually solely Nelvana. Lesser-known Canadian female superheroes and comic book characters have hardly been looked at in any depth, and side characters such as Gail in “Rex Baxter” have certainly never been talked about. Additionally, the relationship between the role of women during WWII and the portrayal of women in comics at the time has not been explored before.

The Women in Dime Comics #25

While some of the big name comics in this issue such as “Drummy Young”, “Johnny Canuck” and “Nitro” have little to no female characters, this issue does feature some powerful, active female characters, which will be looked at in-depth in this section.

Panel from Rex Baxter featuring Gail spotting Hitler's wrecked plane.
Clayton Dexter (w, a). “Rex Baxter: Counterspy.” Dime Comics, no. 25, February, 1946, pp. 5. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In “Rex Baxter: Counterspy”, Gail joins Rex on his quest to find Hitler, who is looking for the underwater city of Atlantis. Acting as Rex’s sidekick of sorts, Gail tags along while they fly across the ocean looking for any sign of Hitler, and she is the one who ends up spotting the wreckage of Hitler’s plane on an outcropping of rocks. After that discovery, she accompanies Rex under the sea to find Hitler himself.

While Gail is clearly meant to be a side character to the heroic Rex Baxter, in this issue of the comic she is seen playing an active role in the story. Instead of being passive and pretty, Gail spots the plane wreckage that leads them to Hitler. Perhaps Rex would have spotted the wreckage without her help, but maybe he would not have, if she had not been there, so her keen eyes were crucial to his mission.

Panel from Harbour Police of the Polka Dot Pirate
Ross Mendes (w, a). “Harbour Police.” Dime Comics, no. 25, February, 1946, pp. 26. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Similarly, in the comic “Police Harbour”, The Polka Dot Pirate plays a key role in the plot. When Russ’ sidekick Ricky gets thrown off of a boat to drown, The Polka Dot Pirate picks him up in her motor boat and potentially saves his life. Later on, working with Ricky, she fights the thieves who have captured Russ and saves him.

This is an interesting twist on a common trope, as most comics in the 1940s and before had the main male hero saving women, not women saving the main male hero. The Polka Dot Pirate, while pretty and wearing a rather ridiculous outfit that is clearly meant to show off her body, is portrayed in this comic as an active, powerful woman who is not afraid to fight some bad guys and save the day.

Finally, in “A Betty Burd Adventure: Guns of Greed”, the title character Betty finds birds dead and animals trapped in the jungle and sets the trapped animals free, taking the snares with her. When the hunters who set the traps find that their prey have been set loose, they set a trap for Betty and capture her. In the end, she is saved from being mauled by a leopard by Commissioner Storm, an army man who had been tracking the hunters.

While Betty Burd is saved by a male character in this comic, this fact does not subjugate her as it might in other narratives. Betty was only captured by the hunters because she had saved the animals in the jungle from their snares, so it was her heroic action that landed her in the sticky situation. Additionally, because Betty is the title character, and one of the only female characters in Canadian comics to be a title character in 1939-1945, she is clearly not meant to be a passive character who exists only to be a plot device or eye candy.

Unlike typical women in comic books during WWII, these three ladies all have active roles in their comics, whether they were the main characters or side characters. The only other female characters featured in issue #25 of Dime Comics were those in “Izzy Brite”, a three page joke comic that included a poster of a pin-up model, a stereotypical little girl and stereotypical old woman/grandmother character. None of these women play much of a role in the comic and while these portrayals of women are not very modern or ground-breaking, they are relatively harmless, especially since the comic in question is a lighter, more silly comic.

Women in WWII Efforts

Image of a female factory worker holding a gun.
“Make small arms big for our fighting men is the slogan of 3,000 women and 1,000 men at work in the Small Arms plant at Long Branch. A product of their work is displayed by Mary Starchuck; New Toronto (LEFT); who handles a Sten gun like a veteran.” Toronto Star 1942, Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive. Toronto Star License.

At the peak of female employment during WWII, in 1943, 261,000 women were employed in war production, and by 1944 over 1,000,000 women were working full-time in various industries in Canada (Pierson 9). Just an example of this massive jump in women’s employment is demonstrated by the employment records of aircraft plants (10). In September of 1939, only 119 women were employed in aircraft plants, but that number rose to 25,013 women by the beginning of 1944 (10). It is clear from these numbers that women stepped up in a big way during WWII, eagerly filling the void left in Canadian industries by their husbands, brothers, fathers and sons who were off fighting in the war.

Testimonies from former female members of several military organizations such as the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in the book Greatcoats and glamour boots: Canadian women at war (1939-1945) discuss working military jobs on the homefront as being “lonely” and “isolated” at times (Gossage 236-238). They also described stressful situations such as working as plotters in Halifax and staying up after their shifts to watch German U-boats get further up the St. Lawrence river than most Canadians thought they did (236). These testimonies and others like them shed light on the trials and tribulations that women on the homefront confronted head on with courage and strength that would have previously been deemed distinctly male. Instead of being the docile homemakers that men thought they should be, these women showed their strength and capability, and the men had to take notice.

A woman working in an aircraft factory
“As never before; women are running the entire scale of jobs in Canadian war industry. Grinding; welding; assembling; drilling punching; pressing; packing; shaping on machines big and small are jobs for women today. This girl is an expert on a grinding wheel. She is working on an airplane part.” Toronto Star 1941, Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive. Toronto Star License.

However, things were not all well and good on the homefront (socially), even though women stepped up in the way that the government and Prime Minister King stressed was crucial to Canada’s success. The fact that women were taking over traditionally male jobs lead to some people believing that the war had “emancipated women” because it equalized the roles of both genders in society (19). Some Canadian became very anxious about women becoming too masculine because it was acceptable for them to wear pants and they were working in jobs that had previously been monopolized by males (20). For this reason, women were often assured that things would return to normal when the war was over, and that their work would not require that they do anything unbecoming of a lady, or “unwomanly” (20).

Another worry that some, particularly employers and managers, had was about what would happen when the men came back from the war and took their jobs back from the female employees that had been labouring in their stead (Cardinali 132). For this reason, managers tried their best to hire the wives of the workers turned soldiers in the hopes that they would be willing to give up their jobs to their husbands (132). They also hired wives of current employees who had not been sent off to fight in the hope that the women would be willing to step aside if their husbands were still employed (132). These measures clearly denote a nervousness about the women being unwilling to return to their lives as dutiful, passive housewives. However, despite many women expressing a desire to continue working after the war, the managers’ strategies were mostly successful (132). Despite this large return to normalcy, though, women gained permanent privileges during the war, as well as proving to themselves and those around them that they were capable of doing work that was previously not available to them and viewed as “men’s work” (132-133).

Conclusion: The Real and the Fictional

War ephemera poster featuring 3 women
We’re in the army now. Broadside. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection. Public Domain.

The women in Dime Comics #25 are clearly active, powerful characters that play a fairly significant role in the comics they are featured in. An interesting detail to note is that these women, Gail, The Polka Dot Pirate and Betty Burd, are portrayed as active, but in a very helpful way. They are helping the hero on their mission or saving people or animals, not necessarily saving the day and getting all the credit. This connects with the wartime idea of women not only entering the workforce to help on the homefront, but also the idea of women “joining the army” by being helpful- collecting scraps of metal, paper, bones, rubber, and other materials that can be used in war supplies (see We’re in the army now poster).

Additionally, the anxiety about the differences between men and women becoming less pronounced, or women becoming more masculine due to their taking over male work, may have had an impact on how women were portrayed in comics after the war. If the comic artists saw the roles of men and women becoming more equal as a good thing, then this could explain why some female characters were able to come out from the shadows and play an integral role in their comics. While the women in these comics, Gail, The Polka Dot Pirate and particularly Betty Burd, were all still very much feminine in appearance, their roles as active, intelligent and resourceful people could be seen as more “male roles” than traditional “female roles”.

Page from the comic Betty Burd
Fred Kelly (w, a). “A Betty Burd Adventure: Guns of Greed.” Dime Comics, no. 25, February, 1946, pp. 44. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

It is also worth noting that at the time of WWII, there was a lack of female comic book characters, the only two of note at the time being Wonder Woman in the U.S.A. and Nelvana in Canada who both emerged in 1941. Due to this lack, female readers were hungry for female characters- they wanted to read about strong, smart and capable women (Jorgenson and Lechan 269). Girls and women in the 1930s and 1940s wanted characters that they could look up to and aspire to be like, which could have also been a factor in the women of this comic issue showing traits such as intelligence and strength (269-270).

This creates an interesting contradiction in the quest to please both male and female readers: the female character or superhero as sex object and role model (Lavin 94). Make Betty Burd an ecological hero who saves animals to appeal to the female audience, but also put her in a scanty crop top and booty short ensemble to please the male audience. After all, how could the male audience possibly relate to a female character, even if she is active and capable? However, considering that previous to the wartime era of comics female characters had only been eye candy with very little presence or substance, this was at least a step in the right direction, and one that female audiences surely welcomed.


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.


Works Cited

Cardinali, Richard. “Women in the workplace: Revisiting the production soldiers, 1939-1945.” Work Study, vol. 51, no. 2/3, 2002, pp. 121-133. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/218385570?accountid=13631

Dexter, Clayton (w, a). “Rex Baxter: Counterspy.” Dime Comics, no. 25, February, 1946, pp. 1-6. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166587.pdf

Gossage, Carolyn. “On Duty at Home and Overseas.” Greatcoats and glamour boots: Canadian women at war (1939-1945). Dundurn Press, 2001. Scholars Portal, December, 2009. http://books2.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/viewdoc.html?id=/ebooks/ebooks0/gibson_crkn/2009-12-01/4/410661

Jorgenson, Anna, and Arianna Lechan. “Not Your Mom’s Graphic Novels: Giving Girls a Choice Beyond Wonder Woman.” Technical Services Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 3, July, 2013, pp. 266-284. Scholars Portal, http://journals2.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/pdf/07317131/v30i0003/266_nymgnggacbww.xml

Kelly, Fred (w, a). “A Betty Burd Adventure: Guns of Greed.” Dime Comics, no. 25, February, 1946, pp. 43-47. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166587.pdf

Lavin, Michael R. “Women in comic books.” Serials Review, vol. 24, no. 2, June, 1998, pp. 93-100. Scholars Portal, DOI: 10.1016/S0098-7913(99)80121-X.

Mendes, Ross (w, a). “Harbour Police.” Dime Comics, no. 25, February, 1946, pp. 23-26. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166587.pdf

Moyer, Hy (w, a). “Izzy Brite.” Dime Comics, no. 25, February, 1946, pp. 20-22. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166587.pdf

Pierson, Ruth R. Canadian Women and the Second World War. The Canadian Historical Association, 1983. Library and Archives Canada, March, 2007. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/008004/f2/H-37_en.pdf

Canadian Identity in Dime Comic #20

© Copyright 2017 Kimia Rashidi, Ryerson University

 

Premise 

The representation of a Canadian identity in conjunction with its reception will be analyzed within the 20th issue of Dime Comics dating April 1945. One of many in The Canadian Whites, this comic’s inaccurate representations of the Japanese draw attention to the deliberate effort the artists put into depicting the “enemy” in order to establish a Canadian identity. The depicted Canadian identity seems to be a sense of superiority and innate goodness; the comic reveals itself to have strong opinions on a national identity and thus offers them to its audience: children. The wider context of the period outlines that “luxury goods,” including children’s comics, were halted as imports to Canada due to the War Exchange Conservation Act (Bell). Building a strong Canadian identity at the time was important for the war effort (Granatstein), which is why characters such as Johnny Canuck depict a Canadian “super-hero” saving the day. Johnny Canuck has no super powers, which sends the message that he is an ordinary Canadian. Tied with his ability to defeat the enemy, he is the Canadian identity: an Anglo-Canadian male, undefeatable despite his lack of superpowers.  The comic works as a piece of literature for children  that aided in their understanding of Canada’s role in the war effort (Zipes). Children did minor work to raise money for the war effort (Veterans Affairs Canada); this detail of the historical situation asserts that children were receiving a thorough education on Canada’s stance at war (Millar). Dime Comics no. 20 contains a “Canadian identity” that the education received by the youth of the time would have affirmed. This contributed to their consumption and engagement of the media because the same ideals were reflected in a trivial way. The disadvantageous portrayal of the Japanese depicts children of that culture as an “enemy,” this would have given rise to their poor treatment by other school children pre and post war. Currently, there is no review detailing the Canadian identity targeted towards children within their own medium of literature. This study will aid in understanding Canada’s history (WWII) in establishing an identity and its challenges in diversity, in relation to children through this specific medium.

The (only) Canadian Identity

Figure 1. Bachle, Leo, (w,a). Panel from “Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics, No. 20, April 1945, Commercial Signs of Canada, p.25-31. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In an effort to build a Canadian identity through these comics, the political stance of the artists was revealed through their characters. Leo Bachle’s Johnny Canuck (Fig. 1) is the working symbol of a Canadian: he appears to be Anglo, physically fit, and smart. Though he lacks any powers that would deem him a super hero, he still qualifies as one because of his quick thinking and tactics to beat the enemy. Bart Beaty discusses an element of super-heroes, identified by Richard Reynolds, that alludes to the idea that the behaviour of super-heroes is condemned from the law if and when their actions reflect their country’s best interest (428). Applying this to Johnny Canuck, he takes on the role of performing a coup d’état on the Nazis (Bachle 31), demonstrating Canada’s role in the war. The Canadian is the hero in this story, like many of the others in the same comic issue, and the featured Canadians are always Anglo. Beaty writes that the efforts of Johnny Canuck “overemphasiz[ed] Canada’s importance in the war” (430), notably regarding the writers agenda of engaging children readers with a political standpoint. In Dime Comic no. 20, Canadians are presented as superior to the Axis powers, with a certain focus on the Japanese. Johnny Canuck’s endeavours to win reflects the benevolent intentions of Canada – to beat evil. However, this comic is a piece of literature for children and therefore has complications within it when it displays only one type of Canadian. With the portrayal of an ideal Canadian through the discussed limited physical attributes, the “enemy” children were left out of the national identity, with the end of the war six months away. The depiction of this sort of Canadian identity leaves vulnerable the fact that Canada needed an identity established for it during the time (Beaty 438), the artists’ efforts in depicting one identity in the comic sends a skewed message to its children-populated audience: Anglo superiority. Receiving such information as a child during WWII had its consequences, primarily the treatment of the “enemy” and their children.

The “Enemy”

Figure 2. Cooper, Al (w,a). Panel from “Barnacle Bull.” Dime Comics, No. 20, April 1945, Commercial Signs of Canada, p.8-9. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The negative representation of the Japanese can be highlighted in comics such as “Barnacle Bull,” in which they are depicted more like pigs than human beings (Fig.2).  Their inappropriately presented physical appearance augments the Anglo-Canadian superiority. Further, it paints an image for the children reading these comics: the Japanese are outsiders. Laurel Lewey discusses the treatment and living arrangements of the Japanese during WWII in Canada. She writes that unofficial organizations deemed the Japanese a threat to the Anglo-Christian image of Canada and therefore they were a problem (Lewey 2). Their treatment was similar to those of Jewish descent in Germany with laws governing curfews and identification cards (Lewey, 6). The questioning of the loyalty of the Japanese by the Canadian government was evident, but the implicit ways that contributed to their harsh treatment include Dime Comic no. 20. Primarily, the medium intended for children offers no indication of racial inclusivity and therefore makes difficult for them to affirm the non-Anglo-Christian-Canadian as a Canadian. Over-exaggerated features as well as inaccurate representations both allude to the beliefs put in place about the Canadian identity, which as a result would increase the negativity received by the “superior” type of Canadian that has been represented. Lewey notes the terrible conditions the Japanese children lived in during the war, screaming while surrounded by little to no privacy and toxic fumes (6). This raises the question of post-war treatment, when these children were to return to the same schools and shared environments with the other children reading “Barnacle Bull.” Racism would have continued due to the message in children’s literature’s ideas of the Canadian identity and what it physically looks like to be an outsider. It is noted that “[t]he government’s Wartime Information Board actually perpetuated negative stereotypes of the Japanese national character” (Patrias and Frager 5), in relation to the medium of comics and its consumption as popular culture, these stereotypes are picked up. It is of significance to note that the perpetuation of stereotypes directly affected children, who are always the face of tomorrow, in ways that may be irreversible. The establishment of an exclusive Canadian identity makes for an environment in which racism can thrive in. This was especially harmful for children because they were not given an opportunity to think on their own and make decisions. What was presented to them as fact – the inherent evil-ness of the “other” – was not a fact whatsoever.

Children’s War Time Education

Figure 3. Canada. National War Finance Committee, F. A. Hey gang! Broadsides 1940. Toronto Reference Library. Baldwin Collection. Public Domain.

With war years came the expectation for children to contribute what they can to the Canadian home front. Education in schools reflected the needs of the war, with the viewing of patriotic films and curriculum based on Canada’s part in the war (Millar). During this time children were encouraged to do their bit by buying War Savings stamps (Fig.3) and collecting metal scraps (Veterans Affairs Canada). In school, the objective of learning about the war served two purposes: to depict Canada’s commitment to winning the war, along with communicating to the youth about their nation’s values, perseverance, and the dedication to hard work (Millar). The fact that the education system offered to children during WWII formally conveyed background information on their country’s endeavors becomes evident. Though with hard work, comes the need to play. The Canadian Whites may have been this answer, offering a leisurely read about the concerns of their country. The comics could have allowed the children to put a face to the efforts of Canada in the war. The role of children could have been regarded as a helping hand during the time, though in Dime Comic no. 20 there is not a single trace of children; all the stories detail adults and their escapades. The exclusion of youth in children’s literature may reiterate their role in society at that time, enforcing an ambition for the children to replicate the heroes in the comics. With the already discussed complication of a narrow Canadian identity, came another form of patriotism learned at school. Children’s education would have influenced how they received the comic. Enemies they learned about in school were being reflected in the stories they read in an amusing way. The “Canadian-ness” in the comic could have been a determining factor in its popular engagement with the young audience (Kocmarek 157) further working as a database of the events of the war. It would have been necessary that the comics reflect the general belief about war and the enemies of their society to avoid inconsistencies in ideas of patriotism. The majority of “good” characters in Dime Comic no. 20 reflect a Canadian background (Kocmarek 151), thus augmenting the image of a national identity. This worked in a way to supplement the efforts of the education system, and instilled the same notions in the mind of impressionable young children. A rise could have been given to hostile environments to children not reflected in comics or at school, situating the literature as an example of the root of a bigger problem.

Comics as Propaganda

Figure 4. “A Jap woman waves at a distance window where the Japs were placed.” Toronto Star 1942, Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive. Toronto Star license.

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines propaganda as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view” (Oxford University Press). The inaccurate depiction in Dime Comic no. 20 of the Japanese, reduced to superficial qualities, and the narrow Canadian identity dictate it a form of propaganda. This propaganda and exclusivity of a Canadian identity call to attention the fact that there will always be an “other” category of people that don’t live up to the enforced standards. As reflected in the comic, this exclusion was also depicted in newspapers (Fig.4). The caption’s derogatory reference to the Japanese in The Toronto Star depicts this exclusivity. The photo, presenting a real case of exclusion breathes air into the livelihood of it. With the Japanese being regarded as an enemy in the school curriculum, and being called “Japs” not only in the children’s comics but newspapers as well, reiterates the propaganda children were faced with. In the “Scotty MacDonald” comic a narration reads “concerned with the sole destruction of Scotty’s plane, the perplexed Jap…” (Cooper 21), this deduced the people of Japanese descent to their culture, but also associated them with a desire to harm. This form of propaganda aimed directly at children reflects the Canadian values at the time which included the establishment of the nation as a competing agent in the war. To gain the authority to be so, the Canadian identity had to be established for children in order to convey the beliefs necessary, not only to secure their aid but develop a sense of Anglo-Canadian superiority to fight the Axis power.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Dime Comic no. 20 contains troubling hints of history that the Canadian culture is still trying to overcome. Its depiction of an Anglo-Canadian identity as opposed to a diverse range of characters confirmed what the comic’s consumers’ formal education detailed: that Canada was at war with the “enemy” and their role in defeating them was necessary. Through ephemera and secondary sources a scholar can gain a deeper understanding of the implications of the narrow Canadian identity, reviewing the deeply rooted xenophobia this nation once faced. Working children into this equation, it makes sense to believe that they would have done what they could to help Canada in the war effort, even if that meant contributing to the exclusivity of the national identity. Harsh treatment of the Japanese has been detailed in the time period in addition to the inaccurate depictions in the comic that all pointed to the same idea: there most certainly exists an “other.”


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.


References

Bachle, Leo. “Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics, no. 20, April 1945, pp. 25-31. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166582.pdf

Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, vol. 36 no. 3, 2006, pp. 427–439. Scholars Portal Journals. http://journals.scholarsportal.info/details/02722011/v36i0003/427_tfcsmsotcs.xml

Bell, John. “Adrian Dingle (Nelvana of the Northern Lights).” Guardians of the North. 2001. http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/lac-bac/guardians_north-ef/2009/www.collectionscanada. gc.ca/superheroes/t3-402-e.html

Canada. National War Finance Committee, F. A. Hey gang! Broadsides 1940. Toronto Reference Library. Baldwin Collection. Public Domain.

“Dime Comics” no. 20, April 1945. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166582.pdf

Granatstein, J.L. “Canada.” The Oxford Companion to World War II, Edited by Dear, I. C. B., and M. R. D. Foot. 2014. Oxford Reference. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780198604464.001.0001/acref-9780198604464-e-302

Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, vol. 43. no. 1, 2016, pp. 148–165. Project Muse. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/611725

Lewey, Laurel. “The Treatment of Japanese Canadians in the 1940s: A Social Work Perspective.” Currents; Calgary, vol. 8 no. 2, 2009, pp. 1-15. http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1431991056/fulltextPDF/7F4D05B0BEEC437BPQ/1?accountid=13631

Millar, Anne. “Education during the Second World War.” Wartime Canada, 2015. http://wartimecanada.ca/essay/learning/education-during-second-world-war

Patrias, Carmela, and Ruth A. Frager. “‘This Is Our Country, These Are Our Rights’: Minorities and the Origins of Ontario’s Human Rights Campaigns.” The Canadian Historical Review; North York, vol. 82 no. 1, 2001, pp. 1-35. ProQuest. http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224299045/abstract/415A71A62CC448A8PQ/1

Veterans Affairs Canada. “Canadian Youth – Growing up in Wartime.” 2015. http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/historical-sheets/youth

Zipes, Jack. “Comic Books.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, 2006. Oxford Reference. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195146561.001.0001/acref-9780195146561-e-0697