© Copyright 2017 Marion Grant, Ryerson University
During World War Two it was clear that the government solicited the help of its citizens to fight the war at home through a variety of means. By using different mediums like posters and news publications, citizens were encouraged to purchase war savings stamps, collect scrap metal and disengage from gossiping. What is interesting to notice is that these ideologies and propagated messages were also spread throughout the comic book, Active Comics #14 (November 1943). These comics were created and distributed to children during World War Two. Disguised as fantastic stories about superheroes participating in stories defeating Canada’s enemy, the authors and illustrators used numerous tactics to coerce the young readers into participating in vital wartime activities by modeling this behavior through the comic book character, Active Jim and his club, Active News and Views. The character and his club also worked as yet another method used to encourage children to purchase war savings stamps and perpetuate the duties of the Canadian wartime child.
ACTIVE JIM AND WARTIME YOUTH
In his comic series, Active Jim is a ‘superhero’ that possesses no superior abilities but instead is a teenager who attends school, just like much of his readers. While his adventures may vary comic to comic, they were based on Canada’s real life war time situation and were representative of the conduct and values expected of children during war two (Kocmarek 149). By creating Active Jim with no super strength, intellect, or mystical abilities, the writers leave room for the young readers of this comic to grow themselves into his character and aspire to be someone like him: an individual with a strong sense of nationalistic pride and desire to fight for his country. In his series he never accomplishes anything too spectacular, but instead is involved in stories that any child could have participated in had they been given the opportunity. For example, in issue 14 he takes on the task of tracking down an individual spreading rumors with the intention of putting it to a stop with confrontation (Dingle 54). By participating in activities that did not require any special skills, Active Jim demonstrated how easy it was to help out during the war.
Active Jim was as an excellent role model for children and teenagers growing up in wartime Canada. There was often fear from the older generations that the youth growing up during world war two would be corrupted by the lack of discipline and supervision due to the absence of parents during the war. While the weight of the war hung heavy on everyone, Doctor Baruch Silverman, A medical technician and author that advocated for patience and understanding when dealing with wartime youth, argued that older children were far more susceptible to being significantly effected by these issues would make them “restless, aggressive, rebellious and impatient with the routine of everyday life” (3). Rebellious behavior would often present itself as underage drinking, dancing, and cavorting with the opposite sex (Cook). However, it was crucial that these behaviors were prevented as much as possible. Children growing up in Canada during World War Two would be responsible for the rebuilding of the country long after the war was over and because of this needed to be molded from an early age to prepare for reconstruction after the war (Silverman 3). Children were encouraged from an early age to do whatever possible to support the war effort and very often included activities like collecting scrap materials, purchasing war savings stamps, and behaving like a model citizen (Granatstein & Oliver 60; Cook).
This encouragement was similarly reflected within Active Jim’s comic book club, ‘Active News and Views’, of whom he was the spokesman and figurehead. While being a pen pal club, it also took on the task of creating conservation tips to help with the war effort, as well as safety tips and contests for the readers (Kocmarek 158). The Active News section in each issue is also flooded with applause and admiration for the readership that made significant contributions to the war effort. Members would write in with tales of their fundraising hoping to be featured in Active Jim’s esteemed collection of chosen members with readers often competing to receive the prestigious title, member of the month, in next months issue. While the criteria for winning the title is unknown, majority of the featured members had, in some way, financially contributed to the war effort, be it through the purchase of war savings stamps or putting on plays and donating the proceeds to the red cross. For example, in issue 14, the chosen member of the month was Donald Black, who was using the money earned on his paper route to invest in war savings stamps issued by the government (Darian 40). This sense of competition present in Active News for chosen member very well may have been a significant driving factor in some children to contribute as much as they did to the war effort during World War Two. As both a superhero in his own comic and the spokesperson of the Active News and Views club, Active Jim played a crucial role in forming behaviors and initiatives of the children reading Active comics during World War Two.
ACTIVE JIM AND WAR SAVINGS STAMPS
Similarly, Active Jim also played an important role in propagating the sale of war savings stamps, bonds, and certificates to the readers. The comic acted as yet another medium to advertise these purchases to children among the thousands of posters, radio broadcasts, and billboards already present in their lives. For instance, the last panel of Active Jim in issue 14 ends with a police officer breaking the fourth wall and addressing the readers claiming, “There’s no sounder investment than war savings stamps, certificates, and bonds” after having spent the entire story dispelling rumors that their value was dwindling (Darian 56, see Figure 3). This was a message that was broadcasted religiously to not just children, but to everyone, across many different mediums the most significant being, however, of posters. In their article addressing the use of posters during both of the World Wars, Hugh Halliday claims that “posters have existed to influence public opinion, often under the guise of entertainment or information” (126). It appears that this might also be true of aspects of the Active Jim series as well. While clearly serving as a platform for entertainment for children, the series also seems to have a very biased attitude concerning the purchasing of war savings stamps that was used to frame the content published to the young readers.
At one point during World War Two, the Canadian government realized that Canadian children were a commodity that had not been fully exploited. Their contribution to the federal budget was substantial, and the tactics used to coerce them into purchasing the War Savings stamps are unparalleled. It was estimated that Canada’s approximately 2,000,000 school children alone would annually raise at least 8,000,000 through the sale of war savings stamps alone, every year (“School Children”). War savings bonds began to take over the children’s lives. Messages to encourage Canadian children to invest in Victory loans campaigns were constant and aggressive. Teachers were instructed to preach about them in classrooms, advertisements littered the school hallways, and often school principals even divided the school into sections and provided quotas for each section to fulfill (Van Loon). Penny banks were sent home with children during the summer break to encourage them to save their money to buy stamps when they returned to school in the fall and the War Savings Committee even went so far as to provide employment for some children who would be unable to otherwise purchase stamps. The committee also created special stamp book that were meant for the exclusive use of children, they were colored attractively and created to specifically appeal to wartime youth [Figure 1] (“School Children”). The constant marketing and advertising of War Savings Stamps present in the children’s everyday lives was likewise reflected in Active Comics series and played a crucial role in encouraging readers to purchase war savings stamps during World War Two.
In issue 14, the writers published a story about Jim seeking out an individual that was spreading rumors about the decreasing value of war savings stamps and encouraging all the girls to sell their stamps and certificates back to the bank (Darian 53- 56). This reflected a real-life concern of the Canadian government during world war two. While it was possible for individuals to sell back their victory loans, aggressively discouraged the Canadian population from selling them off and instead pushed hard for them to purchase more. The government was incredibly dependent on the victory loan campaigns to fund their overseas efforts. The sale of war bonds, certificates, and stamps made up a substantial part of the federal budget. Over nine brilliantly marketed victory loan campaigns, the federal government managed to borrow 12.5 billion dollars from Canadians during World War Two (Bryce 328). Despite the fact that every single bond drive had been oversubscribed, the Canadian government continued to aggressively push the victory loan campaigns and borrow as much as they could from Canadian (Granastein & Oliver 60). In a sense, The Active Jim series was used to project real life ideologies and initiatives from the Canadian government in a context that was more understandable and exciting to children than the propaganda that had historically used to sell the War Savings Stamps.
ACTIVE JIM AND FIGHTING THE ENEMY
Finally, the comic also perpetuates an interesting relationship between war savings stamps, bonds, and certificates and the enemy, the axis powers. The Canadian whites were “built from Canada’s war-time situation and its response to that situation”, so in a way they were a method of conveying topics or stories in the war to children (Kocmarek 149). However, being fictitious, the writers and illustrators were given a creative licence in which they were able to construct and enforce ideas concerning the enemy, as well as promote hatred of the enemy. During World War Two, there was a lot of media urging citizens to purchase war savings stamps so they themselves can contribute to the war effort and through purchasing war savings stamps directly contribute to Canada’s victory. Posters were often marketed in a way to make women, teenagers and children, who were too young or unable to enlist, directly contribute to the war effort. The posters reflected topics of fear, patriotism, and morality in order to coerce Canadian citizens to invest in one of the nine victory loan campaigns. For example, one poster presents a mother clutching her child while monster- like hands lurk at the edge waiting to grab her child with the caption “Keep these hands off! Buy the new Victory Bonds” [Figure 2] (Odell). By exploiting the fear of the individuals viewing this image, the National War Finance Committee created hundreds of posters like this to aggressively push the sale of war savings stamps, certificates, and bonds during World War Two.
Similarly, the comic also worked to exploit these fears and perpetuated a culture where purchasing war savings stamps was a way to fight the war. In the last panel of issue 14 of Active Comics the comic finishes off with the statement that war savings certificates are a solid investment and anything that one hears “to the contrary is a Nazi lie” [Figure 3] (Darian 56). The story and its final statements are part of social culture that was breeding the idea that the very idea of discussing the value or possible devaluing of war savings stamps was unpatriotic. Other statements like this existed and were posed to scare children to participating in certain activities. Threats of family members dying or being branded as assisting the enemy were displayed to prevent individuals from gossiping. “Are you one of Hitler’s little helpers” was a question that was asked weekly of listeners of the CBC broadcast, comrades and arms. The goal of the program was to warn against rumor spreading that could aid the enemy or hurt the country’s morale by using exploiting the patriotism and fear of its listeners (Strange). Interestingly enough, the comic also discourages gossiping by claiming that individuals who spread rumors were those of the most “dangerous type” and who “gain their livelihood from our inability to see through their lies” (Darian 56). This story of Active Jim was one medium of many that existed during World War Two that existed discourage individuals from selling off their investments and spreading rumors that war savings stamps were losing their value.
It is also interesting to notice that in the issue, Active Jim takes on a group of undercover Nazis whose mission it is to spread rumors on a high school campus to devalue war savings stamps, certificates and bonds (Darian 56). Grown men, who are undercover in the enemy country were given the task of spreading rumors on a high school campus, instead of assassinating a government official or planting a bomb. While it is important to remember that this story is fictitious its vital to understand the idea that this story could be alluding to, that the act of purchasing war bonds was so vital for the Canadian government that the German army had no choice but to dispatch soldiers to devalue the war savings stamps, certificates, and bonds in the hopes that it would increase their chances of defeating Canada in World War Two.
By using Active Jim as a role model for the young readers of this comic series, the writers and illustrators could create a character that the readership could project themselves onto and aspire to be, an individual with a strong sense of patriotism and the desire to fight for his country. The character’s strong attitude about war bonds as well as his admiration of the readers supporting the war effort in his “club news” section could easily be interpreted as propagating children to buy war bonds and coerce them into participate in the war effort. This was a role that was similar to that of the posters, newscasts, and other media that surrounded the Canadian Children living on the Home-front during World War Two.
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