© Jade Maxam 2017, Ryerson University
The crime genre has delighted young and old since it’s appearance in 1841. Stories of mystery and danger draw readers into a dangerous world dominated by the immoral, often following the steps of a single bastion of justice, the detective. Some are professionally employed within the police force, some independent, while others are amateur private eyes in their spare time. However, despite the various backgrounds a P.I may come from, one thing always dominates the genre; violence. Often the detective is put in a position where they perpetrate some form of violence on a criminal or those associated with them. Dizzy Don is no exception. In the Funny Comics with Dizzy Don # 18: Bottled Death the protagonist, Dizzy Don, opens fire on a group of gangsters chasing him through an abandoned mine. This is especially startling given that Dizzy Don is a professional radio show host. He has no direct ties to law enforcement nor does he hold any kind of authority in the instance, however Dizzy Don is pardoned from any kind of charges at the end. The message passed on to the reader by these actions is that when in the pursuit of justice, violence committed by civilians is excusable and is seen as heroic.
Canadian comics while unique in their own rights, are by no means original. Many of the stories or conventions found in Canadian whites are very similar to American comics that would have been found on the market in pre-pulp ban times. By copying the stories and styles, the comic writers may have unintentionally copied American sentiments into the Canadian versions of these comics. Prohibition was a popular topic for movies and comics at the time (Fried, 333), especially within the crime or amateur detective genre. While Prohibition never reached the same magnitude in Canada yet, they topic was easily accessible to those reading the comics because of the heavy influence from the US. The comics were neither censored nor reviewed by any kind of board, essentially allowing creators to broadcast their stories unhindered. Until 1954, commercial American comic books were not subject to any formal censorship organization (Hirsch viii). As a result, all kinds of pro-war and pro-nationalism themes could be disseminated throughout the country since comic books had increasingly larger readerships than newspapers.
The effects of American culture clearly had a heavy influence on Canada and the range of topics covered within comics. The names of Rat Face and Giggling Gerty as well as their caricature style faces are reminiscent of Chester Gould’s comic series Dick Tracy, which was in circulation at the time. Manny Easson follows the same ideology that criminals are the personification of evil, and that evil is not pretty. While the villains of Dizzy Don are not grotesque, they are not attractive in the conventional way (Fried, 335). Rat face’s nose it so pronounced his head is essentially a sideways triangle, while Hamchin is more chin than person. By making these characters strange looking the reader is less likely to sympathise with them, nor reproach them for not behaving in the lawful good manner we come to expect of a protagonist, even in a crime novel, where violence is permitted for the sake of justice. The same can be said for our hero Dizzy Don. His unconventional features, most striking of all are his eyes, make him an odd-looking character. Since he does not look like the square jawed hero of comics, we associate him less with benevolent justice, and thus allow him to commit less than heroic acts.
Violence and P.Is
While both superheroes and detectives have violence in their comics there is often a difference in representation. Super heroes fight with villains, punching, kicking or using weapon. The depictions are often more graphic and direct than in detective comics, in superhero comics the hits are more campy than gritty. Rarely shown is the death of the villain unless it is integral to the plot. Often the villain is captured and sentence to jail time instead. Detective comics on the other hand are less direct, often showing the aftermath of said violence and focusing more on the apprehension. Sometimes the villain is killed in combat by the detective or an assistant. Typically, this is done with a gun, the weapon of choice for private eyes. Dizzy Don follows these conventions as seen when Don is firing the gun into an unseen group of gangsters. It is not explicitly shown that someone was killed in the bullet spray however it is heavily implied that some gangsters are hit, allowing Don and Gerty more time to escape the angry mob. On the second occasion when Don blindly fires his weapon, he empties the gun of all it’s bullets. While their accuracy was lowered the second time due to bright lights, it is still likely that more gangsters were injured. While done by a different gun entirely, justice is achieved when Rat Face kills himself with his pistol to escape the clutches of the police. The ending follows the formulaic story arc seen in Charles Biro and Bob Woods true crime piece Crime Does Not Pay “Crime Does Not Pay was designed to prevent juvenile delinquency. Each story ended with the subject either dead or in jail” (Fried, 339). The death of Rat Face proves that though an individual may not have much power, their actions can still impact the situation. In the end, Dizzy Don is able to defeat Rat Face.
Violence leads to Justice
The necessity of violence for justice was a prevalent view during both the world wars. Many men and women took up arms, many of whom may have been pacifists in previous situations, to protect the ones they love and their way of life. This sentiment can be seen by Dizzy Don when he fires on the gangsters. Dizzy Don is a radio show host and uses his sharp wit as a weapon throughout the comic and one-shot pages. It is his main form of offense, seen when Dizzy Don is initially captured by the gangsters. He tries to use humour to de-escalate the situation. When that fails he is forced into an abandoned mine shaft where he is bound with lit sticks of dynamite. Once faced with the reality that humour will not help him he chooses a more aggressive approach. The character giggling Gerty facilitates this by first freeing Dizzy Don from his dynamite shackles, then by supplying him with the Tommy gun that he unloads on the mobsters on two separate occasions.
Guns, while not the weapon of choice for many super heroes, were the symbol of justice for the detective. Often relying on wit, and persuasion, the detective would try to outsmart the enemy when confronted, however, in instances when that could not be achieved they did what was necessary. Unlike the true crime comic series Crime Doesn’t Pay, Dizzy Don did not feature “graphic depictions of blood, gunshot wounds, and beaten bodies. Violence was explicit; it was not left up to the reader’s imagination.” (Hirsch empire, 82). Over the top depictions of violence are typical in adult detective novels and graphic novels. Dizzy Don’s creator Manny Easson takes a cue from Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit, and avoids overtly violent scenes and uses subtler literary devices. “Eisner has depicted the bank robbery with both menace and humor, but without showing bloodshed, injury or death” (Fried, 339). A similar example of this within the comic can be seen where Dizzy Don attempts to use humour to distract the mobsters and convince him to let him go, despite having discovered their illegal alcohol plot. Much like a soldier on the battle field Dizzy Don tries to outsmart the opponent. Dizzy Don chooses to work smarter, not harder, to escape. In war brute strength is not the only asset a soldier has. By outsmarting the enemy, they can do much more damage than could be done with strength alone.
During the war many sacrifices were made. Foodstuffs that were common place in households had become scarcer. Luxury items were no longer being imported with the same enthusiasm as before; among these luxury products were comics. The idea of sacrifice was the driving force behind the success of war time rationing. Moral sacrifices were being made as well. Killing is difficult for most people but it becomes even harder when the enemy is also human. Many of the hero comics deal with clear cut distinction between good and evil. Detective dramas have a much murkier representation, with the detective sometimes acting as criminal would. The same could be said for soldiers, killing and destroy their enemy’s land much in the same the enemy would do to you. By exposing the reader to more complex representations these comics were subconsciously preparing them for the moral ambiguity of war. Dizzy Don fires at the mobsters out of self preservation as well as moral righteousness. The alcohol Rat Face is manufacturing contains wood alcohol, essentially making his product poisonous. Even though many people have died or suffered serious health problem consuming it he shows no remorse. Following comic book logic those who work for Rat Face are morally wrong and thus their deaths are not tragedies but necessary evils. Dizzy Don did not directly kill Rat Face however he had a hand in the events that led to his death. Soldier fighting in World War II did not directly fight Hitler or Mussolini however their actions would have an indirect effect on those leaders. The kinds of villains a detective often faces are pure humans, those without any biological advantages. They posses no super powers, and are thus grounded in our reality more than a super villain. Batman, whose original comics were more noir than superhero comic, fought ordinary, albeit evil, humans in his early days. Fried analyses the human origins of Batman’s most notable villains, “His best – known villains, such as the Joker and Two – Face, started out as ordinary human beings” (335). Dizzy Don’s villains are human, much the same ways villains throughout history were ultimately human.
Fried, Arthur. “Crime in Comics and the Graphic Novel.” A Companion to Crime Fiction. Edited by Charles J. Rzepka, and Lee Horsley. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, MLA International Bibliography, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/913253278?accountid=13631, doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1002/9781444317916
Hirsch, Paul S. Pulp Empire: Comic Books, Culture, and U. S. Foreign Policy, 1941-1955, U of California, Santa Barbara, 2013, MLA International Bibliography, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1532763845?accountid=13631.
Weigel, Richard D. “Dick Tracy and World War II.” Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-Present), vol. 12, no. 2, 2013, MLA International Bibliography, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1696270311?accountid=13631.
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