Tag Archives: 2018 Canadian Whites

Discrimination Against Minority Groups in Commando Comics No. 16

© Copyright 2018 Amber Saini, Ryerson University

Introduction

After World War II, the media, specifically in the form of television and film, newspapers, and comics played a large role in contributing to Canadian society’s perception of minority races. Commando Comics, a war comic series, attempts to provide historically accurate information to readers on World War II from the perspective of Canadian soldiers. The sixteenth issue of Commando Comics (1945) contains negative representations of minority races and depicts the Canadian heroes and soldiers as superior. I will be analyzing the negative portrayal of Japanese individuals and touch on the representation of German individuals in Commando Comics by observing the impact of this representation on minority races and how this affected Canadian society’s treatment of them. Furthermore, I will analyze how the comic and other forms of Canadian media degraded other races to promote Canadians as superior. The sixteenth issue of Commando Comics “promotes nationalism” (Montgomery 19), as the Canadian heroes are not only presented as the “right side”, but minority races are degraded and portrayed as the “enemy”. The constant use of stereotypes in this comic, as well as other forms of media during and after the war, contributed to society’s negative and unjust outlook on individuals of Japanese descent.

Constant Use of Stereotypes

Fig. 1. ‘Illustrations of Japanese soldiers’. Thomson. From “Ace Bradley Again!” Commando Comics No. 16, March 1945, p. 18. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Commando Comics heavily discriminates and stereotypes Japanese and German individuals based on physical attributes and language. The comic’s use of stereotypes contributed to the unjust prejudice that the media already held against minority races. A pilot story in the issue, “Ace Bradley Again!”, contains problematic illustrations of Japanese soldiers. As seen in Fig. 1, the soldiers are drawn with slanted eyes and protruding teeth, which are stereotypes that were and still are made about individuals of Japanese descent. These stereotypes were heavily used in other anti-Japanese stories in the comic, as well as other forms of media at the time.

The sixteenth issue also uses stereotypes in terms of language. In “Wings Over the Atlantic”, the dialogue of the German soldier is written in broken English and the character is given a stereotypical accent; for example, “I vill be safe and den ha-ha-ha, ve vill see if dey vill catch him,” (Andre 27). In this dialogue, the “w” is replaced with a “v” and the “th” is replaced with a “d” to give the character a stereotypical German accent. There is also an issue with the way that the Japanese language is represented. In “Lank The Yank”, a soldier says “Have bombs ready yesss?” (Brunt 24). This was done deliberately, to make it seem like the character is speaking in broken English once again. Furthermore, the dialogue of the Japanese soldiers is written in Japanese characters. In Fig 2, the word “censored” is under the soldier’s dialogue, to show that the soldier is cursing. The Japanese letters and soldier’s broken English are used to create a language barrier between the Canadian and Japanese individuals, in an attempt from the Canadians to try and differentiate themselves from the Japanese soldiers. In addition to this, the comic gives the Japanese language a negative connotation, as each time the Japanese letters are used, the soldiers are supposed to be swearing or insulting the Canadian soldiers.

Fig. 2. ‘Use of Japanese language’. Harry Brunt. Panel from “Lank The Yank.” Commando Comics No. 16, March 1945, p. 25. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

During my research, I found that many of the characters in the Canadian Whites comics are given stereotypes; not only classics such as Johnny Canuck and Nelvana of the Northern Lights, but in Commando Comics as well. The Canadian characters are stereotyped, however, the stereotypes seem to be  positive and based off of well-known “Canadian stereotypes”, in contrast to the negative stereotypes that the comic uses for characters of minority races. The Canadian soldiers are given traits such as striving for peace and avoiding violence; for example, in “The Young Commandos”, a soldier says, “it only goes to show how brave the lads in our armed forces are,” (Lazare 15) to enforce the idea of the brave Canadian hero. However, the Japanese soldiers are given traits, such as being dangerous or violent and are portrayed as the antagonists. The use of stereotypes is a theme throughout Canadian comics and characters, however, there is a clear difference in how the stereotypes are used; this difference is clearly based off of race. The idea that the Canadian soldiers are brave and fighting for justice is constantly reinforced, as is that Japan is “the enemy”.

Discrimination and Use of Derogatory Words

As war topics and violent content “dominated the mass media” (Montgomery 20) during the war, Commando Comics also contains racial slurs and explicit violence against minority races, specifically Japanese individuals.

Throughout the entire issue, the Japanese soldiers are referred to as “nips” or “Japs”  by the Canadian soldiers, which are derogatory terms. In “Clift Steele and the Island of Floating Death”, Clift says, “those nips’ll blow us to bits in a minute!” (Dariam 6). In “Lank The Yank”, Lank refers to the soldiers as “these Jap jerks” (Brunt 25). These are just a few of the numerous times that racial slurs are used against Japanese soldiers in the comic. These terms are extremely offensive, as they are derogatory abbreviations being used as an insult and are a sign of disrespect.

Fig. 3. ‘Racial slur’. Thomson. Panel from “Ace Bradley Again!” Commando Comics No. 16, March 1945, p. 20. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In addition to racial slurs, the sixteenth issue of Commando Comics also discriminates against the Japanese soldiers in terms of skin colour. In “Ace Bradley Again!”, a soldier refers to the Japanese soldiers as “little yellow rats” (Thomson 20), which is extremely offensive. Furthermore, in “The Young Commandos”, Chuck, a Canadian soldier, does not want to fight and is called a coward by his fellow soldiers. His superior says, “You can’t turn yellow on me now!” (Lazare 13), which is a clear reference to skin colour once again. Moreover, the Canadian soldiers are using the phrase “turning yellow” (Lazare 13) to call Chuck a coward, which means they are referring to the Japanese soldiers as cowards.

Impact on Japanese Individuals

As a result of the unjust representation of Japanese individuals in the media and following World War II, Japanese families in British Columbia, many of which were Japanese Canadians, were forced into internment camps by the Canadian government. There was heavy racism expressed against Japanese individuals at the time, between 1942 and 1949, and they were unfairly denied of their rights. A substantial amount of Japanese families lost their homes and finances to the government, and were forced to move to the unpopulated areas of British Columbia. Although racism against Japanese individuals was mostly occurring in the west coast, it was present all throughout Canada. This racism was fuelled by World War II, as well as the news of the Pearl Harbour attack. The Japanese Canadians that tried to protest for their rights were sent to prisons. As a result of Canada’s actions towards the Japanese Canadians, the idea that individuals of Japanese descent were dangerous was promoted, therefore causing many people in society to be fearful and untrusting of them. Approximately forty years later, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau apologized for the unjustified treatment of Japanese individuals that occurred during the wartime period (Marsh 1), however, it truly could not compensate for the suffering that Japanese Canadians endured.

Fig. 4. ‘Internment camp’. James Marsh. Picture from “Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, February 2012. Library and Archives Canada.

An accurate representation of what Japanese Canadians experienced can be interpreted from Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan, which tells her story of being forced into an internment camp and being “separated from her family” (Davis 60). The most interesting aspect of this novel is that it depicts a side of Canada that many readers might not be accustomed to, as Canada is often known as a multicultural society that is accepting of everyone. This novel provides insight on what Canada was like during and after World War II and analyzes how the transition to a multicultural society has allowed individuals to be ignorant of the fact that racism still exists in Canada to this day.

Impact on Minority Races

During and after the war, the treatment of minority races was influenced by the way they were portrayed in the media. During this time, different forms of media, including comics, were promoting the idea that individuals of minority races were dangerous. This negatively impacted many aspects of their lives, such as employment opportunities and exclusion from jobs, and immigration restrictions. Many Canadians believed that minority groups were “undeserving” (Partias 10) of certain rights, such as voting. As there was constant “suspicion of foreigners” (Partias 15), many employers and workplaces’ racist views were accepted by those in higher power because society, as a whole, had an inaccurate outlook on minority groups. After the second war, many Canadians displayed uneasiness towards Japanese individuals, which resulted in unfair treatment and scrutiny. Although a vast majority of these individuals were Japanese Canadians, this factor was overlooked as the public was persuaded by the media’s representations, making them untrusting towards other races. The media played a large role in this as television, newspapers and comics constantly labelled Japan as the “enemy”. According to Partias’ observation, individuals of minority groups were only hired for jobs that were short of workers and that most Canadians avoided; in most cases, these jobs were low-paying and required hard labour.

Conclusion

The negative portrayal and representation of minority races in this comic as well as other forms of media were used to uplift Canadian heroes and promote the Canadian race as superior. In “Representations of War and Peace in High School History Textbooks”, Montgomery discusses his analysis on how Canadian textbooks promote nationalism and present the information in textbooks as fact and truth. Similar to Montgomery’s theory, the comic promotes Canadian soldiers as the right side who are “fighting for a better world” (Montgomery 20) and portrays Japanese individuals as the antagonists; the comic presents these ideas as if they are facts and the truth. This strategy that many forms of Canadian texts seem to use can shape the reader’s perspective of minority races and overall, Canada’s outlook on minority races.

Throughout the comic, there is clear prejudice against minority races, and these representations in the comic and other forms of media attempt to portray these races as inferior. Although individuals in society held their own misconceptions about individuals of other races, the media, Commando Comics included, also promoted these negative ideas about minority races. The sixteenth issue of Commando Comics not only heavily stereotypes Japanese individuals, but also degrades them in order to portray Canadians as superior.


Works Cited

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

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

© Copyright 2018 Natalia Orasanin, Ryerson University

Introduction

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

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

The “Robot” and the Enemy

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

The Robot Menace

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

Destroying the Robot Menace

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

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

Spot the Robots 

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

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

Conclusion

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


Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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