The Canadian Whites are comic books that circulated during the WWII era. The writers and illustrators of these comics do well to reflect what was happening on the Canadian Homefront during the war and relay specifics about the problems of the time that Canadian citizens braved. A close analysis of the entire twenty-second issue of Triumph Comics (June 1944), reveals something curious about transportation during WWII. The comic incorporates examples of unique and diverse modes of transportation such as jets, boats, dirigibles and animals and almost completely omits automobiles as a means of transportation.
This paper argues that there is a conscious exclusion of automobiles so as to reflect social and economic details such as an insufficient number of cars being produced as a result of strikes, gentrification and a high demand of steel for weaponry. In aims of a detailed analysis and genuine comprehension of these sub-categories, it will be helpful to divide each topic into three parts. First, it is important to unpack the history of each problem so as to help understand context. Following will be a close reading of the comics in relation to these topics and how the stories’ details convey messages that speak to these troubles. Finally, the analysis will deepen as I dissect how the issues have resulted in much larger problems concerning the transportation industry. The paper’s larger aim is to emphasize to modern audiences, readers and scholars how the absence of automobiles throughout the comic communicates much broader issues that focus on social and economic problems on the Canadian home front that negatively impact the automobile market.
On the Canadian home front during WWII, people were primarily fixated on the development and progression of the war. Similarly, citizens on the home front were enduring their own battles concerning economic challenges. It was discovered that there was a massive strike called by General Motors Corporation workers mid-twentieth century across eight plants who demanded a 10-cent raise, this affected approximately 100,000 working men and set back vehicle production and manufacturing for years to follow (“Strike Called” 11). This hitch was crippling to Canada’s transportation industry and could have plausibly sparked problems regarding access to automobiles and further, shifted peoples’ preferences on how they travelled as they adjusted and began using other modes such as boats. The absence of cars and road vehicles within the comic is a subtle nod to the economic wars raging on the home front.
Throughout the entire comic, there is almost no reference to or mention of automobiles, apart from a single brief illustration of villains exiting a car in “Captain Wonder” (24). The illustration is a small panel featuring a medium shot, honing in on the villains accompanied by bold typography that relays their malicious plan (see Fig.1). The persisting absence of automobiles is trying to inform readers about a very real strife on the home front. The illustrators in “Captain Wonder” chose to incorporate a sole image of a vehicle attended by villains so as to suggest an alliance with the workers of General Motors and depict the cooperate officials as criminal and foul figures. This comic is ultimately a commentary on cooperate greed and the ramifications of low wages and injustice for the working people, thus shedding light onto economic specifics of the Canadian home front during the war.
After initial consideration, a strike does not stand as an obvious culprit to the problems transpiring on the Canadian home front, especially not one large enough to be so heavily integrated into comic books. In recognizing this speculation, it is essential to highlight the vast scope and importance of automobile manufacturers to society. During the twentieth century, automobiles were regarded as symbols of modernity, as a result, manufacturing plants boomed and moulded the economic and social dimensions of urban life on account of being large employers and creating prosperity in the wake of their success, leaving cities and citizens bound to the fortunes of these corporations (Pizzolato 419). This breakdown of the correlation between automobile manufacturing companies and social life emphasizes how the two were inextricably dependent, making reasonable the idea that something as simple as a strike had such paramount ramifications on society and – more broadly- the transportation industry. The automobile industry’s wide reach and influence underlines why there is an emerging narrative subtly woven into the details (or lack thereof) throughout the comics.
Economic problems expanded far beyond production strikes as complications branched into the social lives of Canadian citizens. Several exceedingly insightful and informational clips from the National Film board speculate on and broadcast issues concerning housing and gentrification on the Canadian home front during WWII. One short clip highlights a significant lack of housing within Canada, so much so that employees were unable to make it into work from their distant residences and families were being encouraged to rent out rooms in their houses in an attempt to remedy the problem (Ragan). Moreover, an alternative clip delves into the dire circumstance and emphasizes the industrial boom and the subsequent influx of skilled workers (10-20% increase in population sizes), resulting in congestion, lack of proper housing and unhealthy living conditions making it difficult for citizens to find a place of residence close enough to their place of employment (McInnes). This surge of people and acceleration of gentrification posits that there was a noticeable absence of workers in factories and production companies, thus inhibiting and slowing down production, especially in massive industries such as that of transportation.
The continual absence of automobiles throughout the comic grows increasingly apparent as the mediums of transport gradually become more peculiar and uncommon to reality in Canada. This absence supports a parallel between the comic’s subliminal narrative (via the lack of cars) and the rising issues concerning gentrification on the Canadian home front. In the story “Speed Savage”, there is detailed mention and focus on a dirigible (blimp) as a means for getting around and travelling the country, not exactly an agency that frequented the city skies of Canada (Triumph Comics 30-32). To make matters progressively unusual, the story “Race for Life” follows a dog named Zip who couriers messages to soldiers on the warfront, as opposed to humans on a tank or by plane (Triumph Comics 32-34). These analytical extractions from the comic do well to highlight the “cultural lexicon” of visual references that cartoonists and illustrators of the time strived to incorporate in order to capture the social and intellectual context of a specific time period (Retallack). In understanding the function of comics in this manner, it becomes easy to apply meaning
and deduce ideas from core and repetitive conventions within the comics. In dissecting the comic, there are interwoven elements of reality in the stories that provide context and a narrative on societal issues concerning transport during WWII. Zip – the dog in “Race for Life”- is used and dispatched as a way to mock the Canadian government and urban planners who failed to take action and remedy a social and economic epidemic that widespread across large Canadian cities (see Fig.2). The illustrators are using hyperbolized parody in order to foster a satirical and bizarre storyline in efforts to underline the widespread housing problem and communicate both the absurdity surrounding it and dire need to remedy the situation. The comic is not only highlighting the problem but also using the story as a beacon for change and call for action from those in positions to do so in order to sustain jobs and meet resource demands.
Effective urban development did not transpire until the 1950s, leaving the 1940s in a state of lack and concern for citizens regarding finding a place to live (Arku 378). Recognizing this position of the people conveys a displaced societal focus, where citizens’ primary worries were not on buying and producing automobiles, but rather on finding housing so that they could actually make it into work on a daily basis. The continuous absence of Canadian workers suggests that that the volume of automobiles being produced likely declined and the entire industry plummeted on account of social problems, namely gentrification.
MONOPOLY OF STEEL FOR WEAPONRY
Wartime housing was, however, an infinitesimal problem in comparison to the growing demand for steel in response to the war front’s need for weaponry. A short screening captured by the National Film Board reveals that majority of manpower was being used to create tanks and other warfare (such as guns) and thus, steel was being monopolized for these purposes, the clip even underlines that, “they could not have enough steel” (McDougall). As a result, attention on the home front and its shortage of automobiles was not of priority and so supply and volume of automobiles nosedived (see Fig.3) .
Throughout the comic, there is a continuous presence of bizarre modes of transport. The stories are littered with peculiar methods of travel and hone in on them as there are constant close-ups on panels that encompass agencies of travel. The comic spans boats, blimps, jets and animals which range from horses to donkeys to dogs (47). The varying mediums highlight the consistent absence of automobiles and unusual alternative means, which is striking as in the mid-twentieth century, automobiles transformed Canada, shaping the landscapes, mobility and norms of society (Leighton). The absence of automobiles communicates a significant message as the illustrators excluded the most common, convenient and readily available method of travel, replacing it with an array of diverse and outlandish means that occupy the entirety of the stories. Also noteworthy is that the comic is filled with an abundance of war paraphernalia, such as tanks and weaponry, as is evident in “Jake McSwine” and “Lank the Yank” both of which heavily feature guns and tank machinery (29-48). The heavy presence of warfare supports underlying ideas that emphasize a shortage of steel for the transportation industry that resulted in a decline in volume and production.
The prime years for tank production were between 1915 and 1945 (Castaldi 548). Tank technology was essentially being proliferated, perfected and mass produced during the release of the comic. The time link solidifies the notion that heavy focus was placed on the war front and that the priorities of the working people and government were geared toward the needs of the soldiers and all efforts to advance and win the war. On account of this overarching objective, steel was monopolized and vehicles were plausibly not as common on the roads resulting in a decline for the automobile industry.
WWII is a period of history commonly studied for its loaded political, gender and race wars. As a result, there are gaps in research from this time that continuously overlook telling details which do not slot into any of the aforementioned topics. The goal of this paper is to shed light on a scarce and unfamiliar topic and provide an in-depth examination of the transportation industry during the war. This research looks at the comic as a piece of history with details of reality embedded within it and expands and studies those elements in order to discover growing social and economic issues. The main problems have been identified as manufacturing strikes, gentrification and a monopoly of steel for war weaponry and machines. In recognizing these issues, it is evident that the stories within the comic provide valuable information about the transportation industry during WWII and the struggles it endured on account of rising social and economic strife.
Arku, Godwin. “The Housing and Economic Development Debate Revisited: Economic Significance of Housing in Developing Countries.” Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, vol. 21, no. 4, Dec. 2006, pp. 377–95. Springer Link, doi:10.1007/s10901-006-9056-3.
“Canadian workers during WWII in a manufacturing plant producing steel for usage in warfare and tanks”. John McDougall. “Front of Steel”, National Film Board, 1940. Public Domain. https://www.nfb.ca/film/front_of_steel/
Castaldi, Carolina, et al. “‘Chariots of Fire’: The Evolution of Tank Technology, 1915-1945 RD.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics; Heidelberg, vol. 19, no. 4, Aug. 2009, pp. 545–66. ProQuest, doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1007/s00191-009-0141-0.
Empty Rooms Mean Idle Machines. Directed by Ragan, Phillip. 1942. www.nfb.ca, www.nfb.ca/film/empty_rooms_mean_idle_machines/.
Front of Steel. Directed by McDougall, John. 1940. www.nfb.ca, https://www.nfb.ca/film/front_of_steel/.
Jerry, LaRare. “Race for Life.” Triumph Comics, No. 22, June 1944, p. 31. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166543.pdf
Leighton, Douglas. “Automobiles – Cars.” The Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Oxford University Press, 2004. www.oxfordreference.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca, http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195415599.001.0001/acref-9780195415599-e-101.
Pizzolato, Nicola. “Workers and Revolutionaries at the Twilight of Fordism: The Breakdown of Industrial Relations in the Automobile Plants of Detroit and Turin, 1967–1973.” Labor History, vol. 45, no. 4, Nov. 2004, pp. 419–43. Crossref, doi:10.1080/0023656042000292234.
Retallack, G. Bruce. “Cartoonists.” The Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Oxford University Press, 2004. www.oxfordreference.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca, www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195415599.001.0001/acref-9780195415599-e-304.
Ross, Saakel. “Captain Wonder.” Triumph Comics, No. 22, June 1944, p. 22. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166543.pdf
“STRIKE CALLED BY C.I.O. FACTION IN G.M. PLANT: Die Workers’ Walkout May Affect 100,000 Production Men ASK TEN-CENT RAISE.” The Globe and Mail (1936-Current); Toronto, Ont., 6 July 1939, p. 11.
Triumph Comics: No. 22. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944, data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166653.pdf. Ryerson University Library and Archives.ca
Wartime Housing. Directed by McInnes, Grham. 1943. www.nfb.ca, https://www.nfb.ca/film/wartime_housing/.
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.