Tag Archives: 2017 Canadian Whites

Native Americans & Colonial Racist Stereotypes in 1940’s WOW Comics no. 10

INTRODUCTION

Native Americans are now known for being spiritual, environmental, and nomads and unfortunately, colonizers have used stereotypes to create an alternate assumed identity with this knowledge. Previous to now the stereotypes of the Native identity was wrong, but as time has progressed it has slowly corrected itself. Thanks to the education high school now offers on the basics of native heritage and history stereotypical aspects have faded slightly and the presumed slights have become less prominent. This is a step in the right direction to reconciliation for the atrocities Indigenous North American communities have faced, from residential schools to cultural assimilation to the numerous issues surrounding reserves and broken treaties.

The “right step forward” to reconciliation mentality in North American society has not always prevalent in history. Throughout the 1800 and the 1900s, First Nations fought and defended Canada in both World Wars but were not given the right to vote. Indigenous people were consistently depicted as the enemy in mass consumed media even in medias geared towards children. In the collection of comics called the “Canadian Whites,” it was common to find this villainous depiction. Even more so it was common to see the reliability these comics had on racist, propagandistic stereotypes of the Indigenous community. In order to understand this racism, analyzing how Canada has treated Native Americans in the past will explain how these people and society interacted. Researching into the specific comic “WOW, no. 10” (published in January of 1942) and the origins of the racism found in this specific comic created numerous questions.

Why is the native populace depicted in mass consumed media negatively and in a severely racist way without the care for separate tribal identities? Even with Native Americans aiding the war effort greatly through enlistment the government refused to acknowledge the help until much later. Instead, deciding to show off propagandistic comics that portrayed “true” Canadians to be solely white Canadians who are superior and used this belief to fuel what the government of past and present 1940s wanted for Canada’s imagined future. Examining the Native influence on Canada prior, during, and after the war, the understanding of how this racism and altered depiction of Natives will become more clear and highlight that the imagined identity was a predominantly white, European, Christian population. All those who were not these characteristics, be it those who were First Nations or otherwise, were to be expunged or assimilated.

THE IMAGE OF THE “RED SKINNED SAVAGE”

In the short story found in WOW no. 10 called “The Iroquois are Back,” by Kathleen Williams, the time period revolves around the mid 1600s. The features three young men; Henri, Jaques, and Louis, all who venture out of the community against previous discretion due to “red devils,” the Iroquois being seen in the surrounding area. First Nations people have survived on this land for thousands of years, promoting spirituality and prosperity. As colonization became the dominant identity to cultivate the land for its resources, Native Americans became closed off on reserves, far off from society all while colonizers lived on the ground that the tribes once claimed. The use of ‘red devil’ is used as a depictor of the red undertone skin (a racist stereotype of First Nations people) and disassociates any good inherent reason for the Iroquois to be in the area or attack. It makes Indigenous people the enemy before they had really caused any issues, an enemy who is weaker and less formidable than other white people.

Colonization created a bias against Natives and that is shown when Henri, Jaques, and Louis single-handedly kill Natives for over two hours, a feat that is then congratulated when they are rescued by others from their community. They slaughtered many Native Americans to represent that they are protecting themselves from the “red deviled savage.” The murder of people was celebrated because they were the antagonist of the story for existing in an area that was once theirs solely. They were villainous for existing as Indigenous tribes and people were viewed as “primitive, strange and alien” (Sangster. 191-200) and were shamed for acting like “the behavior of the Eskimo.”(Sangster. 1991 200) The actions and values of the First Nations were shamed as the “cultural hierarchy that cast white, Euro-Canadian modernity as preferable and superior” (Sangster. 191-200) was always considered better.

This “savagery” is seen again in the story “Jeff Waring” by Murray Karn when the Native chief and his soldiers arrive on a Native war canoe and automatically it’s assumed that the natives torture and kill them. It then progresses to Jeff Waring, and his friends being tied to be burnt at the stake and are only saved when the chief’s son is cured by the “white man’s” medicine. Savagery is assumed in the comic just as common nature for the  Indigenous creating only negative, primitive depictions of the supposed tribe. The need to immediately resort to burning them on the fire as an act of savagery and then only transitioning from an evil portrayal when the white man’s medicine is used to help save the chief’s son paints all tribes as primitive. It all relies on the dependence for progress that the colonizer can bring to the Indigenous community.

CREATING MIXED CULTURES

The war changed many aspects of society, altering acceptance and economic prosperity. The decriminalization of Japanese Canadians who were put into internment camps and Italian immigrants were no longer viewed as “enemy alien” after 1947. 

Enemy aliens “referred to people from countries, or with roots in countries, that were at war with Canada…. during the Second World War, people with Japanese, German and Italian ancestry.” (Patricia Roy, Canadian Encyclopedia) This was not something that transferred to Native Americans, who by this point still were not given the right to vote federally (July 1, 1960 legislation passed to federally vote) and were viewed in disregard as during the war. This lack of acceptance was shown best in the depiction of two separate tribes; the Iroquois and a tribe from the Amazon. They have no relation to one another in any way be it physical, environmental, time period, nor are in the same story of the comic book yet look identical to each other in both the “Jeff Waring” and “The Iroquois Are Back.” These outfits are identical in the comics, both using similar furs and feathers.

Traditionally the Iroquois used “furs obtained from the woodland animals, hides of elk and deer.” (Kanatiyosh. 1999) whereas Amazonian tribes wear woven plant-based clothing or body paint. This was common especially during the time period of “Jeff Waring” as the cloth used by westerners was harder to make and obtain. This is due to the temperature difference and the cultural significance of clothing. Traditionally in the Amazon the fewer clothes one would wear the higher the rank in the tribe similar to the more body paint worn the higher the rank as well. Whereas clothing in the Iroquois tribe is beaded, has bells, and sewn on designs to show rank as the weather in Canada is much more frigid, especially in the 1600s when the comic “the Iroquois are back” takes place.

This link of identicality is seen in the way the faces are constructed in the illustrations. Both drawings have shown Natives with high cheekbones, dark eyes, large foreheads. These identities, that are very different, look identical for the purpose to show that all Natives are the same in appearance, culture and savagery. This represents ideas of assimilation into colonization as the Native community was not even worth an actual identity and instead is just clumped together as one. This ideology of missing individuality was the “ultimate goal of eliminating the “Indian” as an entity apart from the mainstream of Canadian society.” (Sheffield. 17) The lack of identity also shows that they are less superior to those who have actual defining features and differences, specifically that they are less important, in both the comic and real life than the white westerners.

THE MOCCASINS ON THE GROUND.

In the comic book as a whole, there is not a single mention of positive actions that the Native Americans had done. During “The Iroquois are Back” it depicts violence as if that is all the Natives are capable of with statements such as “the Indians closed in for the kill, hatchets raised, tomahawks waving.” (Williams. 29) War heroes are the pride of a nation and meant to hold their heads up with glory. They receive medals, are put on the local news at six, and written about in the paper. All acts of heroism during these wars are assumed to have already been discussed except there is never any mention of the aid the Indigenous tribes provided to the war effort.

Violence is promoted in the comic as second nature to the Natives but highlights nothing of the violence that some Natives were told to do while enlisted. It promotes a figurative “one-sided” coin alluding to this being only true depiction with accuracy as to how Indigenous tribes act. This ideology is further emphasized during “Jeff Waring” where the first interaction with the Indigenous tribe in the Amazon was a war canoe approaching the heroes boat. Instantly, the Natives are a threat once again. This portrayal has created conflict as there was, during its publication, Natives fighting for Canada in Europe. With no mention as to Indigenous men and women in the military, it has “resulted in narratives that are selective, partial, biased and distorted” (Harvey et al. 257) Natives were known in the armed forces for “voluntary enlistment and conscription of thousands of First Nations men.” (Sheffield. 43) The Society of American Indians, a group that helped the fight for Native rights to citizenship, even went as far as to put in their Journal that “Already we hear the tread of feet that once wore moccasins; already the red men are enlisting.” (Sabol. 268) Yet the history books have erased their participation as until later in the search for the Canadian identity was it acceptable to be native. The narrative stayed consistently negative until the tropes and stereotypes that are found in the comics became less politically correct closer to the beginning of the 2000s and were filtered out.

RECONCILIATION

Reconciling on past governmental and societal mistakes is an everyday goal in Canada as the acknowledgment of Native cultural genocide becomes more well known across the country. In doing this, images and tales such as those found in “the Iroquois are Back” and “Jeff Waring” become slowly more obsolete. There have been recent steps backward such as Johnny Depp in the movie “The Lone Ranger” but as the populace began to understand the sacrifices that Native Americans have suffered at the hands of colonization and it has become a topic more serious and more informed. Reconciliation started in Canada and the United States when the US granted citizenship to Native Americans as “Congress passed the law to reward Indians for their service and commitment to the country at a time of great need.” (Steven. 268) Unfortunately, all efforts were put on pause during the 1930s as it was the Great Depression. Tensions were rising in Europe which forced reconciliation to be pushed back until the 1960s, when voting in Canada federally was granted to all Native Americans. After that historical event that came into effect July 1, 1960, reconciliation has tardily progressed into slow positive change.

IN CONCLUSION

In the creation of Canada, Native American people have been treated as second-class citizens and have been the public enemy for an extended amount of time. From the fight to conserve their traditions and values to the consistent work towards continued reconciliation. As society progressed to be more inclusive, once again Natives were left in the dust and forced to continue the fight for equality. The images, text and subliminal messages in the comic book WOW comics no. 10 are present due to consistent colonial influence and racist stereotypes that emerged from that time period, continuing even to this day. The results of reconciliation have slowly chipped away at these stereotypes but these remarks still leave a lasting mark on the Native community in Canada.

WORKS CITED

Sheffield, R. Scott. The Red Man’s on the Warpath. UBC Press, 2004. pp 43 https://books-scholarsportal-info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/en/read?id=/ebooks/ebooks0/gibson_crkn/2009-12-01/3/404358 Accessed 10 Oct. 2018.

Karn, Murray. “Jeff Waring.” Wow Comics, no.10. pp 15-25, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166673.pdfaccessed 10 Oct. 2018.

Williams, Kathleen. “The Iroquois are Back.” Wow Comics, no.10. pp 27-29, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166673.pdfaccessed 10 Oct. 2018.

Sabol, Steven. “In search of citizenship: the society of American Indians and the First World War.” Oregon Historical Quarterly, 22 June 2017, p. 268+. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/apps/doc/A499696071/AONE?u=rpu_main&sid=AONE&xid=0c276e89. Accessed 10 Oct. 2018.

Raynald, Harvey L., et al. “Conflicts, Battlefields, Indigenous Peoples and Tourism: Addressing Dissonant Heritage in Warfare Tourism in Australia and North America in the Twenty-First Century.” International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research, vol. 7, no. 3, 2013, pp. 257-271. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1412780619?accountid=13631. Accessed October 16/2018.

Sangster, Joan. “The Beaver as Ideology: Constructing Images of Inuit and Native Life in Post-World War II Canada.” Anthropologica, vol. 49, no. 2, 2007, pp. 191-209. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/214174078?accountid=13631. Accessed October 16, 2018.

Sheffield, R. Scott. “Veterans’ Benefits and Indigenous Veterans of the Second World War in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.” Wicazo Sa Review, vol. 32 no. 1, 2017, pp. 63-79. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/674309 Accessed October 16, 2018.

Kanatiyosh. “Iroquois Regalia.” Haudenosaunee Children’s Page. 1999. http://tuscaroras.com/graydeer/pages/childrenspage.htm Accessed November 20, 2018.

WORKS CITED: PHOTOS

ALL PHOTOS FALL UNDER FAIR USE POLICY. RYERSON UNIVERSITY IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGES CAUSED.

Brazilian Natives in Traditional Clothing. *Royalty free* Released free of copyrights under creative commons CC0. https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1254856 Accessed November 12, 2018.

Fair use expired copyright- “The Iroquois are Back.” Wow Comics, no.10. pp 29, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.chttp://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166673.pdfa/e/e447/e011166673.pdfaccessed 10 Oct. 2018.

Fair use expired copyright- Goody, Edmond. WOW Comics, no.10 Front Cover page. January. 1942. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166673.pdfAccessed November 12, 2018.

Commando Comic No.13: Representation of Women and Japanese as supporting characters.

@ Copyright 2017 Puebla Ponciano, Alicia, Ryerson University

Introduction

In this exhibit I will examine the representation of women and Japanese figures separately through several of the stories in the entire thirteenth issue of Commando Comics (1942). The last story in the issue, “Invisible Commando,” has the only woman to take action and fight throughout the comic but was still only as an helper to the men. I will compare the representation of women through the story to the way women were treated within society at the same time to see what societal stereotypes there were for women and why they were used in the comic and what they were used to do.  I also relate this to the racist representation of the Japanese in the first story of the issue “Clift Steele” and compare the minorities in the comics to the way they were perceived in society. Studying these two portrayals of women and Japanese figures in reality in the 1940’s, will give insight to why the comics depicted them in ways that made them secondary to a white male hero. While going through the comic and studying the way these two figures are represented it rises the question of why the illustrators depict these groups in ways that suppress them. By targeting the white male demographic authors were able to market to the patriarchical ideology of society and capitalize on fear and machoism to encourage the white male to join the war and buy comics. They used women as tools that could support them and make it possible to leave the home front and manipulated the fear of the Japanese to create a hatred and encourage them to fight in the front lines. 

How women were depicted.

In the storyline for  “Invisible Commando” there is an interesting portrayal of women as the

L, Bachle. from “The Invisible Commando ”Commando Comics, No. 13, 1944, p. 45. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

only woman featured within the story was a woman who helped the Invisible Commando as she was able to throw a knife across a yard and hit the evil Japanese scientist. This is the only storyline to have a female actually make any productive actions or given any sort of power. By studying this storyline I have noticed that the women representation was powerful and great since she stopped the man trying to take the knowledge of what makes the invisible man invisible but overall she did not save the story, she did not save the day but rather was a helper for the Invisible Commando being able to save the day. She did not save the story but rather enabled the hero so he could save the day which shows the ideology about women being inferior that the illustrator is trying to represent. The portrayal of women in the comic showed that women mattered but not as much as men did.

 

Women on the home front.

By doing some more research I found that women on the home front where being used in a similar manner to the woman in the Invisible Commando story. Many women during the second world war were asked to leave their duties as a house wife and rather work on the home front making ammunition or taking the jobs that they could that would allow the men to leave their stations and join the fighting front in Europe. Once the war was close to an ending the government began to have a problem as women did better than expected on the field (Globe and Mail 1942) and many of them did not want to go back to work, as 91% of women were open to find employment after the war  (Stephen, 129). They were given the opportunity for more freedom and independence in the work field and many women did not want to give it up. This is relevant because the government had planned to put men back to work once they returned from the war. This shows the value of women in the eyes of the government and how they were expected to be accessories that could be used while the men where out in the field and placed back home once the war finished.

Hubert Rogers. Attack on All Fronts.1943.Canadian War Museum Archive. Public Domain

By analyzing propaganda distributed at the time audiences can see how women were portrayed as important enough to be valued but not as important as the male. Men were the protectors and women needed protecting but while they were away women were left to do the work on the home front in a time where there was no other option. This poster that encourages women to join the fight on the home front while visually suppressing them to the bottom of the ranks. This portrays the ideology that society had about women at the time and proves that they were looked at as secondary to men despite their efforts to contribute to the war.

Overall by analyzing the social stance of women at the time of the publication of the comic I have noticed that the characters are representations of the reality of women at the time. The creators where trying to replicate the way women were expected to be in a white mans ideology. At the time the government was not done trying to recruit for the war. This acts as a subtle hint to the white man demographic that was needed to convince the men that the women would be there to support them while they were needed to stop the real enemy, similar to the comic where the female was strong enough to help out but only as a supporting role.

The depiction of Japanese characters in the comic.

By studying the first story of the issue called “Clift Steele”, where the Japanese enemies

J, Darian. from “Clift Steele ”Commando Comics, No. 13, 1944, p. 5. two panels. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

were characterized in a racist manner and the “heroes” of the story used derogatory terms towards them. I noticed that although it made sense to create a negative connotation around the enemy the creators instead used the physical attributes of the Japanese to degrade which acts as an insult to not only the Japanese axis that the allies were actually fighting but to the Japanese -Canadians who where not involved in the war at all. In the comic the “heroes”  regard the Japanese as the “Yellow Boys” and “Nips” and this creates a physical mockery of the characters. I believe these were used in order to create a hatred of Japanese people in the mind of the readers . The illustrators also depict the Japanese characters in a manner that is negative as they have more curved spines and walk with a hunch that makes them look smaller and like less than the heroes to creates an image of an enemy.

 

Japanese-Canadians on the home front.

Upon more research into the reality of the Japanese Canadians there has been records of Japanese Canadians being forced to live in internment camps so they could not pose a threat to Canadians within Canada. Many and most of these people were Canadian citizens and many had never even been to Japan (McAllister, 137). The conditions in the internment camps were terrible and they were treated as less than human(McAllister, 143) as they were expected to leave behind their whole life because they were a threat based on their physical attributes. The government claimed that it was an act to keep the people safe but there is a possibility that it was because they wanted to maintain the idea of us versus them in order to encourage the radicalness that would get more people to join the war, if Japanese Canadians were joining the war the white male dominated community would act out of fear and hatred because of who they are supposed to be fighting and end up hurting or killing their own neighbours. At the time the white male liked fighting in one unit that all looked the same because they believed that they could trust each other so in order to keep this unity the government segregated the Japanese Canadians and claimed it was for protection.

Overall the Japanese -Canadians were depicted in a manner that created a negative connotation around their physical attributes which created a fear and hatred towards all being who shared those attributes. In order to create unity within the nation the government pushed out all those who could be seen as the enemy into internment camps to protect their “own” and make them believe they needed to be the heroes like in the storyline and fight off the “evil” Japanese. 

 

The ideology of the white male dominated society during the second world war

At the time of the second world war the world was not as open as it is today in 2018, society saw things in a much more slanted view and had a supreme ideology about the white man as they were the only ones with full rights. Women had barely just earned the right to vote and Japanese Canadians were being locked away. The ideology at the time was that the white men held all the possibility in the world and controlled all the decisions. They decided if there would be a war, who would be in that war and how they could help and luckily in the second world war the boundaries opened up a bit in regards to gender and race but the white man still held the most power in the world. This relates to the comic as during the war the targeted audience was the white male and in order to reach that demographic they follow their ideologies, like the degrading of the Japanese and the use of women in order to hit their market. If they can hit their market then they can make more money and encourage more of the white men to join the war as they were who was wanted to fight the axis .

How the comics creators used methods to pull on the ideology of the targeted demographic

By playing on the white males ideologies they were able to use their own techniques in order to appeal to the market and get them to read more. They capitalized on their fear of the Japanese to create an enemy that they could defeat in the comic and make them feel more secure. They also capitalized on their dependability on women to ensure the men that they could leave and the women would take care of the home front until they get back. They drew the Japanese specifically to look weaker then the “heroes” of the story intentionally to add to their egos and make them more confident in themselves and their capabilities . While they also drew the female in the “Invisible Commando” in a demeaning form as she was essentially wearing a bra and a mini skirt on a battle field, they did this to create intrigue with the character and make the market more comfortable with her character as she was beautiful and works well as assisting them with their needs.

 

Works Cited

Bachle, Leo. “The invisible Commando.” Commando Comics, no. 2, March, 1942, pp. 43-48. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada

Darian, Jon. “Clift Steele.” Commando Comics, no. 2, March, 1942, pp. 1-7. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada

Hallowell, Gerald. “Cartoonist.” The Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Oxford University press, 2004. http://www.oxfordreference.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/view/10.1093/acref/9780195415599001.0001/acref-9780195415599-e-304? rskey=xrnhlt&result=2

Hallowell, Gerald. “Wartime Internment.” The Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Oxford University press, 2004. http://www.oxfordreference.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/view/10.1093/acref/978019541559.001.0001/acref-9780195415599-e-1636? rskey=QOBJag&result=1

“Huge Increase in Gun Output Here, Women Workers’ Skill Amaze M.P.’s.” Globe and Mail, 11 June 1942.

McAllister, Kirsten. “Photographs of a Japanese Canadian Internment Camp: Mourning Loss and Invoking a Future.” Visual Studies, vol. 21, no. 2, 2006, pp. 133–56.

Rogers, Hubert. Attack on All Fronts. 1943, https://www.warmuseum.ca/collections/arti fact/1019736/q=&page_num=1&item_num=0&media_irn=5399483&mode=artifact. Canadian War Museum.

Stephen, Jennifer A. “Balancing Equality for the Post-War Woman: Demobilising Canada’s Women Workers After World War Two.” Atlantis, vol. 32, no. 1, 2007, pp. 125–35.


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.

Patriotism in Active Comics no. 5/ Instilling the Canadian Identity

 

©Copyright 2018 @Yousef Farhang, Ryerson University

Introduction

American comics were popular during WW2, and the Canadian youth immensely enjoyed reading them. However, the Canadian Whites, “due to the black and white interiors that distinguished them from the four-color American comics of the period, arose in response to the wartime importation ban on non- essential goods that removed American comic books from Canadian newsstands” (Beaty 429). These comics were used an entertainment medium for young readers, and influenced the role of youth during the war. Political messages were spread in newsletters and narratives of these comics to direct the readers into being faithful towards their country. In Active Comics no.5, the repeating theme of loyalty portrayed by Active Jim and other narratives, portrays the political aspects of the comics during the war, and how these messages were ultimately used to instill the Canadian identity into both the male and female readers. These comics advertise allegiance in their narratives, while also challenging the political issues of the war.

Themes in Comics: Loyalty

The Canadian Whites were not just a medium for entertainment. They included a variety of themes in their stories to influence the readers. Active Comics no. 5 (May 1943) is filled with stories about different superheroes who fight evil and represent the Canadian identity through their actions. In fact, Active Jim, “an athletic and clean-cut young man who serves as the spokesman and figurehead of the Club and who, from this issue on, merits a regular story in Active Comics until issue 24” is the voice of a Canadian youth during the war who advertises loyalty and how vital it is to be allegiant (Kocmarek 157). By using a character such as Active Jim, the writers not only made these comics interesting, but they also effectively included themes of loyalty which influenced patriotism to the children and adolescents who read these comic books.

As previously mentioned, the comic books were not only there for entertainment. Ann Babic, in her 2013 novel Comics as History, Comics as Literature, says “the stories within [the comic book’s] pages are more complex than a tale of a hero surpassing a villain” (Babic 15). In the Canadian White comics, there are some deliberate choices of themes in these comics. The comics bring political ideas to readers through their theme of good versus evil, which is portrayed by the superheroes and the villains. Active Comics no. 5 portrays the themes of good vs. evil by having two narratives where the hero of the story stops a villain who attempts to betray their own country. To illustrate, in the first story if Active Comics no. 5, “Dixon Of The Mounted,” Dixon, who is the protagonist of the story,

Steele, T.A. (w.a). Active
Comics. Dixon of the Mounted. No.5, May 1942, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

finds out the sheriff of the town is helping the villain of the story get away with his crimes. Similarly, in the story “The Brain,” the mayor of the city deceives everyone into thinking that he is helping the hero of the story, The Brain, save the city from Dr. Black who is a corrupted villain. However, The Brain is able to outsmart the mayor, and reveals that he was in fact Dr. Black. Aside from having racial intentions in naming a villain “Black,” which is interpreted as people of colour being evil, both of these short narratives were written to portray the themes of not only good versus evil, but also the theme of loyalty. In both stories, the villains were of high authority (sheriff and mayor) and are both breaking the law. In this way, the writers of the comics were able to show how being disloyal is being evil and it leads to not succeeding. Although the theme of loyalty is covert here, it is obvious that the plot of these stories had a message behind them and were done deliberately. To glorify loyalty and patriotism, Active Jim is a utility used by the writers of the comics to remind the audience of their duty towards their country. In fact, “Active Jim’s Monthly Message” does the same job as those two narratives. As mentioned before, in this monthly message, Active Jim praises loyalty and explains the importance of being loyal towards the “king and country” (Active Comics no. 17). This section of the comic is dedicated to a whole message about why allegiance is important. With the corrupted characters losing in every story, and the theme of loyalty and its benefits being spread in the comic, it is evident that that the repetition of this theme is vital because it is glorifying loyalty and denouncing corruptness.

Loyalty was taken seriously when it came to the Second World War. The pressure of war forced governments to do as much as they could to minimize any betrayal of loyalty. In fact, they praised loyalty through propaganda and newspapers. For example, in “French-Canadian Loyalty Demonstrated at Montreal,” a newspaper article from April 14th 1942, it is mentioned that “loyalty is, and always has been, one of the greatest qualities of French-Canadians” (“French-Canadian Loyalty Demonstrated at Montreal”). This praising of allegiance illustrates how much loyalty was important to Canada, and how conveying themes of loyalty in comics was not out of the ordinary and in fact, done deliberately.

Challenging The Norms of Political Messages

During the war, political messages were spread using many different mediums from television, radios, newspapers, and, of course, comics. While political messages that glorified Canada are easily spotted in Active Comics no. 5, political comments that are against Canada are not expressed overtly. However, when looking at both the art and the narratives of these comics, it is safe to assume the writers did have their own opinion of their government and what they thought of it. Going back to “Dixon Of the Mounted” and “The Brain,” these two stories do have messages that challenge the corruptness of the government of Canada itself. For instance, Dr. Black, who ends up being the mayor, wears a hat that has the British flag on it. This hat is very hard to see in the comic because it is shaded extremely dark. However, when looked closely, it is obvious that the hat does have the

L, Bachle. Panel from “The Brain”Active Comics, No. 5, May 1942, p. 18. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

British flag on it. The hat is significant because the artists of the comics were pointing fingers at the people in authority who ran the government (Dr. Black does after all end up being the mayor) and questioning their faithfulness towards their country. Similarly, in “Dixon of the Mounted,” it is the sheriff who is corrupted, even though it could have been anyone else in the story. Also, the sheriff being corrupt is only mentioned towards the end of the story, and they did not put much focus on that part; the writers did not challenge these norms by being blatantly obvious. This is vital because it shows how furtive the writers must have been to share their own unpopular and unwanted (by the government) opinion. This could have been because they knew what the government wanted the audience to take away from the comics, and that was to become more loyal towards their country instead of questioning if the government is corrupt or not. These issues of corruption are ways in which the writers broke thorough norms and challenged authority, while also pushing allegiance towards the readers. By doing this, the authors were able to express their own ideas through small details in the comics, while also being able to help the readers become more attached to their country and perhaps join the war for their country, since that is what their childhood heroes (the superheroes) have advertised in the comics they read.

The Male & Female Audience of The Comics

It is clear that these comics were used to push messages of loyalty to the readers and influence their ways of living during the war. However, it is vital to understand who these audiences were, and why they would be influenced by these comics. The comics “were read eagerly by the adolescents and pre-adolescents of Second World War” (Kockmarek 156). “During World War II, Canadian comics were the only option for comic book readers, [and these comics were] different from their American counterparts in their scope as well as their levels of violence and patriotism” (Reyns 15). The Canadian Whites being the only accessible comic, forced the readers to read these comics and also helped the messages these comics contained reach all the comic book fans, which were “both boys and girls” (J.L. Granatstein and F.Oliver). Knowing that both male and females read the comics, it is certain that Active Jim’s monthly message to stay loyal during the war was therefore for both the male and the female audience. It is easy to assume women did not have a role in the army, and therefore that his message most likely was not directed to the female audience of the comics. However, this is entirely false. Women were active in the war effort just as much as men, and they had many responsibilities such as “street car drivers to aircraft designers – and 1.4 million women were employed, a participation rate of almost one in three, at the wartime peak in 1945” (J.L. Granatstein and F.oliver). Understanding the role of women in connection to the comics is significant since that means the political messages of loyalty were just as much directed towards the female readers as the male readers.

Instilling The Canadian Identity

The superheroes are the characters who express loyalty towards Canada, and the evil villains are the ones described as “crooks” (Active Comics no. 5 11). The children who read these comics praised these heroes and wanted to be like them. This is why all the superheroes are men who are loyal to their countries. According to Beaty, the superheroes in these comics represent the Canadian identity (Beaty 431). With this being said, the superheroes were “not just entertaining fantasy figures” (Beaty 431), and indeed they played a much higher role. The roles of heroes such as The Brain were to show what a good soldier is like and how important it is to not lose your self identity. However, having superheroes who have powers was not very productive in influencing the readers. Therefore, the comics that “were often doled out by teenage creators only a little older than” the readers themselves” (Kocmarek 157), used characters like Active Jim to leave more room for the readers to relate to the comics. Active Jim did not have any powers and was an ordinary teenager during the war. He was the perfect example of a hero who was “exciting, but not overly exciting; active in the war, but not so active as to accomplish much of significance” (Beaty 430). Including relatable characters was done deliberately to help the readers connect to the characters more which ultimately helps the influence of the heroes become much higher; if the heroes did something completely unimaginable for the readers, the young readers would not be able to put themselves in the position of the hero and therefore not relate to the Canadian identity.

Conclusion

The Canadian Whites have been part of the Canadian culture since the Second World War and have been a great medium to influence the children of war. These comic books were not only used as entertainment in a time of war, where Canada was having difficulties with American goods; they were also used to influence the young readers to become more patriotic towards their home country. The political messages of allegiance spread by the narratives such as “The Brain” and “Dixon of The Mounted,” as well as “Active Jim’s monthly messages,” all contributed in helping the comic writers shape the Canadian identity and influence readers to not betray their own country and even join the war to support their leaders and families.

Continue reading Patriotism in Active Comics no. 5/ Instilling the Canadian Identity

Using Racism In Comic Books To Fight For Social Justice

Introduction:

It is no secret that as of late, Hollywood has benefited from turning comic book pages into live action adaptations, evident in the recent box office hit Thor: Ragnarok, and the widespread anticipation for the upcoming release of Justice League. Although widely popular today, comic books and the fan base that followed had a much humbler beginning, especially in Canada. In 2016, comic books in the “U.S. and Canada reached

Figure 1: The cover page of Issue 16. Upon first glance, it’s obvious the story will be taking place in the Wild West.

$1.085 billion” in sales, with the market growing nearly “five percent” from 2015 (Comichron 2016). “By the late 1920s, newspaper comic strips — the “funnies” — were an established popular art form in North America, and quite distinct from political and gag cartooning” (Library & Archives Canada, 2017). While more newspapers began publishing comic strips, it was not until 1941, with Bell Comics, that comic books in Canada began to gain traction. Largely targeted towards children, these comic books aimed at entertaining their young audience with stories of mystery and heroics. While the tone of comic books was often light hearted and educational to an extent, in the case of The Funny Comics wit

h Dizzy Don no. 16, there are several instances where racial stereotypes were on full display, with the most noticeable being the inclusion of an “African man ape”. Regardless of intention, every minute detail in a comic is carefully chosen, holding valuable meaning and making it crucial to the story’s plot. In issue sixteen of The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don (Figure 1), African race and culture is subjected to a  stereotypical portrayal, a deliberate choice aimed at questioning the social attitudes of the time regarding race, be it African-Canadians or Japanese-Canadians, acting as a stylistic choice to highlight differences between cultures.

Overview of the Comic Book:

Figure 2: This is the first time in the comic book that we are introduced to something related to the African culture.

Issue sixteen of The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don (Figure 1) is very much a self-contained wild-west story, incorporating western scenery with stock characters to deliver an authentic old-western story. Stepping away from his traditional outfit of a suit and bowtie, Dizzy Don, in the third act of the comic book, is seen sporting cowboy attire, further distinguishing his surroundings from that of the opening city scene. While characters and names such as “Two-Gun Dan” are very much grounded in the western portion of the story, there seems to be three distinct instances where certain things seem almost out of place; the “African blow darts” (Figure 2), the deadly “two fang viper snake” and the “African man ape” (Easson 1941). When dealing with a setting most commonly associated with  cowboys, anything related to Africa seems arbitrary and out of place. More shockingly, Mr. Monk, the “African man ape” who serves as the villain of the story, is depicted in what appears to be a racially fuelled illustration of what Africans look like; depicting Mr. Monk as an animal rather than a human being as you can see in Figure 3. At one point near the end of the story, Mr. Monk must justify his appearance in relation to his criminal organization, stating that he “has a brain bigger thanmost men” (Easson 1941). It is comments such as these in relation to how evil African artifacts, animals and individuals are portrayed, that it becomesevident that there is a clear distinction being made between Dizzy Don, a white male who appears to be upper-class, and the villain, Mr. Monk, a dramatic interpretation of what an African male looks like.

Depicting Ones Traits, Flaws and Culture in Literature:

Comic books not only offer a quick escape into a world of wonder, but sometimes, they serve to engage with the reader to help denounce unequal roles of power amongst different individuals. In a journal article written by Sean Carleton, Carleton introduces a term he refers to as conscientization, defining it as “a pedagogical process defined by critical engagement with understandings of the world that leads people to actively reject established rationalizations of unequal power relations and oppression” (Carleton 2014). He argues that in comic books, “conscientization is first of all theeffort to enlighten [people] about the obstacles preventing them from a clear perception of reality…. Conscientization effects the ejection of cultural myths that confuse people’s awareness” (Carleton 2014).

According to Carleton, while some comic books may be racially motivated, most of the time, inaccurate depictions of racial groupings or cultures is meant to be understood as a signifier towards racial intolerances. What this means for The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don

Figure 3. Near the end of the story, we are finally introduced to Mr. Monk (the African Man Ape). Here, he is depicted as animal like, closely resembling an actual ape rather than a human being.

no. 16 is that Mr. Monk (Figure 3), while clearly of a different race, should not be perceived as the writers racially fuelled opinions but rather, writers understanding of racial indifferences. By depicting Mr. Monk as such, the writers effectively question why we immediately  associate the “man ape” with black individuals, especially from Africa, calling into question our own personal prejudices as a way of correcting them. The writers therefore, rather than filling the pages of their work with hate, are explaining to the readers that what they are reading is completely fictitious, and that individuals portrayed in comic books are not at all how individuals of a certain grouping are in real life.

Brian Johnson, in his journal titled Son of a Smaller (Super) Hero, explores the work of Mordecai Richler, a prominent comic book writer whose protagonists often fall short of heroism. In it, Johnson details how Richler’s characters always appear to be less then heroic, with villains closely playing on stereotypes of the time. Johnson explores how in actuality, portraying villains in stereotypical ways is only done to make the reader aware of the villain and how different he/she is from the protagonist. According to Johnson, “the protagonist must face off against this villain, and only then can he/she be the hero” (Johnson 2010). The only reason why comic book writers choose to portray villains in such a stereotypical way is so that the readers will be able to make a clear distinction between the hero and the villain. Not only are the African poison darts and poisonous viper snake all tasks which Dizzy Don must face off to become the hero, but, and more importantly, Dizzy Don must overcome a villain as strong as Mr. Monk, the man ape, to become the hero at the end of the comic book.

Understanding Racism in Canada During WWII:

One interesting commentary on black representation in literature comes from David C. Este, in his journal article titled Black Canadian Historical Writing. In it, Este’s goal is to critique several different contributions to the “discipline of Black Canadian History beginning in 1970” (Este 2008). Roughly up until the early 1970’s, “black Canadian history from a historical perspective, was largely untapped”, and so began the quest for historians to find out all they could (Este 2008). Este chooses to asses a few known historical works, trying to note what life as an African-Canadian was like, and how the community responded. However, Este primarily references author Robin Wink’s Blacks in Canada: A History, and the knowledge he had to offer. In it, Wink understands that “African-Canadians have always faced discrimination, and it will not change until they are fully immersed in Canadian culture” (Este 2008).

To highlight the racial indifferences between African-Canadians and Canadians, Wink focuses on his understanding of black churches, and the major road block it created for African-Canadian immersion into Canadian society. To Wink, “creating this distinction between Black and White churches did more harm than good”, as he felt that there needed to be integration for a tolerance to form (Este 2008). Relating this back to literature, Este feels that improper depictions of the African culture are not signs of racial prejudices, but rather, should be symbolic of cultural differences, and at the time, lack of immersion.

While it is important to understand that racial depictions in comic books were not intended to be forms of racism for the most part, in Canada, during WWII, the Japanese-Canadian community, especially in British Columbia, faced hateful discrimination daily. If one is to understand why comic books were poised at educating readers, especially children on social issues, specifically racism, it is crucial to understand events happening in Canada during the 1940’s that would cause this need. Jordan Stanger-Ross, in his journal article Suspect Properties: The Vancouver Origins of the Forced Sale of Japanese-Canadian-Owned Property, WWII, discusses the uprooting of hundreds of Japanese-Canadians from British Columbia during WWII, as a way of exploring racism in Canada through a Japanese-Canadian lens. One important detail mentioned is that the government of British Columbia justified the uprooting of hundreds of Japanese-Canadian homes by claiming that “there were many houses which were in a state of decay”, when this was the case for only a few homes, and even then, the residents were not to blame as it was the landlord’s responsibility to provide proper living conditions (Stanger-Ross 2016). In no way was British Columbia’s government justifiable in uprooting so many families, especially, when only a few housing units were in such bad shape that it called for relocation. Stanger-Ross also takes issue with the 1942 decision to “uproot the 22,000 Japanese-Canadians”, but primarily focusses on 1943, when British Columbia’s government decided to “sell all the property which belonged to the individuals uprooted without consent or right” (Stanger-Ross 2016).

More unsettling is the fact that Stanger-Ross identifies the cause of this uprooting, tracing it to “a few individuals with racist attitudes and ideologies towards the Japanese culture began creating stories about how Japanese neighbourhoods were uninhabitable by whites, as their culture was drastically different” (Stanger-Ross 2016). If one is to understand that comic books can be seen as a form of social education and justice, it is important to outline the need for change, evident in the treatment of Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia during WWII. It is fitting to suggest that comic book writers used their work, by portraying other cultures as wildly different, that they intended to make the distinction between real life and fiction, clearly represented in the depiction of Mr. Monk, where every African stereotype is played upon and used to teach a lesson.

Parties and Individuals Involved in Combatting Racism in Canada:

To further connect comic books to social movements, Stephanie Bangarth, in her journal article, explores Premiere Hepburn’s decision to “accept Japanese-Canadian workers” on his farm during 1942 (Bangarth 2005). Recounting the tension between Japanese-Canadians and Canadians during WWII, Bangarth commends Premiere Hepburn’s decision to not only allow for “Nisei” workers to work on his farm harvesting onions, but also on his push towards the social justice of Japanese Canadians (Bangarth 2005). The clear lack of acceptance amongst Canadians towards their fellow Japanese-Canadian citizens is emphasized through Hepburn’s letter to British Columbia’s government, where he wrote, “Canada must provide a living for those Japanese which have to be moved from the Western defense zone. Either we place them in relocation camps and feed and clothe them with no benefit to the State or to themselves, or we find some way that they can help us to win the war” (Bangarth 2005). Bangarth chooses to note Premiere Hepburn’s desire for social justice to highlight the lack of social justice for Japanese-Canadians, but also in determining that more needed to be done to help, and that there were individuals and institutions whose goal was just that. While not much has been recorded in terms of  comic book writers intentions, it is fitting to suggest that stories such as The Ghost of Two-Gun Dan, rather than assume they were hatefully constructed, are far more likely to be a tool to promote social change and educate children on racial tolerance, by instilling that stereotypes belong in comic books and other literature, but have no basis in real life.

Conclusion:

In issue sixteen of The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, African race and culture is subjected to a stereotypical portrayal, a deliberate choice aimed at questioning the social attitudes of the time regarding race, be it African-Canadians or Japanese-Canadians, acting as a stylistic choice to highlight differences between cultures. While there were certainly individuals in Canada during WWII that believed in racial differences, not all Canadians were like that, and majority of comic book writers tried their best to differentiate between what is depicted in a comic book, and what is true in real life. It is the oddly placed cultural items combined with the racially depicted Mr. Monk that allow one to understand while at times certainly racist, the overall goal was to promote social cohesion and racial acceptance across all cultures living in Canada.

Works Cited:

“Archived – Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929 – 1940.” June 24, 2002. Library and Archives Canada. https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8200-e.html

Bangarth, Stephanie. “The Long, Wet Summer of 1942: The Ontario Farm Service Force, Small-Town Ontario and the Nisei.” Canadian Ethnic Studies, vol. 37, no. 1, 2005, pp. 40-62, Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database; International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS); Political Science Database; Politics Collection; Sociology Collection, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/215635958?accountid=13631.

Carleton, Sean. “Drawn to Change: Comics and Critical Consciousness.” Labour, no. 73, 2014, pp. 151-177,9, Business Premium Collection; Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database; International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS), http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1546469398?accountid=13631.

“Comics and graphic novel sales up 5% in 2016.” Comichron: Industry-Wide Comics and Graphic Novel Sales for 2016, www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales/industrywide/2016-industrywide.html.

Easson, Manny. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don. Issue 16. 1941. Bell Feature Comics.

Este, David C. “Black Canadian Historical Writing 1970-2006: An Assessment.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 38, no. 3, Jan. 2008, pp. 388–406. SAGE Journals, doi:10.1177/0021934707306573.

Johnson, Brian. “Son of a Smaller (Super) Hero: Ethnicity, Comic Books, and Secret Identity in Richler’s Novels of Apprenticeship.” Canadian Literature, no. 207, 2010, pp. 26-40,200, Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database; Research Library, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/879053731?accountid=13631.

Stanger-Ross, Jordan. “Suspect Properties: The Vancouver Origins of the Forced Sale of Japanese-Canadian-Owned Property, WWII.” Journal of Planning History, vol. 15, no. 4, Nov. 2016, pp. 271–89. SAGE Journals, doi:10.1177/1538513215627837.

 

The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don no.12 and WWII Propaganda

© Copyright 2017 Simon Mancuso, Ryerson University

The “Canadian Whites” and WWII Propaganda

Introduction

“The Canadian Whites” collection of comics provides a unique window into culture and the political climate during the Second World War. In the WWII era, propaganda played a vital role in contributing to the war effort and influenced the public on a mass scale. Allied governments distributed this pro-war content through a variety of media outlets including films, cartoons, posters and comic books. During the war every available media outlet was re-purposed to serve as a propaganda tool. The Funny Comics With dizzy Don and The Secret Weapon (Issue 12) is an example of a comic intend for children’s entertainment being used as a vehicle to distribute government messaging to citizens across the country. Throughout the comic there are multiple examples of this, ranging from the narrative itself to the illustration of its characters. This analysis will focus on those two aspects examining the depiction of the main antagonist “The Black Hand”, a shadowy and evil figure that although never appears as human in the comic is a symbolic representation of Nazi Germany. As well as the narrative itself which offers a variety of pro-war and pro-government themes that walk a fine line between entertainment and subliminal messaging. The purpose of this analysis is to understand how media and specifically this comic were used by the Canadian government as a distribution platform as well as cheap entertainment for children. A variety of evidence will be used to demonstrate this connection ranging from news articles about the government pressuring authors to insert pro war messaging into their work to Donald Duck and his cartoon commercials asking us to support the troops. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don is a clear example of a deliberate attempt on behalf of the Canadian government to re-purpose mass media as propaganda tools.

What is Propaganda?

Before analyzing how The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don is being used as a propaganda tool it is important to begin by establishing a definition of the term.  The term propaganda is defined as “any information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” (Møllegaard, 2012) This definition will be used in this study to refer to a variety of illustrations and narrative themes present in The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don as well as other secondary sources. Traditionally “propaganda” is used as a derogatory term that is often accompanied by malicious intent. However, throughout this analysis a variety of examples of propaganda will be examined, some of which is hateful whereas others are harmless. For example, depictions of women and children being used to sell war bonds is an instance of harmless propaganda. Hateful propaganda occurs when the imagery or texts resort to racism or cultural stereotyping to purposefully demean its target. Examples of both are present throughout the illustration in Secret Weapon Both styles are equally effective at stirring emotional responses from their viewers, the former empathy and the latter hate.

Throughout the Second World War propaganda was a constant presence across a variety of media outlets including posters and news articles and in film where pre-show recruitment ads have become a famous symbol of World War Two era America. It is important to preface this analysis by stating that the goal is not to critique the style and content shown within these comics and posters, but to simply examine the methods in which they are used as tools to distribute a message.

Conspiracy?

The concept of the Canadian government deliberately inserting pro-military and pro-war propaganda into independent media outlets is not beyond the realm of possibility. In fact, it occurred during the Second World War on many occasions. Multiple news articles were published on the topic stating that the Canadian government was putting pressure on local authors to push government messages. In 1940, the Hamilton Spectator published an article titled “Important Task Facing Writers of the Country”. The opening line in the article reads “Canadian writers have the clear and definite duty of keeping the democratic ideal constantly before the nation’s eye.” (Hamilton Spectator, 1940) This article focuses on the responsibility that was placed upon the nations writers to communicate to the country’s youth that they are fighting an honorable and good fight. A second article titled “The Government Propaganda Machine is now in High Gear” written in the same year for the Toronto Telegram, elaborates further on this concept. This article talks about the censorship bureaus established in Ottawa who control the output of content by various media outlets. The article states that “Canadians generally may be unaware that since the outbreak of the war something in the nature of a press bureaucracy has been established in Ottawa. First of all, there are the Press Censors whose. purpose it is to scan carefully whatever is published.” (Toronto Telegram, 1940) The article goes on to talk about a “publicity corps” whose responsibility it was to make sure government messaging is communicated to the public. “Alongside the press censors there is being built up at Ottawa a publicity corps whose job it is to get government announcements and statements of policy in the newspapers.” (Toronto Telegram, 1940)

These two articles are incredibly important when establishing the argument that the Government was manipulating media by controlling what content was published and inserting pro-war messages. The quotes in these articles make reference to specific government organizations such as the “publicity corps” and “Press Censors” tasked with the goal of inserting propaganda messaging into mass media across the country. The existence of these articles establishes a precedent by acknowledging that the government was willing to pressure these independent media organizations. If they were willing to approach newspapers and authors, it’s not irrational to believe they would so the same with comics.

What About Dizzy Don?

Easson, Manny, and Bell Features, editors. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don: No. 12. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944.

Both the illustration and the overarching narrative of The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don and The Secret Weapon support the argument that this comic moonlights as government propaganda. The first example of propaganda within illustration comes through the depiction of the comic’s main antagonist “The Black Hand of Treason”. This character is important for many reasons. Primarily, it’s the driving force behind the story of the comic. This issue of Dizzy Don is less about the victory of its heroes and more about the demonization of its villain, who is frequently described as evil and cowardly throughout. The Black Hand of Treason is not a character in the traditional sense instead of taking the form of an individual it simply appears as a monstrous hand in the story. Because of this, the villain is not portrayed as a person but instead it exists as a symbol. The Black Hand is a symbolic representation of Nazi Germany as explained in the comic when mad scientist Mortimer Midge says, “It is a Nazi group, they want to prevent my secret weapon from being used by our armies” (Easson, 9) When German and Japanese characters are illustrated within the comic their depiction is consistent with the overtly racialized and stereotypical features found in other propaganda imagery such as large ears or buck teeth.  The portrayal of these characters throughout the comic draw direct comparison to government messaging and the illustrations are consistent with traditional propaganda.

The narrative of the comic further supports the idea of comics being re-purposed as propaganda tools. The story follows the adventures of Radio Host Dizzy Don as he gets embroiled in a top-secret plan to develop a machine that will win the war for the allies. Over the course of the story Dizzy repeatedly faces off against the The Black Hand of Treason an organization trying to steal or destroy that machine. Within the first few pages of the comic it is made clear that there isn’t going to be any thoughtful commentary on World War II era politics. Instead its predetermined that the heroes will win, and the bad guys are going to lose. Throughout the story none of the characters confront meaningful adversity and all encounters with the antagonists are quickly shrugged off without much effort. The story wraps up quickly with a perfect happy ending as the allied military put the machine into production and win the war. The comic itself reads more like a recruitment ad than a story. Overall this makes for a boring and linear narrative that presents a black and white portrayal of good and evil and a pro-government, pro-military attitude that is consistent with the propaganda of era.

But How?

The depiction of the Black Hand throughout the comic can be understood as propaganda for many reasons. The purpose of propaganda is to “to influence people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors” (Møllegaard, 2012) and The Black Hand fulfills these requirements in several ways. The comic influences peoples attitude towards the character by establishing it as the villain. Furthermore, the comic goes out of its way to re-iterate how villainous the Black Hand is by continuously referring to it as evil and cowardly. When comparing that depiction to that of the heroes, who are described as smart, honest and loyal a clear line is drawn between the two sides. The comic is carefully constructed to make the reader hate the Black Hand as a symbol of Nazi Germany. The writers also avoid making any controversial political statements throughout the story, making it clear who the good and the bad guys are. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don are primarily a joke comic series and “The Black Hand” is always the target of a witty one liner delivered by Dizzy. Whether or not this impacted the behavior of its readers is impossible to say, but the intention to portray them as laughable and incompetent is clear.

Odell, Gordon. “Keep Those Hands Off” Canadian War Museum. 1945

The illustration of “The Black Hand” also has direct connections with war propaganda posters. The poster shown here portrays two monstrous hands enclosing themselves around a woman and her child. This illustration is identical to the depiction of the Black Hand in the comic. Within the hands are German and Japanese symbols, this not only verifies that the Black Hand is a symbol of Nazi Germany but proves there is consistent imagery between the comic and a traditional propaganda poster.

Consistency is one of the most important factors to consider when trying to run a successful propaganda campaign. Ensuring that citizens can quickly relate images seen in posters with illustrations they see in their own living room is important. This is because it allows them to relate to what they are seeing and create emotional connections, whether they be positive or negative. These emotional connections are vital because they spur people to act on their message. For example, if someone saw an ad for war bonds that gave them a strong emotional response they would be more inclined to purchase them. More examples of this can be seen in the comic when examining the depiction of a Japanese character. Although he only appears in one frame and has no dialogue, the overly stereotyped and racially insensitive illustration is similar to the portrayal of Japanese people in World War II era propaganda. The poster below is an example of one of those depictions. The long-pointed ears and buck teeth shown in the poster on the right are features consistent with the illustration in the comic.

Unknown Author. “Tokyo Kid Say” 1945

“The Funny Comics” are not the only instance of cartoon characters being used as vehicles for government propaganda. Iconic characters such as Donald Duck have been used to try and sell war-bonds and send pro-military messages to their viewers. This video is an advertisement run in 1942 in which Donald’s devil side and angel side fight over where he should spend his hard-earned money, on himself or to buy bonds. (notice the evil Nazi mailbox) This proves that children’s cartoons are being used to sell pro-government content.

“The Canadian Whites” comics offer an illuminating view into the state of society and political ideology during the second world war. Based on the precedent established by multiple news outlets and the connections between imagery and themes within the comic to other sources it is clear that the Canadian government utilized a variety of mass media sources, including The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don as a vehicle to distribute propaganda.


Work Cited

  • Canada, National Film Board of. Shameless Propaganda. 2014. www.nfb.ca, https://www.nfb.ca/film/shameless_propaganda/.
  • Easson, Manny, and Bell Features, editors. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don: No. 12. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944.
  • Frohardt-Lane., SARAH. “Promoting a Culture of Driving: Rationing, Car Sharing, and Propaganda in World War II.” Journal of American Studies, vol. 46, no. 2, 2012, p. 337.
  • MacKay, Robin. “49th Parallel: The Art of Propaganda.” Queen’s Quarterly, vol. 123, no. 4, 2016, p. 572.
  • Møllegaard, Kirsten. “Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History FredrikStrömberg. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010.” The Journal of American Culture, vol. 35, no. 2, June 2012, p. 192
  • Odell, Gordon. “Keep Those Hands Off” Canadian War Museum. 1945, http://www.warmuseum.ca/collections/artifact/1019599/.
  • The Hamilton Spectator. WarMuseum.ca – Democracy at War – Information, Propaganda, Censorship and the Newspapers. 1940 http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/information_e.shtml.
  • Toronto Telegram. “Government Propaganda Machine Now in High Gear.” July 1940
  • Unknown. “Tokyo Kid Say” 1945

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.

Manipulation by Media

Children are easily manipulated as they are seen as innocent and naive. Children do not have the education to learn what the real reason is behind the madness that occurs every day. Events will happen all over the world and children will not be capable to grasp a proper understanding as to why it is happening. This is solely due to the lack of education on history. A major historic event that had a change in the world, was World War II in 1939. World War II made an impact on everyone all around the world especially in the media, as it was largely impacted. During this time, comics were very popular and they contained many different stories that were targeted towards war. A comic would show an example of how children were not being properly taught about an event. The use of racism, violence, and hatred was incorporated negatively in these comics. In my comic, there was an advertisement for war stamps that involved the illustration of Adolph Hitler. My comic found on page 15 of WOW Comics issue No. 10 (1945). Specifically focused on the aim for children to purchase war stamps. The purchase of war stamps was easier to persuade to children due to their age and young mentality. The sales of war stamps are one of the factors which helped fund the war, for it was important to keep the children engaged in purchasing. Depending on the perspective, this comic advertisement can be interpreted as a deeper meaning. This can be proven through the history presented, the illustrations, the vocabulary used and the dramatic events which unfolded in front of children in World War II.

Children and History: Historic Childhood Novelty

I found that the history of World War II was very effective while looking at this comic advertisement. Without looking into the history one would not be able to prove that children were very under-educated and manipulated. The media was able to target children with the use of comics and toys. Children have been targeted for many years, but it was most prominent during World War II because leaders found them to be more vulnerable (Martin Armstrong, 2014). In comparison to adults, children retain more information because they are continuously developing their own personalities and mentalities (David Machin and Theo Van Leeuwen, 2009). Children were targeted in this comic to purchase war stamps, however, they believed that by doing so they were helping fund the war for their nation. The message that they received was positive, as they were helping their families who were within the battle. At an impressionable age and with the passion to be involved, these children tried to come up with any way to make money. With whatever they earned, they would bring it to their school to purchase War Savings Stamps which they pinned into special booklets for post-war redemption. This created an appealing goal for them, by being able to fill and keep track of their unique stamps! Along with the mixed messages, there was the horrible bribery of the children that I found quite appalling. “Children learned to recycle and collect materials, such as metal, rubber, fat, and grease, which were reused to produce useful products for the war. In return for the children’s labour, different incentives were offered to the children such as free passes to the movies” (Veterans Affairs Canada, 2017). Apart from free movie screenings, children enjoyed playing with different toys in their free time. Toys were made to resemble the war; even today I still see these toys exist. These toys can consist of miniature soldiers, plastic machine guns, replica grenades and the full attire (David Machin and Theo Van Leeuwen, 2009). These toys would intrigue children, in relation to the plastic guns, those are not toys, even if they are plastic. These toys would intrigue a child and become an object of enjoyment, as opposed, to teaching them what their real purpose is, which is to injure and kill people. What I immediately thought was how boys-not girls because there was more sexism towards girls if they were caught wanting to play with these war toys; this could resemble their family that was out fighting for their lives. Young boys want to be able to follow in their parent’s footsteps, usually their fathers, which would make these toys more appealing. Further, into the research, it brought me to an article based on a true story made into a comic, about a young girl named  Hansi who loved the Swastika symbol (Figure 2).

This is something I found to be extremely inappropriate for a child to love. The Swastika symbol is the official emblem of the Nazi party and a symbol that holds a meaning of hatred. The Hansi comic book was part of a series of biographies of famous Christians in the 1970s. The Christian comic book was based on the autobiography of Maria Anne Hirschmann, who lived through World War II as a victim of the Germans propaganda (Comic Alliance Staff, 2010). She was an avid believer in the Bible, but then found herself intrigued and interested in the swastika.It was concerning as it is found unusual of such difference in an interest into something which negatively impacted the world. Further with age, she then returned back to her Christian faith.It was obvious the moral behind this comic, as it is showing you that your faith will always be there for you even when you do not realize it. By looking back on the history of World War II, I am able to further prove the point that children did not receive the proper education. If they had, these children would not want to resemble the toys they played with to war, misunderstand comics for wanting to help with the war and have a young girl who loved the swastika.

 

Illustration: Visual Stimulation 

I further my research on my topic by looking into the illustrations displayed in my comic advertisement. This comic I found was unique in the use of illustration, especially when looking at Hitler’s expression while he is saluting. The facial reaction displayed on Adolph Hitler plays a large part in the advertisement (Figure 3). Looking at his face is unsettling, we are not exactly sure how Hitler is feeling. Hitler looks disappointed when he is giving authority by saluting yet, he is not exactly proud of himself. He also looks guilty. When we see realistic photographs of Hitler, his face is usually flat and he has no emotion shown on his face. However, this comic shows him looking vulnerable and upset. This I find has a major effect on children because it will have the emotional grab; he does not look happy with what he is doing so why would someone else want to follow in his footsteps? It is also seen Hitler holding a swastika in his hand. My findings concluded that the swastika connected with the story of the young girl who loved the swastika symbol. This adds to the fact that children were easily manipulated through illustrations; most likely finding the symbol appealing because they would not understand the meaning behind it. Looking further into the illustration we can take notice of a solider showing force against Hitler. This I found portrayed violence, which should not be portrayed to young children. I think children should see that violence is not something that we approve, yet, this comic is showing our soldiers being violent towards one of the most notorious people in history. It is quite a contradicting illustration when discussing the impact of illustrations affecting children. Although they are young, this is the time their minds start to process information and remember things that they see such as the illustration in this comic. A child finds illustrations more appealing than vocabulary. However, in order for comics to be appealing to the young crowd, the illustrators had to use images rather than vocabulary to catch the individuals eye and have a reminding effect.

Vocabulary: Cunning Persuasion 

Lastly, a strong form of manipulation used throughout this comic is the vocabulary. There are two words that stand out to myself and those words are “heed” and “breed”. Heed is a word that expresses obedience, but also indicates a warning in this comic. Once defining this term and delving deeper into the meaning of it, I realized you have to pay attention to small details in the comic. I looked carefully at this and realized the word heed is used in an intentional way. I needed to focus on the main idea in this comic, which is Hitler. I paid more attention to him after this because what he did throughout his life was not right. His “breed,” aka the Germans, though they were doing good, but when we actually pay attention to the reality of it all, we know that Hitler was trying to create racial purity. In my article, the communicating text starts with: “A jerk called Adolph” which indicates that they are trying to keep an appropriate word for children instead of using a  vulgar term (Figure 4).

This portrays to the child that the term “jerk” would be a bad word, but not too bad as to reveal Hitler. In the verse following, “was once a kid” this removes Hitler’s scary nature, allowing children to feel somewhat empathetic. Thus, thinking that he was once like them being weak and vulnerable. Also, without caution to children of Hitler’s true nature, they might desire to be like him one day. Following that in the text, “But, when he grew up  just look what he did!” It is implying that the reader would know “what he did” and assumes they would share the same assessment as the comic author. Furthermore, the text says: “Now you” which is speaking directly to the reader of the comic. Also, reverting back to words spoke earlier which were: “can help destroy his breed,” which refers to Hitler’s mission which was to destroy the Jewish people. The ‘you’ in this ad is aimed at its readers to destroy Hitler’s breed. Hitler is known for his wanting to destroy the Jewish. There is a fine line between us attacking Hitler like, he is attacking the Jewish, it is displayed in this ad that we need to destroy his “breed” which does not equal justice. The comic displays Germans as a “breed,” just like animals, they are just something to be killed off as if they do not have to mean. We should not intend to equal the violence, we should show children that we want peace. Lastly, is the quote:  “if these words you will but heed… Buy War Stamps!” This is now trying to persuade its reader into thinking that they must buy these war stamps. The vocabulary in this comic advertisement was very particular, they added the persuasion, the double meaning and the second person perspective (WOW Comic, 1949).

In conclusion, I prove that the media has a large effect on children who lived through World War II. This was shown with the use of the historical information gathered through research of war stamps, as children paid and collected these stamps to help fund the war. The stamps were particularly advertised to children, as they were easy to persuade due to their age and passion for involvement. Secondly, toys which represented different war items allowed a child to have an imagination and feel like their mothers and fathers, who of which did their part to help the war. The true story of Hansi, allows us to understand the meaningful power of the swastika and that person’s faith will always follow them. Moreover, by looking at the illustration displayed in the comic, Hitlers image and expression is evident in showing a negative perspective. As well as, the vocabulary used, which allowed us to see many different aspects being persuasion, double meaning and the perspectives directed. Overall, comics had a lot of impacts, not only on the innocent young boys and girls but also in the aspect of how it portrayed media throughout the event of World War II.

Work Cited

Comic Alliance Staff “Comic Art Propaganda Explored: ‘Hansi The Girl Who Loved the Swastika’.” ComicsAlliance, 17 July 2010, comicsalliance.com/comic-art-propaganda-explored-hansi-the-girl-who-loved-the-swa/

Canada, Veterans Affairs. “Canadian Youth – Growing up in Wartime.” Veterans Affairs Canada, Government of Canada, 24 Mar. 2017, www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/historical-sheets/youth.

David Machin, Theo Van Leeuwen. “Toys as discourse: children’s war toys and the war on terror.” Toys as discourse: Children’s war toys and the war on terror | Critical Discourse Studies Vol. 6, No.1, February 2009, 51-63

Martin Armstrong. “Propaganda & Children – Always the First Target of Leaders.” Propaganda & Children – Always the First Target of Leaders | Armstrong Economics, www.armstrongeconomics.com/uncategorized/propaganda-children-always-the-first-target-of-leaders/.

Stacy Gillis, Emma Short. “Children’s experiences of World War One.” The British Library, The British Library, 20 Jan. 2014, www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/childrens-experiences-of-world-war-one.

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.

Morale in “Wow Comics no. 17”

Introduction

The Second World War brought many changes to the lives of Canadian children. With fathers and brothers being deployed in the battle overseas, mothers suddenly joining the work force, shortages of food, rations, and talk of Nazi spies and Japanese invasion, the echoes of war were ubiquitous in the lives of children (Cook). Undoubtedly troubling for them, one of the only offers of escape for children was comic books. Enter the “Canadian Whites”: a series of comic books created by Canadian publishing companies that filled the void left by the removal of the American popular media when the King administration passed the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) (Bell). The “Whites” lifespan was short, but nonetheless, their run fulfilled a significant role in the lives of Canadian children.

In this article, I will examine issue no. 17 of Wow Comics (a member of the “Whites” family), in particular the narratives that focus on themes of war and violence, and how those narratives quite paradoxically supply readers with a more optimistic outlook on the war they were living through. By selling children a world of clear-cut narratives to situate themselves in, where good and evil were easily distinguished, the heroes always won, and life at home was never shown as being in danger, Wow Comics perhaps served as a means of upholding morale in their lives.

Defining Morale

For the purposes of this article, I will be using the term “morale” as a measure of optimism held by Canadian children about the war. Advertisements, propaganda, and other products of pop culture (including comics) that work to improve or positively shape consumer’s outlook on the war effort can be seen as upholding morale. Additionally, anything that helped kids to orient themselves in the confusion of wartime, or provide some sense of comfort and security can also be seen as upholding morale.

Context of Consumer Culture

Figure 1. Government issued propaganda used Hitler’s image to discourage spending. H. V. Shaw (a). “Save to beat the devil,” from “Canada at War Forums”, Canada at War, Jan 2010.

When accessed digitally, there is a tendency to forget that artifacts of history belonged to a broader sociocultural context. We must then keep in mind that Wow Comics was not only a product of a consumerist culture, but highly successful ones. During the war, there was a tension between the government’s “anti-spending” propaganda campaign, and the companies that naturally wanted to keep up consumption. Businesses, to protect their success, had to be tactical about their approach to advertising. As Graham Broad puts it in his book A Small Price To Pay, advertisers’ initial response to the war was to maintain a “business as usual approach” (50). However, as the government continued developing their propaganda to align spending with treason (e.g. using Hitler’s image in anti-spending campaigns as seen in Figure 1), advertisers shifted tactics to attaching social significance to their products (Broad 61). To accomplish this, advertisers started constructing the purchase of every commodity as being useful to the war effort (77). In doing so, advertisers inverted the government’s “serve by saving” ideology into a “serve by spending” call to action. As a result, advertisers made consumerism a mode of participation in the war effort, and boosted morale in the lives of Canadians by giving them the sensation that their spending was in some way helping to win the war.

Commodifying the War

Figure 2. Toy gun advertisement. Wow Comics, no. 17, 1943, Bell Features Publishing, pp. 57.

Wow Comics fits into the consumer climate in a similar way: by working both as a source of morale and a piece of propaganda. Two advertisements in the back of Wow Comics no. 17 that promote toy guns to its readers serve as an illuminating example. The advertisements invite children to role-play as soldiers with models guns that are “Just like the real thing!” (Wow Comics 57). Margaret Higonnet, doing research on military themes in children’s culture, argues that toys can be used to domesticate war, “[granting] distance and [permitting] us to claim mastery” (“War Toys” 119-120), and we can see such a process taking place here. Purchasing these toy guns would allow children to recreate the battles they hear about in school and read about in these comics, relocating the war into an imaginary space where they have control. In other words, children can use these toy guns to imagine themselves as brave heroes of war. Since we know that toys are often employed by children to help them navigate through uncertain times (“War Toys” 118), this reconfiguration of war allows children to feel better equipped to deal with the changes wartime brought into their lives, and thereby boost morale. The advertisements also work as propaganda, as they encourage children in their play to embody soldiers fighting on the “good side” (i.e. the Canadian military) against evil (i.e. enemies of Canada, Nazis). Rehearsal of war, especially as it is informed by the advertisements and themes found in Wow Comics serves to reproduce the ideological binary of good vs. evil and solidifies the justification of the Canadian war effort.

“Hair-Raising Features”

While several of Wow Comics no. 17’s stories are based in the military genre, its representations of war are quite distant from the realities. The front cover of the lets readers know it is filled with action. The cover depicts a German U-Boat being blown up, complete with enemy bodies flung airborne, and crashing waves. In the bottom left corner is a text box that reads “‘The Penguin Strikes’ Plus 5 Other Hair-Raising Features,” advertising that at least six of the contained stories are action packed. Higonnet argues, “One of the paradoxes of war, as it is represented in children’s books, is that battle becomes distilled as individual combat” (2). Her theory applies here: while some of the comic’s stories are situated directly in the war effort, there is never a battlefield full of soldiers or towns under siege. Instead, comics like “The Penguin” take place on a nondescript coastline, with a single protagonist going up against a single German villain, “the Luger” (Wow Comics 3). Similarly, “Whiz Wallace” takes place in India, and has a battle between the protagonists and the villainous “Spymaster” and his henchmen (Wow Comics 19). The comics’ representations of war take place in contained (and due the lack of specificity in location, almost secret) places, where the violence does not reach innocent lives. Such representations reduce war to a singular heroic man seeking out and infallibly beating up singular villains without causing any auxiliary destruction. However, the reality war is far more complex, violent, and senseless than that heroic process. As a scholar on the “White”, Ivan Kocmarek, remarks that the “Canada Whites” were likely one of the only sources of information about the war for children (156), and this representation could therefore be interpreted as a realistic depiction for young readers. Appearing so controlled and one-sided, the war might have then appeared less scary for kids, as it upheld morale about the likelihood of Allied success.

Have no fear!: Heroism in the “Whites”

The cast of heroes in Wow Comics no. 17 is not what one would expect compared to classic comic heroes such as Superman. Instead of supernatural powers, the Canadian heroes used cunning, detective skills, some weapons, and their fists to dole out justice. They are not superheroes, but vigilantes, spies, and adventurers who fought for good and exhibited bravura in the face of evil. “The Penguin,” shows a lone hero in a penguin mask foiling a Nazi plot to bomb the Canadian coast without ever coming face-to-face with the enemy, merely outsmarting them by placing one of their own bombs in the U-Boat’s periscope (Dingle 5). Beyond the immediate threat of a bombing, the deadly weapon is aptly named the “demoralizer bomb” (Wow Comics 3). The Penguin is therefore not just protecting physical bodies, but also the collective spirit of Canadians, pointing to the importance of morale during wartime. Similarly, the comic “Guy Powers: Secret Agent” shows a Canadian detective uncovering a Nazi sabotage scheme in a Canadian factory. In the end, the hero expertly punches out the Nazi spy when he tries to pull a gun on him after being found out. What this common theme of self-defence reveals is a uniquely Canadian approach to the war where violence is used as a means of defence, as opposed to an all-out offensive means to victory. While these tales openly confess that the home front is always a vulnerable target, they also remind young readers that there will always be heroes that will stop the infiltrating evil before it can cause harm, further providing them with comfort, and maintaining the good vs. evil binary that justifies the war effort.

Heroism outside the war

Several of Wow Comics no. 17’s “Hair-Raising Features” take place in a setting outside of WWII. Regardless, they still keep up morale in a similar way to their militaristic counterparts by continuing to reinforce the hero vs. villain binary. As an example, in the comic “The Phantom Rider,” a vigilante hero (The Phantom Rider) rides through the Wild West seeking vengeance against the gun-wielding bandits that killed his father. On his quest, he finds the criminals, but realizes they are planning on stealing a herd of cattle from a local town. The Rider then proceeds to trap the criminals and turn them over to the authorities, saving the day. This comic reinforces the idea that justice is achieved by a clearly good hero fighting against clearly bad villains. When the sheriff says “He never breaks his word, always helps the one in need,” (Wow Comics 35) readers are further reminded that this story is an example of the Rider’s time-proven process.  The echoing heroism in the comics that exist outside of the war continue to remind the reader that there are good people who protect the innocent from evil.

Constructing villains

Figure 3. Panel from “Whiz Wallace” showing the Spymaster. Wow Comics, no. 17, 1943, Bell Features Publishing, pp. 21.

Although the Axis powers were generally understood as evil, the brevity of the comic’s stories required their visual representations of evil to be done efficiently. To do this, illustrators of the “Canadian Whites” tended to rely on stereotypical depictions of Canada’s enemies to communicate not only villainy, but also race and nationality.  Perhaps the most striking example of this is Thomson’s design of the Japanese villain “The Spymaster” in “Whiz Wallace.” The Spymaster is bald, fat, has slanted eyes, and a fu manchu (Figure 4). Although skin tone is absent in the black and white comics, he is described by one of the white protagonists as a “yellow beast” (Wow Comics 22).  Additionally, he possesses a magic that allows him to control the minds of men, and is described as being “mysterious” (Wow Comics 17), ascribing to him a sort of mysticism frequently linked to Asiatic peoples. The combination of both these visual and textual elements construct a portrait of the enemy that is immediately distinguishable to both the protagonists and the readers. This representation shows the “bad guys” as being easy to identify, and in turn, makes them easy for the heroes to find and stop. Children reading these comics might then feel more confident in the understood heroic process when it is demonstrated as being so streamlined and a simple matter of finding the stereotypical villain and swiftly putting a stop to them.

Moreover, German villains were constructed in a similar way to the Japanese: by drawing on stereotypes. The Luger in Dingle’s “The Penguin” is the perfectly designed villain: square jaw, bald, scar located on his head, devilish smirk, and even a monocle. In addition to drawing on the familiar white villain tropes, the German accent is transcribed in the dialogue to reify the connection to German nationality (as if the U-Boat and Nazi flag were not enough). “What is the hold-up” thus becomes “Vat iss der hold-up” (Wow Comics 5). Villains, then, can be recognized not only through visual signals, but also aural ones.

 Conclusion

For the price of 10 cents, Wow Comics offered children worlds parallel to their lived realities where war was not as scary as it seemed. In line with the trends of the era’s consumer culture, Bell Features was successful in turning its products into commodities with social significance in a wartime context. Within these comics, war is reduced to a game of cat and mouse where the hero hunts down and inevitably stops the villain from doing harm. Giving children a more simplistic perspective of war, a complex adult phenomenon, perhaps helped them to feel less afraid during a time of great fear and uncertainty, or at least have a stronger faith in the success of the soldiers fighting for them. Additionally, through advertising, these comics invited children to recreate these war narratives in a way that made them feel in control of their situation. Amid the sea change the Second World War brought to the lives of Canadian children, the Wow Comics fulfilled the important duty of keeping up their morale and fending off fear.


Works Cited

Bell, J., & Viau, M. “Canadian Golden Age of Comics” from “Beyond the Funnies,” Jun. 2002, Library and Archives Canada. https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8300-e.html

Broad, G. A Small Price to Pay: Consumer Culture on the Canadian Home Front, 1939-45. UBC Press, 2013, Vancouver, Canada.

Cook, T. “Canadian Children and the Second World War,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Apr. 2016. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-children-and-wwii/

Higonnet, M. “War Games.” The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 22, issue 1, John Hopkins University Press, 1998, Brooklyn, United States.

—. “War Toys: Breaking and Remaking in Great War Narratives.” The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 31, issue 2, John Hopkins University Press, 2007, Baltimore, United States.

Kocmarek, I. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, vol 43, issue 1, 2016, Canada.

Shaw, H. V. (a). “Save to beat the devil,” from “Canada at War Forums”, Canada at War, Jan. 2010. http://www.canadaatwar.ca/forums/showthread.php?t=2486

Wow Comics, no. 17, Oct. 1943, Bell Features Publishing. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166679.pdf


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.

The Representation of Women in Comics in the 1940s

Copyright © 2017 Liran Yefet, Ryerson University

Introduction

Female characters have served different purposes over the years within comics, whether they are the sidekick, the love interest, or even the villain. However, whether or not the roles women assumed in comics were reflective of the societal views of women during that specific time period is another matter altogether. In the fifteenth issue of The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don: The Miracle House Mystery released in towards the end of World War II in December of 1944, there are two main female characters: Diana Mite and Shirley Watson. Diana Mite is the go-getter villain whose hair still manages to look flawless regardless of what she is doing, while Shirley Watson is there purely for aesthetic purposes — a pretty face in Dizzy Don’s clique. Even though Shirley does not do much in the comic, Diana is hands on, going out and doing the dirty work herself. To varying degrees, both female characters are reflective of the sexist societal views and beauty standards of women in the 1940s, who were starting to deviate from at home labour and make the transition towards paid labour.

Women in the Workforce During World War II

With the men at war, women were left behind to tend to matters at home. This resulted in a shift in the type of labour females did from more traditional housework to paid labour. However, not all women were necessarily capable or interested in the opportunity of paid labour. Thus, the idea of women filling in the labour shortages left by the men at war was initially marketed moreso at young, unmarried women rather than mothers with children to take care of, and a husband’s income because of the societal views that a, “. . .women’s place was at home, and so initial recruitment was directed at young unmarried women and then at married women without children” (“Women’s Emancipation. . .” 164). With women now starting to make an income themselves, the attitude towards allowing women in the labour force began to change, as women were now needed due to the shortage of workers.

Also, the attitudes of women in general changed, as they were starting to gain independence through their careers, which made their jobs of value to them in that sense as well because, “Work for money, regardless of type of work, generates different attitudes and relationships among family members” (Costa 102). This is reflective in the comic in the sense that Diana Mite, who is a working woman, is more independent than Shirley, who is more traditional and is only ever seen by a man’s side. Unlike Shirley, Diana Mite is not sitting around at home taking care of the house while the men are at war, but rather teaming up with others to take down her nemesis. Opposite to Diana is Shirley, who does not do much except serve the plot and boost Dizzy Don’s ego. She represents more of the traditional image of a woman who is devoted to the husband-like figure in her life, and is there mainly to stroke their ego and as arm candy.

Diana Mite

Diana Mite is one of the main antagonists in the Miracle House Mystery, along with Driplip. Despite the physical labour she does, she is still the image of the ideal woman in her heels, dress, and perfectly done hair — this regardless of what she is doing. Although the overtly sexual nature and hyper feminization of her depiction was common for female characters in comics at the time, as this was also the case with George McManus, and his depiction of the character Maggie in the Bringing Up Father comics

One gets the impression that McManus simply couldn’t control himself when drawing women’s bodies, and by the 1920s through the 1940s, he had even developed a habit of drawing Maggie in transparent dresses through which her fabulous figure could be seen in silhouette. (Robbins, “Gender Differences in Comics”)

Similarly, Diana Mite is described as, “. . .tiny and attractive. . .” (Easson 1) in her character description, while the description of her male counterpart, Driplip has nothing about his physical appearance. This is sexist due to the fact that Diana is so much more than just her looks — she goes out and gets stuff done, so the focus of her description should also be about her nature and not about her looks. It is not fair to Diana Mite to have her body commented on if none of the male characters have their bodies commented on just because she is a woman, much less that the comments made about her body are sexual in nature. She is described to have the ideal female figure to men, which is something a female writer would likely not have done due to having experienced the sexism of the time firsthand.

Not only that, but Diana Mite does all of the dirty work for Driplip, whom she works with. While Diana does the hard, physical work herself, Driplip still takes most of the credit, even though he just mainly handles the business side of things. This is reflective of how even though women were free to make their own income, it was because the men were incapable of doing the labour themselves, and not because they were needed for the sake of workers, regardless of their gender, being needed. Had the men been at home working instead of at war, it is unlikely women would have been allowed to start doing paid labour because then they would be taking jobs from the men, who were considered to be the major source of income in the household at the time. It did not matter if the woman was more qualified for the job similar to the way Diana Mite was more qualified than Driplip to take out Dizzy Don’s plan, and was only hired because Driplip could not physically do the job himself. Men like Driplip who were less qualified would have likely gotten priority over the woman for the job. This is all just to play into the patriarchal views of who should traditionally be working and bringing in the money in the household: the men.

Manny Easson. Panel from “The Miracle House Mystery.” The Funny Comics With Dizzy Don, No. 15, December 1944, p. 10. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Whether or not Driplip was absolutely necessarily in the plot against Dizzy Don is arguable, as while he handed the “business side” of things, Diana Mite likely could have been just as well without him. He even goes so far as to call her the, “. . . smartest operator in the world,” (Easson 10) and says, “‘Diana Mite’ — she can do it if anyone can,” (Easson 10) which is a clear indicator that Diana is the more physically capable one in the partnership. After all, she did all of the dirty work all while still looking perfect, and Driplip kind of just sat around for most of the comic waiting for her. This is ironic considering that men are supposed to be stereotypically stronger, but somewhat irrelevant in the situation, as he gets credited like he is the one who did all of the hard work in the plan. It is important to note that the comic attempts to insinuate that his role is equally, if not more important than hers, and that she is carrying out his plan, not hers, thus making him the evil mastermind and her just an accessory in his plan. The reality is Diana Mite is more than just an accessory to his plan because she is the one who actually carries it out, so her role in the plan is the one that is more important. Without her, Driplip likely would not have gotten anything done. Thus, Diana Mite is representative of both the patriarchal beauty standards women were held to in the 1940s, and the way women were only wanted in the workforce to do the jobs the men could not do because they were away at war, not necessarily because they were equally, if not more qualified for the job.

Shirley Watson

The other main female character in the comic is Shirley Watson, who is Dizzy Don’s friend in the “Miracle House Mystery.” Shirley is representative of the patriarchal view that women should be housewives and accessories for their husbands in the 1940s. She is fairly useless, and is mainly there to serve the plot. Without the story itself, Shirley would serve no real purpose due to her lack of character development. Shirley is there merely to amuse Dizzy Don, and get information out of him that furthers the plot. Everything about her from her background story to her dialogue only serves the purpose of furthering along the plot. 

Manny Easson. Panel from “The Miracle House Mystery.” The Funny Comics With Dizzy Don, No. 15, December 1944, p. 6. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Shirley is the one with the brother who is a soldier returning from the war, thus giving Dizzy Don a connection to the soldiers returning home. Other than Shirley’s brother, there is no one else personally connecting Dizzy Don to the war and the cause that he is trying to help. Even though it is Shirley’s brother returning from the war, the plot continues to revolve around how Dizzy is solving the housing crisis, while Shirley just kind of follows him around and ask her plot-furthering questions whenever necessary. She is even the one that asks her brother, “What are your plans Bill?” (Easson 6) which causes him to bring up the housing crisis caused by the soldiers returning from the war and having no place to go back to. Then Dizzy immediately responds that he has an idea on how to solve the housing crisis, which furthers the plot. The problem with this is that while the male characters get real character traits and proper, dimensional attributes that allows them to exist independently from the story, Shirley Watson has no personality because her purpose revolves around Dizzy Don, and being a pretty face at his side at all times, just like how women in the 1940s could only leave the house with a man at their side. If one met Shirley in real life, one would have a hard time getting to know her because she is not a multi-dimensional person who can exist outside of the story.

On top of this, Shirley fits the stereotypical beauty standards of women in the 1940s with her well-styled curls, modest dress, heels, and perfectly applied makeup. Thus, not only is she a one-dimensional character, but she looks like one too. There is not a lot that sets her apart from the other characters, so she kind of blends into the background and is there as just another pretty face like the housewives in the 1940s who were like accessories to their husbands.

It is a view rooted in the belief that women should do as the men in their lives please, definitely more male superiority over women-oriented that could be a result of the story being told by a male author and thus likely reflects his societal outlook. Had a female written this comic, it is less likely that Shirley would have remained as underdeveloped as she was throughout simply due to the fact that a female writer would likely have a better understanding of the patriarchal problems in the 1940s and the negative effects as a result. Therefore, through this understanding, a female writer would be able to write a more balanced comic that would play less into sexist stereotypes such as finding a women’s value in her looks. Hence, Shirley Watson is a representation of the patriarchal view that women were accessories to the men in their lives, and that their purpose revolved around men the way Shirley’s purpose revolves around Dizzy Don.

The Juxtaposition Between These Two Female Characters

Even though Shirley Watson and Diana Mite exemplify two contrasting examples of women in the 1940s, both are hindered by patriarchal views that confine them to the ideal beauty standards of the time, and showcase their inferiority to men within the comic. Shirley, the girl who acts as an accessory to the plot and never goes anywhere unless she is hanging out with Dizzy Don or some other man whom her life revolves around is the opposite of Diana, who is the working woman entering the labour force, and who gets what she wants done by herself. Despite their differences, both ladies are the picture of the ideal woman with their done hair and makeup, cute dress, and heels. This is a reflection of how most, if not all women in the 1940s were in some way constricted by patriarchal views that prevented them from ever truly being independent from the men in their lives.

Moreover, Diana Mite and Shirley Watson represent the working woman entering the labour force, and the loyal housewife respectively. Through antagonizing Diana Mite and making Shirley Watson one of the good characters, the comic is likely suggesting that having women in the workforce is bad, and that a woman’s place is wherever the men in her life need her to be: at home. An impressionable child reading this comic in the 1940s without the same exposure to feminist ideals as most children today could come to the conclusion that a woman should not be doing paid labour. This is because Diana Mite, an example of the working woman in the 1940s only causes trouble for Dizzy Don, and thus working women like her should stay at home and out of the way of men. This outlook sets women back in the workforce, and their transition into equal paid labour and equal opportunity regardless of one’s gender. Therefore, it is important to note that the antagonization of the working woman within the comic is harmful as it plays into the patriarchal societal views of the 1940s.

Conclusion

The comic The Miracle House Mystery utilizes the female characters Diana Mite and Shirley Watson to reflect the sexist views of the 1940s on women in the workforce. Diana Mite, who is physically carries out the plan against Dizzy Don is antagonized to reflect the view that a women should not be in the workforce, but rather at home or by a man’s side. She is capable of being independent, but by having Driplip be her partner, the comic takes away from everything she does on her own. On the other hand is Shirley Watson, who is only there to serve the plot and has no real character traits to her, and is reflective of the more traditional view that a woman’s place is an accessory to the man in her life gets to be one of the good characters. Ultimately though, regardless of what role these two women play in the story, they are both similar in the sense that they are the epitome of idealized female beauty standards, thus making them both trapped in a sense by patriarchal views. This juxtaposition of these two female characters showcases the sexist societal views of the 1940s, and those of the author of the work. Through this, the comic gives the reader insight into the societal views on women in the 1940s, thus likely causing them to reflect on how women were hindered by the patriarchy during the 1940s.


Works Cited

Costa, Dora L. “From Mill Town to Board Room: The Rise of Women’s Paid Labor.” Journal of Economic Perspective, vol. 14, no. 4, 2000, pp. 101–22, doi:10.3386/w7608.

Easson, Manny, and Mickey Owens. “Ryerson University Library.” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don : No. 15 / Miracle House Mystery, http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b2611402.

Murdoch, Maureen, et al. “Women and War.” Journal of General Internal Medicine, vol. 21, 2014. www.readcube.com, doi:10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00368.x.

Pierson, Ruth. “Women’s Emancipation and the Recruitment of Women into the Canadian Labour Force in World War II.” Historical Papers, vol. 11, no. 1, 1976, pp. 141–173, doi:10.7202/030808ar.

Pierson, Ruth R. “Canadian Women and the Second World War.” World War II and the NFB :: The Home Front, 2008, http://floraweb.nfb.ca/ww2/home-front/women-and-the-war.htm?article=18789&subtype=articles.

“Remembering Canada’s Role in WW II.” CBC News, 29 Apr. 2010, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/remembering-canada-s-role-in-ww-ii-1.871801.

Robbins, Trina. “Gender Differences in Comics.” Image and Narrative, Edited by Heike Jüngst, vol. 2, no. 4, 2002, www.imageandnarrative.be/inarchive/gender/trinarobbins.htm.

Silverstein, Brett, et al. “The Role of the Mass Media in Promoting a Thin Standard of Bodily Attractiveness for Women.” Sex Roles, vol. 14, no. 9-10, 1986, pp. 519–532., doi:10.1007/bf00287452. .

Songs My Mother Taught Me. 10 Sept. 1945, http://www.cbc.ca/andthewinneris/war_brides_620.jpg.

Tepper, Sean. “Heroes of the Canadian Golden Age of Comics | Toronto Star.” Toronto Star, 11 Oct. 2013, https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/2013/10/11/heroes_of_the_canadian_golden_age_of_comics.html.


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.

Who Are You? Where Are You From? What do you Stand For? Questions of National Identity in Dizzy Don Issue 14

© Copyright 2017 Sophia Vecchiarelli, Ryerson University

Introduction

At first glance, the issues of national identity in Dizzy Don Down South America Way Issue 14 may not jump out at readers. It may appear as just another comic released in 1944 by Bell Features: to a child who lived in 1944, it could be considered funny, with an adventurous plot, and awe-inducing heroes; to a 21st Century reader, it would come across as fairly stereotypical, poorly produced and horribly racist. Through a closer reading, one begins to notice the overarching concept of identity and the all-encompassing attitude nationality seems to inflict on that identity. This paper will be discussing the historical and contextual factors that affect the way readers approach Dizzy Don Down South America Way through the lens of national identity. It will provide a constructed definition of national identity using multiple scholarly articles that have been published in that field, which can then be applied to the characters in Dizzy Don Down South America Way. Moreover, this essay will discuss the shifting of nationality and the affect it has on the identities of the characters. Most importantly, this paper will be exploring the impact of characterizing identities through nationality and how that affects the young readers Dizzy Don Down South America Way is directed to.

Historical and Contextual Factors

To begin, the historical factors of World War 2 will have an important impact on the way nationalities are depicted in Dizzy Don Down South America Way Issue 14. World War 2 took place between 1939-1945 and pitted nation against nation (“World War II Fast Facts”). During this time, who one was and where they came from were considered the same identifier (Dauphinee). One’s country of origin was used to identify a person as quickly as their name would be used (Dauphinee). An article from The Globe and Mail in 1943, titled “No Japs left on Kiska as Canucks, Yanks Land” illustrate the way people categorized each other based on their home nation (Dauphinee). The names of individual soldiers are not used in this article, it is simply their country of origin that matters and that is all a reader needs to know in order to judge these men. This technique was used to classify people as being allies or enemies during war and this technique translates into Dizzy Don Issue 14.

Furthermore, one must understand the medium of the comic book and the importance of the time period in which Dizzy Don Issue 14 was created. Comic books in Canada were in their golden age during World War 2 because of the War Exchange Conservation Act, put in place to stop trade between Canada and other countries (Bell). This Act allowed Canadian comic book makers to thrive and publish stories that enhance Canadian national identity (Bell). It can be assumed, given the content, comic books were directed mainly at young boys. It can also be assumed that comics were used to make children laugh in a time when laughter didn’t always come so easily. However, not everything in Dizzy Don Issue 14 is

Fig. 1. Manny Eason. Pp 36, Dizzy Don Comic. No.14, Aug/Sept 1944, Bell Features. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166605.pdf

humorous as many stories are filled with propaganda and bias ideas against certain types of people (Easson 36-40). It is important to remember to step back and remind oneself of the time period in which these materials were released. Many aspects of Dizzy Don Issue 14 will not seem acceptable to the mind of a 21st Century thinker but for the sake of understanding this paper and comic better, historical perspective is helpful.

A Definition of National Identity—Somewhat

The Oxford English Dictionary defines national identity as “a sense of a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, and language” (Oxford English Dictionary). This definition allows for a starting point in thinking about national identity; it is a concept that people are connected through their nation, where they live, even if they are not connected in any other way. It is another technique that humans have come up with to divide people into categories of us and them (Thompson 251). It causes people to start thinking about their home country in a certain way, as being bonded through their “shared” traditions, and outsider countries of having “other” or “different” ways of living (Thompson 251). In powerful countries, such as the United States, it creates a “nationalistic impatience” with outsiders who cannot or don’t want to assimilate into the “right” national identity (Thompson 250).

During World War 2, dictator Adolf Hitler used nationalism as way of excluding anyone who wasn’t his ideal citizen, using this concept to make citizens have the mentality of being better than other countries (Thompson 250). One could argue that the need to be the strongest nationalistic country caused the death of millions. This concept of nationalism is able to be extracted from war and politics, presented to children in the comics of 1944, and in the present, still plagues citizens at every turn.

An argument that can be drawn from this definition is that where one comes from is a part of who they are as a human being and is displayed through the way one walks, talks and approaches situations. However, Dizzy Don Down South America Way takes this concept to a new level when representing characters from all around the world; their identity of “self” and their nationhood are so intertwined that changing their nationality changes the essence of a character.

Dizzy Don Down South America Way—Identity Displayed

The article, “The Many Lives of Captain Canucks” explains the connection between national identity and comic books as such “comic books, as a visual medium, engage this act of imagination, in turn facilitating the mental construction of the nation and national identity” (Edwardson 185). Given the excerpt from this article, it is not surprising that Dizzy Don Down South America Way creates an imagined environment where what characteristics one displays are directly correlated to where they are from.

The Americans in Dizzy Don Issue 14, Dizzy Don, Shirley Watson and Canary Byrd, are portrayed as cool, sly, funny radio hosts who are going on tour to meet their fans from South America (Easson 10). They are beautiful and smart, the heroes of the story who can defeat any problems they could possibly come across (Easson 30). They are untouchable and powerful, just as the United States would have been viewed, by allies, during World War 2.

The South Americans, represented by Senor Cabana Manyana, Senor El Ropo, Sugar Lips and the South American police officer, are represented as mysterious, sexy, a bit clueless, and very useless outside of the extravagant parties they throw for their “favourite Americanos”. In particular, the scene after Shirley has been kidnapped by unknown bandits, Dizzy Don and Canary Byrd go to the police but the police officer offers to find Shirley in a month or two, dead or alive and Canary Byrd tells him “Go back to sleep now chiefy” (Easson 19). Dizzy Don proceeds to say they will deal with this themselves, furthering the characteristic created in this imagined setting of South Americans being no help and the Americans saving the day.

The Canadian, by represented by Joe Flip, seen only in one series of frames in the comic as being polite and helping the Dizzy Don and Canary Byrd save Shirley (Easson 24). He introduces himself as Canadian and then simply offers his services as a polite; the audience learns nothing about Joe other than that he is Canadian, he has the ability to fly a plane, and is eager to help the Americans.

Who these characters are cannot be distinguished outside of their nation and they are confined to the imagined national identity of that nation; until, of course, their national identity changes.

Shifting National Identities

The plurality of national identities is based on the idea that national identities are not static, they change from context to context (Andreouli and Howarth 362)). The idea of plurality is one person can hold multiple nationalities or a nation can have an influx of multiple identities (Cantle 315). According to the article “National Identity, Plurality and Interculturalism”, this leads to a nation of multiculturalism where there is “no us versus them” concept in play but a place that embraces new thoughts and ideas that can only come from outside sources (Cantle 315).

However, despite the positive expectations Cantle has for plural national identities, he predicts that

“The postwar ideal of a more integrated international community, in which ideas and cultures may bridge national boundaries to create a world in which we are more at ease with each other, is seldom now advanced as a desirable political objective, despite the evident interdependency of economic and political decision-making” (Cantle 313-314).

People view minorities and “other” national identities as threats to their carefully crafted world (Cantle 313). The need to classify and create the “us versus them” ideology is too distinct in humans; it is how people are able to make sense of their worlds and disrupting that is too challenging, even if it could bring positive possibilities, like Cantle believes.

This ideology was alive back in 1944 as portrayed in the article “S. Africa Hospital in Italy Has 26 Canadian Nurses”, where the reporter questions if the nurses in Africa have become African or if they are still Canadian. There is no discussion about whether they could be both Canadian and African, choosing to adopt traditions from both cultures. The reporter goes on to mention some of the nurses married African men and hints that they have chosen Africa over their Canadian roots (“S. Africa Hospital…”). This is the concept present in Dizzy Don Down South American Way, that there is no in-between for national identity. One can only be this or that and whichever they choose becomes an irreversible part of who they are.

What Nationality Shifts Mean to Character Development

The shift from one nationality to another for Senor El Ropo and Sugar Lips completely
change who the audience thought the characters where up until this point. Senor El Ropo was the shifty, mysterious, odd South American who a reader could think was suspicious but not outright dangerous. Sugar Lips was the sexy, mysterious, South American songstress who could be considered eye candy and little else as she only appeared to speak Spanish. Both characters kept up their façade until their true identities (nationalities) were revealed.

Sugar Lips is no longer the sensual singer, as she is no longer South American, but a skilled kidnapper from Brooklyn that plans to auction Shirley off for ransom (Easson 18).

Fig. 2. Manny Eason. Pp 18, Dizzy Don Comic. No.14, Aug/Sept 1944, Bell Features. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166605.pdf

While she is still portrayed in her South American dress and heels, her facial expression and tone shift to a cold criminal with an attitude. She tells Shirley in one frame, “Listen babe! That Spanish was just an act I was brought up in Brooklyn. See,-your pals are gonna kick in a heavy ransom for you, and we need the dough, get the angle? Sweetheart” (Easson 18) She has acquired a whole new set of traits with her new nationality and has dropped the “performance” of a South American.

Senor El Ropo, similarly drops his performance as a South American cigar company owner when he is revealed to actually be a German spy working for Hitler and the Nazis. El Ropo becomes “Nutsi Agent Schwarīzmuller” and with his new name, he adopts new personality traits (Easson 27). All of a sudden, he is willing to kill Shirley and himself in the name of Hitler, when there has been no indication thus far that he is interested in killing anyone. When he acquired his German nationality, he also acquired “his true self” of being a murdering spy. There are no traces of El Ropo left in him, as though that was a different person altogether.

These two examples display the all-encompassing role nationality plays in this imagined comic world. A character cannot be both a mysterious South American and a murdering German as the two nationalities cannot be inhabited in the same person for the sake of the traditional solo national identity.

Why National Identity (Identities) in Comics Matter

One might be considering whether the comic itself amplifies the importance of nationality for the purposes of the tale or if it has sunken into the subconscious of the writer, publishers, and illustrators involved and unfolded unintentionally. Truthfully, it could be one or the other, or it could be a bit of both but the reason why it’s there doesn’t matter—what matters is the fact that this is the representation of national identity in comics at all.

In a child’s comic book, national identity is being used as a prop to further the divide between people who are the proposed “us” and who are the “them”. In this case, it’s the Germans who are the villains, the Americans who are the heroes, the Canadians as minor aids in getting the job done, and South Americans appear as useless, as it would be reflected to one perspective in the war. It displays the idea that people can perform identities of minorities to achieve a goal but outside of that, they will never be the heroes or the villains (Barbour 271).

However, this isn’t just a staple in the past that has changed as humans evolved and became more politically correct. It is not just a comic book that has no reflection on real life. These same issues are alive in the 21st century. The countries that one labels as hero or villain may have changed but the underlying issue is still there; people are too busy pointing fingers at each other to be conscious of what blossoms from segregation. It became Hitler in 1939, believing that Germany is the only country worthy of being powerful, it became millions of people dying, fighting each other simply because of where they come from and sadly, it became education for young kids who read comics like Dizzy Don Down South America Way and saw the world in terms of nationality.


Works Cited

Andreouli, Eleni, and Caroline Howarth. “National Identity, Citizenship and Immigration: Putting Identity in Context.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 43, no. 3 (2013): 361–82. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-5914.2012.00501.x.

Barbour, Chad. “When Captain America Was an Indian: Heroic Masculinity, National Identity, and Appropriation.” The Journal of Popular Culture 48, no. 2 (2015): 269–84. Scholar Portal Journals, https://doi.org/10.1111/jpcu.12256.

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

Cantle, Ted. “National Identity, Plurality and Interculturalism.” The Political Quarterly 85, no. 3 (2014): 312–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-923X.12101.

Dauphinee, John. “No Japs Left on Kiska As Canucks, Yanks Land.” Globe and Mail, August 23, 1943. http://collections.warmuseum.ca/warclip/pages/warclip/ResultsList.php

Edwardson, Ryan. “The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and the Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Superhero.” Journal of Popular Culture 37, no. 2 (2003): 184–201. Scholar Portal Journals, https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-5931.00063.

Owens, Mickey, Manny Easson, and Bell Features, eds. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don: No. 14. Toronto, Ontario: Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166605.pdf

Thompson, Ewa M. “Nationalism, Imperialism, Identity: Second Thoughts.” Modern Age; Wilmington 40, no. 3 (Summer 1998): 250–61. ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/docview/196868484/abstract/8A2D52CC9A954AA7PQ/1

“S. Africa Hospital in Italy Has 26 Canadian Nurses.” Globe and Mail, December 19, 1944. http://collections.warmuseum.ca/warclip/pages/warclip/ResultsList.php

“World War II Fast Facts.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17, Aug. 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/09/world/world-war-ii-fast-facts/index.html

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.

Physical Mediums: The Social, Cultural and Physical Histories of Wow Comics

©Copyright 2017 Tony Carlucci, Ryerson University

 

Comics’ Beginnings:

Not Just a Visual Medium: A Physical One

Fig.1. Adrian, Dingle. Cover, Wow Comics. No.20, Digital, Bell Features Publishing: http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166682.pdf

In 1942 Cy Bell, the owner of Bell Features, borrowed $75,000 from the Industrial Development Bank and spent $50,000 on a used offset lithography printing press from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In Bell’s first print run of Wow Comics, issue No.1 sold 52,000 copies and before the war ended, a total of 20,000,000 were distributed. Wow Comics issue No.20 was printed on newsprint stock using offset photolithography and two-tone color printing (Hirsh).

Often, comic studies focus on visual illustrations and the meaning they produce through textual and visual elements. The visual content act as entry points for the reader to understand the deeper social, cultural and historical complexities of the comic. To read Wow Comics issue No.20 and experience it solely as a visual expression of ideas would be to ignore the deeper meaning we can draw from its physical properties. David Pantalony, museum curator and historian, asserts that the physical histories of an artifact act to enrich and deepen how we understand that artifact (52). The following paper will delve into Wow Comics’ physical qualities, paper and printing processes, and their lesser known social and cultural histories. Marshal McLuhan’s famous argument “the medium is the message” will build upon Pantalony’s ideas by showing how the physical elements of the comic, its medium, not only enrich our understanding but create meaning (1). Finally, Ian Hague’s insights on how touch plays a key role in experiencing comic books as a physical medium will be useful for exploring how Wow Comics as a physical artifact connotes different meaning than its digital counterpart.  What happens when we explore the physical histories of Wow Comics issue No.20?  Let’s find out.

Physical Entry Points: Historical Complexities of Canada’s Lithographic Industry

Before we begin our exploration of Wow Comics’ lithographic history, an illustration of Pantalony’s methodologies will serve to clarify our discussion. In Pantalony’s work, Biography of an Artifact: The Theratron Junior and Canada’s Atomic Age, he argues that museums frequently fail to explain their artifacts rich social, cultural and historical complexities (52). Pantalony exemplified his argument by exploring the physical artifact called Theratron Junior, a green radiotherapy device that lives on display at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa. In his pursuit for new complexity, he uncovered that the Theratron Juniors green paint reflected the Canadian governments intention to entice commercial and aesthetic sensibilities of prospective foreign buyers (61). The green paint,  an element of its medium, challenged a traditional narrative that the Theratron Junior was a single purpose medical attention device. In comic studies, visual illustration dominates the traditional narrative that meaning is produced solely through illustration. But those visual illustrations did not appear on the comics’ pages by chance, they have a complicated history.

From first hand accounts of Cy Bell we know Bell Features’ offset printing press came with unexpected difficulties.

Fig.2. Frank, Booth. Brigdens Limited (1893-1912), Bay St., w. side, between Wellington & King Sts W.; INTERIOR, wood engraving shop. Photograph, 1900. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection. Public Domain.

Bell explains: “hiring men to run it was another matter….lithography has always been a very tight-lipped business” (Hirsh). Bell’s insights allow us to peer inside the window of Canada’s lithographic history. In 1870 lithography was first established as a trade on the east coast of Canada (Davis 154). As lithography techniques progressed into the late 19th and early 20th centuries a new form of printing came to prominence: photolithography. Photolithography’s invention caused a disruption in the economic and social fabric of Canadian labour.  With its adoption into Canada’s graphic arts industry in the early 20th century a cultural tension was born between early pressmen, lithographers and photo engravers. The tension arose from new skill sets that were required to operate offset lithography and photoengraving machines. The pressmen’s union wanted to learn the new skill sets to establish a dominant role over the lithographers and photoengravers (Davis 145).  The pressmen sought support from the photoengravers but were denied in large part because the photoengravers union was far less established than the Lithographers of North America or the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants Union (David 146).

Bell’s comments and the historical tensions between pressmen, lithographers and photoengravers illuminate the deep social, cultural and economic complexities of Canada’s graphics arts industry. Now when we observe the comic’s dark ink pressed onto the thin, beige pages our understanding of how those images were produced is altered. They are not just creative fictions of one individuals mind but rather were born from the struggle between professional unions to maintain economic dominance in a shifting landscape. Through this research we produce new meaning from the comic’s medium that enriches our understanding and illuminates a narrative that has been, for the most part, hidden inside the pages of Wow Comics.

Parts UnKnown: Pulp & Paper, Newsprint and Canadian Invention

Wow comics was produced on newsprint, a form of cheap paper used primarily by the newspaper industry.  According to Marshal McLuhan, the medium (TV, radio, books, comics, etc) is more relevant in conveying meaning than the content of that medium (2).  McLuhan gives the example that form and function are often separated (5). He states, individuals ask what a “painting is about” but not “what a house or a dress is about” (5). What he means is by asking what a “painting is about” we acknowledge both form, literal paint on canvas, and function, artistic expression. For Wow Comics, we need to ask how the comics form, a photolithographic paper product, creates meaning in relationship to its function, artistic expression. For that answer, we turn to the history of newsprint.

Fig.3. n.d. Canada’s Northern timber lands provide the millions of tons of paper used yearly by the Canadian newspaper industry. The Star gets a large quantity of its supply from the Thorold pulp mills, where mountains of potential reading matter are piled. Around 350 tons of paper are used by The Star Weekly alone, every week in the year. Photograph, 1941. From the Toronto Star Photo Archives. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection. Public Domain.

Newsprint was invented in 1844 by Charles Fenerty, a native of Nova Scotia (Burger 32). During the period before Fenerty’s discovery, rags were the main material used to create paper. In the 1840’s Europe sanctioned rag exportation and Canada’s demand for a new source of paper arose (Burger 31). Fenerty discovered that wood pulp could be ground and turned into a paper product (Burger 33). His discovery was revolutionary because it allowed Canada to begin exporting one of its most abundant resources: wood (Burger 33). The newspapers took advantage of the new, cheap source of paper at a scale which was previously not available (Kuhlberg).

McLuhan notes that the “message” of a medium can be understood by “the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs” (1).  He gives an example of how the railway altered the way in which humans lived and worked (1). By parallel, the newspaper industry was able to produce and distribute a much larger volume of content to a vastly larger audience. This shift changed our relationship to paper from one of value and preservation to volume and impermanence. By that very extension we find ourselves back at Wow Comics.  The physical grainy and fragile pages of Wow Comics issue No.20 connotes its own message: it was not meant to be preserved. The origins of newsprint as the physical medium of newspaper industries also tells us Canadians’ relationship to newsprint paper was ephemeral, meant to be consumed and discarded each day. The physical medium not only provides an opportunity to enrich and complicate the physical history of the artifact but it also produces meaning through its form, the physical paper it was produced on.

Experiential Medium – Ian Hague’s Touch

By flipping the pages of Wow Comics, the reader experiences the comics medium through touch. Ian Hague, a cultural studies scholar, argues that to fully appreciate the message a comic book conveys we must go beyond the visual (99). He stresses “comics are not images without material substance, they are physical objects that we interact with in physical ways” (98). Hague’s stress on the comic’s physicality as a form of communication extends the work of McLuhan. Hague goes on to specify, expounding that physical touch is a key component of how the message of a comic is delivered. At the most fundamental level by holding the book we are reminded of its physical presence (99).  By flipping the pages of Wow Comics we are reminded of its most basic form, paper. This experience in turn creates a connection between our hand and mind which promotes inquiry into an entry point (history of paper) that can be explored.

In his article Hague uses Art Spiegelman’s’ In the Shadow of No Towers as an example of how physical form and touch create meaning (101). He notes “it is a large board book printed on fairly hard cardboard pages rather than soft paper. Producing the work in this fashion makes a powerful statement because the hardness here serves to suggest permanence and significance” (101). By the same logic, Wow Comics’ paper medium as cheap and historically ephemeral not only conveys impermanence but highlights the insignificance of its content. An object that is not meant to be preserved would not hold meaning which is valuable to society. But when we change the medium from physical to digital, that changes.

Fig.4. Tony Carlucci. Video of Wow Comics, No. 20, Bell Features Publishing. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

 

What about the digital? Medium specificity

When we cannot experience the physical object through touch we hinder our ability to understand, explore and create meaning through the social, cultural and historical complexities of the object. My experience with Wow Comics from the beginning has been 90% digital. I have experienced the artifact by clicking a mouse and tapping arrow keys.  Did I lose out on an enriched and complicated understanding of the physical artifacts medium? My answer is no, but its complicated. By nature of my profession, I studied the object in question. I was forced to be intentional and dig (Pantalony), understand the medium (McLuhan), and experience the object (Hague). But for the average person that intention may not be there.

The digital object without a relationship to the physical flattens rather than enriches. By flatten I mean it acts as a passive agent ready to be accessed. By contrast, the physical object is an active agent always present in our hands,demanding connection between us and its physical existence. Hague’s view is not quite as polarized and I intend to complicate my own argument here. On one side Hague notes that when an artifact is digitized it loses unique qualities such as texture and smell, experiences that have yet to be imitated in the digital space (104).  Conversely, he acknowledges that digital comics’ use of sound is far beyond physical comics (105). Hague takes a neutral position. Wow Comics as a digital artifact may flatten the experience but it also allows the reader to easily access those rich social, cultural and historical complexities. Without the internet, my knowledge of the physical artifact may have been vastly limited in its scope. If the physical objectivity of the artifact creates connections which promote inquiry then the digital artifact allows that inquiry to bloom into knowledge. Both the digital Wow Comic and the physical comic together create an enriched experience. A world without any physical artifacts points to a whole new meaning that we will have to explore later.

Conclusive? Physical Mediums and the Messages They Convey

The stories behind each of the comic’s physical properties create rich contextual meaning and convey a message of their own.  A Canadian invention, newsprint as a cheap medium specific to the newspaper industry connoted impermanence and devalue. We also learned that new photolithography techniques created discord among Canadian pressmen, lithographers and photoengravers. As a result, Cy Bell, the founder of Bell Features, had trouble finding lithographers to physically print his comics (Hirsh). Pantalony made the argument that the physical properties of an artifact matter and so did Marshal McLuhan. For McLuhan, the whole medium,  the comics pages,lithography, etc, conveys a message that is separate from the content. Hague built off McLuhan by arguing that the physical experience of a comic is equally important as the visual.

Our experience of the physical comic is important because we gain a deep connection to the object, understanding what the medium is conveying and how that medium is a site for rich social, cultural and historical complexities. What happens when we flatten those complexities through the digital? We no longer actively engage but rather passively consume. But that last statement is complicated because the digital allows easy access for our inquiries to bloom into knowledge. The future holds any number of possibilities for Wow Comics and the future of the genre but we must remember, the physical existence of our artifacts is critical in understanding why they matter.

 


Works Cited

Adrian, Dingle. Cover, Wow Comics. No.20, Digital, Bell Features Publishing, Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Library and Archives Canada, Rare Book Collection. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166682.pdf.

Burger, Peter. Charles Fenerty and his Paper Invention. PB Publishing Inc, Toronto, Canada, 1971. http://www.charlesfenerty.ca/book_folder/BURGER%20%20Charles%20Fenerty%209780978331818.pdf

Davis, Angela E. Art and Work: A Social History of Labour in the Canadian Graphic Arts Industry to the 1940s. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995. Scholars Portal Books, http://books1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/viewdoc.html?id=34183.

Frank, Booth. Brigdens Limited (1893-1912), Bay St., w. side, between Wellington & King Sts W.; INTERIOR, wood engraving shop. Photograph, 1900. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection. Public Domain.

Hague, Ian. “Beyond the Visual: The Roles of the Senses in Contemporary Comics” . The Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art, vol. 1.1, pp 96-110, 2011. http://sjoca.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/SJoCA-1-1-Article-Hague.pdf

Hirsh, Michael, et al. The Great Canadian Comic Books. Peter Martin Associates, 1971.

Kuhlberg, Mark. “Pulp and Paper Industry”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 7 Feb 2006. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/pulp-and-paper-industry/

McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Message”. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Sphere Books, ch.1, pp. 1-18, 1967.

N.d. Canada’s Northern timber lands provide the millions of tons of paper used yearly by the Canadian newspaper industry. The Star gets a large quantity of its supply from the Thorold pulp mills, where mountains of potential reading matter are piled. Around 350 tons of paper are used by The Star Weekly alone, every week in the year. Photograph, 1941. From the Toronto Star Photo Archives. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection. Public Domain.

Pantalony, David. “Biography of an Artifact: The Theratron Junior and Canada’s Atomic Age” Scientia Canadensis, vol. 34, no. 1, 2011, pp. 51 -63.

Wow Comics, No. 20, Bell Features Publishing. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Wow Comics, No.20, Bell Features Publishing. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Library and Archives Canada, Rare Book Collection. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166682.pdf.

 

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.