Tag Archives: 2017 Canadian Whites

Racial Opposition In Dime Comics No. 15

© Copyright 2017 Benson McDaniel, Ryerson University

The WECA and the Comic Book Vacuum

In 1939 Germany invaded the Sudetenland; two days later England declared war on Germany and just a week after that Canada declared war alongside the Crown, thus entering what would come to be known as the Second World War. The Canada of 1939 was a small nation, despite its geographical vastness, with a population of just over eleven million, most of whom contributed to a resource economy deeply rooted in agriculture. By the close of the war, Canada had more than a million people serving in uniform (Scott 7). The staggering margin of the nation’s population that were personally invested in the war effort is an indication of the holistic dedication Canada showed during the Second World War. With nearly a tenth of the population serving hands on, Canada, at home and abroad, was truly at war.

War is an investment for any nation, and it is an especially dire investment when a nearly a tenth of a nation’s population is personally serving in the effort. For these reasons, on December 6th, 1940, William Lyon MacKenzie King introduced the War Exchange Conservation Act, or WECA, to protect the Canadian economy and aid the dollar. The War Exchange Conservation Act limited imports, specifically on luxury or nonessential goods, and among the paper products banned from the Canadian border were comic books (Kocmarek 148).

In is within the ensuing comic book vacuum that the genesis of the first generation of Canadian born comic books, the Canadian Whites, is found. In as little as three months, Canadian entrepreneurs mobilized resources and began to create titles in order to fill the empty space on Canadian magazine racks and in the lives of Canadian children. First came Anglo-American’s Robin Hood and Company Comics, soon followed by Maple Leaf’s Better Comics title, which though primarily composed of reprints included the appearance of the first Canadian superhero, coincidentally called Iron Man. That summer, Anglo-American expanded its line to include the Freelance title, and by September, Bell Feature’s Wow Comics and Hillborough’s Triumph-Adventure Comics were also on the stands (Bell 2015). Soon, Canada had a wide range of its very own comic book titles, complete with uniquely Canadian heroes

Among these comic books was Dime Comics, from Bell Features. Dime Comics’ content was a diverse mix of titles, including mysteries, crime stories, single page jokes, comedic strips, and superhero titles, but heaviest on titles focusing on military affiliated action heroes, fighting for Canadian interests abroad. Given that not only was Canada at war but it was that very war which allowed the Canadian Whites to come into existence it should come as no surprise that the ongoing fight features heavily in Dime Comics. In Dime Comics No. 15 alone, six titles, “Rex Baxter”, “ “Hitler” Has… Troubles!!”, “West Wewak”, “Lae Task Force”, “Scotty MacDonald” and “Johnny Canuck”, revolve around the war effort abroad.

“Rex Baxter” sees a heroic RCAF embroiled in a strange plot involving mystical figures and science fiction technology, all of which the title character is constantly looking to apply to the war effort. “West Wewak”, “Lae Task Force” and “Scotty MacDonald” all center on fighter pilots and ground troops attempting to advance through the jungles of South East Asia, while “Johnny Canuck” finds the eponymous Canadian superhero stranded in those same jungles, lost and trying to find his way out. Unfortunately, another primary theme present in most of the content of Dime Comics No. 15, is the racialization of villainous figures. Characters of Asian and South East Asian descent are consistently identified as villainous figures and figures of suspicion and deceit, not because of their geopolitical affiliation but rather because of their racial identity. In fact, these characterizations of racial others are not limited to stories set abroad, embedded in the geopolitical conflicts. Within a Dime Comics No. 15 “Nitro” story, the titular character, the superhero and masked avenger Nitro, identifies enemy figures as villainous and dangerous because they appear to be Hindu. Given India’s place in the commonwealth and its role as an ally to both Canada and the United Kingdom, the role of race as a determining factor in identifying enemy characters is undeniable.

Racialization and Otherness in Dime Comics No. 15

Dime Comics No. 15’s “Nitro” begins unassumingly; Nitro’s mild mannered alter ego, Terry King, receives a visit from a family friend, Carol Fane. Carol informs Terry she has been receiving death threats regarding a ‘Hindoo’ artifact her father, Sidney, has recently recovered from India. Despite the colonial overtones, the first pages of the title are relatively unassuming—that is, until the final frame of the second page, in which Carol is grabbed and hauled into a car by captors whom Nitro characterizes as “foreign looking thugs”. As Nitro begins to pursue the car, he shouts, “OKAY YOU FANATICS GET SET TO MEET YOUR ANCESTORS!” (Lazare 14).

Black and white image, the final panel of the second page of "Nitro", Dime Comics. No. 15
G. Lazare (a). Dime Comics. No. 15
June 1944,Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

Here, Nitro could have identified his enemies by their actions—kidnapping a friend, throwing her in a car and taking off, any number of all round nefarious or suspicious behaviors—but instead its their ethnic identity that he identifies them as antagonists.

An identical occurrence can be observed in a military story later in Dime Comics No. 15, “West Wewak”. “Breezy” Bartlett, an RCAF pilot, is flying over the Solomon Islands when he is attacked by a Japanese Zero.  Just before ejecting, Bartlett looses a hail of bullets into the Japanese planes, proclaiming “COME AND GET IT, YOU SLANT EYED BABOONS! HAVE SOME GOOD CANADIAN BULLETS RIGHT IN THE PUSS!” (Legault 20). Later, after seeing an American assault on a Japanese base begin, Bartlett attacks a Japanese gunner, yelling “GANGWAY, YOU ALMOND-EYED LITTLE MEN OF BANZAI!” as he does (Legault 22).

Again, the enemies of the protagonist are not identified as so by their allegiance to enemy foreign powers—their colors, their insignia, their loyalties—things that may evolve and change overtime, things that may be forgotten after the war, things that are transient and not inherent to their identity, but by their racialization. The Japanese enemies of ‘Breezy’ Bartlett aren’t portrayed as his enemies because of their imperial mandate, the cruelty of their policies, or any other more nuanced reality, but because of their features which are inherent to their race: their Asian eyes, their Japanese stature. The message is clear: Bartlett’s enemies aren’t his enemies because they serve the Axis, but because they are the Axis—as evidenced by their racial features.

Later, on page 29 of Dime Comics No. 15, a “Scotty MacDonald” story features the titular hero and an American ally, Jim O’Hara, sent to rescue a Chinese allied agent. Once they’ve rendezvoused with their man, Sin Tong, Jim says to Scotty, “THINK HE CAN BE TRUSTED SCOTTY. [sic] HE’S A MYSTERIOUS LOOKING CHAP. HE MAY NOT BE THE M’COY!” (Cooper 30). One might expect the portrayal of Chinese people in Dime Comics to be more sympathetic, given their role as an ally (not that this prevented racist depictions of Indian people), yet again a character expresses sentiment specifically centering on an Asian person’s appearance. His behavior, his credentials, these things which any reasonable person would judge another person’s character, are secondary to the man’s racial identity. Paired with the racist caricature of Japanese soldiers which follows in the remaining panels of “Scotty MacDonald”, an opportunity for a positive representation of Asian characters is passed upon, and even an allied soldier is portrayed as rather shifty because of his Chinese appearance (Cooper 32).

The final title of Dime Comics No. 15, a “Johnny Canuck” story, offers even more racist caricatures.

Black and white image, the title page of a Johnny Canuck story, Dime Comics. No. 15
L. Bachle (a). Dime Comics. No. 15
June 1944,Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

The cover page showcases an immense, menacing face, who’s pierced ears and head wrapping betray his foreign allegiance to readers.  Based off of this cover page, one might assume the Indian man terrorizing the exhausted hero might figure in the story as the primary antagonist, a villain deserving of such a frightening depiction; however, the character in question appears nowhere within Dime Comics No. 15’s “Johnny Canuck” title (Bachle 32). Why then does he populate the cover page? One can only assume because his racialized visage is meant to project villainy, fear and malice, traits that the artist, Leo Bachle, clearly associates with Indian peoples.

The Racial Home Front

What motivated the racist content of Dime Comics No. 15?

While the depiction of Japanese soldiers is abhorrently racist, its genesis is not a mystery. In December 1941, the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese air force, and alongside the United States and its allies, Canada declared war on Japan. Soon after the attack, the Canadian government used the War Measures Act—in order to declare each and every Japanese citizen—naturalized, Canadian born and immigrant alike—an enemy alien. Even Japanese Canadians who had served in the Canadian military during the First World War were subject to this draconian law (Fukawa, Hickman 68). Basic rights such as habeas corpus were annihilated by enemy alien status. The Japanese had their finances seized and their agency, already limited by racism and prejudice, entirely revoked. Japanese Canadians were then required to register with the RCMP as aliens (Fukawa, Hickman 72). At the beginning of 1942, the eviction and internment began, as Japanese Canadians were ordered to evacuate their homes and report for detention (Fukawa, Hickman 82). During the evacuation of Japanese Canadians from Vancouver, citizens were held in livestock stables and other makeshift buildings in Hastings Park (Fukawa, Hickman 86). By decree, the Canadian government essentially dehumanized the Japanese in every way—they revoked their rights, their status as citizens, and even kept them in holding areas intended for animals. All of this, not because any evidence was ever produced showing any Japanese Canadians held allegiance to Imperial Japan, or that there was any indication of a threat posed by radicals within Canada, but simply because Japanese Canadians were Japanese. Like the Japanese characters demonized in “West Wewak” and “Scotty MacDonald”, their enemy status wasn’t confirmed by any facts, any actions, their character or their conduct, but by their racial status, they Asian appearance.

As vile and reprehensible as they are, the depiction of Japanese people within Dime Comics can be rationalized. The Japanese were the enemy, for geopolitical reasons rather than racial ones, but the conflation of the two is understandable given that the Canadian government quite literally made the same mistake, and with the full power and resources at their disposal, not only treading into racist folly in theory but in action, permanently altering the Japanese population of Canada and leaving scars—financial, racial and yes, physical—that would never fade.

The depiction of racialized figures belonging to allied states, on the other hand, offers no such accessible and understandable explanation. India, as a British Commonwealth nation, was an ally to Canada and the rest of the Allied forces. What then is the source for the bizarre animosity directed to both explicit and implicit Indian and Hindu figures?

The majority of Hindu immigration to Canada began in the 1960s, with droves of professional Indian men and women, along with their families, arriving to find their place in Canadian society. The majority of Hindu immigration before this time occurred in British Columbia, far from the Torontonian home base of Bell Features comics (Coward 3). The west coast location of the pre-war Hindu immigration did not however prevent institutionalized racism from taking place, similarly to how it would take place decades later. Between 1900 and 1908, nearly 5000 South East Asians, mostly Indian peoples, largely Sikhs but Hindus as well, immigrated to BC. Until 1908, this process ran rather smoothly, but after eight years the small, frightened, racist white population pressured the government into taking measures to combat the imaginary invasion, just as the government would combat another imaginary invasion during the Japanese internment. Legislation was passed in 1908 not only to prohibit South East Asian, and specifically Hindu peoples, from voting, serving in public serving, on juries or as school trustees, professing law or pharmacy, working public contracts or purchasing crown timber, but also to prevent any further immigration through “continuous journey” laws (Coward 8).

While it may at times seem random and senseless, the racialization of the South East Asian figures of Dime Comics is not without precedent—precedent laid by the Canadian government itself. The Canadian Whites are as Canadian as any stories come—full of courage, daring exploits, heroism and alliances forged through adversity—but just like the history of Canada, there are negatives present as well: colonialism, racial violence, prejudice and exoticism. The Canadian Whites are spotted, they are flawed, just like Canada itself, and like Canada itself, if we are to move on as a people, we must acknowledge these flaws and seek to understand from where they came and how they might be avoided in the future.


WORKS CITED

  • Kocmarek, I. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée, vol. 43 no. 1, 2016, pp. 148-165. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/crc.2016.0008
  • Bell, John. “Comics Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., 2 July 06. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.
  • Lazare, Gerald (w., a.) “Nitro.” Dime Comics, No. 15, June, 1944,  pp. 14-16. Canadian
  • Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives
  • Canada
  • http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166578.pdf
  • Legault, E.T. (w., a.) “West Wewak.” Dime Comics, No. 15, June, 1944,  pp. 20-22. Canadian
  • Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives
  • Canada
  • http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166578.pdf
  • Cooper, Al (w., a.) “Scotty MacDonald.” Dime Comics, No. 15, June, 1944,  pp. 29-32. Canadian
  • Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives
  • Canada
  • http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166578.pdf
  • Bachle, Leo (w., a.) “Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics, No. 15, June, 1944,  pp. 32-35. Canadian
  • Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives
  • Canada
  • http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166578.pdf
  • Hickman, Pamela and Masako Fukawa, Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Japanese Canadian Internment in the Second World War, James Lorimer and Company LTD., 2011.
  • Coward, Harold G., et al. The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada, and the United States. State University of New York Press, 2000. SUNY Series in Religious Studies. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=44052&site=ehost-live.

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.

What It Means To Be A Canadian Hero in Active Comics no.10

© Copyright 2017 Brittany Fontes, Ryerson University

History of the Canadian Whites

The Canadian Whites were World War II-era comic books published and written in Canada that featured coloured front and back covers and a black and white interior. These comics came to be due to the War Exchange Conservation Act which restricted the importation of non-essential goods from the United States into Canada and this included comic books. There were four companies that came to be during this time period and took advantage of the demand for an emergence of Canadian heroes that would offer civilians comfort and hope. One of the most popular companies being Bell Features, the Canadian comic book scene grew and prospered during this time period giving Canadians a real image of what their heroes overseas looked and acted like. This industry was created as “…an entrepreneurial venture built from Canada’s war time economic situation and its political response to that situation…” (Kocmarek). This was the one chance for Canada’s comic book scene to be built and thrive.

In Active Comics no. 10 there are heroes of all kinds depicted in the 68 page, 10 cent comic including “Dixon of the Mounted”, “The Brain”, “Captain Red Thorton”, “Active Jim”, and “The Noodle”. These heroes are all diverse individuals in their own right but seem to have significant overlaps in terms of what makes them heroes in Canada.

“For a brief six-year window, and for the first time, we had comics that we could call our own. These Bell Features books, along with the other WECA books (from Anglo-American Publications, Maple Leaf Publishers, and Educational Projects) were as Canadian as comic books ever get, and they laid the foundation for any future comic book that wanted to earn the designation ‘Canadian'” (Kocmarek).

 Masculinity for a Canadian World War II Soldier

For young Canadian soldiers during World War II, masculinity was something that was both learned from their elders but also ever-changing in definition based on what the civilians of Canada needed them to be. Soldiers were often depicted in posters and wartime advertisements as well put together, tall and slim men with shiny boots and a stern face often with some sort of facial hair. The following photo suggests “…how war would reassert an officers masculine image and bearing” (Goodlet and Hayes).

An ideal officer, November 1939.
Figure 1, Geoffrey Hayes and Kirk Goodlet, Journal Of Canadian Studies, Project Muse

Young soldiers not only had to look the part to be considered masculine but they also had to act in an obedient, disciplined manner which was taught to them by their superiors. These men were taught to lead very simple lives with little to no entertainment and “Officers were permitted to have fun, but within bounds” (Goodlet and Hayes). Overall, the image of a masculine soldier who could be looked up to as a Canadian hero was stern, serious, well put together and well disciplined.

Canadian Superheroes

During World War II, Canadian solders were seen as “man-gods” (Beaty) which is how the idea of a Canadian Superhero came to be. All these heroes have one interesting thing in common: they have no superhuman power. Their job was to be “…exciting, but not overly exciting; active in the war, but not so active as to accomplish much of significance” (Beaty). All in all, the main goal was to give Canadians heroes that they felt they could connect to as people which is why they didn’t seem unreal and the ideas in each comic were not unimaginable in real life context. “Dixon of The Mounted” could be your neighbourhood police officer, while the brain could be the businessman who lives in your apartment building. Being a Canadian hero meant to be distinctly un-American while also being humble and able to fit into typical Canadian society.

In the first section “The Dynamic Adventures of Dixon of The Mounted” (Figure 2) (pp 1-9) we are shown a hero who is known for his patriotism and manly pride. Dixon’s super power is simple and functions perfectly with this story line: he is a Canadian Mounted Police trying to find out who is selling marijuana to “Indians and half breeds” (p1). He is pictured in typical mounted police uniform with a stern look on his face.

In the next comic titled “The Brain” (pp 10-18) our superhero is younger than the previously pictured Dixon and he is shown wearing “typical” superhero garments: a mask, tights, a cape and boots. The Brain is what one may picture when thinking of the word “superhero” and his purpose is completely different from that of Dixon. He is saving a “damsel in distress” from what looks like alien captors. Similar to Dixon, The Brain does not have any super-human powers. The Brain is simply strong, fast and masculine. He is an example of a stereotypical “macho-man”.

Next, we have the story of “Captain Red Thorton” (pp 26-34) whose superpower is once again being manly, patriotic and defeating a Canadian enemy of this time: the Japanese people. He is pictured with a muscular build, slicked back hair and nothing but a gun strapped to his hips as protection.

We then have “Active Jim” (pp 36-38) who is shown saving a young woman from another Canadian enemy: the Nazis. This story serves as encouragement for young men and woman to serve their army as it says “Like all you Canadian boys and girls, Jim has solemnly pledged his services to eventual allied victory…” (p26).

Lastly, we have “The Noodle” (pp 39-42) who is animated completely differently from the rest of our heroes as he resembles a baby. His mission is to save the world from “the jeeter-bug” and similar to our other heroes, he is saving a woman.

All these comics have a common enemy as to ensure that the Canadians enjoying the comics make an enemy of the Japanese people, Nazis, drug dealers and anyone who is not of “good moral standing”.

Figure 2, Rene Kulbach, Front Cover Active Comics no. 10, November 1943, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Establishing Canadian Indentity

Canadian Comics during World War II were so much more than a medium for entertainment. They were a connection to the outside world that Canadian people, children especially, had never had the chance to experience and “…a didactic vehicle, a means to popularize certain philosophical and religious ideals” (Bell).  During World War II, Canadian comics were the only option for comic book readers. “These comics were different from their American counterparts in their scope as well as their levels of violence and patriotism” (Reyns-Chikuma and de Vos).  Though Canadian heroes did not have superhuman powers per say, their powers were an uncanny sense of masculinity, patriotism, and religious morals. These comics were a mirror of everything a good Canadian citizen would be during the war and that one could be just as helpful and important on the Homefront as on the battlefield. Some ways Canadians on the Homefront helped out were victory gardens, or children collecting war stamps; young or old everyone did their part. “These comics solicited readers’ opinions about what was and should be inside them and offered up contests for those same readers to participate in with almost every issue” (Kocmarek).

The purpose of these comics were “…to produce exciting adventures designed to intstill patriotism in Canadian kids” and also to “…explore complex mystical beliefs and the nature of good and evil” (Bell).

These qualities are what separated Canadian Comics from the rest of the world and what made them so special. They were unapologetically Canadian and distinctly un-American.

The End of An Era

The Canadian Golden age of comics ended in 1945 and the superheroes that were so revered and popular became obsolete. These comics were the first to explore “the utilization of comics as a lens for reading history as well as contemplating the future of

Figure 3, Rene Kulbach, Back Cover Active Comics no. 10, November 1943, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

artistic interpretations of Canadian identity” (Reyns-Chikuma and de Vos). Unfortunately, “…the next generation of Canadian kids thrilled to the adventures of foreign heroes” (Bell). Thus, Superman, Spiderman and all the popular American comics reemerged.

Though many Canadian artists have been persistent in the Canadian Comic book scene in trying to ensure its success, other Canadian artists view superheroes in comics “…represent cultural immaturity” (Bell) and “…an artistic deadend” (Bell). It is possible that superheroes simply do not represent Canadian history and culture and that we need a comic medium that includes “…literature, autobiography, history, and other sources” (Bell). because “…Canadians are probably way too wary of the uncritical portrayal of unrestrained heroism and power for the superhero genre to ever become a mainstay of the country’s indigenous comic art” (Bell).

Though the intense popularity that Canadian Comics experienced  has ended, “…the dream of a national superhero is likely to persist as long as Canadians produce comic art” (Bell).

___________________________________________________________________________

Works Cited

Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, vol 36, no. 3, October 2005, pp 427-439.Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database, 10.1080/02722010609481401

Bell, John. Invaders from the North. Dundurn, 2011.

Grace, John. “The Canadian Soldier and the Study of Current Affairs.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), vol. 20, no. 3, 1944, pp. 341–46.www.jstor.org/stable/3018560

Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and The Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell

Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée, vol. 43, no. 1, March 2016, pp. 145-65. Project Muse, https://doi.org/10.1353/crc.2016.0008

Kulbach, Rene, “Dixon of the Mounted.” Active Comics, no.10, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1945, pp. 1-8, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada,  http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166511.pdf

Reyns-Chikuma, Chris and Gail de Vos. “Exploring Canadian Identities in Canadian Comics.” Canadian Review of Compartive Literature / Revue Candadienne de Littérature Comparée, vol. 43, no.1, March 2016, pp 5-22. Project Muse, https://doi.org/10.1353/crc.2016.0003

 

Romanticizing the War For Children Through Active Comics #15

© Copyright 2017 Leya Jasat, Ryerson University

Introduction to the Canadian Whites

Fig1. Active Comics. No. 15, February 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library, and Archives Canada.

Bravery, heroism, and patriotism are some of the themes found in the Canadian Whites comic books. These themes found in comics for children were also found in the war itself. Specifically, in number 15 of the Active comics (January 1944) series, one can see these themes being portrayed and projected on to the readers (children).

The influence of the great war on children was greatly underestimated. However, adults, older brothers, and uncles had started to disappear from the lives of these children when the war started and these children were just as much involved (Cook). This exhibit looks at the use of comics and their demand as a platform for grooming children in the 1940’s. These comic books were not for the sole purpose of grooming children to support the war but a lot of the stories and advertisements within the comics represent the war and patriotism to Canada. The stories in this comic book usually end happily when the heroes defeat the “enemies”, teaching children that safety, victory, and happiness can be achieved from helping with and winning the war in whatever ways possible.

Summary

The Canadian Whites are a series of comic books made on white paper with black ink during the second World War. Canada was unable to purchase non-essential goods and comics were one of those goods. Canadian children needed something to do/enjoy and the popular American colored comics were not available. Since this was the case, Canadian authors and illustrators including Adrian Dingle, Frank Keith, Leo Bachle, Kurly Lipas, Harry Brunt, Paterson, Al Cooper, and Jon Darian contributed to Canadian Comics which were called the Canadian Whites and were for the benefit and entertainment of children. These comic books consist of continuing series as well as intermittent stories that take up one or more pages. The stories are told in boxes mostly through drawings and a few words called sequential art. The comic books also include advertisements for readers to buy other Canadian comics, war stamps, toys, and notices/challenges for members.

The comic book specifically being discussed in this exhibit is number 15 from the Active comics (January 1944) series. In this comic book, the representation of guns is prominent as it is portrayed as an asset in a few of the stories and it has a full-page advertisement for a toy anti-aircraft gun as well.

Grooming children

 Adults were disappearing from children’s’ lives after the war began expecting them to help around the house, working for money, and purchasing war stamps (Cook). One of their primary sources of entertainment and one of the few activities for children was reading comics. At that time, war toys were becoming normalized (Fisher) and one of the ways this was possible was through advertising them in comic books and portraying gun users as the ones who succeed in the comics. These comics showed children who their enemies are by showing them Canadian heroes fighting people of the enemy countries. Children who were from the enemy countries were bullied once the children learned who Canada was fighting in the war, as explained by Galway “Canadians of German or Italian descent were not allowed to participate in war efforts, were teased, taunted, or assaulted” (Galway).By closely examining the stories and images, contrary to what I expected there is only one story that has the hero handling a gun. “Active Jim” is the only story that shows a hero using a gun while every other story that contains guns has them in the hands of the enemies. In “Active Jim” the police officer is handling the gun to stop a driver while “Dixon of the Mounted”, “King Fury and the Robot Menace”, “Capt. Red Thortan” and “The Brain” have the heroes fighting with their fists, knives, or swords.

The representation of guns in the comics were being used to groom the kids to want to be soldiers especially considering that the only advertisement directed to children in this comic book is for a gun. The advertisement itself has an image of a soldier with a gun above the image of a child with a gun. Children tend to do what they see and if they are seeing an image of a soldier alongside a child with a gun they will want to imitate the soldier first of all and then, of course, the image of the child. The representation of guns seen through the comic strips and advertisement is just one of the ways in which toy guns were being normalized for children in the twentieth century.

Guns were becoming normalized for children in the twentieth century, with the primary cause being the World War. They were being sold through such captivating advertisements that the children were excited to receive toy guns for Christmas and the guns were becoming consumer items (Brown). At the time children wanting to play with toy weapons was a new concept and even then the guns were used to encourage them to become familiar and skilled with weapons for the war (Brown). At the cost of the children’s childhood, weapons were being normalized so that the children could contribute to the war with more skill and enthusiasm (Brown).  Another factor for guns becoming normalized was economic, as described by Brown:

“Businesses heavily marketed cheap, mass-produced arms in this period. Gun manufacturers and retailers employed several aggressive sales techniques, such as emphasizing that using firearms could inculcate manly virtues, and redefining some weapons as toys to make them into acceptable and desirable consumer items. (Brown)”

The fact that guns were being produced in a mass amount that was benefiting the economy gave more reason for encouraging children to buy and play with them. The results of gun use being normalized for the war was not very smart as weapon use was not enforced well enough (Brown). Weapons were being misused and there were little to no laws on mishandling them. The laws that were placed were broken and were not enforced (Brown). Guns were becoming a danger to Canadians but were still being encouraged for the sole purpose of the children growing up to fight and prosper in the war.

Active comics and romanticizing guns

“Active Jim” is the only story that shows a hero using a gun. On pages 33-35 in the 15th edition of the Active comics the story of “Active Jim” and his assistant encounter a sanding crew mishap. Jim and a police officer use a gun to take down the driver who is sprinkling fine glass instead of sand. In this story, the reader is being taught that using a gun can lead to victory and justice. On the other hand, there are multiple stories with the enemies handling guns like in “Dixon of the Mounted” by R.L. Kulbach on pages 1-7 of the Active comics. In this story, the Japanese officers attack and capture Dixon using their guns to keep him from escaping. Another example is “King Fury and the Robot Menace” by Kurly Lipas on pages 22-28 of the Active comics. In this story, a doctor builds a robot and the Germans successfully steal it with the use of their guns.

These stories not only show the obedience and power a person with a gun can have but also teach the readers about Canada’s enemies. The enemies in this comic book are clearly shown to be of a different racial background through their facial features and butchered English dialogue. They were illustrated to portray the people Canada was at war against. This showed readers who their enemies were since they were also from Canada and in order to show patriotism to Canada, they were made to believe in having the same enemies as their country. The children of war were taught who their enemies were and how to treat them from such a young age. They were being groomed to make these people their enemies and dislike them through the beliefs of their country without their own intellect. In the same way, these kids were learning to romanticize the acceptance of self-sacrificing death as a price of heroism for their country (McKenzie). War was becoming their way of life.

Anti-Aircraft Gun advertisement. January 1944, Toronto, Ontario: Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited. Special Collections, Library and Archives Canada.

Apart from stories in this comic book, there is also an advertisement that strikes as utterly surprising. The advertisement is for an automatic anti-aircraft toy gun for children. It is so bluntly placed on the entire back cover (recto and verso) of the comics book. As a reader, it takes one by surprise that such a violent toy would be advertised to children. The way it is advertised is quite disturbing as well because it has an image of a soldier holding and aiming a gun similar to the toy one while there is an image of a child right underneath playing with a toy gun that looks like the one the soldier is holding. Some of the words used to capture the child’s attention are ” JUST LIKE THE REAL THING! SHOOT IT FROM THE TRIPOD, SWING IT INTO ANY POSITION SIMPLY TURN THE HANDLE AS FAST AS YOU LIKE FOR LOUD RAPID FIRE ACTION!” This advertisement is a great example of how guns were being normalized for children in such a blunt way, grooming them for war at the time they are the most vulnerable, their leisure time.

These themes of heroism, bravery, and patriotism can be seen in the comics and everything else surrounding the children of the war. In number 15 of the Active comics (January 1944) series one can clearly see the representation of guns as a primary war weapon as well as the enemies of Canada that the children soon learn to accept as their own enemies. Comics were used as a platform to groom children into accepting and wanting to fight for Canada. They used the love of comics and mixed in patriotism to Canada, Canada’s enemies, and guns. All this by capturing the children’s attention while teaching them who to like, how to behave, and to work for the war.


Works Cited:

Brown, R. Blake. “Every boy ought to learn to shoot and to obey orders” The Canadian Historical Review, vol. 93, no. 2, 2012, pp. 196-226

Cook, Tim. “Canadian Children and the Second World War.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., 04 Dec. 2016. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

Fisher, Susan R. Boys and girls in no man’s land: English-Canadian children and the First World War. Toronto u.a.: U of Toronto Press, 2011. Print.

Galway, Elizabeth A. “Border Crossings: Depictions of Canadian- American Relations in First World War Children’s Literature.” The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 39, no. 1, 2015, pp. 100-115 Research Library

Mckenzie, Andrea. “The Children’s Crusade: American Children Writing War.” The Lion and the Unicorn  (2007): 87-102. Web. 4 Mar. 2017.

 

Superheroes Representing Canadian Identity through Active Comics #1

©Copyright 2017 Vera Almeida, Ryerson University

Introduction

Tri-coloured cover (yellow, blue, green) Active Comics No. 1
C.T. Legault (a). Active Comics. No. 1, February 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Comic books became an important source for providing information and education for children about the World War. Active comics were used to display adventure through war stories and demonstrating to children about Canadian identity through superheroes. The period of Canadian superheroes started around the 1940’s releasing the “Canadian Whites”. According to Beaty, “These comics, so-called 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). Active comic #1 has carried out a way to demonstrate children about war in a way where they are separated from reality, thus still being taught war in a much more fun approach. This exhibit’s critical aim is that the superheroes in Active Comics Issue #1 (February, 1942) like Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist explore the depictions that show children about Canadian society and values. In particular the masculine role that these two superheroes perform in order to demonstrate that all Canadian soldiers were brave and strong. The comics have never been as effective, as advertising, but the ideology of maintenance for Canadian military is still there. However, as long as they are considered a ‘children‘s book’ the comic book will serve as an active way of teaching them.

The Children being drawn into Canadian-ness:

Black and white
C.T. Legault (a). Front Cover Verso of “Dixon of the Mounted”Active Comics. No. 1, February 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Active Comics was served to explain the importance of strong and intelligent superheroes to illustrate what it means to be Canadian. These comics portrayed all sorts of action and fun stories in order to catch the children’s engagement and the conformity on the battlefield. Moreover, the two superheroes Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist’s goal was not only to defeat the enemy, thus to engage children that these superheroes were strong Canadian figures. These two superheroes summon into question the theme between connecting popular culture and nationalism about Canadian-ness through comic books. Moreover, Active comics put forth the idea of importance for those children who have brothers, fathers and uncles serving in war. The adolescent and pre-adolescents of Second World War read the comics eagerly. The comics provided that young audience, which did not read newspapers and had no television to watch, with probably their only source of information on the war.

 

Black and white
C.T. Legault (a). Front Cover Verso of “Thunderfist” Active Comics. No. 1, February 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Moreover, Bell Features seemed to work in giving life and durability to these Canadian comic books and “looking back at them they were a significant piece in the puzzle of our Canadian-ness”(Kockmarek The war-time Comics of Bell Features Publications). Bright, bold and with colour only on front page, this comic reveals how the publishers wanted to get as much attention as they could for children to buy it. These publishers know exactly of what the comics provided and what type of audience’s the comics would have. Beaty questions, “Why superheroes? Why comics? They are not just entertaining fantasy figures. They are important to our history because they are symbols of our Canadian identity” (Beaty 431). Through making the superheroes play the role of what it means to be Canadian, this embraces the popular culture and makes children aware of what it means to be Canadian. Representing Canadian-ness was a brilliant way to let children, who were the main consumer’s to get a copy of this comic, engage with Canadian nationality. Beaty states, “Superheroes of the Second World War into legitimated representations of Canadian wartime aspirations that could be affectionately regarded in hindsight as examples of Canadian popular culture” (Beaty 431). According to Beaty, these superheroes were the finest way to represent the Canadian culture to children during the war. Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist were superheroes that fit the role to represent their Canadian abilities that children learned from. Active comics was a great source for children to engage and know what it meant to be Canadian, thus the only Canadian popular culture the children was being open too was the whole concept of masculinity features.

Masculinity taking action during World War Two:

Black and white
The “Men of the Mounted” daily strip was created by Edwin Reid “Ted” McCall and drawn by Harry S. Hall for the Toronto Telegram on Feb. 13, 1933.

The two heroes in the Active Comic #1; Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist are adventurous and demonstrate the representation of masculinity throughout their stories in order to keep the Canadian ‘identity’. The first story in the issue, Dixon of the Mounted, plays out the strong and brave man as he is going through a blizzard in the mountains searching for his female companion, Ruth Barton. He was a Corporal in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police labeling for Canada then the beaver and even the maple leaf. Thunderfist opens up as a strongman and as a scientific man known for the strangest inventions. His abilities are his allow him to advance at great speed and makes him fly through the electrical currents. Thunderfist’s costume makes him immune to electrical attacks and he has an intelligent mind that leads him to create devices and his own costume. The realization of the need for mental and physical toughness on the battlefield demonstrates the presumed virtues of dominant masculinity for both Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist, which men bring to the military service. Both of these heroes portray what its like to be in Canadian popular culture through their intelligence and strength. Saying that, this makes them Canadian and the children take on that every soldier who fought in the World War two and was Canadian; they had to be like Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist. There was even aToronto Evening Telegram portraying Men of the Mounted, which contained a strip about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Dixon of the Mounted is a Royal Canadian Mounted police and through this telegram, it is portraying that the superhero is being advertised in a different media form than the comic. Kockmarek states that, “The ‘Men of the Mounted’ daily strip was created by Edwin Reid “Ted” McCall and drawn by Harry S. Hall for the Toronto Telegram on Feb. 13, 1933” (Kockmarek Men of the Mounted). Dixon of the Mounted was so popular that he began to be advertised in other ways. Through both superheroes encouraging Canadian-ness towards children in a masculine way, this started to educate children they way the comic intended too.

Active Comics #1 played a significant role in education a young populace before, during and after the war, encouraging the children that the soldiers that they would win and defeat their enemies just like the Canadian superheroes. Beaty affirms that, “The effect of The Oreat Canadian ComicBooks was twofold: first, it introduced into comic book fandom an awareness of the specifically Canadian contribution to the development of the medium during the war; second, it initiated an association between comic books and nationalism that would subsequently shape the discourse surrounding Canadian comics” (Beaty 431). Throughout the war, the comic book super heroes were involved in helping soldiers defeating their enemies. The representation of the superheroes action was always good, since they are fighting the evil enemies away. The characters always illustrated war aims and how children can be assured that their fathers or brothers were strong and would win the war because they are brave just like the Canadian superheroes. According to the article Part of golden age of Canadian comic books, “Peter Birkemoe, owner of the Beguiling comic book store in Toronto, said that during the war many artists like Riley realized the commercial potential of their comics…these were businesses, this wasn’t an art collective or art-driven,” (Riley Part of golden age of Canadian comic books). In compliance with Peter’s statement, the comics had a specific reason that they wanted children to look at which how the superheroes portray the Canadian popular culture in a masculine way. Children had the mindset that Canadian heroes would always win because of their strong Canadian strength and intelligence. Comics present combat most often as the business of ordinary men and the courage and ability to fight as intrinsic to all men. The Comic promotes the idea that every man, is able to rise to the occasion and defeat the enemy, but only if they have the Canadian-ness powers that Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist portray.

Superheroes and Canadian Nationalism:

Colourful cards with pictures of Men of the Mounted
Men of the Mounted” trading cards put out by Willard’s Chocolates which had opened in Toronto in 1917.

The mobilizations of clichés that are in the place of these superheroes are substantial. Active Comics mentions stereotypes with its two superheroes Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist and it is clear that the overt nationalism of Canadian superheroes in the contemporary era had as much to do with frustrations over sustaining a viable Canadian comics publishing industry as it did with representational issues of Canadian identity. For Canadian superheroes to partake in the discourse of Canadian nationalism, therefore, it was necessary for the proponents of those heroes to disavow cultural production. With these two Superheroes Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist the children were becoming aware that since these superheroes were Canadian they knew all about what it was to be a Canadian. The comics were demonstrating that these superheroes fought and thought like Canadians, since they were strong and intelligent because of their actions and were Canadian. Children were being drawn to all the masculine aspects of these superheroes which made them believe that all Canadian men were supposed to act as accurately as they performed. Furthermore, Willard’s Chocolates, a shop that opened up in Toronto in 1917 and came up with an idea of, chocolate with trading cards inside. Willard’s, “…came up with the “Sweet Marie” caramel and nut filled chocolate bar in 1931 and was eventually purchased by George Weston in 1954” (Kockmarek Men of the Mounted).The trading cards consisted of Men of the Mounted, which was inspired by the superhero Dixon of the Mounted; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Saying that, with Willard’s chocolates connecting to Dixon of the Mounted, it is portraying Canadian-ness. The superhero was being portrayed into popular culture through a company who sold chocolates with these trading cards in them. This idea was made because Dixon of the Mounted made great success in the first Canadian adventure strip to appear in Canada. With this being said, the superheroes were becoming popular, which was a great way to influence the Canadian-ness to everyone especially the children being targeted. These chocolates influenced children with their trading cards, which was a good way to get children involved with Canada’s popular culture.

Conclusion:

Conclusively, Active Comics Issue #1, examined the portrayal that displayed to children about Canadian popular culture through Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist encouraging Canadian-ness towards children in a masculine method. Canadian superheroes in the contemporary era had many clichés, in particular the masculine role that these two superheroes perform in order to demonstrate that all Canadian soldiers were brave and strong during the World War two. Through making the superheroes play the role of what it means to be Canadian, this embraces the popular culture and makes children aware of what it means to be Canadian. Representing Canadian-ness through these two superheroes was a brilliant way to let children engage with Canadian nationality. Saying that, these comic books limited the children’s concepts of what it means to be Canadian since it was being portrayed in a masculine way.

 

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.


Bibliography

Anonymous. “Artist Michael Riley Part of Golden Age of Canadian Comic Books.” Canadian Press NewsWire, Aug 29, 2006, Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database, http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/347347292?pq-origsite=summon

Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, Oct. 2006, pp. 427–439., doi:10.1080/02722010609481401.

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 7 Feb. 2006 www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada

Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne De Littérature Comparée, Canadian Comparative Literature Assn, 2016. https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/611725

Kocmarek, Ivan. “Men of the Mounted.” Comic Book Daily, 8 Jan. 2014 www.comicbookdaily.com/collecting-community/whites-tsunami-weca-splashes/men-mounted

Laurie, Ross. “Masculinities and War Comics.” Journal of Australian Studies, 18 May 2009, www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14443059909387455.

Legault, E.T. (w) and M. Karn (a). “Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist.”Active Comics, no. 1, February, 1942, pp. 1-29. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

 

 

 

Engaging Children in the War Effort through Active Comics #14

© Copyright 2017 Marion Grant, Ryerson University

Adrian Dingle. Active Comics, No. 14, Bell Features, November 1943. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166515.pdf.

During World War Two it was clear that the government solicited the help of its citizens to fight the war at home through a variety of means. By using different mediums like posters and news publications, citizens were encouraged to purchase war savings stamps, collect scrap metal and disengage from gossiping. What is interesting to notice is that these ideologies and propagated messages were also spread throughout the comic book, Active Comics #14 (November 1943). These comics were created and distributed to children during World War Two. Disguised as fantastic stories about superheroes participating in stories defeating Canada’s enemy, the authors and illustrators used numerous tactics to coerce the young readers into participating in vital wartime activities by modeling this behavior through the comic book character, Active Jim and his club, Active News and Views. The character and his club also worked as yet another method used to encourage children to purchase war savings stamps and perpetuate the duties of the Canadian wartime child.

ACTIVE JIM AND WARTIME YOUTH

Jon Darian (w, a). “Active Jim”, Active Comics, No. 14, p. 55, Bell Features, November 1943. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166515.pdf.

In his comic series, Active Jim is a ‘superhero’ that possesses no superior abilities but instead is a teenager who attends school, just like much of his readers. While his adventures may vary comic to comic, they were based on Canada’s real life war time situation and were representative of the conduct and values expected of children during war two (Kocmarek 149). By creating Active Jim with no super strength, intellect, or mystical abilities, the writers leave room for the young readers of this comic to grow themselves into his character and aspire to be someone like him: an individual with a strong sense of nationalistic pride and desire to fight for his country. In his series he never accomplishes anything too spectacular, but instead is involved in stories that any child could have participated in had they been given the opportunity. For example, in issue 14 he takes on the task of tracking down an individual spreading rumors with the intention of putting it to a stop with confrontation (Dingle 54). By participating in activities that did not require any special skills, Active Jim demonstrated how easy it was to help out during the war.

Active Jim was as an excellent role model for children and teenagers growing up in wartime Canada. There was often fear from the older generations that the youth growing up during world war two would be corrupted by the lack of discipline and supervision due to the absence of parents during the war. While the weight of the war hung heavy on everyone, Doctor Baruch Silverman, A medical technician and author that advocated for patience and understanding when dealing with wartime youth, argued that older children were far more susceptible to being significantly effected by these issues would make them “restless, aggressive, rebellious and impatient with the routine of everyday life” (3). Rebellious behavior would often present itself as underage drinking, dancing, and cavorting with the opposite sex (Cook). However, it was crucial that these behaviors were prevented as much as possible. Children growing up in Canada during World War Two would be responsible for the rebuilding of the country long after the war was over and because of this needed to be molded from an early age to prepare for reconstruction after the war (Silverman 3). Children were encouraged from an early age to do whatever possible to support the war effort and very often included activities like collecting scrap materials, purchasing war savings stamps, and behaving like a model citizen (Granatstein & Oliver 60; Cook).

Jon Darian (w, a). “Club News and Views” Active Comics, No. 14, pp. 40, Bell Features, November 1943. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166515.pdf.

This encouragement was similarly reflected within Active Jim’s comic book club, ‘Active News and Views’, of whom he was the spokesman and figurehead. While being a pen pal club, it also took on the task of creating conservation tips to help with the war effort, as well as safety tips and contests for the readers (Kocmarek 158). The Active News section in each issue is also flooded with applause and admiration for the readership that made significant contributions to the war effort. Members would write in with tales of their fundraising hoping to be featured in Active Jim’s esteemed collection of chosen members with readers often competing to receive the prestigious title, member of the month, in next months issue. While the criteria for winning the title is unknown, majority of the featured members had, in some way, financially contributed to the war effort, be it through the purchase of war savings stamps or putting on plays and donating the proceeds to the red cross. For example, in issue 14, the chosen member of the month was Donald Black, who was using the money earned on his paper route to invest in war savings stamps issued by the government (Darian 40). This sense of competition present in Active News for chosen member very well may have been a significant driving factor in some children to contribute as much as they did to the war effort during World War Two. As both a superhero in his own comic and the spokesperson of the Active News and Views club, Active Jim played a crucial role in forming behaviors and initiatives of the children reading Active comics during World War Two.

ACTIVE JIM AND WAR SAVINGS STAMPS

Fund-Raising Poster, Hey Gang! Keep on Licking War Savings Stamps- They’re full of Vitamin “V”. Broadside. Circa 1942, Canadian War Museum. Public Domain.

Similarly, Active Jim also played an important role in propagating the sale of war savings stamps, bonds, and certificates to the readers. The comic acted as yet another medium to advertise these purchases to children among the thousands of posters, radio broadcasts, and billboards already present in their lives. For instance, the last panel of Active Jim in issue 14 ends with a police officer breaking the fourth wall and addressing the readers claiming, “There’s no sounder investment than war savings stamps, certificates, and bonds” after having spent the entire story dispelling rumors that their value was dwindling (Darian 56, see Figure 3). This was a message that was broadcasted religiously to not just children, but to everyone, across many different mediums the most significant being, however, of posters. In their article addressing the use of posters during both of the World Wars, Hugh Halliday claims that “posters have existed to influence public opinion, often under the guise of entertainment or information” (126). It appears that this might also be true of aspects of the Active Jim series as well. While clearly serving as a platform for entertainment for children, the series also seems to have a very biased attitude concerning the purchasing of war savings stamps that was used to frame the content published to the young readers.

Figure 1: War Savings Committee. We’re doing our bit! We’re buying war Savings Stamps. 1942. War, Memory, and Popular Culture Archives, University of Western Ontario. Public Domain. http://wartimecanada.ca/sites/default/files/documents/War%20Savings%20Stamps.pdf.

At one point during World War Two, the Canadian government realized that Canadian children were a commodity that had not been fully exploited. Their contribution to the federal budget was substantial, and the tactics used to coerce them into purchasing the War Savings stamps are unparalleled. It was estimated that Canada’s approximately 2,000,000 school children alone would annually raise at least 8,000,000 through the sale of war savings stamps alone, every year (“School Children”). War savings bonds began to take over the children’s lives. Messages to encourage Canadian children to invest in Victory loans campaigns were constant and aggressive. Teachers were instructed to preach about them in classrooms, advertisements littered the school hallways, and often school principals even divided the school into sections and provided quotas for each section to fulfill (Van Loon). Penny banks were sent home with children during the summer break to encourage them to save their money to buy stamps when they returned to school in the fall and the War Savings Committee even went so far as to provide employment for some children who would be unable to otherwise purchase stamps. The committee also created special stamp book that were meant for the exclusive use of children, they were colored attractively and created to specifically appeal to wartime youth [Figure 1] (“School Children”). The constant marketing and advertising of War Savings Stamps present in the children’s everyday lives was likewise reflected in Active Comics series and played a crucial role in encouraging readers to purchase war savings stamps during World War Two.

In issue 14, the writers published a story about Jim seeking out an individual that was spreading rumors about the decreasing value of war savings stamps and encouraging all the girls to sell their stamps and certificates back to the bank (Darian 53- 56). This reflected a real-life concern of the Canadian government during world war two. While it was possible for individuals to sell back their victory loans, aggressively discouraged the Canadian population from selling them off and instead pushed hard for them to purchase more. The government was incredibly dependent on the victory loan campaigns to fund their overseas efforts. The sale of war bonds, certificates, and stamps made up a substantial part of the federal budget. Over nine brilliantly marketed victory loan campaigns, the federal government managed to borrow 12.5 billion dollars from Canadians during World War Two (Bryce 328). Despite the fact that every single bond drive had been oversubscribed, the Canadian government continued to aggressively push the victory loan campaigns and borrow as much as they could from Canadian (Granastein & Oliver 60). In a sense, The Active Jim series was used to project real life ideologies and initiatives from the Canadian government in a context that was more understandable and exciting to children than the propaganda that had historically used to sell the War Savings Stamps.

ACTIVE JIM AND FIGHTING THE ENEMY

Figure 2: G. K. Odell & National War Finance Committee, Keep these hands off!. National War Finance Committee, 1941. Toronto Public
library. Public Domain. http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMDC-KEEPTHESEHANDSOFF&R=DC-KEEPTHESEHANDSOFF.

Finally, the comic also perpetuates an interesting relationship between war savings stamps, bonds, and certificates and the enemy, the axis powers. The Canadian whites were “built from Canada’s war-time situation and its response to that situation”, so in a way they were a method of conveying topics or stories in the war to children (Kocmarek 149). However, being fictitious, the writers and illustrators were given a creative licence in which they were able to construct and enforce ideas concerning the enemy, as well as promote hatred of the enemy. During World War Two, there was a lot of media urging citizens to purchase war savings stamps so they themselves can contribute to the war effort and through purchasing war savings stamps directly contribute to Canada’s victory. Posters were often marketed in a way to make women, teenagers and children, who were too young or unable to enlist, directly contribute to the war effort. The posters reflected topics of fear, patriotism, and morality in order to coerce Canadian citizens to invest in one of the nine victory loan campaigns. For example, one poster presents a mother clutching her child while monster- like hands lurk at the edge waiting to grab her child with the caption “Keep these hands off! Buy the new Victory Bonds” [Figure 2] (Odell). By exploiting the fear of the individuals viewing this image, the National War Finance Committee created hundreds of posters like this to aggressively push the sale of war savings stamps, certificates, and bonds during World War Two.

Figure 3: Jon Darian (w,a). “Active Jim”. Active Comics, No.14, pp. 56, Bell Features, November 1943. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166515.pdf.

Similarly, the comic also worked to exploit these fears and perpetuated a culture where purchasing war savings stamps was a way to fight the war. In the last panel of issue 14 of Active Comics the comic finishes off with the statement that war savings certificates are a solid investment and anything that one hears “to the contrary is a Nazi lie” [Figure 3] (Darian 56). The story and its final statements are part of social culture that was breeding the idea that the very idea of discussing the value or possible devaluing of war savings stamps was unpatriotic. Other statements like this existed and were posed to scare children to participating in certain activities. Threats of family members dying or being branded as assisting the enemy were displayed to prevent individuals from gossiping. “Are you one of Hitler’s little helpers” was a question that was asked weekly of listeners of the CBC broadcast, comrades and arms. The goal of the program was to warn against rumor spreading that could aid the enemy or hurt the country’s morale by using exploiting the patriotism and fear of its listeners (Strange). Interestingly enough, the comic also discourages gossiping by claiming that individuals who spread rumors were those of the most “dangerous type” and who “gain their livelihood from our inability to see through their lies” (Darian 56). This story of Active Jim was one medium of many that existed during World War Two that existed discourage individuals from selling off their investments and spreading rumors that war savings stamps were losing their value.

Jon Darian (w,a). “Active Jim”. Active Comics, No.14, pp. 55, Bell Features, November 1943. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166515.pdf.

It is also interesting to notice that in the issue, Active Jim takes on a group of undercover Nazis whose mission it is to spread rumors on a high school campus to devalue war savings stamps, certificates and bonds (Darian 56). Grown men, who are undercover in the enemy country were given the task of spreading rumors on a high school campus, instead of assassinating a government official or planting a bomb. While it is important to remember that this story is fictitious its vital to understand the idea that this story could be alluding to, that the act of purchasing war bonds was so vital for the Canadian government that the German army had no choice but to dispatch soldiers to devalue the war savings stamps, certificates, and bonds in the hopes that it would increase their chances of defeating Canada in World War Two.

CONCLUSION

By using Active Jim as a role model for the young readers of this comic series, the writers and illustrators could create a character that the readership could project themselves onto and aspire to be, an individual with a strong sense of patriotism and the desire to fight for his country. The character’s strong attitude about war bonds as well as his admiration of the readers supporting the war effort in his “club news” section could easily be interpreted as propagating children to buy war bonds and coerce them into participate in the war effort. This was a role that was similar to that of the posters, newscasts, and other media that surrounded the Canadian Children living on the Home-front during World War Two.

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.


WORKS CITED

Bothwell, Robert, Ian Drummond & John English. Canada, 1900- 1945. University of TorontoPress, 1987.

Bryce, Robert. Canada and the Cost of World War II. McGill- Queen’s University Press, 2005.

Cook, Tim. “Canadian Children and the Second World War.” Historica Canada, 4 December 2016, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-children-and-wwii/

Darian, Jon (w,a). “Active Jim”. Active Comics, No.14, pp. 53-  56, Bell Features, November 1943, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166515.pdf.

Darian, Jon (w,a). “Active News and Views”. Active Comics, No.14, pp. 40- 41, Bell Features, November 1943. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166515.pdf.

Frayne, Trent. “Children’s Stamps Buy Training, Combat Craft”. Globe and Mail, 26 July 1944. Democracy at War: War Museum Canada, http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/o
bjects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5047405

Granatstein, J. L. and Dean F. Oliver. “The Canadian Home Front in the First and Second World Wars.” Canadian Military History, 16 June 2015. Scholars Portal, http://scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1672&context=cmh.

Halliday, Hugh. “Posters and the Canadian War Museum.” Canadian Military History, Vol. 3, Issue 1,1994. Scholars Portal, http://scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017
&context=cmh

Hillmer, Norman. “Victory Loans.” Historica Canada, 28 April 2015, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/victory-loans/

Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publiciations.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/ Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée, Volume 43, Issue 1, March 2016. Project Muse, https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/611725

Odell, G. K. (a) & National War Finance Committee, Keep these hands off! 1941. Toronto Public library, http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMDC-KEEPTHESEHANDSOFF&R=DC-KEEPTHESEHANDSOFF.

School Children of Ontario near Million in Purchases”. Hamilton Spectator, 16 April 1941. Democracy at War: War Museum Canada, http://collections.civilisations.ca
/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5047698

Silverman, Baruch. “Meet Wartime Youth”. Youth in Wartime, 17 January 1945. Special Collections: Toronto Public Reference Library.

Strange, William. “Hitler’s Little Helpers” Comrades in Arms, 9 October 1942, CBC Digital achieves. http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/hitlers-little-helpers

Van Loon, J. W., “Children Invest Over $200,000 In War Savings Stamps and Aid in Extensive Salvage Campaign”. Hamilton Spectator, 24 December 1943. Democracy at War: War Museum Canada, http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedi
a.php?irn=5044113

The Relatable Hero: The Inception, Impact and Novelty of the Canadian Comic Hero During World War II in Commando Comics No. 16

© Copyright 2017 Maxwell-Turanski, Victoria, Ryerson University

INTRODUCTION

When a time is remembered, it is most often for their heroes. Those who stand out as admirable are an embodiment of the epoch values and beliefs. Thus, to analyze a hero’s characterization is to know the impact of the time period on their personality. Furthermore, to seek out fictional work from a historical moment is to know the time-specific idealizations of a hero.

 

In studying the “Canadian Whites,” a comic collection dating back to before the Second World War, there is a rare chance to understand the idealized Canadian hero (Kocmarek 148). Not too often does Canadian work spread as quickly and widely as the Bell Features comics did. The success was the result of an American comic ban placed by the Canadian government at the start of the war (Kocmarek 149). It is important to note that despite a recognizably lower quality of work than American competitors, (due to a lack of resources and experience) the children of the nation devoured Canadian comics. Readership was high and expectations were unimportant because of limited competition, giving the “Canadian Whites’” authors and artists freedom to create anything that their hearts desired (and resources allowed, which was not much considering that their materials only stretched so far as to print in black and white; hence the name “Canadian Whites”) (Kocmarek 148). The result has been an intriguing combination of references to both historic realities and dreams that provide a peek into World War II and those heroes who were ‘true’ Canadians.

 

CONTEXT: A STEP BACK IN TIME

During the years 1939-1945 (World War II), Canadians were riddled with anxiety about the survival of loved ones. 1.1 million of the total 11-million-person population of Canada served in WWII (Granatstein). This large number of involved Canadians was reached only after years of careful, steady increases in governmental persuasion, working to make citizens into soldiers. With the extreme unease of potential enforced consignment, there was a desire for some reprieve (Granatstein). This came in the form of entertainment. Leisure during the war was defined by the government as citizen participation in activities that had the ultimate, overriding purpose of bettering the nation. In any case turning away from the war often resulted in turning to the arts that celebrated the underlying themes and feel of the nation, the war-stricken nation.

 

In this vein of thinking it became clear that the importation of the American comic books was an unwanted method of “Americanization” in the eyes of the Canadian government (Morton). In order to lessen the grip of American culture on the related but certainly not identical nation of Canada, the American comic ban came to fruition (Foster). This governmental act not only allowed for an economic opportunity, albeit a naive one in the long run, but held the microphone to the lips of Canadian authors and artists, giving them a chance for their voices to be heard across the country. This chance gave life to the curiously ordinary Canadian hero. Ordinary insofar as the supernatural abilities of other comic heroes prevalent in the American market were non-existent in the vast majority of their Canadian counterparts. They were, however, extraordinary in their unique representation of Canadian ideals and values.

 

ACKNOWLEDGING PREVALENT IDEOLOGIES

In order to encapsulate the contextually important belief system of the time, the term “ideology” helps us to discuss “the way comics reflect various social and cultural beliefs in a given society” (Berger 377). It is evident within the “Canadian Whites” that the ideology, specifically about a citizen’s role, works as an assumed, universal belief by the heroes and fellow characters. Most often this means that there is a promotion of certain ideologies that have already been proven to be important in Canadian society or in other words it is about: “reproduc[ing] the status quo,” which in effect makes the comic “an instrument for mainstream ideological reproduction … [one of the] tools of indoctrination” (Mellor 122) (Pineda and Jimenez-Varea 1157). To be asserting these ideologies as nationally held was unquestionably a product of the war-time heightened desire to find unity and strong relations on every level of life. Its implication was that a wide audience experienced this decisive stance and were in some way affected in their beliefs. This is something that Caswell argues when he describes the comic as both resulting from and adding to the narrative about the society from which it is birthed (219). From understanding the larger context of Canadian pressures during WWII, we must seek to explore the consequence on the Canadian comic hero, what Beaty calls “a hero who had no superhuman powers” also known as the “Fighting Civil Servant” (430). The Canadian hero’s personality was not larger than life, but instead relatable and on most platforms, achievable.

 

CANADIAN COMMANDOS: THE HEROES

In the “Canadian Whites” comic collection, there are seven different types of comics produced and for the purposes of this study volume 16 of the Commando comics will be analyzed. There are distinctions to be made between the characters that populate the Commando comics but more significantly there are striking similarities between them. These similarities should be explained by the common traits of bravery, intelligence and good pilot skills. The traits are of course implications of the war time period, attested to by Beaty’s prescription of the comic hero being best “understood” through the examination of the ideology prevalent during their creation (428). Furthermore these specific traits add to the likelihood that the characters could be not only the heroes of the story but also that these representations of good Canadian character were attainable for the reader themselves, which was importantly not only suggested but encouraged.

 

In this volume the first enticement of being a hero is when there is an implicit acknowledgement of brotherhood and friendship in becoming a soldier. The Canadian soldier is the occupation most conducive with the aforementioned traits. This sense of brotherhood between soldiers is established best when the text utilizes common ground language. In the story “Clift Steele and the Island of Floating Death” the two Canadian soldiers refer to each other as “fella” and “brother,” which indicates a shared understanding, relationship and experience (Dorian 4). This is a recurring instance in many of the stories. Although this exploration may seem to lean towards discovering propagandistic tactics of persuasion for nationalistic agendas, I would insist that this is a different case. Despite promoting many of the same messages that government propaganda of the wartime typically would, propaganda is not meant to “foment enthusiasm or assent” (Skylar). This comic book very clearly incites enthusiasm and is implying desirability in terms of the conditions of a soldier’s life. The propagandistic feel of the text occurs simply from the inevitable leakage of ideology into the fictional heroes’ behaviours.

 

Further to this point of being inviting to the reader, the text addresses its audience’s present state of youth in terms of ability and maturity by how it presents its advertisements. In the commercial for “a barrel-body chariot,” “microscope made from a spool” and “pair of stirrups” the products are advertised as “both safe and comfortable,” which seems at curious odds with the idea of a brave, heroic Canadian (R.S. 16). The fact is that the comic acts as an invitation to the youthful reader. The invitation says: we know you are only young children right now, but we want to teach you how to be like these heroes, so begin here with safe learning and then aspire to be brave, intelligent and great pilots.

 

A comic page depicting children playing with a barrel-body chariot, microscope and stirrups.
R.S. Panel from “Fun For You ‘Shades of Ben Hur’.” Commando Comics, no. 16, March 1945, p. 16. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

 

Then the comic moves towards the next step, providing a more tangible motive to do these hard things. In the story “The Young Commandos” it is apparent that one action can lead to a specific reward. This is developed when the main character describes how his older brother “knocks down zeros” and then “gets medals and gals” (Lazare 11). Essentially, if you do this brave act then you get rewarded with the prominent desires of fame and love. The tale even ends with the reaffirming line: “That’s the story…and it only shows how brave the lads in our armed forces are!!!” (Lazare 15). This takes the hero character one step further to be inclusive of necessary participation in the armed forces and this is implied again to be the place most suitable for doing the heroic actions and then receiving the ideal rewards.

 

A comic page depicting a plane fight and the Canadians ultimately blowing up their enemy's plane and ammo.
Jerry Lazare. Panel from “The Young Commandos.” Commando Comics, no. 16, March 1945, p. 15. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

 

In an expansion of the possible actions, the stories each work to outline different methods for achieving the same heroic status. For instance in “Ace Bradley Again” the hero is known for “seizing the moment” while in “Lank the Yank” the hero becomes intelligent and creative with weapon making when noticing a boot that is “not dainty but definitely useful” (Thomson 22) (Brunt 25). In “Wings Over the Atlantic” the hero “keeps a sharp look-out” and “tries to stop” the enemy and similarly, in “Professor Punk” the hero tries “to solve the problem” as hard as he can (Andre 27) (Brunt 46). There are countless more defining actions of heroes in each of the comic stories. Evidently the greatest gift that the superpower-less hero gives its readers is the picture of reality that comes across as less sensational than American heroes but is really the best way to “attempt to bolster the morale” (Weigel). If the superheroes of Canadian comics were not “essentially hatless Mounties out of their scarlet tunics,” but instead supernatural, entirely fictional characters then the outcome would be far less potent for inspiration, potentially even ineffectual (Kocmarek). In a time of great horror plausible optimism seems to be the comic book’s answer to the unsure nation.

 

THE READERSHIP AND PROLIFERATION OF COMIC HERO MESSAGES

After consideration of the traits that the comic heroes ascribe to, it is important to establish the likely impact on its readers. Knowing that the “Canadian Whites” heroes were “based on the real life exploits [of Canadian heroes] … [and that] most of their characters and stories had Canadian backgrounds and connections,” it becomes a reaffirmation and further repetition of the things that one must do to become great (Kocmarek). The audience was largely males ages eight to twelve who were born into a time of distress and would naturally be motivated and interested in solving the problems that they faced daily (Foster). The messages that were conveyed by the portrayal of the Canadian hero were doable things that a child could hold onto. It was also a means to negotiate the role that they saw their nation playing in the conflict.

 

For adults war was interpreted through news that was circulated. In a Toronto Daily Star article from 1944 a soldier is described with the utmost admiration for his heroic actions that saved lives because of his bravery in the face of fear (“Canadian Hero of Ortona”). This was celebrated because Canadians desperately needed something to be hopeful about. The heroes were discussed at length because they were meant to inspire people to do the tough things that humans are tempted to shy away from.

 

The young men who read comics were likewise establishing themselves in a narrative. While they knew the hardships of war, they did not have much information on the state of the conflict, in fact: “The comics provided that young audience, which did not read newspapers … with probably their only source of information on the war” (Kocmarek). With little real information the comic book audience may have been subjected to a “clever way of sugaring an ideological pill,” but they inevitably also gained hope from those heroes who did not seem quite so far away from their reality (Mellor 123). These arguably goofy, short comic stories were a way to give “interpretive agency to the reader (an empowerment perhaps especially important to readers in the liminal state of adolescence)” and one that could very well have made all the difference in a choice between mediocrity and heroism (Hatfield and Svonkin 433). These comic book heroes were role models that gave unique hope to their avid readers.

 

 

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

Continue reading The Relatable Hero: The Inception, Impact and Novelty of the Canadian Comic Hero During World War II in Commando Comics No. 16

Comics for Creativity: Why Comics Should Have a Place in Art and Literary History

Introduction

Many art historians have deemed comics to be amongst the lowest form of art or simply not art at all. However, by turning comics away from the world of high art, literature and academic study, there are many opportunities for learning and creativity that are missed. Through integrating a close reading of WOW Comics issue 3, into a history of why comics aren’t considered art, how comics have similar movements to art history, the hybrid nature of comics and Roy Lichtenstein’s use of comics for creativity, I will raise the question as to why comics aren’t considered art and what opportunities are missed as literary and artistic thinkers by discluding comics from our discourses and serious history.

Comics Aren’t Art – Critics and Art History

In Bart Beaty’s book “Comics versus Art”, Beaty raises a point about Clement Greenberg’s critical approach to comics. Greenberg is a famous modernist art critic and Beaty summarizes his critique of comics by saying that “comics as among the lowest forms of debases and industrialized pseudo-culture” (20). Beaty goes on to explain that similar to many art critics’ problems with new movements in art history, comics are being disregarded in the same way. Beaty highlights that critics see comics as a medium that does not evolve from any practices in art that came priory to it (20-21).

With this understanding of how comics have been perceived throughout art history, Beaty raises an argument towards the way people look at comics as destructive. Rather than seeing comics as literature or art, Beaty argues that comics should be understood as a hybrid art form (21). A hybrid art form, when concerning comics, is the working relationship of images and text that make up the whole of any comic (Witek 34). With understanding that hybrid art forms are created by the merging of multiple different inspirations, ideas and mediums, it makes them extremely hard to categories. It is important to enter the discussion of comics by keeping in mind their hybrid nature. Within the hybrid form that comics present themselves, it is also important to remember that, unlike other forms of high art or literature, comics are printed cheaply and by masses.

However, by keeping the nature of comics in mind their placement in the world of literature and art becomes extremely important. With the marrying of both text and images, comics form the delicate line between the world of visual and literary arts. By focusing on the ideas that are open for expression through the hybrid nature of comics, their less academic appearance becomes irrelevant. Diving into the hybrid nature of comics, the printing process and consumer quality that fills up most of WOW Comics and many other comics coming out of World War One, will become less important. While their value in history, their relationship between visual and literary qualities, and the overall wealth acquired from looking at comics as art will become apparent.

Art and History – World History and Movements Within Comics  

When looking at comics as art, it is important to document that most comics that are being created surrounding a war, WOW Comics included, are almost always focused on the war occurring. With this recurrence of war within comic, a connection can be made between the goals of many famous painters and writers that include war in their works of art. This framework of seeing comics like other works of art, as a way to document history and/or movements in a society, help us to understand their artistic and historic value.

In Sabin Roger’s book Comics, Comix, & Graphic Novels, there is an outline of the movements in comics that occurred to fill a new motif. Here Roger describes action comics and their newly found way of artistic expression: “the name of the game was bold, figurative art with strong colours. In terms of content, the emphasis was again on simplicity: the heroic derring-do found in the pulps was perfect” (57). This shows how a movement within a comic books changes how the artists met new demands in their medium. This happens in action and hero comics, like WOW Comics where there is a demanded to draw more attention onto the hero and their call to action. This shift in relation to motif and visual representation proves that, like many other movements in art history, artist within comics are looking at past ways of dealing with medium and remodeling it to fit the ideas they want to share.

This demand for comic book artists to shape their work to fit the story line of action heroes, is also a challenge that they faced when drawing comics for World War One. Sabin Roger explains that in Britain, the First World War created a new demand for artistic representation within comics. “Artistically speaking, the genre made new demands on comics (54). Invariably, the style would have to be ‘realistic’ in order to carry the story, and this required a new attention to detail”(57). What Rogers speaks to in this quote, is not only the adaptation the comic must undergo to match the subject matter, but the hybrid relationship that all comics carry. The hybrid relationship is the marriage of the realistic images needed to coincide within the new storyline of World War One.

Showing that by understanding the comics’ way of shaping the artists format to match the subject matter and working between the relationship of imagery and subject to convey a coherent message reveals that comics should be recognized in art history.This hybrid relationship of the marriage between a comics media and visual representation is shown

A three panel of Dart fighting with shipmates.
Figure 1. E.T. Legault. Panel from “Dart Daring.” WOW Comics, No. 3, December 1941, p. 9. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

in WOW Comics Issue 3. Shown in figure 1 on page 9 of “Dart Daring’s” action packed fight, the medium is being used to convey meaning. The viewer’s eyes automatically go to the middle panel, where the gutters are being used to draw tension onto to Dart’s relentless fight. This overt feeling of tension being placed on the main character is drawn into full force by the use of medium to convey a message.

The Hybrid – Scout McCloud and the Lines between Art and Comics

While understanding the complex hybrid nature of art, it is important to look into Scott McCloud’s rich understanding of the comic’s place within high art. McCloud explains that movements in art, like Modernism, Expressionism, Dada and Surrealism, made their way into being ‘art’ the same way comics did – by the balance of “appearance and meaning”. While comics have a hybrid balance of words and images, they take on the birth that many  famous works in art history have (144-149). In further relation to the language in art and comics, McCloud expands on the expressionist use of line in relation to comics. McCloud explains that late nineteenth century artists such as Much and Van Gogh, worked with line as a way to express deep meaning, meaning that can also be found in comics (122-125). Although the comics use of line might not be as vibrant as one of Van Gogh’s night skies, it does mean that comics lack expression within their use of line or colour. It might mean that the comic is expressing something more calm and simple.

Dart is draw in a page containing three triangle panels. In panel one, Dart sits shirtless on his boat staring into panel two. In panel two Dart holds onto his lover while staring at the viewer. In panel three Dart holds his lover while knelling before a latter leading to a ship.
Figure 2. E.T. Legault. Panel from “Dart Daring.” WOW Comics, No. 3, December 1941, p. 2. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

This use of line as expression can also be found in WOW Comics Issue 3, when “Dart Daring” is show in a three piece triangular panel in the first section of his spread. Seen in figure 2, this early introduction to Dart is important as it requires the viewer to see him as an important character in their first encounter. Line is used here, like the expressionist, to render tremendous meaning. In its most obvious way the three panels are broken up by harsh lines, placing Dart in an altarpiece of panels. In panel one the reader makes their way from the horizontal lined waves that are forced into corners, arriving at Dart creating a line with his  body, leaning towards the next panel. As he looks onto himself in panel two,  he guides the viewer’s eyes. While the last panel uses line to create literal distance and give Dart, the only rounded figure in the panel, a chance to break free from the daunting lines of the boat and the adventure that lies ahead.

By recognizing how comics use line in a subconscious way, it can become clear how they hold as much meaning in relation to the way famous artist use line.  Continuing with McCloud’s comparison of high art to comics, he explains that “the father of the modern comic in many ways is Rodolphe Topffer” (120),  revealing that his cartooning and use of panel explores a combination of pictures and words. This made him a contributor to the understanding of comics. According to McCloud, Topffer was a master and creator of a form that was “both and neither” text and image (122). All of these recurring ideas that flow between high art and comics should be taken into consideration when understanding that these two art forms function similarly and should be treated as such.

Pop Art – Roy Lichtenstein, High Art and Comics for Creativity

When you combine high art and comics, you get Roy Lichtenstein, “being one of the best known pop artists of the 1960’s to use comics and cartoons as source material for their work” (Greenville 228). In order to understand the comics place in high art and academia, it is vital to understand how Lichtenstein took hold of the medium for an artist message. By diving into Lichtenstein’s goal of using comics in his art, we can come to a conclusion on why we should learn from Lichtenstein and use comics for creativity.

In Bruce Greenville’s book KRAZY! Roy Lichtenstein’s rendering of the comic is presented in full force, by Greenville saying that “Lichtenstein’s genius lay(s) in his ability to grasp the most compelling elements of comic composition and bring them forward for scrutiny”(Greenville 228). This quote acknowledges Lichtenstein’s tribute to comics. He also used comics to his advantage by working with a strong understand of the new visual culture that was emerging at the time. He used a medium as a vessel to express his artistic message (288), as many great artist of the past have. This use of medium in relation to message within high art is an idea that takes place in comics as well. In Rublowsky’s book Pop Art, he highlights Lichtenstein’s interest in comics and their mechanical creator, the separation within the comics that comes from the lack of viewing the artist’s hand (1-2). Here, there is specific definition of what Lichtenstein found so intriguing about comics.  

Continuing with a greater understanding of what Roy Lichtenstein was trying to achieve by using comics as a medium, it becomes clear that we should be following in his footsteps and use comics for our own artistic and literary expression. In Michael Lobel’s book Image Duplicator, there is an explanation of how art historians disapproval of Lichtenstein’s work allows for a deeper insight into the academic use of comics. The explanation states, “I think it is fair to say that art history as a discipline has tended to view realist painting of any period as if they were nothing more than accurate transcriptions of reality outside themselves” (Lobel 14). Lobel expands by using an art historians critic of Liechtenstein to his advantage saying, “I want to treat Fried’s components in much the same way Lichtenstein treated printed images: I will appropriate and strategically reuse them for my own purpose” (Lobel 15). By combining Lichtenstein’s use of comics for an artistic message and Lobel’s tactical way of turning art historians critique of Liechtenstein to fit his project, it is clear that the same should be done with comics. By looking at comics as artistic expression or a vessel in which artists (like Lichtenstein) can be inspired, their space within art history and academic study allows for more opportunities of creativity and learning.   

Conclusion

The evidence that comics belong in academic and creative discourse is overwhelming. The risk in not including this hybrid art form that is comics into the world of art and literary history allows for current gaps to form in creativity and learning. By understanding a critical reading of WOW Comics issue 3, the historical view of comics as ‘false art’, how comics work within movements similar to art history, the hybrid art of comics and the inspiring way in which Roy Lichtenstein’s uses comics for creativity, academic and creative thinkers must be called to re-evaluate comics as valuable components of our past and future history.


Work Cited

Legault, E.T. “Dart Daring”. WOW Comics,Volume 1, No. 3, December 1941, p. 2-9. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.  

Beaty, Bart. Comics Versus Art . University of Toronto Press, 2012. Toronto, Canada.

Greenville, Bruce,  et al. KRAZY!: The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art. Vancouver Art Gallery,University of California Press, 2008. Vancouver, B.C.

Lobel, Michael. Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art. Yale University Press, 2002. New Haven.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: the Invisible Art. Harper Perennial 1994. 1st edition. New York, N.Y.

Rublowsky, John and Ken Heyman. Pop Art. Basic Books, 1965.  New York, N.Y.

Sabin, Roger. Comics, Comix, & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art. Phaidon Press Limited, 1996. London.

Witek, Joseph. Comic Books as History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar. University Press of Mississippi, 1989.


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 Humour of Joke Comics Issue 21

© Copyright 2017 Alexandra McAuley-Biasi, Ryerson University

 

Introduction

The Canadian Whites Joke Comics issue 21 presents a selection of humour-centric comics that utilize different comedic themes that were popular in the 1940s to create entertainment for their targeted viewers that not only provided a break from the stress of the World War II lifestyle, but also connected them with a nostalgic comedy that many people of the time grew up with. Canadian comedy at the time developed very closely with the changing trends in North American popular culture, adapting the main themes of humour that were popular at the time (Wise). Joke Comics 21 encompasses varying comic story lines with different forms of humour, one particular recurring trend being the theme of stupidity as a main comedic source. This was a very prominent theme in so many different forms of comedy during the 1900s with the development of comedy films, and groups such as The Three Stooges. These varying joke comics take well known themes, such as stupidity, that were prominent in the popular comedy acts of the time and present them in a format that provides a break from the harshness of life during World War II.

 

Popular Comedy in the 1900s

The popularity of humour derived from stupidity was at a high point while Joke Comics 21 was released, especially with the advancements of comedy films that took place a few years prior. Comedic films had been introduced into society a few decades before the start of World War II, setting a base for comedy that adapted over the years with evolving comedic styles and groups. For example, groups such as The Three Stooges were at a peak in popularity during the war. Some of their most famous works were films created and released during World War II, including the films You Nazty Spy! and I’ll Never Heil Again. The Stooges’ main form of comedy, known as low comedy, was generated through the stupidity and the pain of others (Fink 46). Low comedy mainly focuses on physical humour rather than clever dialogue, utilizing the slapstick form of comedy, while also presenting the lower uneducated class as a comedic source by making the audiences laugh at the characters’ acts of overt stupidity (Fink 45-6). This low comedy, slapstick style violence present in many of The Stooges’ work constantly reflected the evident low intelligence of the characters, demonstrating a correlation between the film humour of the time and the humour presented in Joke Comics 21. For example, in the “Spike N’ Mike” comic in Joke Comics 21, the characters Spike and Mike are presented as extremely dumb and naive characters that accidentally thwart the evil Zootari’s plans to kill them continuously over the course of the comic. Their idiotic actions, fuelled by their evident stupidity, result in overtly physical slapstick style incidences (Saakel). “Spike N’ Mike,” as well as many of the other comics in Joke Comics 21, could be seen as low key adaptations of some of the most popular comedic elements at the time. This is done by taking what had already proven to be popular forms of comedy and presenting them in a format that was accessible for the targeted viewers. This mimicking of famous comedy films and groups like The Three Stooges could have acted as a way to draw in audiences while also providing a sense of comfort through familiar entertainment that was present before World War II began.

 

Slapstick Comedy

Slapstick is a form of comedy that physicalizes the idea of humour through stupidity, reproducing mental idiocy into a ridiculously physical aspect. Its creation opened up the target audience considering its physicality could reach people of any language and age. The origin of slapstick comedy is traced back to the Canadian-born American, Mack Sennett, who created the Keystone film company which grew into a major production company that created some of the most iconic comedy films of the early 1900s. Sennett represents a milestone in the comedy industry, introducing a completely new style of comedy, and exposing audiences to comedy icons such as Charlie Chaplin (Wise). Influencing much of the comedy that was present during World War II, his slapstick style was seen in not only the Joke Comics, but also in traveling comedy groups that were employed by the Canadian Army to visit army camps. The Army Show specifically, being written and produced by the Canadian comedy duo Wayne and Shuster, used a combination of different comedic styles including slapstick to bring entertainment to soldiers fighting for their country (Dougall). Wayne and Shuster’s Army Show started out as a radio show that quickly shifted into a traveling stage show, starting in Canada and eventually traveling through Europe. This transition was made because of the more personal connection live comedy creates between comedian and audience member. Proximity enhances the feeling that each audience member is in on the joke and more engaged with the comedy, also allowing the comedian to use live slapstick styles in a way that connects with the audience more than it would over film (Brodie 153). While Joke Comics 21 reverted back to a more separated connection between comedian and audience, its mix of illustrations and text allowed the slapstick style to be mimicked in a more accessible format.

 

Superiority Theory

One panel from "Private Stuff" depicting how the character is illustrated with his tongue sticking out
Ted Steef. Page from “Private Stuff.” Joke Comics. No. 21, August 1945, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, p. 5.

Superiority Theory is a humour theory that links closely to slapstick comedy, which is a big part of Joke Comics issue 21. Slapstick comedy is extremely prevalent in the comics, as many characters of the comics use overtly physical movements in a manner that make their actions seem ridiculous. Most of the time the purpose of slapstick comedy is to conjure humour from the misfortunes of others, turning violence into something ridiculous and, therefore, entertaining. However, there are many theories, including Superiority Theory, surrounding Slapstick comedy and why it is such a popular form of humour, especially during the early twentieth century. Violence is a big part of the Superiority Theory, suggesting that people feel better when they see that others are in worse situations than they are (Casper 583). This theory could be connected to why many of the comics in Joke Comics 21 represent characters in such a judgemental light. For example, the character of “Private Stuff” is frequently represented throughout the comic as unintelligent and lower class. This is done not only through his speech but also through the way he is illustrated with his tongue always sticking out and his eyes frequently looking off in different directions, as well as through the slapstick elements of his actions (Steef). This presentation of Private Stuff could be meant to make the readers feel superior to the character, allowing readers to derive pleasure from the contrast between Private Stuff and themselves. However, what is interesting about this portrayal of Private Stuff is that he is set up to be seen as a hero by the readers. He is a soldier who succeeds in protecting his military camp from Nazis who are plotting to blow it up. Even if the means by which he does protect it are slapstick and unorthodox, there is no doubt that he is meant to be a hero. This fact challenges the Superiority Theory because most children are meant to look up to the heroes of their comic, not laugh at their stupidity. It is possible that during the time of its publication this comic was meant to produce a hero figure that children do not look up to, but one that they believe they are better than. This comic functions in line with the Superiority Theory to the extent that it makes the reader feel better about themselves, but also conjures the idea that if Private Stuff can be a hero, anyone can. This would have been an important message to spread to children during World War II, acting as a confidence boost for readers by suggesting that they are just as capable of defeating their own enemies.

 

 

Relief Theory

Relief Theory is a humour theory that explores the idea that laughter releases nervous energy to lessen the viewer’s anxiety, which can be connected to the slapstick humour presented in Joke Comics 21 (Fink 50). The main aspect of slapstick comedy that contributes to its ability to produce laughter from its viewers is the presentation of a disconnect between violence and pain. The viewers find it funny because they know that the characters are not actually in pain. Slapstick characters are presented with an almost immunity to pain, and even if it seems they feel it at first the viewers know there will be no lasting effects (Casper 581). This suggests that it is not pain in general that creates laughter, but the absurdness of the absence of pain from violence. The viewers feel free to laugh at these absurd instances because they have no fear that the characters are actually in harm’s way (585). This disconnect between violence and its lasting effects could be an aspect of why the depiction of ridiculous slapstick violence was so popular during World War II. While there was obviously a large amount of very real violence in the world during the war, the illusion that violence produces laughter rather than pain might have functioned as a source of relief for readers. Relief Theory emphasizes the notion of what has been described as “laughable inauthenticity,” where the limits of human reality are pushed to such a ridiculous stage that the viewers are able to laugh at human kind in general (Casper 596). The relief of seeing a world where certain violent actions do not have consequences was probably very appealing during the time of the war, creating a context for viewers to find humour in not just the characters, but also themselves. The Relief Theory’s suggestion that the level of humour a viewer derives from comedic material has a connection to the viewer’s level of anxiety could also present an understanding why the slapstick humour of these comics was so appealing to stressed viewers at the time. This idea would have given children the context and material to disconnect themselves from the very real horror of life during wartime and let their anxiety out through laughter (Fink 50).

 

Ethnic Humour

One panel from "Jinx" depicting the strange disproportional illustrations of the character
Thomas. Page from “Jinx.” Joke Comics. No. 21, August 1945, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, p. 49.

While slapstick comedy is a representation of stupidity in a physical form, uneducated characters are also represented throughout the comics through their speech, actions and the way they are illustrated. One comic in particular in Joke Comics 21 attempts to utilize ethnic humour by representing the Inuit ethnicity in a generalized uneducated manner. Assigning an entire ethnic group a very universal quality, such as stupidity, as a way to judge and ridicule them in what is meant to be a humorous light is an aspect of ethnic humour that is constantly used in different comedic forms (Takovski 128). However, the fact that this trait assigned to the chosen ethic group is so universal and has no connection at all to said group, ends up creating a boundary between those who are making the jokes and those who the jokes are about. Rather than laughing with the targeted group, the viewers are laughing at them which connects to the previously discussed idea of Superiority Theory, used most often to make one culture seem superior to the other by targeting stereotypes associated with the culture (Takovski 132-3). For example, in the comic “Jinx” found in Joke Comics 21, the characters representing the Inuit culture are illustrated in a strangely disproportional way and their speech is written in a jagged fashion that implies their whole culture is uneducated and uncivilized. They are portrayed living in igloos and frequently around polar bears (Thomas). These stereotype based jokes mixed with the assignment of the universal quality of stupidity, which is the most common trait that is applied to different cultures in ethnic humour, creates a group of people that viewers can separate themselves from and look down on (Takovski 135). This could have been used to generate the desired humour, while also working as a confidence boost for the viewers as they feel themselves to be superior to those they are laughing at. Often the trait of stupidity in ethnic humour is assigned to a culture that seems unusual or uncivilized to the central populace, or to nearby ethnic groups who share land or the same cultural background (135). This could suggest that along with utilizing the functions of Superiority Theory, these comics were meant to use ethnic humour as a way of showing the evolution of the country, suggesting that the society of the time was much better and more civilized than those who the jokes are targeting. Although Joke Comics 21 uses ethnic humour in a racist way that demeans an entire culture by presenting it in a negatively untrue light, during the hard times of World War II this could have functioned as a way of providing a humorous and confidently superior feeling to the viewers.

 

Conclusion

Although the humour that is used in the comics of Joke Comics issue 21 seems rather outdated and unsatisfying to present society, at the time of its publication these comics were designed in a way that provided comfort to its audience. It uses well known comedic forms of the past, such as stupidity, to create a nostalgic comfort that worked to remind its readers of a time before World War II. It also engages with many different humour theories, suggesting that each comedic element of the comics were shaped in different ways to satisfy their targeted audience. While most of the comics present ideas of racism, disappointing jokes and unneeded violence, the readers of the time could have instead derived from the comics a much needed escape from wartime with appropriated feelings of confidence, nostalgia and relief.

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