Imagine you are riding in a bus in the middle of summer. It is hot, stuffy, and you are starting to sweat. Would you not wish for the air-conditioning to be turned on? I will be looking at how air-conditioning is represented in the comic “Buz and His Bus” by Harry Brunt from Commando Comics: No. 18 pg 1-3, why it is represented that way, and what that representation does to the readers.
“Bus and His Bus”
The comic starts out with a bus driver named Buz. He is excited about the new air-conditioning that was installed in his bus, and tells his passengers to keep the windows closed. The passengers comply and Buz starts to drive the bus, driving by a sign that says “Stop ‘b.o.’ with pew-boy soap.” (2). During the ride, one passenger takes out his lunch, which happens to be a garlic. The smell fills the bus and the passengers and Buz express their displeasure towards the odour. The passengers are having trouble breathing, but still, Buz drives on. Just when things could not get any worse, a skunk happens to cross the road at the wrong time. Buz accidentally runs over the skunk with his bus and everything goes wrong. The smell slowly drafts into the bus and mixes with the garlic odour. The passengers are suffocating and Buz no longer cares if the windows are closed or not. They are desperate for fresh air. They punch and kick the windows until they can breathe again. Buz brings the bus to a stop and he and the passengers catch their breaths. One passenger half-jokingly asks Buz his opinion towards the air-conditioning, to which he replies, with a clothespin on his nose, “It stinks!” (5)
While reading this comic, I found it bizarre that they would introduce air-conditioning as this new and improved way to cool down only to put on such an elaborate show of its flaws. New inventions like this are quite helpful, so why would they go to such lengths to prove otherwise? I decided to do a bit of research to find out.
What I Found
It turns out that the answer is quite simple. It takes a lot of power to run an automobile air-conditioning system. In fact, “the overall diesel consumption of the engine will increase by 7%-38% when the vehicle’s A/C is operated” (Farrington, R.; Rugh, J., Impact of Vehicle Air-Conditioning on Fuel Economy, Tailpipe Emissions and Electric Vehicle Range: Preprint.). During WWll supplies such as food, gas, and rubber were precious. Many items were told to be saved in order to help contribute to the war effort. Fuel was one of them. Fuel was needed to help power military machines such as tanks and planes. To make sure there would be enough fuel for the war, fuel had to be preserved, starting with the home front. How was that fuel saved? By not driving unless needed, carpooling, and by, you guessed it, opening the windows instead of using the A/C.
How it relates
Going back to “Bus and His Bus”, it is clear why air-conditioning was shown in a negative way. Even though it was a groundbreaking invention, in vehicles it does use a large portion of the vehicle’s power and fuel to operate. During this time resources were slim and everything needed to be used in moderation. Fuel was needed for military purposes, so the common person had to compromise. How does this comic make its readers not use air-conditioning in their vehicles? By showing it in a negative light.
The sign on the road, the man with the garlic, the skunk, the excessive use of stink lines (Figure 1); all are tools that are used to create a situation in which the readers can imagine themselves in. Scent is a string sense and many are able to imagine and react to a scent from a description along. By having the garlic and the skunk in the comic, the readers are able to imaging just how terrible that bus smelt. If they were in that situation they would want fresh air too. The comic conditions the readers to associate vehicle air-conditioning with horrible odours, then offers an alternative: open windows. It tells the readers that it is not worth using the air-conditioning in a vehicle if the windows are going to eventually be opened anyways. If they just open the windows they be able to stay cool and breathe at the same time.
In “Bus and His Bus”, there is a strong emphasis on the shortcomings of air-conditioning. While it does cool you off, it does not allow you to open the windows in case the vehicle you are in starts to smell bad, The comic encourages its readers in a subtle and funny way to open the windows and contribute to the war effort by saving fuel.
After World War II, the media, specifically in the form of television and film, newspapers, and comics played a large role in contributing to Canadian society’s perception of minority races. Commando Comics, a war comic series, attempts to provide historically accurate information to readers on World War II from the perspective of Canadian soldiers. The sixteenth issue of Commando Comics (1945) contains negative representations of minority races and depicts the Canadian heroes and soldiers as superior. I will be analyzing the negative portrayal of Japanese individuals and touch on the representation of German individuals in Commando Comics by observing the impact of this representation on minority races and how this affected Canadian society’s treatment of them. Furthermore, I will analyze how the comic and other forms of Canadian media degraded other races to promote Canadians as superior. The sixteenth issue of Commando Comics “promotes nationalism” (Montgomery 19), as the Canadian heroes are not only presented as the “right side”, but minority races are degraded and portrayed as the “enemy”. The constant use of stereotypes in this comic, as well as other forms of media during and after the war, contributed to society’s negative and unjust outlook on individuals of Japanese descent.
Constant Use of Stereotypes
Commando Comics heavily discriminates and stereotypes Japanese and German individuals based on physical attributes and language. The comic’s use of stereotypes contributed to the unjust prejudice that the media already held against minority races. A pilot story in the issue, “Ace Bradley Again!”, contains problematic illustrations of Japanese soldiers. As seen in Fig. 1, the soldiers are drawn with slanted eyes and protruding teeth, which are stereotypes that were and still are made about individuals of Japanese descent. These stereotypes were heavily used in other anti-Japanese stories in the comic, as well as other forms of media at the time.
The sixteenth issue also uses stereotypes in terms of language. In “Wings Over the Atlantic”, the dialogue of the German soldier is written in broken English and the character is given a stereotypical accent; for example, “I vill be safe and den ha-ha-ha, ve vill see if dey vill catch him,” (Andre 27). In this dialogue, the “w” is replaced with a “v” and the “th” is replaced with a “d” to give the character a stereotypical German accent. There is also an issue with the way that the Japanese language is represented. In “Lank The Yank”, a soldier says “Have bombs ready yesss?” (Brunt 24). This was done deliberately, to make it seem like the character is speaking in broken English once again. Furthermore, the dialogue of the Japanese soldiers is written in Japanese characters. In Fig 2, the word “censored” is under the soldier’s dialogue, to show that the soldier is cursing. The Japanese letters and soldier’s broken English are used to create a language barrier between the Canadian and Japanese individuals, in an attempt from the Canadians to try and differentiate themselves from the Japanese soldiers. In addition to this, the comic gives the Japanese language a negative connotation, as each time the Japanese letters are used, the soldiers are supposed to be swearing or insulting the Canadian soldiers.
During my research, I found that many of the characters in the Canadian Whites comics are given stereotypes; not only classics such as JohnnyCanuck and Nelvana of the Northern Lights, but in CommandoComics as well. The Canadian characters are stereotyped, however, the stereotypes seem to be positive and based off of well-known “Canadian stereotypes”, in contrast to the negative stereotypes that the comic uses for characters of minority races. The Canadian soldiers are given traits such as striving for peace and avoiding violence; for example, in “The Young Commandos”, a soldier says, “it only goes to show how brave the lads in our armed forces are,” (Lazare 15) to enforce the idea of the brave Canadian hero. However, the Japanese soldiers are given traits, such as being dangerous or violent and are portrayed as the antagonists. The use of stereotypes is a theme throughout Canadian comics and characters, however, there is a clear difference in how the stereotypes are used; this difference is clearly based off of race. The idea that the Canadian soldiers are brave and fighting for justice is constantly reinforced, as is that Japan is “the enemy”.
Discrimination and Use of Derogatory Words
As war topics and violent content “dominated the mass media” (Montgomery 20) during the war, Commando Comics also contains racial slurs and explicit violence against minority races, specifically Japanese individuals.
Throughout the entire issue, the Japanese soldiers are referred to as “nips” or “Japs” by the Canadian soldiers, which are derogatory terms. In “Clift Steele and the Island of Floating Death”, Clift says, “those nips’ll blow us to bits in a minute!” (Dariam 6). In “Lank The Yank”, Lank refers to the soldiers as “these Jap jerks” (Brunt 25). These are just a few of the numerous times that racial slurs are used against Japanese soldiers in the comic. These terms are extremely offensive, as they are derogatory abbreviations being used as an insult and are a sign of disrespect.
In addition to racial slurs, the sixteenth issue of CommandoComics also discriminates against the Japanese soldiers in terms of skin colour. In “Ace Bradley Again!”, a soldier refers to the Japanese soldiers as “little yellow rats” (Thomson 20), which is extremely offensive. Furthermore, in “The Young Commandos”, Chuck, a Canadian soldier, does not want to fight and is called a coward by his fellow soldiers. His superior says, “You can’t turn yellow on me now!” (Lazare 13), which is a clear reference to skin colour once again. Moreover, the Canadian soldiers are using the phrase “turning yellow” (Lazare 13) to call Chuck a coward, which means they are referring to the Japanese soldiers as cowards.
Impact on Japanese Individuals
As a result of the unjust representation of Japanese individuals in the media and following World War II, Japanese families in British Columbia, many of which were Japanese Canadians, were forced into internment camps by the Canadian government. There was heavy racism expressed against Japanese individuals at the time, between 1942 and 1949, and they were unfairly denied of their rights. A substantial amount of Japanese families lost their homes and finances to the government, and were forced to move to the unpopulated areas of British Columbia. Although racism against Japanese individuals was mostly occurring in the west coast, it was present all throughout Canada. This racism was fuelled by World War II, as well as the news of the Pearl Harbour attack. The Japanese Canadians that tried to protest for their rights were sent to prisons. As a result of Canada’s actions towards the Japanese Canadians, the idea that individuals of Japanese descent were dangerous was promoted, therefore causing many people in society to be fearful and untrusting of them. Approximately forty years later, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau apologized for the unjustified treatment of Japanese individuals that occurred during the wartime period (Marsh 1), however, it truly could not compensate for the suffering that Japanese Canadians endured.
An accurate representation of what Japanese Canadians experienced can be interpreted from Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan, which tells her story of being forced into an internment camp and being “separated from her family” (Davis 60). The most interesting aspect of this novel is that it depicts a side of Canada that many readers might not be accustomed to, as Canada is often known as a multicultural society that is accepting of everyone. This novel provides insight on what Canada was like during and after World War II and analyzes how the transition to a multicultural society has allowed individuals to be ignorant of the fact that racism still exists in Canada to this day.
Impact on Minority Races
During and after the war, the treatment of minority races was influenced by the way they were portrayed in the media. During this time, different forms of media, including comics, were promoting the idea that individuals of minority races were dangerous. This negatively impacted many aspects of their lives, such as employment opportunities and exclusion from jobs, and immigration restrictions. Many Canadians believed that minority groups were “undeserving” (Partias 10) of certain rights, such as voting. As there was constant “suspicion of foreigners” (Partias 15), many employers and workplaces’ racist views were accepted by those in higher power because society, as a whole, had an inaccurate outlook on minority groups. After the second war, many Canadians displayed uneasiness towards Japanese individuals, which resulted in unfair treatment and scrutiny. Although a vast majority of these individuals were Japanese Canadians, this factor was overlooked as the public was persuaded by the media’s representations, making them untrusting towards other races. The media played a large role in this as television, newspapers and comics constantly labelled Japan as the “enemy”. According to Partias’ observation, individuals of minority groups were only hired for jobs that were short of workers and that most Canadians avoided; in most cases, these jobs were low-paying and required hard labour.
The negative portrayal and representation of minority races in this comic as well as other forms of media were used to uplift Canadian heroes and promote the Canadian race as superior. In “Representations of War and Peace in High School History Textbooks”, Montgomery discusses his analysis on how Canadian textbooks promote nationalism and present the information in textbooks as fact and truth. Similar to Montgomery’s theory, the comic promotes Canadian soldiers as the right side who are “fighting for a better world” (Montgomery 20) and portrays Japanese individuals as the antagonists; the comic presents these ideas as if they are facts and the truth. This strategy that many forms of Canadian texts seem to use can shape the reader’s perspective of minority races and overall, Canada’s outlook on minority races.
Throughout the comic, there is clear prejudice against minority races, and these representations in the comic and other forms of media attempt to portray these races as inferior. Although individuals in society held their own misconceptions about individuals of other races, the media, Commando Comics included, also promoted these negative ideas about minority races. The sixteenth issue of CommandoComics not only heavily stereotypes Japanese individuals, but also degrades them in order to portray Canadians as superior.
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.
Around the world, comic books have always been of interest to children and adults. Over time, the interests of readers change and comics must consequently change to adapt to those shifting ideas. Comics have altered through time not just because of the interests of the readers however, they will change also due to pressures of war. While comic books today are much different than those of the era of the Second World War, Canadian comics do still exist. However, after close examination and analysis of comics from the war period, it is clear that they have progressed since these were created. This essay will create an analysis of a set of comics found in Commando Comics issue fifteen. The comics in this issue of Commando Comics promote the comic ideas of Canadians during the Second World War in a way that allows for the humour to be interpreted in a number of ways. These ideas fall on a spectrum of being racist for the sake of humour, for the purpose of being beneficial to eradicate racism or politically driven. These humour ideals encompass racism through comics titled “Whoop-Um” and “Th’Chief” by Frank Keith. This essay seeks to research the way the comics are racist by critically examining those in question. Furthermore, the way in which the comics are beneficial will be explored as comics have positive outcomes to acknowledge the racism in society. Finally, the comics will be studied to highlight the political reasons for creating racism in comics.
History of Canadian Comics During World War Two
Prior to World War Two, Canadian children were highly invested in the comic books from the United States. These comics ranged in topics and genres that enticed kids and were hugely popular. Once World War Two had started comic books were considered non-essential goods. Non-essential goods were then banned from being imported to Canada. The status of being non-essential meant that comics would no longer enter Canada from the US beginning in 1940 (Beaty 429). With the lack of American comics but a huge demand for them, Canadian companies such as Bell Features and Anglo-American publishing created comics within Canada. These comics have come to be known as Canadian Whites, with the name largely referencing the black and white pages in the comic books, unlike the four coloured American comics. These comics, like their American counterparts, featured multiple genres and characters (Beaty 429). The comics produced during the World War Two period are better known as comics from the Golden Age of Comic Books.
Racism in the Comics
Featured in Commando Comics issue fifteen, there are two humour comics that are racist. The first comic, “Whoop-Um” by Frank Keith, features a story of an Indigenous chief going around a town or city while being followed by other Indigenous men making comments of what they see. The comments the other men make are riddled with improper grammar and spelling. “Whoop-Um” perpetuates the stereotypical ideas of Indigenous peoples through the comments that the Indigenous men make. One instance of the stereotypes is seen when one of the other Indigenous men says, “I see th’Chief’s out of th’dog-house – he smokum pipe of peace with um squaw” (Keith 16). By using improper grammar and spelling mistakes, Keith is giving the idea to the reader that Indigenous people are not as smart as them because they are unable to speak in a proper and coheistant sentence. Portraying the speech of the Indigenous people as incorrect, Keith provides evidence to Canada’s discrimination against Indigenous people. Including the bad grammar in the comic, it shows that Keith, and possibly many others, would have believed this sort of mocking as justified and comedic.
The other racist comic that is being examined is “Th’Chief” by Frank Keith. “Th’Chief” features a story of an Indigenous man going to a shote and buying a baby carriage for his wife to push their baby, instead of carrying it on her back. When he gives the carriage to her, she ties both the carriage and the baby on her back, completely missing the point of the carriage itself. Unlike the last comic, “Th’Chief” features less talking amongst the Indigenous characters as they mainly only say “ugh,” except when “Th’Chief” is in the store (Keith 17). This comic also portrays Indigenous people as incompetent because of the storyline itself. Keith’s storyline of the Indigenous mother not understanding what to do with a baby carriage portrays the mother, and other Indigenous people, as unintelligent. In making “Th’Chief” a humour comic, it gives the reader a chance to laugh at the incompetence of the Indigenous peoples, supporting the idea that Canadians during the World War Two period enjoyed jokes that had racist undertones.
Similarly in “Whoop-Um” as well, Keith portrays the Indigenous characters in an exaggerated way in his drawings. The characters in Keith’s comics are drawn with large noses that take up the majority of their faces. The white characters in both stories are not drawn with any exaggerated features besides roundness and fullness in their faces. The Indigenous characters are also always seen in blankets and headdresses, while the white people are always in regular everyday clothes (Keith 16-17). These stark contrasts in the portrayals of the two different groups of people show that the society felt this way as well, that they are not the same or equal. By creating a large divide between white and Indigenous people, it portrays society’s belief that the separation between these two groups was humorous because of the caricatures.
Racism in Canadian Culture
The racism seen in the two comics reflect the cultural ideas of Canadian society during the Second World War period. One of the biggest and most well known acts of racism against the Indigenous population was residential schools. Residential schools were institutions for Indigenous children who were placed there against their will. Residential schools started in the 1800s and ended in the 1980s. The schools sought to assimilate the Indigenous population with the rest of Canadian society. Residential schools were government run but were poorly funded, proving the lack of compassion of the society. Many children faced hardships and abuse while at the schools (Gulliver 79). These schools were specifically designed to make Indigenous people behave as white Canadians do. In Keith’s comics, the Indigenous characters are seen in the white town, pushing the idea of assimilating them. The character goes to shops and buys different things they may not need, like the baby carriage, in hopes that it promotes assimilation. Gulliver also explains in his article that white families brought Indigenous children into their homes to teach them how to behave like white people during the 1960s (Gulliver 82). While the Second World War was before the 1960s, it is plausible that these ideas were circulating in the minds of Canadians during the war period. As seen in Keith’s comics, he portrays the white and the Indigenous people to be very different in the way they look and act. This portrayal of Indigenous people gives evidence of the racist thinking in Canada.
This idea also connects to the humour aspect of the comics. With this way of thinking about the two different populations, white Canadians could have found the difference between themselves and the Indigenous people to be laughable. The caricature portrayals do not resemble how any person looks, but it is possible to think that that is how people thought Indigenous people looked, thus, making fun of them. In Jean Lee Cole’s article examining early portrayals of blacks in comics, they bring up important questions about black caricatures that can be related to the caricatures of Indigenous people in Keith’s comics. Cole asks, “Is caricature a way of representing the unknown and feared, as was the case for many whites?” (376). These questions can help to unpack the way Indigenous peoples were seen during this period. To answer the first question, white Canadians may have felt as though Indigenous people were one to be feared because of their long lived stereotype of being “savage.” White people in Canada may be fearing that, like the Germans and Italians who are fighting Canada, Indigenous people could do the same. Something that jumps out of “Whoop-Um” is that the Indigenous men do mention a tomahawk and that the Chief forgot it (Keith 16). The way this was implied is that Indigenous men always carry their tomahawk around and ready to fight, inciting fear into the Canadians who are reading this comic. Turing cultural anxieties into comedic relief serve a strong purpose as it means that the white Canadians who read these comics, will realize their fears are irrational.
To answer the second question posed by Cole is: “Or is it an imposition, a representation that dictates how one is seen?” (376). Cole explains that caricatures are “a site for the enactment of double consciousness,” giving someone the feeling that their identity is divided (376). She states that these ideas are “intentionally invoked by comics artists” (Cole 376). Keith could have been trying to demonstrate an idea similar to what Cole found. Keith’s comics do give an imposition of how someone else will see Indigenous people. A child who reads these comics will be influenced to believe the stereotypes that Keith put forward. The racism used to make the comic funny to a child makes it possible that they will connect their feelings towards the comic to how they see Indigenous people. This comic will then negativity impact how children see Indigenous people.
Racism in these comics do not elicit a beneficial outcome; however, the work of Jill E. Twark brings up countering ideas centering on racism in humour. Twark’s article examines how humour in contemporary controversial times can be used to help create a lasting memory of what happened during the period. The creation of racist jokes can be explained because of wanting to make a lasting impression. One of the examples given by Twark is a comic surrounding colonization in Africa. While it is a horribly dark humour comic, Twark believes that it “pack[s] a powerful emotional punch” (178). Keith could have been trying to use the “powerful emotional punch” in his comics as he would have been aware of the discrimination towards Indigenous people. Keith’s comics are memorable and may have made racist jokes to allow people to remember the subject matter and realize the problems within the situation. There is little material on Frank Keith so it is hard to say what race he was and his ideologies surrounding race. It is unfair to say he was making caricatures just to make fun of the Indigenous people, as he may have been trying to shed light unto the unfair inequality between the Indigenous and white people.
The final topic of discussion is the idea surrounding racist and immoral jokes can be found funny by various people. Scott Woodcock uses the idea of comic immoralism to understand when a joke that is seen as immoral may or may not be considered funny. Woodcock explains that “there are surely some jokes with offensive enough content that it detracts from their ability to amuse,” but with the right balance of immoralism, the offensive bits may help to give the joke more humour (203). Jokes that do contain immoral and degrading content are often seen as not clever and most of the time not funny. However, even with this idea in mind, immoral jokes can “exhibit sufficient wit to create humour without help from their immoral features” (Woodcock 204). Keith’s comics may have been attractive to people at the time because of their immorality. While every person has a different opinion on what they believe is funny, immorality in humour does not always equate not humorous. Keith may have added the racist speech of the Indigenous people in the comics to add a little more comic immorality to push the reader into thinking the joke pages were funny. Keith’s portrayal of racist jokes could have been what Canadians found to be funny during this war period as something to distract them from the atrocities happening in the world. It is not a definite answer but since Keith was not using the war in either of his comics, he could have known that the Canadians did not want to laugh about the war. Canadians wanted something else to laugh at to distract them from the horrible events of the war.
In conclusion, it is clear that there is racism in the fifteenth issue of Commando Comics regarding Indigenous people. The comics that were analyzed were both humour comics and encompassed racist undertones about Indigenous people. By examining these comics and using the works of other scholars, it is clear that these comics in one way or another were reflective of the Canadian society’s views on humour. As it is unknown of the true meaning behind Keith’s portrayal of racism in his comics, one can speculate multiple reasonings. His reasons could have been from a hatred for Indigenous people, influenced by the racism in Canada leading up to and during the period of World War Two; in order to shed light on the horrible treatment the Indigenous people were receiving at this time; or because the immoral jokes were something the Canadian population thought was funny to help distract from the horrors of war.
Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, October 2006, pp. 427-436. ProQuest, doi:10.1080/02722010609481401.
Cole, Jean Lee. “Laughing Sam and Krazy Kats: The Black Comic Sensibility.” Canadian Review of American Studies, vol. 47, no. 3, 2017, pp. 373-402. Project MUSE, https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/677488.
Gulliver, Trevor. “Canada the Redeemer and Denials of Racism.” Critical Discourse Studies, vol. 15, no. 1, 2018, pp.68-86. Taylor & Francis Online, doi:10.1080/17405904.2017.1360192.
Keith, Frank. “Th’Chief.” Commando Comics, no. 15, January 1945, pp. 17. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
Keith, Frank. “Whoop-Um.” Commando Comics, no. 15, January 1945, pp. 16. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
Twark, Jill E. “Approaching History as Cultural Memory Through Humour, Satire, Comics and Graphic Novels.” Contemporary European History, vol. 26, no. 1, February 2017, pp. 175-187. ProQuest, doi:10.1017/S0960777316000345.
Woodcock, Scott. “Comic Immoralism and Relatively Funny Jokes.” Journal of Applied Philosophy, vol. 32, no. 2, May 2015, pp. 203-216. Wiley Online, doi:10.1111/japp.12084.
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.
@ Copyright 2017 Puebla Ponciano, Alicia, Ryerson University
In this exhibit I will examine the representation of women and Japanese figures separately through several of the stories in the entire thirteenth issue of Commando Comics (1942). The last story in the issue, “Invisible Commando,” has the only woman to take action and fight throughout the comic but was still only as an helper to the men. I will compare the representation of women through the story to the way women were treated within society at the same time to see what societal stereotypes there were for women and why they were used in the comic and what they were used to do.I also relate this to the racist representation of the Japanese in the first story of the issue “Clift Steele” and compare the minorities in the comics to the way they were perceived in society. Studying these two portrayals of women and Japanese figures in reality in the 1940’s, will give insight to why the comics depicted them in ways that made them secondary to a white male hero. While going through the comic and studying the way these two figures are represented it rises the question of why the illustrators depict these groups in ways that suppress them. By targeting the white male demographic authors were able to market to the patriarchical ideology of society and capitalize on fear and machoism to encourage the white male to join the war and buy comics. They used women as tools that could support them and make it possible to leave the home front and manipulated the fear of the Japanese to create a hatred and encourage them to fight in the front lines.
How women were depicted.
In the storyline for“Invisible Commando” there is an interesting portrayal of women as the
only woman featured within the story was a woman who helped the Invisible Commando as she was able to throw a knife across a yard and hit the evil Japanese scientist. This is the only storyline to have a female actually make any productive actions or given any sort of power. By studying this storyline I have noticed that the women representation was powerful and great since she stopped the man trying to take the knowledge of what makes the invisible man invisible but overall she did not save the story, she did not save the day but rather was a helper for the Invisible Commando being able to save the day. She did not save the story but rather enabled the hero so he could save the day which shows the ideology about women being inferior that the illustrator is trying to represent. The portrayal of women in the comic showed that women mattered but not as much as men did.
Women on the home front.
By doing some more research I found that women on the home front where being used in a similar manner to the woman in the Invisible Commando story. Many women during the second world war were asked to leave their duties as a house wife and rather work on the home front making ammunition or taking the jobs that they could that would allow the men to leave their stations and join the fighting front in Europe. Once the war was close to an ending the government began to have a problem as women did better than expected on the field (Globe and Mail 1942) and many of them did not want to go back to work, as 91% of women were open to find employment after the war(Stephen, 129). They were given the opportunity for more freedom and independence in the work field and many women did not want to give it up. This is relevant because the government had planned to put men back to work once they returned from the war. This shows the value of women in the eyes of the government and how they were expected to be accessories that could be used while the men where out in the field and placed back home once the war finished.
By analyzing propaganda distributed at the time audiences can see how women were portrayed as important enough to be valued but not as important as the male. Men were the protectors and women needed protecting but while they were away women were left to do the work on the home front in a time where there was no other option. This poster that encourages women to join the fight on the home front while visually suppressing them to the bottom of the ranks. This portrays the ideology that society had about women at the time and proves that they were looked at as secondary to men despite their efforts to contribute to the war.
Overall by analyzing the social stance of women at the time of the publication of the comic I have noticed that the characters are representations of the reality of women at the time. The creators where trying to replicate the way women were expected to be in a white mans ideology. At the time the government was not done trying to recruit for the war. This acts as a subtle hint to the white man demographic that was needed to convince the men that the women would be there to support them while they were needed to stop the real enemy, similar to the comic where the female was strong enough to help out but only as a supporting role.
The depiction of Japanese characters in the comic.
By studying the first story of the issue called “Clift Steele”, where the Japanese enemies
were characterized in a racist manner and the “heroes” of the story used derogatory terms towards them. I noticed that although it made sense to create a negative connotation around the enemy the creators instead used the physical attributes of the Japanese to degrade which acts as an insult to not only the Japanese axis that the allies were actually fighting but to the Japanese -Canadians who where not involved in the war at all. In the comic the “heroes”regard the Japanese as the “Yellow Boys” and “Nips” and this creates a physical mockery of the characters. I believe these were used in order to create a hatred of Japanese people in the mind of the readers . The illustrators also depict the Japanese characters in a manner that is negative as they have more curved spines and walk with a hunch that makes them look smaller and like less than the heroes to creates an image of an enemy.
Japanese-Canadians on the home front.
Upon more research into the reality of the Japanese Canadians there has been records of Japanese Canadians being forced to live in internment camps so they could not pose a threat to Canadians within Canada. Many and most of these people were Canadian citizens and many had never even been to Japan (McAllister, 137). The conditions in the internment camps were terrible and they were treated as less than human(McAllister, 143) as they were expected to leave behind their whole life because they were a threat based on their physical attributes. The government claimed that it was an act to keep the people safe but there is a possibility that it was because they wanted to maintain the idea of us versus them in order to encourage the radicalness that would get more people to join the war, if Japanese Canadians were joining the war the white male dominated community would act out of fear and hatred because of who they are supposed to be fighting and end up hurting or killing their own neighbours. At the time the white male liked fighting in one unit that all looked the same because they believed that they could trust each other so in order to keep this unity the government segregated the Japanese Canadians and claimed it was for protection.
Overall the Japanese -Canadians were depicted in a manner that created a negative connotation around their physical attributes which created a fear and hatred towards all being who shared those attributes. In order to create unity within the nation the government pushed out all those who could be seen as the enemy into internment camps to protect their “own” and make them believe they needed to be the heroes like in the storyline and fight off the “evil” Japanese.
The ideology of the white male dominated society during the second world war
At the time of the second world war the world was not as open as it is today in 2018, society saw things in a much more slanted view and had a supreme ideology about the white man as they were the only ones with full rights. Women had barely just earned the right to vote and Japanese Canadians were being locked away. The ideology at the time was that the white men held all the possibility in the world and controlled all the decisions. They decided if there would be a war, who would be in that war and how they could help and luckily in the second world war the boundaries opened up a bit in regards to gender and race but the white man still held the most power in the world. This relates to the comic as during the war the targeted audience was the white male and in order to reach that demographic they follow their ideologies, like the degrading of the Japanese and the use of women in order to hit their market. If they can hit their market then they can make more money and encourage more of the white men to join the war as they were who was wanted to fight the axis .
How the comics creators used methods to pull on the ideology of the targeted demographic
By playing on the white males ideologies they were able to use their own techniques in order to appeal to the market and get them to read more. They capitalized on their fear of the Japanese to create an enemy that they could defeat in the comic and make them feel more secure. They also capitalized on their dependability on women to ensure the men that they could leave and the women would take care of the home front until they get back. They drew the Japanese specifically to look weaker then the “heroes” of the story intentionally to add to their egos and make them more confident in themselves and their capabilities . While they also drew the female in the “Invisible Commando” in a demeaning form as she was essentially wearing a bra and a mini skirt on a battle field, they did this to create intrigue with the character and make the market more comfortable with her character as she was beautiful and works well as assisting them with their needs.
Bachle, Leo. “The invisible Commando.” Commando Comics,no. 2, March, 1942, pp. 43-48. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada
Darian, Jon. “Clift Steele.” Commando Comics,no. 2, March, 1942, pp. 1-7. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada
“Huge Increase in Gun Output Here, Women Workers’ Skill Amaze M.P.’s.” Globe and Mail, 11 June 1942.
McAllister, Kirsten. “Photographs of a Japanese Canadian Internment Camp: Mourning Loss and Invoking a Future.” Visual Studies, vol. 21, no. 2, 2006, pp. 133–56.
Rogers, Hubert. Attack on All Fronts. 1943, https://www.warmuseum.ca/collections/arti fact/1019736/q=&page_num=1&item_num=0&media_irn=5399483&mode=artifact. Canadian War Museum.
Stephen, Jennifer A. “Balancing Equality for the Post-War Woman: Demobilising Canada’s Women Workers After World War Two.” Atlantis, vol. 32, no. 1, 2007, pp. 125–35.
Images in this online exhibition are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.
Commando Comics is a comic series printed from 1942-1946 with a dominant war theme shown throughout most, if not all, of the stories. Commando Comics were the final of the Bell Features’ comic series. These comics are part of a collection called the Canadian Whites produced by Bell Features, a comic publishing company (Kocmarek 155). The front and back covers are produced in colour while the rest of the book is all in black and white. These comics were sold for $0.10 at the time they were printed, but today are worth significantly more than that due to how difficult they are to find in readable condition.
In November 1944, volume 14 was printed and it is no exception to the war theme. There are 12 different black and white stories within the 48 pages all based around the war. Different individuals write a majority of the stories, and all contain different plots that always relate back to war.
Contextualizing The Comic in Daily Life
The CommandoComics were written during World War Two, this could explain the reason the comics were completely war-themed (Kocmarek 155). Adolescents and pre-adolescents of the time read these comics. The readers would have learned about the war through the different stories (Kocmarek 156). Although they were fictional, they still provided an insight to what it would have been like for the Canadian soldiers fighting against the enemies (Kocmarek 156). The comics were seen as the only source of information about war for the young age group because the newspapers were for an older audience, and television was no accessible as it is for the youth of today (Kocmarek 156-157).
The stories and characters would have been seen as very interesting to the youth because the war took place in a foreign place and contained storylines of violence and sabotage (Kocmarek 157). However, it could have provided the youth with hope because the Canadians in the stories were always successful in their missions. This could have caused the youth to have stronger beliefs in what the Canadian soldiers despite the stories being fictitious. The Commando Comics were an important source of information for the younger generations during the time of war, because the medium they were presented in was easily accessible and easily understood (Kocmarek 156). These comics became the primary source of information about Canadian soldiers and the war for the youth.
World War Two Background Information
World War Two lasted from 1939 to 1945. The Second World War was an entirely new battlefield for many Canadian soldiers. It was different climate and terrain than what most of them had ever experienced (Sumner 53). The Canadians along with the British and Americans were a part of the Allies, which is the side that ended up winning the war. The Allies were battling against the Axis, which was the side of the Germans, and the Japanese. This war used many different types of battle including surface ships and U-boats, and air warfare (Sumner 54, 57). The armies, navies, and air forces were the three different types of soldiers found on each side in the war (Sumner 57). The civilian and military intelligence organizations had to work hard to ensure that they could fulfill the needs of these three groups. It was very important for the military to know how to position their soldiers in order to win the war (Sumner 62). In the end, the Allies planning and decisions seem to have been effective because they are the ones who won World War Two.
Can Comics Train Soldiers?
In October of 1940, there was a newspaper article released in the Toronto Telegram called “Ottawa’s “Comic Capers” and Compulsory Service” about how comics were briefly used as way of training soldiers. The idea behind this was that the comics would have glorified the war instead of showing the harsh and brutal conditions the soldiers would be facing. This was supposed to appeal to young Canadians before beginning their 30 grueling days of preparing to defend Canada (Ottawa’s “Comic Capers”). However, this idea was not well received. It was seen as childish and offensive to recruits who were more intelligent and did not fit into the young Canadian demographic (Ottawa’s “Comic Capers”). However, it was soon decided that comics should be used as a form of entertainment where soldiers can be featured rather than a form of training for the soldiers who are going to go to war.
Soldiers in the Commando Comics
Every story is related to war whether it is soldiers fighting the Japanese, soldiers fighting the Germans, or a proposed idea for war success. There is always war, and with war comes soldiers. The Canadian soldiers portrayed in Commando Comics are always the stronger and smarter ones, and this always leads them to victory. Although, different artists draw the soldiers they have a lot of similarities.
The soldiers are all very masculine, young men in their mid-twenties who are well groomed, and basically the ideal soldier (Cord 50). The soldiers are always capable of getting themselves out of whatever trouble they are in, even when it seems impossible. The soldiers are drawn and presented in a way that positions them as smarter than the enemy and able to defeat them.
The image shown is from the opening image of “Invisible Commando” by Leo Bachle. Without explanation, or relevance to the rest of the storyline, the soldier is pictured shirtless. He is not only shirtless, but his muscles are well defined and he can be perceived as almost “Hulk-like”. He is extremely well groomed for someone who is at war with his helmet falling off his head revealing almost perfectly styled hair. He is holding a very large gun and aiming it out of the frame presumptively at an enemy. He looks like an ideal solider, and almost all the other soldiers are drawn with similar characteristics (most are wearing shirts, though).
The Real Soldiers of World War Two
Canadian soldiers in World War Two looked much different than the soldiers presented in the comic books. Advertisements for the army included a man who looked to be about 25 years old dressed in full uniform (Hayes and Goodlet 46). This man has on shined boots along with spurs and jodhpurs, a tailed jacket with a belt over his right shoulder complete with a tightly knotted tie (Hayes and Goodlet 45). This is supposed to be what the ideal and most masculine soldier was to look like. The Canadian soldier was encouraged to always wear a proper uniform (Hayes and Goodlet 59). Realistically he wore what he could in order to survive the harsh conditions. A shirtless existence would not suffice.
Masculinity is something that was almost enforced in the Canadian army during World War Two. The soldiers were meant to be as tough and “manly” as they possibly could be in order to be the best soldiers that they could be.
The soldiers in the Canadian army were typically around mid-twenties, making them more likely to be young and carefree. They were carefree because when they enlisted, many had no dependents (Grace 341). The more experienced soldiers had three or four years of service, but lack experience in civilian life. A lot of the soldiers did not have a lot of education due to other priorities in their lives furthered by the fact that they were unable to access education or the poverty in some areas (Grace 341). The soldiers were not very connected with the current events of that time as they had little access to newspapers. The men were instead taught about different part of Canada, which provided them with more information about their country and places in it that they had not been to (Grace 342). This kept them busy while educating them about their homeland.
The image shown depicts a Canadian soldier holding a large gun. He is said to be a Canadian paratrooper of the 1st Parachute Battalion, one of the first Canadians to land in France (Canada Alive!). He is wearing a full uniform, with a helmet on his head, and is not well groomed. Compared to the soldier presented in the Commando Comics, he looks prepared for war.
Many popular superheroes today came from American comic books, such as “Batman”, “Superman”, and the “Green Lantern” (Cord 28). However, these were not the only hero type seen in comics. Soldiers were viewed as heroes in many comic books, including American ones. Many of the American comics, similar to the Canadian ones had the main characters (soldiers) fighting and winning against various countries that were a part of the Axis. The comic soldiers lived easy lives where every situation had a doable solution despite the fact they were supposed to be living in a warzone.
The comics allowed everyone to feel as though they were a part of war through the stories being told. The comics were seen as truth, allowing children to identify different aspects of the war such as the weapons, uniforms, and language (Cord 48). The men were drawn as what one might the ideal soldier to look like complete with “handsome chiselled features, broad shoulders, and a superior knowledge of science and technology” (Cord 50). This is a very specific way that the soldiers were drawn, and is applicable to the Canadian comic soldiers as well.
Comic Soldiers versus Canadian Soldiers
The main difference between the comic soldiers and real soldiers seems to be the way that they look physically. Comic soldiers are always very muscular, well groomed, and not always dressed in the most war appropriate clothing (Cord 50). The Canadian soldiers do not have to be muscular, but they must be well trained. They are not as well groomed because it is real life war and looking the best that they can was definitely not a priority. They were dressed in ways that someone who is fighting a war should be. They tended to have the appropriate gear and weapons that they would need to survive as long as possible.
A similarity between the two types of soldiers is how they were perceived as masculine and manly. This was something that was highlighted not only in the comics, but also through many different types of media concerning Canadian soldiers. Soldiers seem to have been described simultaneous as soldiers and masculine (Shaw 24). No soldiers were described as weak or scrawny despite the unavoidable fact there were definitely some who were not as masculine as others. Masculinity seems to have been not only important to the comic soldiers, but also very important to the real Canadian soldiers.
The Commando Comics portray soldiers in a very specific way, even though all are drawn differently. The main idea of the soldier stays the same. They are muscular, handsome, smart, young men. They are the ideal people who one would have wanted to be protecting their country. The soldiers are usually holding weapons and come with an infallible plan about how to defeat the enemy. They are wearing significantly less gear and protection than they should be during war, but that usually does not matter since they do not get injured. The soldiers in the comics can be seen as the perfect soldier.
When the comic soldier is compared to the real Canadian soldier, the differences and similarities are obvious. However, both type of soldier (comic and real) can be seen as heroes in society. The soldiers in the comics always beat the enemy or save someone in distress. Real soldiers are fighting for Canada and freedom. It is important to understand the difference between the two soldiers because one is a reality while the other is not. The comic readers were almost being led to believe that Canadian soldiers were undefeatable, yet in reality they lived in harsh conditions and were fighting for their lives. The comics seem to show the soldiers going through minimal struggles to win, and always having the perfect equipment. World War Two was nothing like this; it was hard work and a lot of it. Although, the comics were aimed at the youth, it would still be beneficial for them to understand how hard the Canadian soldiers were working, and that it was not as easy as it is portrayed in the Commando Comics.
Soldiers are important to the comics and even more important to Canada. Through looking at the comic and real soldiers, they can both be seen to be significant to Canadian society. Without the comic soldiers, the contemporary youth would not have been able to learn about World War Two and how hard it was and how vital soldiers were to it. Without real soldiers, there would be nobody protecting Canada or keeping the peace, as Canadian soldiers are typically known to do. Soldiers show how their role in society is one that needs to be appreciated and understood through everything that they are able to accomplish through their enlistment or through their comic stories.
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.
A Canadian paratrooper of the 1st Parachute Battalion. These 600 men were the first Canadians to land in France on the night of June 5-6. 84 were killed. Canada Alive! Juno Beach, 5 June 2014. Photo. https://canadaalive.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/juno-beach/. Accessed 23 March 2017.
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. Accessed 23 March 2017.
Hayes, Geoffrey. & Goodlet, Kirk. W. “Exploring Masculinity in the Canadian Army Officer Corps, 1939-45.” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes, vol. 48 no. 2, 2014, pp. 40-69. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/553724. Accessed 23 March 2017.
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. 148–65. Project Muse, https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/611725/pdf. Accessed 23 March 2017.
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.
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.
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.
When one thinks of comic books, what almost immediately comes to mind are children. Cheaply made, with storylines of superheroes and “funnies”, intellectual adults are rarely associated with such trivialities. However, if one were to analyze a comic book more closely, much can be revealed about the creators, readers, and society during the time of production. This information can be revealed not only from the narrative of the comics, but also from the visual styles and illustrations throughout a comic collection as a whole. When looking at Canada’s comic book collection, specifically those produced in the 1940s, it is apparent that comic books can also be seen as war memories. WWII was a turbulent time for Canada as well as the comic book industry, which ultimately led to the birth of the “First Age of Canadian Comics” after Canadian parliament declared the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) which restricted American comic books from being imported into Canada (Kocmarek 148-149). These Canadian Whites–named for being printed in mostly black and white–focused on Canadian superheroes and content. In Issue 13 of Bell Features’ Commando Comics (1944), one of the Canadian Whites, the main focus of each feature is the war against the Nazis and the Japanese. The celebrated “superheroes” are regular Canadian soldiers, rather than individuals with superpowers. Each feature is written and designed by various creators and the visual styles are all vastly different; however, their underlying themes appear to remain the same. Upon closer examination of the two features in Commando Comics Issue 13, “The Young Commandos” by Jerry Lazare and “Professor Punk” by Harry Brunt, it can be seen that different visual and illustrative styles are used to convey meaning to readers through the way the stories appear on the page. Although “The Young Commandos” is drawn in a more realistic visual style and “Professor Punk” is drawn in a humorous cartoon style, messages of propaganda can be deciphered from each feature both overtly, as well as through closer examination of the subtext revealed through the images.
Illustrative Elements Speak Louder Than Words
There are many visual styles and elements employed in the design of comic books that shape the meaning of the images that surround the narrative. Sometimes images are presented on their own without text, which provides a direct and bold statement to the reader. In comic books, the use of design elements such as page layout, panel shape and size, arrangement, and page placement contribute to the pacing of the narrative, which ultimately evokes tension and emotions through each scene (Jakaitis and Wurtz 211). For example, larger panels will draw a reader’s eyes quicker than smaller panels, oddly shaped panels will stand out as important, action that bleeds through the gutter from one panel to the next will create a feeling of fast paced anxiety or action that cannot be contained, and actions that are drawn out across multiple panels in moment to moment action sequences will prolong the tension of a scene. In reaction to war themed comics, these illustrative displays grow to be very meaningful. The manipulation of the combination of images and text imparts different value systems–here referring to political beliefs–and can create propaganda within the illustrative content both overtly and covertly (Jakaitis and Wurtz 130). This idea of comic book illustrative style as propaganda is evident in both “The Young Commandos” and “Professor Punk”.
The Film Noir Style and Canadian Attitudes in “The Young Commandos”
“The Young Commandos” (TYC) is a short, continuing feature that focuses on a group of young soldiers who work together to capture a Nazi spy who they then use to also trick and capture his Nazi leader (Lazare 14-19). This feature appears as the third sequence in the issue, and when compared to other features within the comic, it can be seen that TYC has a very distinct visual style.
This six page feature is drawn in a realistic, Film Noir storyboard style and includes different scenes and angles that would typically be used in movies. If referring to Figure 1, some visual film techniques such as close ups of faces, chase sequences spanning multiple panels with different angles of a car, and medium shots of static action such as dialogue can be seen. The feature is drawn in a complex story layout in which the panels are all different sizes and arranged in changing layouts on each page, such as in Figure 1. Throughout the feature, the action from one frame will even bleed through the gutter (the space in between frames) and extend into the next frame. This can be seen in Figure 1 in both the fifth panel where the villain’s leg extends past the gutter back into the fourth panel, and in the seventh panel where one of the Young Commando’s arm extends across the gutter into the next panel. Here readers experience a sense of urgency in the action which is too grand to be contained in a single frame.
The Film Noir visual style is an important aspect to note in its use in TYC since it emerged as a prominent film genre in the 1940s at the same time Bell Features began to make the Canadian Whites (Conrad 1). Film Noir makes use of dark, negative space and plays with lighting to create interesting shadows that change the intensity and mood of each scene (Conrad 2-3). In Figure 1, we can see this technique of dark, negative space being employed, especially in the close-up panels as a way of heightening tension and the emotion of the character in the panel. Film Noir also deals heavily with themes of disorientation, alienation, pessimism, and a rejection of traditional ideas about morality (Conrad 7). These are the same attitudes that were commonly felt and broadcasted by the Canadian population during the Second World War. This is further highlighted in an article from The Globe and Mail on December 4, 1941, when B. A. Trestrail, president of the Canadian Radio Corporation, announced that 90% of Canadian attitudes toward the war were those of complete detachment and apathy (Globe and Mail 4). The article ends as a call to arms for Canadians to show more interest and exert more effort toward the war, a message that is also evident in TYC.
“The Young Commandos” as Propaganda
True to the Film Noir style, all of the frames in TYC contain a lot of black, negative space which creates drama within the images. We also see characters’ faces shadowed in different ways depending on the tone of the scene. The images themselves; however, are very heroic which is in conflict and a direct rejection of the typical film noir style. In Figure 1, for example, we see our Canadian heroes engaging in a chase scene and gallantly pursuing their enemy, which makes them come across as very bold and determined, rather than apathetic and disassociated. The contrast between the valiant action in the feature and the Film Noir style is subconsciously hinting at readers that they too can rise above the pessimistic and apathetic attitudes and fight to be more heroic and patriotic. These characters aim to instill patriotism and build support on the home front during a time of crisis as well as aim to inspire children to want to fight for their country (Scott 54). Since TYC urges patriotism and heroism it can be read as a piece of propaganda. Here, propaganda refers to anything that attempts to influence the public’s opinion, as well as attempts to affect later behaviour, including actions toward the war. The purpose is not exactly to properly educate the population on events, but rather to change or solidify attitudes, behaviours, and ideologies (Seidman 414). If TYC is aiming to change Canadian attitudes toward the war and encouraging Canadians to be more patriotic and involved in the war effort, then it is in fact propaganda, but can the same be said for “Professor Punk”?
Action to Action: The Illustrative Style of “Professor Punk”
“Professor Punk” appears as the fourth feature in Issue 13, directly following TYC. We immediately see a drastic shift in visual styles. Rather than the realistic human facial features and film-like storyboard quality of the illustrative style in TYC, “Professor Punk” appears as a two-dimensional humorous cartoon. “Professor Punk” is a very short, two page feature that focuses on a crazy professor who is asked to create a new type of bomb for the war. He decides to fill bomb shells with termites instead of explosive material so the termites will eat Berlin to the ground rather than burn it (Brunt 20-21). Although this feature still focuses on the war, it is more comedic than TYC and has a much less serious tone. Also unlike TYC, all of the action in “Professor Punk” is contained within the panels without ever bleeding over the gutter into the next frame. As seen in Figure 2, the gutters in “Professor Punk” are much smaller than those in TYC which creates a feeling of less time passed between frames and less tension between actions. Figure 2 also displays the employment of the simple story layout technique through the ten panels that are all of the same shape and size, consisting of static, medium, or wide shots. The feature is free of action sequences that are prevalent in TYC. Each panel is simply drawn in a way that furthers the narrative in an action to action sequence, never lingering on or going back to any one action. In a visual style so different from that of Film Noir, can “Professor Punk” also be read as propaganda?
“Professor Punk” as Propaganda
The Canadian comic books that emerged during WWII were also used as a tool to enlighten younger or less educated readers about current and historical events (Scott 54). On the surface, this feature does not appear to be a piece of propaganda; however, once examined closer, elements of propaganda can be deciphered. While the feature is humorous and engaging, it also enlightens readers that there is a war going on and Berlin is one of the enemies. The lighter, less intense tone, as well as brighter images in comparison to TYC, makes the content easier for young readers to relate to since it is simplified. This can be seen in Figure 2 where the action of dropping bombs is contained in only one frame and the violent destruction that bombs usually cause is instead reduced to the less destructive image of termites eating away at Berlin. This drastically downplays the act of violent destruction. Oversimplification is a key factor for propaganda through the act of playing on the emotions of viewers and readers by presenting them with something visually appealing and easy to relate to or understand (Seidman 414). While “Professor Punk” is funny and engaging, it also contains serious images relating to the war, such as the subtle image of Hitler in panel one in Figure 2 (where his name is never actually stated) and the poster in Professor Punk’s office in panels three and ten urging readers to “Buy More Bonds” (Brunt 21-22). Subconsciously, readers are taking in this visual information and forming opinions of the war based on it; however, this form of propaganda can be useful. It is said that those who do not understand the past are doomed to repeat it. Comic books are an efficient way of disseminating a message to the relatively uninformed masses and the sooner history is instilled in the minds of children, even subconsciously, the better chance they have of correcting those wrongs in the future (Scott 16). Although the message in “Professor Punk” can also carry positive undertones, the feature can still be read as a propaganda piece.
While the Canadian Whites emerged as a response to the banning of American comic books, they were effectively able to provided young readers with entertainment as well as important information on the war through a medium that was easy to understand and relatable to younger readers. Through differing visual styles and the arrangement of images, both “The Young Commandos”and “Professor Punk” are effectively able to convey meaning to readers through the way the stories appear on the page. Although “The Young Commandos” is drawn in a more realistic visual style and “Professor Punk” is drawn in a humorous cartoon style, messages of propaganda are present in both features both overtly and covertly, ultimately suggesting that the Commando Comics were used as a way of influencing readers to be more patriotic and essentially want to fight to protect their country, just like their favourite heroes from The Canadian Whites.
Jakaitis, Jake, and James Wurtz. Crossing Boundaries in Graphic Narrative. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/ryerson/reader.action?docID=876782&ppg=220.
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, Mar. 2016, pp. 148-65. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/crc.2016.0008.
Lazare, Jerry. “The Young Commandos.” Commando Comics,no. 13, September, 1944, p. 14-19. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
Scott, Cord A. Comics and Conflict. Naval Institute Press, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=1577594.
Seidman, Steven A. “Studying Election Campaign Posters and Propaganda: What Can We Learn?” International Journal of Instructional Media, vol. 35, no. 4, Fall 2008, pp. 413-26. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=rpu_main&id=GALE%7CA273359031&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&authCount=1.
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