Tag Archives: Dixon of the Mounted

The “Noble Savage” Stereotype as a Political Tool in Active Comics, No. 11

© Copyright 2018 Mila Kulevska, Ryerson University

Introduction

The phenomenon of the “noble savage” stereotype emerged as a response to the crude and primitive depiction of Indigenous groups within literature. The common ethnic stereotyping that type-casted Indigenous characters as barbaric and savage-like in nature was a fundamental aspect of Indigenous representation; this was a widespread literary concept up until the 18th century (“Noble Savage: Literary Concept”). As a result, writers and philosophers attempted to counteract this discriminatory stereotype with another form of literary misrepresentation. The character of the “noble savage” symbolizes the purity and innate goodness of the Indigenous populace that has not been corrupted by westernized civilization (“Noble Savage: Literary Concept”). Although this phenomenon is viewed as inherently heroic, the stereotype is representative of the often superficial means that the Indigenous were exalted for. While with historical perspective it is evident that such racializations were romanticized and non-reflective of the Indigenous minorities they portrayed, these stereotypes were initially intended to steer public opinion and strengthen nationalistic pride. These nationalistic sentiments are exemplified within the character of Red in Active Comics, no. 11 (1943). Within both the issue and the story of “Dixon of the Mounted”, Red is the only Indigenous character depicted. His limited representation speaks volumes of the portrayal of Indigenous people within literature, as he is used sparingly and is characterized as inarticulate and simple-minded. Still, his role is ultimately heroic, and he helps the main character Corporal Dixon to capture a drug lord on Canada’s home front.

During a time when Canadian Indigenous people were mistreated and erased from the public eye, the role of Red as a protector is worth focusing upon. In the text, Red performs many noble deeds that are uncharacteristic of the Indigenous stereotype of the time. This creates a change in perspective and national identity relating to Indigenous populations and Canadians as a whole. Even though his role is a romanticized idealization, the stereotype of the “noble savage” strengthened the sense of unity in the country which was important to increase the low morale during the Second World War. Nevertheless, when a greater enemy, the axis powers, arose during the Second World War, unity within the country became more important than the prior racial tensions. Thus, in an attempt to unify the country, the media began to close the perceived gap between Indigenous people and the Caucasian majority. Although the “noble savage” idea was inaccurate and fabricated to be propaganda through literature, it promoted unification of the country while maintaining the disparity between the two groups.  


The wide distribution and appeal of the Bell Features comics fortified this depiction of Canadian identity within popular culture. The portrayal of heroic Indigenous characters was a means to build national pride. Thus, the literary idealization of the Indigenous populace and the use of the comic industry as a political tool will be studied to evaluate how these concepts were used to elevate the “noble savage” stereotype as more than just a romanticization, but also a nationalistic discourse to support the Canadian home front.

The Phenomenon of the “Noble Savage”

To begin, the “noble savage” is a fabricated concept to demote the Indigenous people to dim-witted, but inherently courageous and noble characters (“Noble Savage: Literary Concept”). Although this stereotype had ancient roots and had existed for centuries before, it reached unprecedented popularity in Canada during the 20th century. The billboards and tobacco figureheads of the time period demonstrate that the representation of the Indigenous populace of pre-Second World War Canada was akin to tokenism as a novelty item. In the public sphere, the Indigenous people were dehumanized and reduced to caricatures. This glorified stereotype which was deep-rooted in literature is no more evident than in the character of Red. The narrative of “Dixon of the Mounted” follows the protagonist Corporal Dixon on a mission set in Northern Ontario. The series issues a synopsis, which reveals that Dixon is investigating a marijuana drug ring on an Indigenous reserve. Throughout the storyline, comradery is established between Red and Corporal Dixon through multiple instances, as Red saves the Corporal and declares his subservience for the protagonist. Although Red is purposefully written by author René Kulbach as inarticulate, constantly referring to himself in

A page from "Dixon of the Mounted" showing Red saving Corporal Dixon after he is injured.
Fig. 1. René Kulbach. Page from “Dixon of the Mounted”.  Active Comics, no. 11, May 1943, p. 3. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

the third-person and speaking in broken-English, the trapper goes out of his way to aid the Corporal on his mission. An in-text narration in the third panel of Figure 1 reads: “The Indian finds his stunned friend and brings him to the sleigh to bandage his head” (3). This line perpetuates the derogatory portrayal of Indigenous within popular literature: the reference to Red as an “Indian” rather than referring to him by his name is a derogatory typecasting, further emphasized by the mention of Corporal Dixon as his “friend”. In essence, this compartmentalizes the larger issue of ethnic stereotyping by establishing a power dynamic between Red, as a good-natured “Indian” who would go to drastic measures to protect his country and his white Canadian “friend,” the Corporal. This dehumanization is an effective introduction to enlighten and open audiences to diversity by showing Indigenous characters in a non-malevolent manner. The valiance and courage of Red throughout the mission fortifies his role as a “noble savage” character. His actions in protecting his reserve and exposing the drug ring are ultimately recognized as home front efforts. In this manner, the “noble savage” stereotype is employed as a nuanced propaganda approach throughout the comic to inspire and coax the readership into engaging in the war effort.

The Political Climate for a Canadian Identity

The significance of the creation of an Indigenous ally such as Red cannot be rationalized without an understanding of the political landscape in which he was created. After trade restrictions led to a ban of American comics during the Second World War, the boom of the black-and-white “Canadian Whites” comics documented a shift in popular culture and development of a national identity (Bell “Comic Books”). The tribulations to build a consistent political ideology for Canadian citizens was notably challenged in the years leading up to the Second World War. As a result of several misleading propaganda campaigns enrolled by the United Nations, most of the Canadian war efforts were discredited within the public sphere. The lack of global recognition was infamously punctuated by the British Royal Army in a propaganda campaign that maintained the false beliefs that British efforts in the war were unaided and solitary, implying that Canadian war efforts were futile (Bumsted 291).

Lieutenant-Colonel J.F.R. Akehurst looks at Sergeant Tommy Prince's Military Medal, black and white.
Fig. 2. Christopher Woods. Lieutenant-Colonel J.F.R. Akehurst, Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion, First Special Service Force, Examines Sergeant Tommy Prince’s Military Medal, Which Was Awarded for “Distinguished and Gallant Service” at Anzio. Buckingham Palace, London, England, 12 February 1945, 1945, Faces of the Second World War Collection. Library and Archives Canada. Public Domain.

These publicized allegations were an under-acknowledgement of Canada’s substantial assistance and support of the allied forces, as they enlisted roughly 1.1 million soldiers, at least 6,000 of which were Indigenous minorities, including Sergeant Tommy Prince as seen in Figure 2 (Bumsted 291).  Regardless, there was significant advocacy for Canadian values, such as humility and responsibility, in attempts to raise troop morale. An emphasis on the underlying value of freedom and honour for the better of the collective community was a humble approach perpetuated as an integral aspect of Canadian values. This notion was also referenced by Bumsted as he notes that the Canadian populace served in the war with no “ulterior motives or expectations of advantage” (289). However, the overarching message of the Canadian propaganda differed from the tactics of the British Royal Army, which emphasized independence and dignity. Rather, the Canadian identity valued humility over dignity and the protection of allies for the greater common interest. These values are exemplified by the plot lines and heroes championed within the comics, who are framed by ideologies regarding compassion and servitude, which can be interpreted as humility (Grace and Hoffman 4). Following this manner, Red’s depiction reflects the core Canadian values that were being promoted at the time. For instance, Red is written patriotically in the way that he sees the merit in the Corporal’s needs above his own and lends his aid for the greater purpose of Canada’s protection. Red’s humbleness and devotion to the protection of his allies, as well as his nation’s common interest, capture the distinct Canadian identity values of the time in a manner that the comics could contrast from the British values. For that reason, Bell Features comics saturated literature through their popularity and availability, consistently perpetuating these Canadian values to strengthen the national identity. Thus, themes of Canadian patriotism became major selling-factors in the absence of the American comic books and solidified the industry as a cultural influence within literature.

The Ideal Wartime Civilian Populace

The concept of the “core notions of national membership” is investigated by authors Takeda and Williams by portraying how Canadians were expected to be an active participant in their country, particularly during the wartime (80). To be a member of one’s nation during the Second World War implied that citizens needed to be active participants in the war relief efforts, by building comradery with each other. The authors’ note that this was projected through propaganda and literature to establish a sense of “political stability” (84). This, in turn, discouraged ethnocentrism and promoted tolerance. Tolerance was important during the war, since a single force could not be considered unified if it were plagued by inner conflicts that weakened the whole. This emphasis of unification is exemplified within the Canadian comics, which employed diverse characters as a means to reinforce national unification; such ethnically diverse characters had never been depicted to this extent prior to the wartime. By promoting characters such as Red within the literature, comics were simultaneously inspiring their readers with nationalism and empathy for the diverse people of Canada. This had the ultimate effect of improving the unification of the country. Thus, the Canadian comic book industry was a part of an overarching wartime effort to strengthen and unify the bonds between the individual members of the Canadian population.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the comic book genre facilitated empowerment by engaging young readers with more diverse heroes, promoting acceptance and actively creating a stable Canadian home front. The widespread popularity and distribution of Bell Features comics advocated Canadian values and fortified the depiction of the Canadian identity. Essentially, serving Canada involved responsibility and active engagement in the war efforts, no matter ethnicity or political view. The representation of Indigenous minorities was building nationalistic pride and responsibility as a Canadian citizen, which in turn was being promoted to the young readers of the time. The notion of defending Canada reflected the core Canadian values, humility and protecting allies, and was intended to inspire nationalism in the youth (Grace and Hoffman 4). Through an analysis of Indigenous representation, the significance of the “noble savage” stereotype, and the comic book genre’s influence within Canadian literature as a political tool, the character of Red in “Dixon of the Mounted” encouraged unification among the Canadian population and bolstered the Canadian home front during the wartime. Indeed, the national discourse promoted through the use of such heroic Indigenous characters elevates them as a cornerstone for what the Canadian identity should entail: humility, and tolerance for the diversity which makes up our nation.

Works Cited

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

Bell, John. Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe. Dundurn, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=611683#.

Bumsted, J. M. The Peoples of Canada : A Post – Confederation History. Oxford University Press, 2008. ProQuest, http://search.proquest.com/docview/887547210/citation/526E25B14D344555PQ/1.

Campbell, Grant. “William Collins during World War II: Nationalism Meets a Wartime Economy in Canadian Publishing.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, vol. 39, no. 1, 2001, pp. 45-65,  https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/bsc/article/view/18199.

Kulbach, René. “Dixon of the Mounted.” Active Comics, no. 11. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, May 1943, pp. 1-8. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166512.pdf

“Noble Savage: Literary Concept.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 April 2016. www.britannica.com/art/noble-savage.

Grace, Dominick, and Hoffman, Eric. The Canadian Alternative: Cartoonists, Comics, and Graphic Novels. University Press of Mississippi, 2017. Ryerson Library.

Takeda, Nazumi, and Williams, James H. “Pluralism, Identity, and the State: National Education Policy Towards Indigenous Minorities in Japan and Canada.” Comparative Education, vol. 44, no. 1, 2008, pp. 75-91, https://journals-scholarsportal-info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/details/03050068/v44i0001/75_piatsnimijac.xml

Woods, Christopher. Lieutenant-Colonel J.F.R. Akehurst, Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion, First Special Service Force, Examines Sergeant Tommy Prince’s Military Medal, Which Was Awarded for “Distinguished and Gallant Service” at Anzio. Buckingham Palace, London, England, 12 February 1945, 12 February 1945. Faces of the Second World War Collection. Library and Archives Canada, 3191549, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/second-world-war/faces-second-war/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=7.

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.

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

 

©Copyright 2018 @Yousef Farhang, Ryerson University

Introduction

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

Themes in Comics: Loyalty

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

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

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

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

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

Challenging The Norms of Political Messages

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

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

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

The Male & Female Audience of The Comics

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

Instilling The Canadian Identity

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

Conclusion

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

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

The Enemy Are Our Heroes: The Enemies in Active Comics No. 4

© Copyright 2017 Natasha Daley, Ryerson University

Introduction

Fig. 1. Active Comics. No. 4, May 1942. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In Active Comics No. 4 from May 1942, there are not only an arrange of heroes that intrigued young children from this era, but there are enemies that these heroes fight that also engage readers to continue reading about their favourite heroes. These enemies are the main reason why heroes like “The Brain” or “Capt. Red Thorton” have a purpose. The enemies portrayed in this comic are not all centred around war enemies that the Canadian army had during the second World War such as the Japanese or German. These enemies stand out in particular due to the way they complement each other, leading to the success of the heroes at the end and the enemies ultimate defeat.

Through analyzing each comic heroes in the comic number from “Dixon of the Mounted” to “Thunderfist”, it is evident that these heroes do not have the same extravagant powers that deem them able to defeat any enemy. Each enemy for the hero is created to fit what the hero is able to do ability wise, so that the inevitable end of the comic would be the hero winning. The enemies within these comic books are the important factor in the evolution of these heroes because without them, these heroes would not be the heroes’ children of the 1940’s looked up to in a time of despair. If not for the enemies within each comic that were specifically designed to fit the heroes’ capabilities, the heroes would not only be subject to not having much enemies, but to also face enemies that they cannot handle. Through this strategic design to have the enemies centred around the comic heroes’ skills, the outcome is creating a world for children of the second world war to escape to knowing that their favourite heroes are able to defeat the enemy quickly.

The Heroes Companion: The Enemy

The first comic series of the comic number focuses around “Dixon of the Mounted” trying to actively solve the case of the disappearance of his friend, Constable Wicks, but he is soon ambushed by an enemy that is hidden out of his site. This enemy is sent by a sheriff that is helping an enemy get away with a crime that they are scheming and getting rid of Dixon is on their plan list to be able to achieve their goal. Dixon is the hero in this comic series due to the fact that constable Wick had died in the process of uncovering the enemy that Dixon is after. Since constable Wick was facing an enemy that was greater than what his capabilities were, which is unknown in this comic number, he fails to defeat them and dying from his attempt. Dixon is put on the job to not only seek vengeance on behalf of his friend, but to put his skills into use. His capabilities are made to be better since he is the hero of the comic, hence why the enemies are drawn to him. These enemies are designed for Dixon because if anyone could defeat them than constable Wick would have been able to as much as Dixon is considering they are both men in the law enforcement. It is evident on page 6 of “Dixon of The Mounted” that Dixon has skills in quick thinking, strength and agility that the enemy lacks due to them always attacking and scheming from afar. With the enemy being distant from their target, it is a perfect opportunity for the hero, Dixon, to counter their cowardly attempts by doing the opposite: hunt them outright.

Even with enemies being sneaky in their ways of getting over the law enforcement by strategic planning, a law enforcement dominated by one hero allows there to be enough security within the region. The enemy is consisted of a sheriff that is familiar with how the system works and has criminals join him in his pursuits of defeating Dixon, who they cannot defeat. Dixon could be imagined as being a counterterrorist strategy to help the enemy stay away from Canada by using the skills he embodies to defeat them (Chalk 15). Elaborating on this, Dixon is Canada’s most skilled mounty that can defeat even the worst criminals that have entered Canadian territory. These precautions are usually taken by an army or complete law force, but the enemies that they are facing are a greater issue since they have a sheriff helping them achieve their goal of sabotaging Canada. The enemies that Dixon faces are his perfect match due to him being able to be Canada’s sustainable counterstrategy that has the ability to face an underhanded enemy. If these enemies were forward and came in a larger number, Dixon would fail to achieve defeating them since he is only one, ordinary Mounty.

Opposite of a comic of a semi realistic storyline, “The Brain” is a comic that focuses around the supernatural, meaning that the enemies are not human. The enemy he is facing is a mummy and a ghost that have come alive to defeat him. The Brains’ expertise as a hero is to defeat creatures and monsters that have come to Canada to overtake it. These enemies are designed for the Brain since he is able to connect with the supernatural world unlike any other heroes within the comic book number. Also unlike the other heroes in this comic number, the Brain has the power to fly, meaning that he possesses otherworldly powers that makes him a stand out hero. By having these ability, it is easier for him to fight the mummy that is after him and ultimately being able to defeat him for good. The enemy that he is faced with is stronger and otherworldly than regular human enemies, making him a hero with a unique capability, but having harder enemies to defeat. The mummy is a complex enemy to have due to the notion that the Brain would have an easy time defeating it since such creature would be very fragile from years of decomposition, but the twist of this concept is that the mummy is an ordinary man with powers. The mummy is made to be an equal match against the Brain because they both possess similar characteristics of being men with powers. By having these similarities, it is easy for the Brain to use this to his advantage since defeating the mummy only takes minimal effort if they are compatible ability wise through their common grounds. The ghost enemy is even more complex due to the fact that there is no body meaning that he is left to fight a spirit. Surprisingly, the mummy and the ghost are a match for the Brain when it comes to strength and strategy, something that the Brain was not expecting. On page 24 and 23, it is shown that the Brain is able to defeat such supernatural beings without any real harm done to himself.

Leo Bachle. Panel from “The Brain: The Return of the Mummy Man.” Active Comics, No. 4, May 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 23. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Viewing the Enemy

Within Active Comics No. 4, the enemy is undermined by the hero of their respected comic series, but the enemy is much more valuable than they are perceived. Even though these enemies are causing destruction among society, it leads to comic heroes to be able to be the heroes that they are. Without enemies to cause mayhem within a heroes’ city or country, a hero cannot be the hero that they are. A hero is only a hero when they do something that protects others from evil within their living spaces. Such evil can consist of robbing a bank, murdering someone or even trying to sabotage a city. The comic series entitled Crime Does Not Pay, one of the first true crime based comics, plays on the idea of the enemy having a purpose within a larger picture: being the reason there are heroes who want to put an end to crime.

Going off of this concept, this comic focuses on the criminal and the crimes that they have committed, which drives the series. In Chris and Rafiel York’s book, Comic Books and the Cold War, 1946-1962, they discuss how this comic series glorified the enemy to the point where readers were left to wander whether they should be intrigued by the crimes that these criminals have committed or be scared of them (York 160). This crime centric comic book evolved the way readers viewed criminals and enemies within comic series because they were interesting to read about. This curiosity of what kind of crimes criminals can commit and all the chaotic behaviour they embodied allowed readers to crave more of the exciting lives that these law breaking people lived. Even with these comics depicting graphics that were questionable for the age group reading, it did intrigue a well needed focus on characters that were not the hero. This was needed because the hero of a comic such as Dixon from “Dixon of the Mounted” only depicts the good that a hero has to bring. By following storylines that focus on the enemy brings in the other side of the spectrum as to why heroes are needed to protect their city or country from criminals.

Crime Does Not Pay front cover

With this comics’ concept of focusing on the enemy, enemies of sorts have gotten interesting storylines that compel readers to be interested in them as well as the hero. The enemy having a back story or a plot that gives some information as to why their favourite hero is trying to defeat them causes readers to have a stronger connection to the comic. With this in mind, Active Comics No. 4 channels this concept of bringing some attention to how the hero and the enemy have to be on par to bring interest to the comic. Without having an interesting hero or enemy, the comic has no way of bringing any substance to a reader.     

An Enemies Crime is a Heroes Glory

The dependence of a hero on their enemy counterpart is more crucial than it may seem when thinking about a comic. The heroes of the Active Comic No. 4 are depicted on the front cover to display who the readers, mostly children, should be interested in to intrigue their interest. This all changes while they are reading the context of the comic and getting to know characters outside of the hero, which are most likely their enemy. In Nickie D. Phillips and Staci Strobl’s book Comic Book Crime, they acknowledge that the hero and enemy of the comic are like “yin and yang” since they need each other to function (Phillips and Strobl, 82). This is true when thinking about a comic hero without an enemy counterpart to defeat and an enemy without a hero counterpart to try to defeat. This back and forth of trying to claim power over the other is the driving force of comics and what readers stay for. Both characters drive one another to great lengths to continue a plot line that is stimulating and has a purpose, not just a plot that lasts only one comic.

Conclusion

In Active Comics No. 4, the it is evident that the enemy plays a bigger part in a comic series than it may seem from the cover. A hero is nothing without an enemy counterpart who is a match for them ability wise, enough to be an interesting duo that children or young adolescence would be thrilled to read about. Through being each other’s back bone in a comic series, the heroes and enemies in this comic number grants that there will be well played out plot and storylines to follow along for both characters.

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.

Work Cited

Active Comics, no. 4, May 1942. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166505.pdf

Chalk, Peter and William Rosenau. Confronting the “Enemy Within”: Security Intelligence, the Police, and Counterterrorism in Four Democracies. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2004. https://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG100.html.

Crime Does Not Pay Front Cover. N.d. Sequart Organization. http://sequart.org/magazine/9981/the-year-in-comics-week-five-crime-does-not-pay/

Bachel, Leo. “The Brain: The Return of the Mummy Man.” no. 4, May 1942, p. 23. Bell Features Collection, Ryerson University Library and Archives.     http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166505.pdf

Phillips, Nickie D., and Staci Strobl. Comic Book Crime, edited by Nickie D. Phillips, and Staci Strobl, NYU Press, 2013. pp. 82. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=1225007.

York, Chris, and Rafiel York. Comic Books and the Cold War, 1946–1962, edited by Chris York, and Rafiel York, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012. pp. 160. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=867075.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Representation of Heroes as Canadian Masculinity to Canadian Child Readers During World War II

© Copyright 2017 Dewe, Kristen. Ryerson University

Dingle, Adrian (a). Active
Comics. No.5, May 1942, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Introduction:

On December 6th of 1940, during the second World War, William Lyon MacKenzie King, former Primer Minister of Canada declared the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA), which was a measure used to protect the Canadian dollar and the general war economy (Kocmerac, 148). In this, comic books were listed as non-essential commodities that were deemed banned. During this time, Canadian superheroes became the most prominent features within Canadian comic books (Kocmerac, 151). Heroism became a very distinctive part of children’s lives, as they read and looked up to the superheroes who were prevalent within comic books such as Active Comics. In this work, the focus will be on Adrian Dingle’s fifth issue of Active Comics which was published for May of 1942. To identify how these heroes represented the idealized Canadian masculinity of a superhero to Canadian child readers, it is evident that we consider what makes a Canadian hero, why they are primarily men, the distinction between different aged superheroes and how child readers are influenced by these heroes. Throughout this work, we will uncover how the comic uses different age genres to depict heroism in Canada as a means of showing what it ultimately means to be a Canadian hero.


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

What Makes a Canadian Hero, a Hero in Active Comic No. 5 (May, 1942):

During Adrian Dingle’s issue of Active Comics in May of 1942, he depicts heroism as only masculine, however ranges from heroes being of different age groups. He makes it evident that heroes can be babies, teenagers and adults and does not limit the reader to believe in only one distinct type of hero, however, limits the reader to believe in only one gender of hero.

The first story in the issue, “Dixon of the Mounted”, shows heroism from Dixon, an adult who is after a murderer and attempted-murderer in hopes to save himself and society from the dangers of this man. His attempt is rather gory and very explicit in it’s use of fighting vigorously, showing that the adult form of heroism is to defeat through killing.

Saakel, Ross (w.a). Active
Comics. Active Jim. No.5, May 1942, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The next story, “The Noodle – The Mighty Mite”, deals with heroism from a toddler who is out to save a female baby who was kidnapped by a Mummy, showing that he is out to protect society. Although he is a baby, his use of heroism exhibits strength and intelligence – to an extent far beyond a toddler’s capabilities, however does not display any acts of extreme violence or gore, showing that heroism from a toddler is different from that of an adult. Additionally, Active Jim, a teenage hero deals with providing safety for society by catching a leopard that escaped from a circus train with no form of explicit violence or murder.

Overall, the heroes within this specific comic book, all have a few things in common. First, they are all brave individuals whom risk their lives to help society, and in doing this, inspires its readers, specifically children. Children are drawn in by these superheroes who will stop at nothing to retain justice, regardless of their age. Moreover, they also have their gender in common. All the superheroes within this comic book are men, showing the gender inequality that is prevalent in the text.

Why are Heroes Masculine?

Within this specific comic book, only men are perceived as heroes. Babic offers that comic books are “…predictions of societal downfall, disfigured gender roles, and mass children embracing violence as a natural mechanism of communication failed to note that adult readership soared alongside that of children” (Babic, 15). It is evident that Babic realizes this gender inequality that stems from comic books, and continues by centering on what children will retain from reading comic books that are unrealistic as only men are the heroes.

Brown also offers insight towards the masculinity of heroes within Milestone Media (a novel on African American heroes) as a “comparison to the market-dominating comic books published by other companies which promote a popular trend of gender extremism” (Brown). In this, Brown tries to argue that newer comic books no longer have this ideology of a superhero being primarily a white male, however, have now gone into having diversity regarding gender and race.

In Mollegaard’s book review on Age of Heroes, Eras of Men, she discusses the complexities of the superhero genre as “the marginalization of the female superhero” (Mollegaard, 431). Mollegard further uses this to distinguish that the misconception of “the superhero genre is simplistic drivel for adolescent boys” (Mollegaard, 431). So, the underlying statement through this, is that because the target audience for comic books was adolescent boys, masculine superheroes seemed to have fit as better role models for these young boys.

The Distinction Between Different Aged Superheroes:


Saakel, Ross. (w.a). Active
Comics. The Noodle – The Mighty Mite. No.5, May 1942, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Although the comic fails to show women as superheroes, it does contain superheroes of different ages, ranging from babies to adults. Within The Noodle – The Mighty Mite, the superhero who is a toddler shows an expansive amount of knowledge and is very strategic in figuring out how to protect society in a non-violent form. A superhero such as The Noodle is very inspirational for young children, as they can believe that if a baby can do something, they can achieve a lot as well.

Saakel, Ross. (w.a). Active
Comics. Active Jim. No.5, May 1942, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Regarding Active Jim who is a teenage superhero, he is also inspirational for young children because of his age being close to young boys, and because he uses his strengths to defeat and outsmart the antagonists, similar to The Noodle, without violence. As Jim is still in high school and can look out for society, young boys may look at Jim as someone who is like themselves. Lastly, Dixon of the Mounted portrays an almost oppositional way to protect society, through using violence as a defence mechanism.

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

The conclusion from these three, are that adults have more of a will to commit murders, whereas children and teenagers have a more forgiving element to them and are primarily out to help society. It is prevalent that each age group handles being a hero in a different way and is not like how we would expect it to be within our society. For the most part, we would expect teenagers to be the ones with a lesser understanding of the significance of life as the violent-heroes, whereas we would expect the adults to be the more responsible and inspirational heroes, showing the oppositional positions that the comic offers versus what society would think. Regarding toddlers, we see toddlers as innocent, naïve individuals within our society, very different from how toddlers are described within this comic.

The comic does not reflect a modernized society in the depictions of violence based on age genres, however, it emphasizes oppositional positions in this through characterizing adults as the most violent. This comic would impact children in having distrust towards adults as they are depicted as the most violent, and give the reader an unrealistic understanding of babies, teenagers and adults.

How Child Readers are Influenced by These Comics:

Babic discusses how comic books have a larger impact on children than adults. She states, “Children clearly sucked in the storylines at a larger rate than that of adults, but adults— especially soldiers on the front lines— fueled themselves on the junkets of their favorite superheroes.” (Babic, 15) This source overall offers a distinct view point on how heroism is depicted by children and what they will adapt to believing a hero is.

Furthermore, Fradkin entails a small focus on comic books creating resilience for children. His article discusses the concept of “invincibility suggestion” and how comic books were and are used for children whom are fighting cancer or other diseases as they can relate to the superheroes in their journey to “fight evil”. Prior to this article, the idea of superheroes as characters to strengthen and inspire a child may almost seem absurd and unrealistic to some, but by putting it in this perspective, one can completely understand how a child with a condition would feel empowered by a comic book. Therefore, this shows superheroes as a beneficial factor for children (Fradkin).

Conclusion:

The idealized comic book heroes in Canadian comic books heavily influenced child readers during the Golden Age. The typical masculine superhero ascribed by different age genres shows diversity in ages, but lacks the diversity in genders, giving children an understanding that heroes are only masculine. In limiting children’s beliefs of what a superhero is, children were not only taught to be narrow-minded, but also to believe in men superiority, as the comic books described that women were not capable as the same things that men were. It is evident now that as society has evolved, this ideology of masculine superheroes is not as relevant as it was during the period of World War II, as we have familiarized ourselves with more women superheroes.

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.

___________________________________________________________________________

Works Cited:

Babic, Annessa Ann. Book. “Comics as History, Comics as Literature: Roles of the Comic Book in Scholarship, Society and Entertainment.” pp. 15-16. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, ProQuest ebrary, Accessed April 2 2017, http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/oculryerson/detail.action?docID=10823569.

Brown, Jeffery. Review. “New Heroes: Gender, Race, Fans and Comic Book Superheroes.” University of Toronto, ProQuest ebrary, Accessed April 6 2017, http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/304394534/fulltextPDF/79ABD99412984EFDPQ/1?accountid=13631.

Dingle, Adrian (a), TA Steele (w.a), Ross Saakel (w.a), and Al Cooper (w.a). “Active Comics.” No.5, pp. 1-64. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, Accessed April 2 2017, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166506.pdf.

Fradkin, Chris. Book. “Shared Adversities of Children and Comic Superheroes as Resources for Promoting Resilience.” Child Abuse & Neglect. Vol. 54, pp. 69-77. Science Direct, Accessed April 6 2017, http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/science/article/pii/S0145213416300187.

Kocmarek, Ivan. Review. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature. Vol. 43, No. 1, pp. 148-151. Project MUSE, Accessed April 2 2017, https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/611725.

Mollegaard, Kirsten. Review. “Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men: Superheroes and the American Experience.” pp. 430-431. Scholars Portal, Accessed April 6 2017, http://journals2.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/pdf/15427331/v37i0004/430_aoheomutcsp2.xml.

 

The Strange Villains of Active Comics #2

© Copyright 2017 Dustin Brousseau, Ryerson University

Introduction

During the Second World War comic books were already in the pockets of the children of Canada and the United States. Heroes like Superman and Batman had already captured their imaginations with their stories full of action, adventure, and of course, dastardly villains. When the War Exchange Conservation act prevented those stories from coming through the Canadian borders. Children were left without their favorite heroes and villains, which in turn led to the creation of the Canadian Whites, Canadian comics which could have not competed with the colorful American comics before. The Canadian Whites brought with them new heroes and new villains for those heroes to fight. While everyone likes a good hero, what is a hero without its rogues gallery? Without the villains that fight against those heroes there would be no stories, action, no comics! Despite being written during a time of war however, the villains of these comics remained largely like those of American comics of the time, mostly divorced from the war happening at the time. Why is this? Using Active Comics #2 from March of 1942 as examples I will try and figure out why the comic book villains of the Canadian Whites were so strange and divorced from the very real enemies that were fought in the war at the time.

 

The Villains and Stories:

A deformed mad scientist ranting about his evil plans on the top half, and a picture of Thunderfist punching a robotic dinosaur with a descriptor on the bottom half
E.T. Legault. Page from “Thunderfist and the Monster of Catastrophe.” Active Comics No. 2, March 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 1. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada (Figure 1)

In Active Comics #2 there were four stories, each featuring a hero and a single villain or a cabal of evil doers. The first story stared Thunderfist, a hero with super strength and flight fighting Dr. Bruzzack (Figure 1), a mad scientist attacking a New York City with robotic dinosaurs. The second story featured a regular, if not extraordinarily brave Mounty by the name of Dixon of the Mounted who fought a demon known only in the story as “The Devil”, though this devil is unlikely Satan himself. After Dixon’s story there is Captain “Red” Thortan, an incredibly athletic man with no discernible superpowers fighting against the Japanese army, and finally the is The Brain, a hero with super strength and clairvoyance fighting against a criminal organization led by a man known as The Saboteur. Only one of these villains is connected to the war, with two of them seeming much like standard comic book villains, and one seeming like a threat that could exist in the real world, if not for their over the top way of doing things.

 

Why Not Focus on the War?

It is important to note that the Canadian Whites were written, at least in part by teenagers and younger people in general, some of which would have enjoyed comics before the ban. While much of my information is about American comics of the time these younger comic creators would have likely been influenced by the comics that they read before, and even if they were older it would have made sense for them to mimic the style of comics that were already popular with children in the first place. Because of this despite the information that I will be using comes from studies of American comics, they are still viable for the Canadian comics of the time as well. Many villains of the Canadian Whites are similar to the villains that American heroes would be fighting at the time, in that they were usually divorced from the war, or were taking part in the war in less important ways than being at the front lines. Many of the villains in Canadian comics at the time were using villains bred from the same tropes and ideas that their American counterparts were using. Things like evil geniuses, gang leaders, and mythical beasts were popular types of villains in the Golden Age of comics, so it only comes to reason that these teenagers that are writing the Whites would write villains that follow these sort of archetypes. Due to the format of the comics having several stories in one issue, there was not a lot of time to develop these villains, so making them recognizable as a certain type of villain immediately was important.

 

The Devil throws Dixon of the Mounted forward, with a text box describing the scene on top of the action
E.T. Legault. Panel from “Dixon of the Mounted and Dreadful Dwellings.” Active Comics No. 2, March 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 22. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada (Figure 2)

When Canadian comic books began to become popular due to the inability to import American comics it would come to no surprise to see comics with similar themes and characters. The heroes and villains of Active Comics #2 are no exception to this. In The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero Bart Beaty claims that “the concept of the man-god, a dedication to principles of justice, the secret identity, a conflict with the father, and the belief in the magical power of science.” (428) are key elements in superhero mythology. While the heroes don’t hit all of those traits they all hit at least one. The villains on the other hand are quite the opposite. Dr. Bruzzack certainly no “man-god”, using robotic dinosaurs in an attempt to destroy humanity, starting with New York City. Rather than believing in the “magical power of science” he believes only in himself, his robots being extensions of himself having been created by him. The Devil (Figure 2) appears to be no man, has no dedication to justice, or any of the above traits. The Saboteur is no “man-god” either, relying on his gang for help, and threatens to kill a woman helping The Brain. These villains are meant to be the opposite of what is traditionally seen as heroic back in the Golden Age of Comics according to Beaty.

 

Much like the superhero comics in America, superhero comics in Canada were in the golden age. While the Golden Age of Canadian Comics is differentiated from the Golden Age of Comics in America, they were happening in the same timeframe, the Canadian Golden Age happening between the years of 1941 – 1947, whereas the American Golden Age was happening from 1938 – 1954, both starting before and ending after the Canadian Golden Age (Fennell 305). This means that both Golden Ages were happening during the time of World War II. So the question remains: Why weren’t the villains in these stories representative of the war? Why are the most of the villains in Active Comics #2 divorced from the war that was going on at the time? Why would the heroes ignore the people fighting and dying against fascism? The reason, according to Jason Bainbridge in “The Call to do Justice”: Superheroes, Sovereigns and the State During Wartime, is because of the things that made them “super”, their superpowers, which could easily allow them to singlehandedly end the war, which could somewhat diminish the efforts put in by real soldiers on the battlefield (751). It was for those reasons that superheroes were often stuck fighting crime or monsters on the home front rather than helping with the war effort. Even those with no superpowers such as Dixon of the Mounted were still much more athletic and competent than any real man. Even when heroes were allowed to fight the same enemies that the soldiers were fighting in the real world they were often relegated to stopping either far-fetched schemes that only a superhero could stop, like the aforementioned robotic dinosaurs, or schemes that had little to do with the actual war effort, like capturing the daughter of a British commander, often to mask the horror of what the real war was like (751).

 

Why These Villains?

A two men in suits prepare to kill a tied up young woman to a contraption to kill her by dropping spikes on her
Leo Bachle. Panel from “The Brain.” Active Comics No. 2, March 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 61. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada (Figure 3)

Now that we know why superheroes rarely interacted with the war directly, choosing to instead help the home front, why are the villains that they fight so outrageous? There are several reasons for that in fact. One reason is that the heroes of the time needed to be demonstrably good. In the Golden Age it was thought that heroes needed to be selfless and aid others who needed it because if they didn’t, then that character was not truly heroic (751). For villains to come in line with that line of thinking they had to be outlandishly evil. For example Dixon of the Mounted finds himself fighting an actual demon in Active Comics #2, even going as far as to call it “The Devil”. Even the less obviously evil villains in this issue are still extreme in their villainy. The Syndicate from The Brain story have James Bond villain style machine to kill those who betray them (Figure 3), and Dr. Bruzzack attempts to destroy New York City with robotic dinosaurs. Strangely the villains that have the least dastardly plans is the Japanese army that Captain “Red” Thortan fights, who have only kidnapped the daughter of a British commander, but still fall under the category of “plainly evil” by merit of being part of the Axis Powers. The villains of Active Comics #2 did not view themselves in anyway but evil.

 

Another reason for the villains being divorced from reality is that the heroes, and therefore the villains as well, are based on standards of justice of the time they were made (“Superhero Comics” 333). The morality of the time for fiction was influenced by Judeo-Christian ideals, combining the above self-sacrificing hero, with the idea of a crusader against evil, according to Ryan Edwardson in The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and The Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Superhero (187). As such it would make sense for the villains that they fight to be the opposite: Self-serving, and completely evil, the perfect enemy for a self-sacrificing crusader against evil. While not all of the villains in Action Comics #2 are necessarily self-serving, with The Devil appearing to be a beast who mostly relishes in evil acts, with it saying nothing throughout the story and having torture implements in its lair, they are all most certainly evil. Dr. Bruzzack wants to kill all humans because he hates them, and The Saboteur is the leader of a group of gangsters who are going to kill a woman for betraying them to help The Brain.

 

Conclusion:

It seems that the answer to the question of why the villains in Active Comics #2 is simple. They were divorced from both the war, and in many ways reality, because they had to be at the time. Both heroes and villains of the Golden Age, both Canadian and American, were simple in their conception. The heroes were meant to be the ultimate forces of good, being self-sacrificing and forces for good, and the villains had to be the opposite of them, self-serving and evil. Their villains were not made to be villains that would have any place in the war so that the efforts of the soldiers in the war would not be diminished, and even when they did participate in the war it was in ways that did not directly affect the war effort itself. The heroes could not use their powers to end the war themselves, and so the authors had to find some way to make sure that they could not, and that way was to simply make other threats that were bigger or more immediately dangerous such as Dr. Bruzzack’s robotic dinosaurs, or that were closer to home, such as The Devil or the Saboteur, both being in Canada, and both being immediately dangerous for the people on the home front.


Bibliography:

Bainbridge, Jason. “’The Call to do Justice’: Superheroes, Sovereigns and the State During Wartime.” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law vol. 28, no. 4, May 2015, pp. 745-763. Springer Link, DOI: 10.1007/s11196-015-9424-y

 

Beaty, Bart. “Superhero Comics.” Fueling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment, edited by Imre Szeman et al., Fordham University, NEW YORK, 2017, pp. 333–337, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1hfr0s3.93.

 

Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” Amerrican Reviews of Canadian Studies vol. 36, no. 3, October 2006, pp. 427-439. Scholars Portal Journals, DOI: 10.1080/02722010609481401

 

Edwardson, Ryan. “The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and the Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Superhero.” Journal of Popular Culture vol. 37, no. 2, November 2003, pp. 184-201. Scholars Portal Journals, DOI: 10.1111/1540-5931.00063

 

Fennell, Jack. “The Aesthetics of Supervillainy.” Law Text Culture vol. 16, no. 1, January 2012, pp. 305-328. Hein Online, http://ro.uow.edu.au/ltc/vol16/iss1/13

 

Legault, E.T. (w) and M. Karn (a). Active Comics, no. 2, March, 1942, pp. 1-15. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166503.pdf

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