Tag Archives: Propaganda

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

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

THE IMAGE OF THE “RED SKINNED SAVAGE”

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

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

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

CREATING MIXED CULTURES

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

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

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

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

THE MOCCASINS ON THE GROUND.

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

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

RECONCILIATION

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

IN CONCLUSION

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

WORKS CITED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WORKS CITED: PHOTOS

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

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

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

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

Recontextualizing World War II: Familiarity as Propaganda in Active Comics no. 7

© Justin Hovey 2018, Ryerson University

Introduction

20th century wartime propaganda conveyed a broad set of ideological arguments in radically different forms depending on its medium and, by extension, its intended audience. While the specific ways in which such propaganda is manifested in comics of the period –entertaining and fantastical – are particular to their readership of children and adolescents, the underlying themes and arguments are born out of the same pro-war, nationalist ideology that motivated propaganda directed at a more general audience. Despite the fictionalized, cartoonish elements of these comics, it is evident upon a closer reading that the propagandistic motivations that drove their production were intended to effect real-world consequences, and saw their target audience of children and adolescents as playing an active role in the war effort.

This is evident in issue no. 7 of the Canadian comics series Active Comics (1942), in which two war-stories (“Dixon of the Mounted” and “Thunderfist”) set particular geopolitical conflicts of the Second World War in North-American contexts (Canadian and American, respectively). Both strips present scenarios in which the conflicts of the war are thrust into the North-American sphere as a result of covert invasion, following Canadian and American civilians directly contributing to their respective country’s war effort by exposing and taking up arms against foreign spies.

By situating their stories in a North American context, these strips frame a foreign conflict that could seem detached from Canadian life as more familiar and immediate, and thus more relatable to the average Canadian youth. While Canadian youth were unlikely to be in the scenarios presented in these strips, they nevertheless intended to introduce them to the idea that they, as citizens, were not completely removed from the war. Ultimately, these comics were meant to encourage young Canadians to forge a personal relation between themselves and the war effort, and sought more broadly to instill the concepts of patriotism and civic responsibility into their culture.

Context: History of Isolationist Thought in North America

To understand what exactly the propaganda peddled by Active Comics no. 7 is in response to, it is crucial to examine the politics surrounding war at the time – specifically, the emergence of isolationist thought in North American foreign policy during the interwar period. Contrary to the view that isolationism was a distinctly American phenomenon during this period, recent scholarship has provided a more nuanced history of the ideology’s influence on Canadian politics and culture, and has particularly shed light on the distinct qualities Canadian isolationism took on in relation to that of its southern neighbour.

In English-speaking Canada, traces of isolationist thought only began to seriously pop up in mainstream discourse during the interwar period, particularly the 1930’s. This was born less out of a reaction of disillusionment against the foreign policy that led to the First World War (as was largely the case with the United Sates’ adoption of isolationism) and more out of an emerging ideology of left-wing, anti-empire nationalism (Spruce 3, 14). While the vast majority of Anglo-Canadians maintained loyalty to the increasingly distant British empire through the interwar period (Spruce 14), a growing vocal minority led by the likes of historian Arthur R.M Lower began to challenge Canada’s ties to its motherland and sought to turn away from colony-status toward an independent country. In the wake of 1931’s Statute of Westminster, Canadians were forced to re-evaluate what role their country was able to (and ought to) play in regard to foreign warfare (Spruce 5). With most political ties to the United Kingdom now cut, why should that autonomy not extend to Canada’s military?, asked the emerging isolationists.

This was a question not just of cultural identity, as Robert Bothwell notes, but of economic capacity. Canada, still a developing country in the minds of many of its citizens at the time, was clearly economically distinct from the wealthy British Empire its military was subordinate to; in light of this and of the domestic wealth inequality that plagued post-war Canadian society, Canadians were reconsidering the obligation they had in assisting their wealthier, more powerful allies in war efforts that did not directly concern them (Bothwell 79). Such populist sentiments were eventually quelled following the Second World War with the introduction of the modern social safety net (Bothwell 80), but in the meantime, they were an effective rhetorical tool that spoke to the immediate concerns of impoverished Canadians left behind after the Great War.

In all their different forms, these assertive articulations of Canada as an autonomous nation that came out of this interwar period continued to inform the country’s foreign policy well into the Second World War, with the Canadian delegate to the League of Nations, Raoul Dandurand, declaring in 1942: “We live in a fire-proof house, far from inflammable materials” (Stacey 61). While isolationism as such never exceeded beyond being anything more than marginal ideology in the Canadian political milieu, isolationist ideas had a profound influence on the changing notions of Canadian identity as it continued to transition from a colony to a sovereign state; and by the Second World War, pro-war propagandists were tasked with beating back against such ideas to prevent them from becoming fully lodged in Canadian culture – particularly among Canadian youth, who were growing up in a country with radically changing conceptions of patriotism.

Propaganda as Fear-Mongering: Invasion and Foreign Spies

The isolationist-adjacent views regarding Canada’s relationship with the British Empire logically resulted in a broader feeling of detachment from European affairs as the country forged a distinct North-American identity. This was problematic for Canadian pro-war institutions, which now faced the problem of selling the country’s populace on conflicts that almost exclusively concerned foreign states, to which Canada had an increasingly limited connection to, both politically and culturally. Consequently, propaganda during the Second World War concertedly served a fear-mongering function, stoking anxieties surrounding invasion and foreign spies among Canadians. By promoting the possibility of an invasion of the homefront (whether covert or overt), a war that might have been thought of as a purely Eurasian conflict suddenly posed a direct threat to the lives of Canadians.

Invasion propaganda was typically conveyed through mediums of entertainment – films, novels, and comic books, namely. Adopting such mediums served two main purposes: firstly, it ensured a broad and engaged audience; and secondly, it exploited fiction’s emotionally manipulative functions, maximizing the amount of fear elicited. Since the production of entertainment was predominately privately controlled, the Canadian government’s role in disseminating fear-based propaganda was largely carried out through propaganda’s counterpart: censorship. More specifically, which pieces of entertainment the government chose to censor, and which they chose to permit. Such decisions were carefully calculated; the exact boundaries of the Overton window the government demarcated reveal the sorts of ideas it wanted shaping Canadian culture. For example, at the beginning of the war, two films – All Quiet on the Western Front and Lest We Forget – were deemed “anti-war” by government officials and subsequently banned, while the invasion-oriented Confessions of a Nazi Spy was granted a “government blessing,” and immediately given an “extended run” in Manitoban theatres (“Canada Nixes”). Clearly, the appropriateness of war-related media was determined primarily by their propagandistic functions, which logically resulted in the government-accepted themes of invasion, xenophobia, etc. being echoed in privately-produced entertainment thenceforth, including the stories published in the Canadian Whites (Judy and Palmer 66).

Fig. 1. T.A Steele. Frame from “Dixon of the Mounted.” Active Comics, no. 7, August 1942, p. 1. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The “Dixon of the Mounted” strip found in Active Comics no. 7 is an example of the increasingly ubiquitous ‘invasion stories’ that populated this period; it follows a Canadian Mountie in his pursuit of a gang of German spies who have breached the country. The comic draws on a wartime tradition of dehumanizing Germans, portraying the German spies as beastly, inhuman characters, seemingly devoid of morality and reason. Set in contrast to Dixon – a symbol of Canadiana who upholds his country’s virtues by giving his enemies a chance to surrender, and shooting to wound (at first) – the German spies are characterized by their lack of conscience: they view killing as a game, “celebrating” their supposed shooting of Dixon, and have no qualms about murdering a Canadian civilian (Steele 3, 6). The spies’ inhuman character traits are reinforced by their visual depictions; they resemble Frankenstein’s-monster-esque creatures, drawn with heavily shaded, sunken-in eyes under thick, low-set brows that connote cold insensitivity (fig. 1). This characterization is in line with other representations of Germans of the period; from the early 20th century, Germans were stereotyped as “dangerous warmongers, savage and aggressive … with no sense of the value of human life … and without mercy towards their defeated enemies (Storer 40). Such fictional depictions were especially useful, then, as Germany once again became a wartime enemy of Canada’s. Painting Germans as monstrous villains with an insatiable thirst for power rendered Canadians’ rationality (e.g., in considering Canada’s geographic relation to Germany) subordinate to their emotions, with respect to invasion. Situating these villains in Canada presented explicitly how the ruthless nature of Germans could propel them to conquer nations far beyond the European sphere – a terrifying prospect to these comics’ Canadian readership. Indeed, caricatures like these played a role in the justification for German internment camps that were introduced following the invocation of the War Measures Act in 1939 (Auger 101).

The deployment of this fear-mongering propaganda served a broader purpose than just drumming up public support for the war effort – it intended to reorient Canadians’ entire perception of their country in relation to the rest of the world. Coinciding with increasing globalization and technological advancement (martial or otherwise), this propaganda sought to dispel any notion that Canada was detached from European affairs, as the isolationists argued. Not only did the war pose a threat to Canada’s freedom and security, but Canadians themselves thus had an obligation to assist their allies in fighting it, as if directly it concerned the homefront.

Reclaiming Canadian Patriotism: Jingoism and Civic Responsibility

One of the more difficult parts of beating back against Canadian isolationism was attempting to construct a distinct conception of patriotism, a concept appropriated by isolationists of the inter-war period to the extent that the two ideas were inextricably linked. Pro-war propagandists now had to ‘reclaim’ patriotism – to make the case that a new Canadian identity does not have to necessarily entail total detachment from the British Empire, and that true patriotism should be exhibited by performing one’s civic duties to his/her country, especially during times of war. These wartime civic duties, while more obvious and direct for Canadian adults (e.g., enlistment; increased motherly duties during husband’s absence; etc.), were expected just as much from Canadian youth, in less direct and largely symbolic forms. However, youth-targeted propaganda as peddled in comic books like the Canadian Whites didn’t encourage civic responsibility by depicting such symbolic forms of participation, but rather promoted the concept of civic responsibility broadly through fantastical stories that would be much more engaging and persuasive for the reader.

Fig. 2. Murray Karn. Frame from “Thunderfist.” Active Comics, no. 7, August 1942, p. 52. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Active Comics no. 7’s “Thunderfist” strip, another North-American-invasion story (this time American-oriented, however), utilizes its North-American setting not just to stoke fear, as the “Dixon of the Mounted” strip does, but to present civic participation in a familiar context more relatable to the Canadian reader – not in terms of content (in fact, it portrays a particularly outlandish example of civic participation) but geographically and culturally. The story follows an American reporter, Beverley Holmes, as she exposes a pair of Japanese spies in her city, and subsequently plays an active role in defending her country against a larger Japanese invasion. Importantly, this is not an affair that she stumbles upon, but rather, from the outset, it is a result of a deliberate initiative on her part to be mindful of foreign spies in her own country – “They look like Japs,” she notes upon seeing two Asian men sitting at a nearby table, and promptly confiscates one of their maps (Karn 52; Fig. 2). She is not simply a bystander assisting her country’s military indirectly; she actively initiates conflict with the foreign spies, and takes it upon herself to do anything in her means to thwart their plans. This reaches an extreme extent as Beverley’s decides to travel to the coast indicated as the point of invasion on the spies’ map to warn the Commanding Officer stationed there, which ultimately leads to her capture. Regardless of her personal safety, Beverley’s patriotic compulsion to defend her country remains unwavering. “I just had to go and see what was going on,” she explains after being saved, revealing that her actions were done out of obligation rather than preference (Karn 64). Here, Beverley, despite being American, is presented to the comics’ readership as the ideal Canadian patriot – selfless, brave, and actively engaged in her country’s war effort.

Fig. 3. Sia R. Chilvers. Propaganda poster: “Salvage! Every Little Helps.” 1914-1918. Library and Archives Canada.

Fantastical stories like this were obviously not intended to convince Canadian children and adolescents to necessarily confront foreign spies or involve themselves in actual conflicts, but portraying civilians as doing so inseminated the broader concept of civic participation into youth culture; it normalized the idea that civilians have “duties to fulfil” in regard to the war effort, and that “everyone should be preparing for the war,” no matter one’s age or relation to the battlefield (Judy and Palmer, 75). How this was actually manifested by Canadian children in reality was much less direct and exciting, consisting of mostly symbolic and comparatively inconsequential methods – but, as a propaganda poster from the prior World War reads, “Every Little Helps” (Fig. 3). Many of these methods were related to self-rationing and fundraising, such as assisting with the cultivation of “victory gardens,” a practice that stretched back to the First World War and was intended to both free up railway space that could be used to ship goods en route to Europe, and amass proceeds through the sale of food that would be donated toward the war effort (Mosby 104; Martin and Petrowski 6). Similarly, children were encouraged to save up their allowance money and donate it to organizations involved in assisting with the war (Glassford 223). This message implicitly pervades civic participation-related propaganda of the period like “Thunderfist.” Whatever from this civic participation took, the material impact it had was of less importance than what it stood for: a commitment among Canada’s next generation to maintaining traditional notions of patriotism that entailed pro-war, internationalist attitudes.

Conclusion

Considering the largely symbolic nature of the civic duties Canadian children undertook, there is reason to believe that those behind the propaganda found in Active Comics no. 7 (and other youth-targeted media of the time) were less interested in their readership’s immediate manifestations of patriotism than they were in the long-term implications of pro-war messages shaping them from a young age. In other words, what this propaganda effected was less important to its producers than what it prevented: isolationist thought corrupting impressionable young Canadians. Youth-targeted propaganda acted more or less as insurance, ensuring that the next generation of Canadians were not only willing but felt compelled to go to war once they came of age. In fact, one of the ways by which Canadian youth were told they could help their country’s military was by “keep[ing] themselves healthy, in order to be of use to their country now and in the future” – explicitly revealing that the government valued their potential as future servicemen and servicewomen above whatever contributions they were currently capable of providing to the war effort (Glassford 223).

The technique of recontextualizing the Second World War in North-American contexts, then, was well suited for the fantastical, unrealistic elements that the comic medium entails. The comics examined in this essay could stretch the reality of how its readership would be engaging with the war because its producers were not at all concerned with such reality, but rather with the implications of it. These propagandists effectively utilized the generic conventions of the comic to convey broad ideas that concurrently were being inseminated in the culture of Canadian adults (e.g., xenophobia, anxiety, civic participation) in a highly mediated form that played well with the country’s children, sowing a culture of pro-war patriotism that would go on to unconsciously shape how they approached the war as adults.

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Works Cited

Auger, Martin F. Prisoners of the Home Front: German POWs and “Enemy Aliens” in Southern Quebec, 1940-46. UBC Press, 2005.

Bothwell, Robert. “The Canadian Isolationist Tradition.” International Journal, vol. 54, no. 1, 1998, pp. 76–87. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/40203356.

Chilvers, Sia R. Salvage! Every Little Helps Poster. 1918-1914. Library and Archives Canada, 1983-28-190.

Glassford, Sarah. “Practical Patriotism: How the Canadian Junior Red Cross and Its Child Members Met the Challenge of the Second World War.” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, vol. 7, no. 2, May 2014, pp. 219–42. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/hcy.2014.0024.

Goodnow, Trischa, and James J. Kimble, editors. The 10 Cent War: Comic Books, Propaganda, and World War II. University Press of Mississippi, 2016.

“International: Canada Nixes ‘All Quiet’ But Okays ‘Nazi Spy.’” Variety (Archive: 1905-2000). Los Angeles, vol. 136, no. 1, Sept. 1939, p. 6.

Karn, Murray (a). “Thunderfist.” Active Comics, no. 7, August, 1942, pp. 52-64. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166794.pdf

Martin, Andrea, and Tyyne Petrowski. “‘Are You “Doing Your Bit”?’: Edith Robertson, Letter-Writing, and Women’s Contributions in First-World-War Winnipeg.” Manitoba History; Winnipeg, no. 82, Fall 2016, pp. 4–11.

Mosby, Ian. Food Will Win the War: The Politics, Culture, and Science of Food on Canada’s Home Front. UBC Press, 2014.

Spruce, James. “Two Solitudes Lost: Comparing and Contrasting Interwar American and Canadian Isolationisms.” American Review of Canadian Studies, vol. 48, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1–19. Scholars Portal Journals, doi:10.1080/02722011.2018.1428206.

Stacey, C. P. Canada and the Age of Conflict: A History of Canadian External Policies. Macmillan of Canada, 1977.

Steele, T.A. “Dixon of the Mounted.” Active Comics, no. 7, August, 1941, pp. 1-10. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166794.pdf

Storer, Colin. “’The German of Caricature, the Real German, the Fellow We Were up against’: German Stereotypes in John Buchan’s Greenmantle.” Journal of European Studies, vol. 39, no. 1, Mar. 2009, pp. 36–57. Crossref, doi:10.1177/0047244108100806.

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.

Train Wrecks in Active Comics No. 10: Representation of Accident and Attack

© Copyright 2018 Sarah Kovacko, Ryerson University

Introduction: Train Wrecks in Comic Books

The theme of technology is present throughout Active Comics No. 10, published in November, 1943 in Canada. The stories, in genres including science fiction, war, and adventure, feature repeated instances of transportation technology gone awry; two stories separately depict train wrecks. In “Active Jim”, Canadian boy Jim and his friend Joan encounter a Nazi character who attempts to derail a troop train. Through quick thinking and action, they are able to save the train from its fate, and apprehend the Nazi. The “Thunderfist” story features a train which is nearly derailed by a mountain slide, but is saved from its fate by the title character.

Edmond Good. Panel from “Active Jim”. Active Comics, No. 10, November 1943, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 38. Bell Feature Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Murray Karn. Panel from “Thunderfist”. Active Comics, No. 10, November 1943, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 48. Bell Feature Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both stories approach the subject of the train wreck differently, one as an intentional sabotage, and the other as an accidental disaster. Both stories resolve with no actual carnage, but the presence of trains in danger poses the question: what led to this subject matter being presented in a comic book intended for children, and were these depictions of disaster influenced by World War Two (WWII)? In examining historical documentation, and the public reaction to train disasters, we are able to apply a philosophical lens to understand the social-historical context and pro-conflict propagandistic roots of the seemingly innocent entertainment imagery.

The Train in Canada

The railway has played an important role in Canadian history. As a sprawling, disconnected country in the 19th century, the Intercolonial Railway was initially constructed to fulfill the government of Canada’s 1867 constitutional commitment to connect central Canada to the Maritime provinces (Cruikshank). Routes were selected to protect the railway from American attack, indicating an awareness for potential foreign hostility. During the completion of the railway between 1876 and 1914 there was a tenfold increase in freight and passenger traffic (Cruikshank).

The railway was eventually incorporated into Canadian National Railways, continuing to fill the role of connecting the eastern and western ends of Canada (Regehr). To find trains represented in a Canadian comic book is unsurprising, considering the significance of the train in Canadian culture. It is interesting, however, that these trains are presented in scenarios of danger.

The Advent of the Train Wreck

The railway has been connected to accidental death since its invention. An early major casualty was William Huskisson, a Liverpool MP, who in 1830 was run over and killed by the Rocket locomotive during the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (Odden 30).

On a broader scale, the Angola Horror is an example of an early American train wreck that had a significant social impact. On December 18, 1867, a damaged track caused the last two cars of Cleveland’s lakeshore express to derail on a high bridge, falling into the gorge below. One car, lit with oil lamps and heated with coal ovens, burst into flames upon impact, resulting in the deaths of nearly 50 passengers trapped inside (Vogel). Mechanical accidents of this scale were unheard of prior to the invention of the train (Odden 31). Agricultural or carriage accidents were less impactful. The industrial revolution was underway, but while factory accidents could only injure workers, train accidents endangered consumers, making no distinctions between class.

The Angola Horror was reported in newspapers for weeks, accompanied by graphic illustrations. The American public demanded improved railway safety, resulting in the invention of the air brake, which was made mandatory on American trains in 1893 as a means of stopping trains in an emergency (Vogel).

The Role of the Train in WWII

The train was vital to the war effort, but they were not without failure. An example of a Canadian train wreck contemporary to WWII occurred in December 1942. A “troop special” carrying soldiers from Pettawa military camp collided with a local train full of holiday travellers at Almonte station near Ottawa. 32 were killed and 114 injured, and the town was thrown into confusion and panic (32 DIE, 114 HURT IN TRAIN WRECK 1). These accidents were not common (Björnstig and Forsberg 368), but had major impacts on the involved community when they did occur.

During the war overseas, however, train wrecks were often not accidental. A 1944 example was published in the Globe and Mail article “U.S. Tanks Blast Trains, Huns Burn in Perfume”, a graphic account of a “train bust”, or targeted attack on an enemy train. This particular German train carried personnel and “every kind of equipment”, as well as liquor and perfume (Denny).

In fact, trains were one of the most important modes of transportation during the war, transporting 90 percent of all military hardware and 97 percent of all troops in America alone. In 1943, the year Active Comics No. 10 was published, trains took 10 million troops off to war; these contributions were vital to the war effort (Keefe). This also meant that to gain control of an enemy train, or to destroy it, was an effective way to damage enemy resources.

Train busters were commended for their efforts. An example is John A. Gordon, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1946 for destroying 20 locomotives and 64 other vehicles while stationed in the Mediterranean (“‘Train Buster’ Awarded DFC”).

Edmond Good. Page from “Active Jim”. Active Comics, No. 10, November 1943, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 36. Bell Feature Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The “Active Jim” story in Active Comics is directly inspired by these train busts, but it depicts a Nazi train buster operating in Canada, a scenario with no basis in reality, as these were primarily European occurrences. In the final panel of the comic the train conductor character breaks the fourth wall, telling readers, “The Nazis tried to wreck our train, to kill our fighting boys… Jim and Joan’s quick action foiled their murderous scheme.. It was close!.. But they’ll never beat people with courage! Keep it up Active Jim!” (Kulbach et al. 38). Jim is presented as a character to emulate, and here is commended for being active in the war effort, a stance that is ultimately pro-conflict. However, the comic presents a sanitized, child-friendly interpretation of a train bust, resolving with no death or destruction.

The Philosophy of the Accident

French philosopher Paul Virilio speaks of “the accident” as a consequence of advancing technology; according to Virilio, “The accident is … the hidden face of technical progress” (Redhead 10). For example, prior to the invention of the train, the “train accident” was not a possibility. As soon as this technology was invented, however, it brought with it the capacity for failure, and the train accidents of the 19th century were at a level of severity and violence that had never occurred before.

Virilio discusses a “society of spectacle”, referencing the media’s approach to accidents as “…the ravages wrought by the circulation of images, this constant concertina-ing, this constant pile-up of dramatic scenes from everyday life on the evening news.” (Virilio).  Accidents have always been reported, and there is often an element of sensationalism attached to them. This has changed the nature of the accident in terms of scale, moving away from a localized event towards a potential for the “global accident” (Redhead 11); Virilio cited the 9/11 attacks as having occurred everywhere at once through live airing on television (Redhead 13).

He also describes the contrast between “the accident” and “the attack”, as two separate phenomena that become less distinguishable through common representation in the news and entertainment media. When accidents and acts of terrorism receive similar levels of attention and treatment, viewers become less adept at differentiating between them. (Redhead, 15)

Virilio’s theories hold true to the historical data related to train wrecks. One comprehensive review published in the Prehospital and Disaster Medicine journal examined data of 529 railway disasters over the course of a century, beginning in 1910. The study determined that the number of railway disasters has increased over the years, being relatively infrequent during 1910-1949, but with 88% of disasters studied occurring post-1970 (Björnstig and Forsberg 368). This was attributed to increased speeds and traffic on railways.

Train wrecks have always inspired public imagination and horror, reported widely in the news media. According to Virilio, the press has more interest in trains that are derailed than trains that are on time, and these interests are echoed in entertainment media as well. The dynamic that Virilio describes between “the accident” and “the attack” is represented recurrently throughout history and entertainment media. The two stories in Active Comics are a prime example, being presented in the same medium, publication, and in a similar artistic style, placing the “accident” of Thunderfist’s mountain slide and the “attack” by the Nazi on an even field.

Popularity of Disaster Imagery and Propagandistic Potential

Although Virilio writes about television media as a force of momentum in manufacturing public interest in accidents, this interest can be traced back long before the invention of the television. When researching historical disasters, one will often find accompanying dramatic illustrations produced during the period. One major producer of such imagery was Currier and Ives, 19th century lithograph artists. Lithography was a fast and cheap method of mass image production (Encyclopedia of World Biography 346). In 1840, Currier and Ives produced a current-events inspired lithograph of fire breaking out aboard the steamship Lexington. The sales motivated them to create more images of current-event disasters (Le Beau 21). The American public of the mid-19th century wanted visual representation of what they read in the newspapers, and so these prints remained popular.

The Angola Horror, Frank Leslie’s Weekly, 1867. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

The Angola Horror is an example of this phenomenon, being depicted through “grisly illustrations” in the newspapers (Vogel). The image to the left was published in Frank Leslie’s Weekly, showing mourners amongst dead bodies while the train burns in the background.

Willy Stöwer. Der Untergang der Titanic. Engraving. Die Gartenlaube, 1912. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Titanic disaster is a more famous example. As the 1912 sinking was reported in newspapers, the public wanted visuals, and the press commissioned artworks of varying quality for use in their publications (Historical Telegrams 19:45 – 20:30). These images followed in the tradition of presenting the scene dramatically, such as this engraving by Willy Stöwer showing survivors observing the disaster from the lifeboats.

The RMS Lusitania was another ill-fated ship. During WWI on May 7, 1915, the passenger liner was sailing through an area south of Ireland that Germany had declared a war zone, when it was torpedoed by a German submarine, sinking in 18 minutes and killing 1198 people (Feldman 12). Aside from presenting a further example of technology enabling more dire disasters, the aftermath provides insight into the power of disaster imagery. The attack of a liner filled with civilians was obviously a controversial act, and in the U.S. this was heightened by the loss of many American civilians that had been on board. Cartoonists’ subsequent illustrations depicted ghosts of women and children haunting the Kaiser, and images of Uncle Sam shaking his fist at Germany (Feldman 14), and posters encouraged enlistment. By 1916, the event had become a “rallying cry for the Preparedness Movement”, a campaign for military enforcement (Feldman 15). In April of 1917, America entered the war, affecting the course of history (Feldman 16).

John Shuley & Co. IRISHMEN AVENGE THE LUSITANIA. Lithograph. Imperial War Museum. Central Council for the Organization of Recruiting in Ireland. Dublin, 1915. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 13654)
Fred Spear. Enlist. Wikimedia Commons. Boston Committee of Public Safety, 1915. Public Domain.

This disaster imagery has a profound social impact, effecting change in safety protocol, or even influencing a country’s participation in war in the case of these recruitment posters. This culture of disaster imagery presented as entertainment is also an influence on other forms of visual media, including stories of publications such as Active Comics.

 

Conclusion

The train wrecks depicted in Active Comics No. 10 demonstrate a binary dynamic between an “attack” and an “accident”. In keeping with Virilio’s theories, the comic depicts both scenarios on an even field, limiting our ability to distinguish between the two. This preoccupation with disasters is the result of decades of media influence, and a culture of “disaster imagery” being produced for the purposes of entertainment. Imagery with war themes serves a propagandistic social function, influencing historical pathways. In Active Comics No. 10, this imagery reinforces a moral message toward the primary audience, children, demonstrating clearly who the enemy is, and how to approach conflict scenarios correctly. The comic also brings concepts of overseas wartime events closer to home, an environment where there is already the potential for deadly accidents, mirroring those that occur through the war. Ultimately, while train wrecks throughout history have brought carnage, violence, and death, Active Comics No. 10 takes an optimistic approach, portraying heroes as capable of saving the day. These representations may have been sanitized for consumption by children, but there remains a dark and powerful history behind these forms of imagery.

 

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


Works Cited

“32 DIE, 114 HURT IN TRAIN WRECK: Troop Special Plows Into Local at Almonte Rear Car, Filled With Holiday Travellers, Is Crushed; Dead Said to Be in Civilian Coaches; City Hall Turned Into Emergency Aid Station.” The Globe and Mail (1936-Current), 28 Dec. 1942, pp. 1–2.

Björnstig, Ulf and Forsberg, Rebecca. “One Hundred Years of Railway Disasters and Recent Trends.” Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, vol. 26, no. 5, Oct. 2011, pp. 367–373. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1017/S1049023X1100639X. Accessed Nov 23. 2018.

Cruikshank, Ken. “Intercolonial Railway.” The Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Oxford University Press, 2004. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195415599.001.0001/acref-9780195415599-e-795. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.

“Currier and Ives.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., vol. 4, Gale, 2004, pp. 345-346. http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3404701609/GVRL?u=rpu_main&sid=GVRL&xid=cf9e9ad9. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.

Denny, Harold. “U.S. Tanks Blast Train, Huns Burn in Perfume.” The Globe and Mail, 1 Sept. 1944.

Feldman, Seth. “Winsor McCay’s The Sinking of the Lusitania and the Origins of Animated Documentary.” Cineaction, no. 97, 2016, pp. 12-22. http://search.proquest.com/docview/1770825511/citation/97A03ABD73694664PQ/1. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.

“Historical Telegrams Ep. 2: The Artistic History of the Titanic” Youtube, uploaded by Titanic: Honor and Glory, 24 Sep. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbKXjbLWGAg. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.

Keefe, Kevin P. “Riding the Rails: Michigan’s Super-Power Steam Locomotives.” Michigan History Magazine, vol. 100, no. 6, 2016, pp. 17+. http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A492464099/AONE?u=rpu_main&sid=AONE&xid=c6b91cb8. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.

Kulbach, René, et al. Active Comics: No. 10. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1943. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166511.pdf. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.

Le Beau, Bryan F. “Art in the Parlor: Consumer Culture and Currier and Ives: Art in the Parlor.” The Journal of American Culture, vol. 30, no. 1, Feb. 2007, pp. 18–37. 10.1111/j.1542-734X.2007.00462.x. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.

“Munitions Train Blast in Hungary Wrecks Main Line.” Hamilton Spectator, 8 Jan. 1941. https://collections.museedelhistoire.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5091654. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.

Redhead, Steve. “The Art of the Accident: Paul Virilio and Accelerated Modernity.” Fast Capitalism. https://www.academia.edu/301450/The_Art_of_the_Accident_Paul_Virilio_and_Accelerated_Modernity. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.

Regehr, T. D. “Canadian National Railways.” The Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Oxford University Press, 2004. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195415599.001.0001/acref-9780195415599-e-274. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.

“‘Train Buster’ Awarded DFC.” Globe and Mail, 18 Feb. 1946.

Virilio, Paul. “The Museum of Accidents.” International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, translated by Chris Turner, vol. 3, no. 2, July 2006. https://www2.ubishops.ca/baudrillardstudies/vol3_2/virilio.htm. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.

Vogel, Charity. “The Angola Horror: A Deadly Train Wreck 140 Years Ago Brought Tragedy to a Western New York Village–and Gave John D. Rockefeller Reason to Be Thankful.” American History, 1 Feb. 2008. http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A212275938/AONE?sid=googlescholar. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.

Shaping Childhood: The Significance of Educational Propaganda (Wow Comics No. 12)

© Copyright 2018 Kisha Rendon, Ryerson University

Introduction

Comic books have been regarded through multimedia platforms, scattered on the spectrum of both print and film. When thinking about comics, we envision certain theatrical conventions that were popularized by the D.C. and Marvel American franchises. It would be safe to say that each of us have encountered a superhero movie, or at least an advertisement for one. Coincidentally though, we do not often encounter Canadian comic books in our time the same way people had encountered them during the years of 1941-1946. These years will be remembered as the “Canadian Golden Age of Comics” (“Canadian Golden Age”); when Canadian comics were a revered form of media, and served a greater purpose than providing simple entertainment. During this time, Canadian children turned to comics as an escape from reality, where stories of victory and war time toys would scatter the pages and fulfill their imaginations.

When analyzing an archived copy of Bell Features’ Wow Comic Issue No.12, I found a pattern in the structural scheme of the comic book. This specific issue held a total of six comics/storylines. Three of the said stories were war related with propagational connotations. This especially caught my attention because in comparison, the issue has eleven advertisements/newsletters that are educational/are related to the war effort.

Fig. 1. Front Cover (recto) of "Wow Comics Issue No.12" in four toned printing using the colours magenta, yellow, cyan, and black. The "Bell Features" 10 cent logo is seen on the right hand side underneath the large print words; "WOW COMICS".
Fig. 1. Front Cover (recto) of “Wow Comics Issue No.12”. April 1943, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

This can be exemplified on the back cover (verso) of the book where there is an advertisement for model airplanes following the comic “Whiz Wallace: Bombers to Victory” created by C.T. Legault (54), which happens to be centered around fighter pilots and aircrafts. Another obvious structural theme was the use of letters or cartoonish lettering over imagery in these advertisements/newsletters, althemore pronouncing the contrast from modern day advertising, which is highly based on imagery and film media. Comic books in this time heavily relied on the use and understanding of literary conventions, thus highlighting the weight at which advertisements/newsletters were used as educational tools.

Although the success of Canadian Comics were a result of the War Exchange Conservation Act (W.E.C.A.) enacted in 1939 (Thomas), through the exploration of the Bell Features Publication Wow Comics Issue No.12, it is reasonable to say that the attempt to refurbish the popular culture of comic books brought forward a medium to propagate Canadian nationalism and the war effort. As well, this research exemplifies that comics hold a larger issue surrounding the ideology of childhood and how children were perceived by the government. Through the exploration and analysis of this specific comic (Issue No.12), I will shed light on the hidden purpose the printing press served in the alternate use of comic books, and will further develop the reasons and educational values expected of children during this time.  

Birth of Printing Press: Coming to Comics

Fig. 2. Archived propagational poster from the Canadian War Savings Committee, printed in three tones (red, black, and white) utilizing the image of two children collecting war stamps to encourage the support of the war effort.
Fig. 2. Unknown. “Canada, War Savings Committee, ‘We’re doing our bit! We’re buying War Savings Stamps’ (Ottawa, n.d. [1942])”. War, Memory and Popular Culture Archives – The University of Western Ontario – London, Ontario, 1942. Wartime Canada http://wartimecanada.ca/sites/default/files/documents/War%20Savings%20Stamps.pdf. Copyright is in the Public Domain.
During the first world war, issues of censorship were circulating in Canada and amongst other countries. This time period highly relied on the printing press in order to convey announcements and war time news, which transformed the concept of print into “propaganda machine” (“Government Propaganda”). This propaganda paradigm follows in the time of the outbreak of the Second World War. Print was cheap to produce which provided as an effective source to promote the war effort and patriotism, while also doubling as a way to conserve the dollar. Newspapers were the prime example of an advocate of wartime broadcasting and easily became an agent in shaping/maintaining a sense of value. The enactment of the War Exchange Conservation Act propelled individualized production in Canada in attempt to save the Canadian dollar (Kocmarek 148). The prohibition included the halt on the importing of American magazines and comic books. A new industry for printing, independent from the United States, emerged from the importation ban.

Children would read comics as a pastime or form of entertainment. Thus, when the import of American comics was discontinued, the child industry was left open for exploitation. Publishers utilized the prohibition of American comics to establish Canadian comic printing companies such as Bell Features. Founders of Bell Features Publications utilized the publicity of the war time status to establish a Canadian printing press, especially by targeting influential youth who were adamant on supporting different gimmicks in contribution to war effort participation. This resulted in the eruption of the time period called the “Canadian Golden Age of Comics” (1941-1946).

Undercover Propaganda

This time brought to light new Canadian heroes, and thus, Canadian based comic book series came to life. To name a few iconic figures; “Crash Carson”, “Nelvana”, “Johnny Canuck”, and etc., were among most of which who followed the mold of an average patriotic citizen, turned sacrificial, brave superhero. Furthermore, Canadian comic books would specifically include true victory stories like that of “Tommy Holmes V.C.” (24) to instill patriotic ideologies in children, and further encourage enlisting in the war and their participation in the war effort. So although on the surface level, comics served as a form of entertainment, publishers would often times include propaganda in forms of advertisement and newsletters, including war toys and self promotion to support, therefore maintaining the war time environment and propagation. Interestingly, during the Golden Age of Comics, education became a crucial aspect in shaping children’s values (Cooke 2), leading back to why true war stories were included in the collection of comics in this issue, and developing the acceptability of “educational” propaganda in children’s entertainment. Through the inclusion of subtle value based advertisements and newsletter additions in between comics and victory stories, comic print cultivated a new level of propagation that changed the meaning of childhood during the war.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “propaganda” is defined as displays of often one sided idea/opinion based information displayed through images, broadcastings, or publications intentionally spread to influence people’s opinions. Propaganda was commonly seen during both the First and Second World Wars to do exactly this in regard to the upholding of patriarchal values and beliefs. The Cambridge definition of the word “propaganda” insinuates the use of subliminal messaging. In the Wow Comics Issue No.12, there are instances of comics that follow the idea of subliminal messaging. Taking the example of Parker’s Tommy Holmes once again, the comic follows the real life victory encounter of Tommy Holmes being a Canadian soldier, and how he won the Victory Cross. The educational value of this comic, shows to have propagational background in the sense of glorifying enlistment into the front line and educational value through the teaching of a real time event. This is amplified then, by the following overzealous inclusion of advertisements in the children’s print.

Advertisements are typically used to depict messages through mass media. Often times advertising is meant to persuade the purchase of goods or services (Goodis and Pearman), which can be exemplified in this comic issue through the promotion of model plane sets on the back cover (verso). The page is printed in four tone (red, yellow, black, and white) and is displayed with two miniscule drawings of the “Identoplane” box and a boy yelling. All other details on the page are written in different fonts and lettering that mimic/direct the way they are to be read. However, through the comparison of this advertisement against advertisements found in modern day, it is visually more word oriented versus the media we see now. In an article written by Beth Hatt and Stacy Otto in 2011, they discuss the use of visual culture and imagery in advertisements as a way for accessibility to the audience (512). Thus, by using word based advertisements and newsletters in children’s comic books, there needed to be a target audience who could read and understand the content, and were overall meant to be in possession of these comics.  

The Canadian Effort: Educating Youth

Fig. 3. Illustrated newsletter printed in black and white, and drawn by Canadian artist Al Cooper. Newsletter describes a German Nazi plane called the "Torpedo Aircraft", along with informational text boxes.
Fig. 3. Al Cooper. “Informational newsletter on the ‘Torpedo Aircraft'”. Wow Comics Issue No. 12, April 1943, p. 32. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

These findings lead to the question about how children were educated during the war time. The use of comics was an easy solution in educating children through advertisements and newsletters that actually served as politically driven propaganda. Ultimately, the most popular example of educational use in comic books leads back to the highly weighted importance of participating in the war effort. The advertisements for related Bell Features comic books advertise comics aimed toward both boys and girls. In analyzing Issue No.12 further, page 32 stood out as an independent/unique newsletter amongst the others. This newsletter is a stand alone page that has two text boxes with information on the “Torpedo Aircraft”. The page is accompanied by three illustrations of a Nazi German aircraft drawn by the infamous Canadian illustrator, Al Cooper. At first glance the newsletter could be mistook for an advertisement or a one panel comic due to its cartoon-like demeanour, but upon deeper analysis the page is a definite informational newsletter. The newsletter appears to be specifically beneficial to the male audience as it discusses the Torpedo Aircraft in two entire text boxes; which is an example of male gender content. However, during the war time schools as a whole became highly involved in the contributions to the war effort.

Through the outbreak of the war and the installment of the W.E.C.A, school began to revolve around supporting the front line. Educational systems led and focused on contributions to propagational campaigns that would help save the dollar. An example of this would be classrooms being transformed into sewing rooms for girls, where they would “learn” how to sew/knit for the Red Cross organization, and articles would go to servicemen and victims of bombed areas.

Fig. 4. Unknown. Archived. Captured in black and white, vintage photograph of three boys working on the mechanics of an aviator machine at Wester Technical School.
Fig. 3. Unknown. “Archived vintage photograph of boys working on aviator machine”. City of Toronto Archives
www.toronto.ca/archives, 1930, Toronto Guardian, City of Toronto Archives. Copyright is in the Public Domain.

Boys on the other hand were to “learn” how to produce scale models of aircrafts that would go toward training pilots and gunners. Furthermore, this explains why the verso of the comic advertising “Identoplanes” is printed in colour, and makes sense of the use of letters versus images as building aircrafts was associated with school. Education was being strategically interwoven into popular culture through the comic book medium. Moreover, students would often receive education on defence and war emergency training. The type of education included would be how to recognize enemy aircrafts and understanding how they function (Millar “Education”), which is the exact information included on the newsletter from page 32. This thus encompasses the image and value of education as presented to children through political propagation as it was important for students to be educated on certain war time concepts to better protect themselves.

Building Childhood: Concluding Thoughts

The government imposed many political standings over Canadians which is clearly presented through newspapers and printed propaganda, reaching out to parental figures at home, while children were more often concerned with new war toys and other popular culture novelties. School systems held the great responsibility over shaping the values and ideologies of children in a time where there was no structure of understanding or definite knowledge to when the war would end. The war time brought significant changes to the social environment of many families in Canada, which in turn, highlighted school as a facility of direction. Education taught children how to observe and retain knowledge from the world around them, and still plays an important role in shaping personal perspectives. It is important to recognize that children are impressionable and will reflect actions and mistakes. For example, when there is a high standard set on expectations of a noble soldier like Tommy Holmes, children will reflect on that image and mimic it’s value. Therefore, the manipulation of comics as war educated propagational mediums, holds potential power for abuse. Although comics served as entertainment, they were also popular tools used to educate children on serious topics ranging from political ideologies, moral values, and racial categorization. If used/misused with from an ignorant standpoint, there could have been severe consequences in the social development of war time children that would last far into the future.

The most interesting thing about analyzing the issue of childhood education through propaganda in comic books is the lack of thorough research done on this topic. The Golden Age of Comics arose multiple issues that have been overlooked in scholarly work such as: the importance of word oriented/educational advertisements and newsletters in children’s comic books and the purpose that they serve. The values of education in correlation to comic books and popular culture is almost nonexistent. This is concerning considering the weight at which the government influenced Canadian values and ideologies during the Second World War. Continually, there was minimal research regarding how children experienced the war time and war effort movements. Although young and impressionable, the social results of their own experience has not been thought to be analyzed thus far. It was through compiling this research that I found it difficult to produce a connective argument, as this argument does not yet exist, but should exist. It was not hard to point at a page in the comic book and correlate it to a post-war time issue/concern. Wow Comics embraces a great ordeal of information through example illustrations of propaganda and subliminal messaging in story lines. I believe that comic books are detrimental to future studies and analysis on World War II and the experiences of those who lived through it.  

In conclusion, through the analysis of the structure of the Wow Comics Issue No.12 and it’s significant use of advertising and newsletters, comic books are proven to have served as educational tools for children during the Second World War. The printing press and pulp print built an opportunity for publishers such as Cyril Bell, to bring forward publication firms such as Bell Features Comics and develop the initial platform for popular culture propaganda. However, it was the importance of education that ultimately motivated the inclusion of subliminal propaganda in comic books. Furthermore, this research envelopes the notion of the child as an important figure in the construction of social values through their impressionable nature, but also the leading figure of direction through their capability to mold the future of Canada. Essentially, the government simultaneously established manipulation and dependence on the education of children through comic books, locking themselves in a feedback loop entailing both the political figures and the children to rely on one another.   

 


 

Works Cited

Clemenso, Al, et al. Wow Comics, no. 12. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, April

1943, pp. 1-65. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166674.pdf

Cook, Tim. “Canadian Children and the Second World War | The Canadian Encyclopedia.” The

Canadian Encyclopedia, 12 Apr. 2016,

https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-children-and-wwii.

Cooke, Ian. “Children’s Experiences and Propaganda.” British Library, Creative Commons, 29

January 2014,

https://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/childrens-experiences-and-propaganda.

Cooper, Al. “Torpedo Aircraft.” Wow Comics, no. 12. Bell Features and Publishing Company

Limited, April 1943, p. 32. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166674.pdf

Good, Edmond. “Wow Comics Issue No.12” Wow Comics, no. 12. Bell Features and Publishing

Company Limited, April 1943, cover page (recto). Bell Features Collection, Library and

Archives Canada.

http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166674.pdf

Goodis, Jerry and Brian Pearman. “Advertising.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Canada,

4 March 2015, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/advertising.

Hatt, Beth, and Stacy Otto. “A Demanding Reality: Print-Media Advertising and Selling

Smartness in a Knowledge Economy.” Educational Studies, vol. 47, no. 6, 2011, pp.

507–26. Scholars Portal Journals, doi:10.1080/00131946.2011.621075.

Legault, C.T.. “Whiz Wallace: Bombers to Victory.” Wow Comics, no. 12. Bell Features and

Publishing Company Limited, April 1943, pp. 54-63. Bell Features Collection, Library

and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166674.pdf

Millar, Anne. “Education during the Second World War.” Wartime Canada,

http://wartimecanada.ca/essay/learning/education-during-second-world-war. Accessed 30

September 2018.

Parker. “Tommy Holmes V.C.” Wow Comics, no. 12. Bell Features and

Publishing Company Limited, April 1943, pp. 24-31. Bell Features Collection, Library

and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166674.pdf

“PROPAGANDA”  Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/propaganda. Accessed 20 November

2018.

“Save While Supporting the War.” Wartime Canada. 1942. The University of Western Ontario,

London, Ontario. War, Memory and Popular Culture Archives,

http://wartimecanada.ca/document/world-war-ii/victory-loans-and-war-savings/save-whil

e-supporting-war

Thomas, Michael. “Canadian Comics: From Golden Age to Renaissance (Includes Interview).”

Digital Journal, 18 Aug. 2015,

http://www.digitaljournal.com/a-and-e/arts/canadian-comics-from-golden-age-to-renaissa

nce/article/440981. Accessed 30 September 2018.

“WarMuseum.ca – Democracy at War – Information, Propaganda, Censorship and the

Newspapers.” Canadian War Museum, 14 Nov. 1940,

https://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/information_e.shtml.

“Western Technical School – Boys Working on Aviation Motor.” Toronto Guardian. 1942.

Western Technical School, Toronto, Ontario. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item

19594, https://torontoguardian.com/2016/08/vintage-school-students-photographs/

 

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

 

The “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.

Cover of Wow Comics No. 8, part of the Canadian Whites collection.

The Everyman Hero in Canadian WWII Comics (Wow Comics No. 8)

© 2018 Kelley Doan, Ryerson University

When Canadians think about comic book heroes, most of us refer to characters that are American: they were created in America, they represent American ideas and ideals, and most of the stories are set in American cities or places that, if fictional, are easily recognized as intended to be American. However, while entertainment in Canada does tend to be overwhelmed by American influence, there was a golden age of Canadian comics during which artists and writers took advantage of a pause in access to American content to create Canadian heroes.

Cover of Wow Comics No. 8, part of the Canadian Whites collection.
Title: Wow Comics No. 8
Creator: Bell Features and Publishing Company
Source: http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166671.pdf

In examining Bell Features’ Wow Comics No. 8, I realized that something seemed different about the main characters. These Canadian comic book heroes, in contrast to their American counterparts, were without superhuman powers or superscientific weapons, and this was true of largely all Canadian comic book heroes of the time. For example, in Wow Comics No. 8, heroes Dart Daring, Jeff Waring, Crash Carson, and Whiz Wallace were all simple adventurers (Legault et al.). Most of them were everyman heroes – the average citizen with a passion to set things right and an exceptional dose of courage – with whom readers could identify rather than idolize. Two major contributing factors brought about this new class of comic book hero. Cultural differences in Canada were reflected in their character, particularly a differing notion of what is heroic. More relevant, though, is the impact of propaganda which was used to muster support for the Canadian war effort and was found in all forms of media at this time, including those directed at children. An exploration of the more prominent Canadian comic book heroes as purveyors of the message of unity and call for support sheds some light not only on the origin of future Canadian comic book heroes, but also indicates reasons – beyond a fraught publishing industry – that those later heroes struggled to find more than a niche audience.

Canadian Comics: The Origin Story

Comic books made their debut in the late 1920’s, rising from the popularity of the comic strip. Comic strips were meant solely for entertainment, unlike the already established political cartoon, and the comic book followed suit. There were a number of Canadian comic strips in print, but American artists and publishers had established a foothold in the genre early on, and Canadian comics found little success in syndication beyond our borders (Bell and Viau, “Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929-1940”). Even within Canada, publishers faced financial challenges, in part due to the popularity of the American comic books flooding the market thanks to a much stronger American publishing industry (Edwardson 184).

The Daisybelle comic strip by Gene Byrnes from The Funnies No. 2, 1936.
Title: “Daisybelle”
Creator: Gene Byrnes
Source: http://digitalcomicmuseum.com/index.php?dlid=5640
Copyright: Public Domain

As the popularity of comic strips, known as “the funnies”, increased, the adventure genre strips emerged. Among the first of these was Superman. While he is frequently said to be a Canadian creation – the National Film Board included him in one of their Heritage Minutes and he was part of a collection of stamps commemorating Canadian comic book heroes – the truth is that the connection is very minimal. Superman’s creator, Joe Shuster, was born and lived in Toronto until he was eight years old. He then moved to the United States where he created Superman, who fought for “Truth, justice, and the American way” (Beaty 428). Superman was more than an adventurer, though. He was the first of the superheroes, with powers beyond those of a human being. Children on both sides of the border saw the appeal immediately (Bell and Viau, “Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929-1940”s). Canada’s own Mordecai Richler was a fan, remarking that, “They were invulnerable, all-conquering, whereas we were puny, miserable, and defeated” (Richler 80). Whatever his heritage, Superman’s popularity paved the way for an ever-increasing roster of superheroes, including Batman, Arrow, and Flash Gordon.

Many superheroes got their start in comic strips, and comic books began as compilations of the strips; but publishers rather quickly noticed that comic books had a greater potential, one which included longer-form storytelling and experimenting with elements not possible in strips. Children embraced this new medium as much as they did the superheroes that filled the comic books’ pages, and a new sector of American publishing took off like a speeding bullet. Emphasis is on the American industry, because although there were thousands of fans and a large market in Canada, those Canadians who were part of the comic book boom generally had to move to America to work (Bell and Viau, “Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929-1940”).

A child at the Children's Colony, a school for refugee children in New York, N.Y. reading a Superman comic.
Title: New York, N.Y. Children’s Colony, a school for refugee children Creator: Marjory Collins Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:N.Y._Children%27s_Colony_04108v.jpg Copyright: Public Domain

As war approached, though, this would change drastically. On the heels of Canada’s declaration of war in 1939 came the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA), which restricted the importation of non-essential goods including comics. The embargo prompted the formation of Canada’s own publishing industry comprising a group of publishers and their works known later as The Canadian Whites, and provided an opportunity for Canadian artists to produce their own heroes (Bell and Viau, “Canadian Golden Age of Comics, 1941-1946”): heroes which better represented the Canadian audience; heroes who used Canadian cultural references; heroes who could relay messages to the audiences that felt so much more connected to them, a point which did not go unnoticed.

 

Propaganda in Comics: The Art of Persuasion

The word “propaganda” often conjures ideas of nefarious government deeds, but that is not always or even often the case. It is simply a form of communication with a cause at the heart of its agenda, and can be completely benign or even beneficial. Much like marketing, it is a form of persuasion, but propaganda is enhanced by ideology. As an integral part of a democracy (Batrasheva 8), it is not hard to understand why propaganda is used during war time, when it is of vital importance for governments to unite citizens in support of the war effort.

In 1942, the Wartime Information Board was created from the previous entity, the Bureau of Public Information, changing the mandate from simply providing war-related information to the public to using techniques of persuasion to manage Canadians’ perceptions of and feelings about the war (Young 190-91). Following on the Bureau of Public Information’s failure to rouse support in more traditional and grandiose ways, the Wartime Information Board created the idea of a “people’s war”. Canadians disliked American “brouhaha and victory parades”. They felt that patriotism was being forced upon them, but were inspired by the idea that neighbours together could fight the enemy and build a better society (Young 192-93). It was a young idea that needed a young method of relaying the message.

Among the messages necessary to impart to Canadians during World War II was the integral idea that the war effort, despite the tremendous impact on their lives, was important and good; among the motivations for that message was avoiding the need for conscription and a repeat of the 1917 crisis (English) which divided the nation because French Canada felt disconnected from the cause (“The Conscription Crisis”); in fact the Canadian government eventually avoided the need to send conscripts overseas until nearly the end of the war (Jones and Granatstein). While support had to be stirred in both the men who would go overseas to fight and the women who remained and took on the extra work of supplying the needs of the troops in addition to maintaining their families and communities, it was also important to address the children, whose fathers were suddenly absent and in many cases may never return.

Canadian WWII industrial propaganda poster
Title: Canadian WWII industrial propaganda poster
Creator: Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Company Limited
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Our_Answer_All-Out_Production,_Canada,_WWII_Propaganda_Poster.jpg
Copyright: Public Domain

Wartime propaganda is typically of the integration type, seeking to unify society to a common goal (Batrasheva 12). The transference technique, which connects the intended message to something the audience respects or reveres (Batrasheva 16), is especially useful with children as it emulates the parental role. To reach children, the most obvious choice was their current favourite: comic books. Since the favourite characters of the day were already adventure heroes, it was simple enough to send those characters off to war. Combining transference with the plain folks technique – a method aimed at connecting well known figures to activities that should be imitated (Batrasheva 18) – which appealed to both children and those who were on board with the “people’s war” ideal, one of the obvious methods of communication was through entertainment, particularly using popular figures who represented both the war effort’s message and connected with the average citizen. Comic books, with their young market, were an effective medium., particularly since the heroes in Canada’s World War II comics already differed from American heroes in one crucial way: they were not supermen, they were everymen.

Not All Heroes Are Super

The more well-known comic book heroes of the day were American, and the hero among these that best represented American nationalism and support for the war effort was Captain America, who first appeared in 1941. While Captain America began as an average citizen who passionately wanted to go to war and fight the Nazis, he was a sickly man who was not able to enlist. However, he was offered the chance to participate in a government experiment during which he received the Super-Soldier formula and was exposed to “vita-rays”, after which he had a perfect (though still human) body. His physical prowess was enhanced by a shield made of an impenetrable, indestructible, and fictional metal (“Captain America”).

While Captain America is written as a human, the level of perfection raises the character to a level unattainable in reality and carries a super-real shield thus elevating him to the level of superhero. Examining the real-life people that Americans celebrated as war heroes, I found many highly decorated people such as actor Audie Murphy, who at age 19 “manned a machine gun on a burning tank and made a desperate solo attack against German forces”, for which he won the Medal of Honor, and upon which he built his film career (Andrews). This type of hero reflects a preference for a hierarchy of supporting characters following one extraordinary leader, and supports ideals of patriotism and rarefied bravery, and the message that with the support of American citizens the government will send a hero to save the day.

Title: “Johnny Canuck”
Creator: Leo Baschle
Source: http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166581.pdf

On the other hand, Canada’s main wartime nationalistic comic book hero, Johnny Canuck – who first appeared in 1942, the same year as the Wartime Information Board – was the kind of hero that most Canadians could become. Many knew someone of similar ability, be it their family, friend, or neighbour. Johnny Canuck was an excellent athlete who regularly fought Hitler with his bare hands. Although he had no superhuman powers, weaponry, or armour (Beaty 430) he was designed to be “Canada’s answer to Nazi oppression” (Bachle et al. 1) In fact Leo Bachle was an adolescent when he created Johnny Canuck, drawing him in his own image and including friends and even his teachers in the stories. Johnny Canuck was truly an everyman hero (Plummer).

A photograph of Elsie MacGill during her CCF tenure.
Title: “Elsie MacGill during her CCF tenure.”
Creator: Elsie Gregory MacGill
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elsie_macgill.jpg
Copyright: Public Domain

Of course, Canada had some decorated heroes as well, but given our smaller more supporting role, the everyman hero better represented Canadian ideals and mirrored the real-life heroes they venerated, such as Elsie MacGill who led the Hawker Hurricane manufacturing project that supplied fighter planes to Allied Forces and became known as Queen of the Hurricanes, and Leo Major who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for liberating an entire city by himself, but did so by using his intelligence to trick the Germans rather than brute force (Ferreras).

Conclusion

While Canada and America were united by participation in World War II, their roles were very different. The messages relayed by propaganda to the citizenry were also dissimilar, but this is at least as much due to cultural differences, as Canadians generally saw their mostly supporting role as every bit as important as that of the American troops, not to mention that Canada was involved earlier (Young 190).

While later Canadian hero Captain Canuck – one of the few to emerge in the decades following the war – did have superpowers, he embodied many of the characteristics of Johnny Canuck, and is often confused for a later interpretation of the Canadian Whites hero (Edwardson 189-91). Canadian society had moved on, but Captain Canuck clung mostly to the everyman values that portrayed Canada as “a “peaceable kingdom”” (Edwardson 184), an idea created by the Wartime Information Board to connect to audiences. Later readers had no need for this type of character and, once again inundated with American escapist entertainment, spent their dollars in support of American superheroes.

Nevertheless, the Canadian Whites are an interesting and all too often overlooked part of our literary history. They represent the tenacity of Canadians in the face of war and in the pursuit of entertainment; our ability to band together to fight the enemy in hope of a better world; and our ability to come together and create a whole arts industry that represents Canadians more than it imitates American content, when given the space to do so.


Works Cited

Andrews, Evan. “Audie Murphy’s World War II Heroics, 70 Years Ago.” HISTORY.Com, http://www.history.com/news/audie-murphys-world-war-ii-heroics-70-years-ago. Accessed 10 Jan. 2018.

Bachle, Leo, et al. Johnny Canuck. Chapterhouse Publishing Incorporated, 2016.

Bachle, Leo. Johnny Canuck. 1945.

Batrasheva, Yeldana. Children and the Media: Propaganda Methods Aimed at Children during World War II. 2016, https://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=12&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjzrqeH2d_WAhWlx4MKHX3iBnkQFghNMAs&url=https%3A%2F%2Felearning.unyp.cz%2Fpluginfile.php%2F58141%2Fmod_data%2Fcontent%2F1862%2FBatrasheva%252C%2520Yeldana_510135_Senior%2520Project%2520Thesis.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0UPYbTLSCTXTppKgA-utKz.

Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, Oct. 2006, pp. 427–39.

Bell, John, and Michel Viau. “Canadian Golden Age of Comics, 1941-1946.” Collections Canada, https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8300-e.html. Accessed 7 Jan. 2018.

Bell, John, and Michel Viau. “Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929-1940.” Collections Canada, https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8200-e.html. Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

Byrnes, Gene. Daisybelle Comic on Page 32 of The Funnies. 1 Nov. 1936. http://digitalcomicmuseum.com/index.php?dlid=5640, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daisybelle_-_The_Funnies,_No._2_02.jpg.

“Captain America.” Marvel Directory, http://www.marveldirectory.com/individuals/c/captainamerica.htm.

Collins, Marjory. New York, N.Y. Children’s Colony, a School for Refugee Children. Oct. 1942. Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:N.Y._Children%27s_Colony_04108v.jpg.

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, pp. 184–201.

English, John R. “Wartime Information Board.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/wartime-information-board/. Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

Ferreras, Jesse. “11 Canadian War Heroes We Can’t Forget On November 11.” HuffPost Canada, 9 Nov. 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/11/09/canadian-war-heroes-remembrance-day_n_8475820.html.

Jones, Richard, and J. L. Granatstein. “Conscription.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/conscription/. Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

Legault, E. T., et al., editors. Wow Comics: No. 8. Bell Features and Publishing Company, 1942.

MacGill, Elsie Gregory. Elsie MacGill during Her CCF Tenure. Apr. 1938. Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elsie_macgill.jpg.

Plummer, Kevin. “Historicist: Toronto’s Golden Age of Comic Books.” Torontoist, 20 Nov. 2010, https://torontoist.com/2010/11/historicist_torontos_golden_age_of_comic_books/.

Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Company Limited. Canadian WWII Industrial Propaganda Poster. 1940s. WWII propaganda poster (Immediate source: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/301459768779680901/), Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Our_Answer_All-Out_Production,_Canada,_WWII_Propaganda_Poster.jpg.

Richler, Mordecai. “The Great Comic Book Heroes.” Hunting Tigers Under Glass, McClelland and Stewart, 1968.

“The Conscription Crisis.” CBC Learning, http://www.cbc.ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP12CH2PA3LE.html.

Young, William R. “Mobilizing English Canada for War: The Bureau of Public Information, the Wartime Information Board and a View of the Nation During the Second World War.” The Second World War as a National Experience, HyperWar Foundation, https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/Canada/Natl_Exp/NatlExp-14.html.

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

Using Humor As A Method to Promote Propaganda with Dizzy Don No. 8

© Copyright 2017 Sahra Alikouzeh, Ryerson University

Introduction

Fig. 1. Manny Easson. Panel from “The Mystery of The Million Dollar Baby” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 8, 1943, Bell Features & Publishing Company Limited. p. 1. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166599.pdf

This post will focus on Manny Easson’s eighth comic issue, titled “The Mystery of the Million Dollar Baby”, apart of Bell Features, Great Canadian White Collection. The Great Canadian White Collection is a series of comic books published between the years 1941 to 1946. Due to the importation banning of American comics, this revolutionized an era titled the “Canadian Golden Age of Comics”. (Bell) Issued during World War two, the method of using humor in texts was a popular choice by authors as it not only provided reader’s a mere moment of distraction from the stressful times occurring, but to also allow readers to explore an alternative escapist reality. This post will also discuss the use of the main character, Dizzy Don, who is the protagonist of this comic book intended for children, and some of the influential effects this text has. Understanding how hard the toll of the war was on the Canadians at home, the easygoing nature of the comic book genre can be seen as a stress-reliever suitable for all.

Through the use of humor, authors also took the time to incorporate their own messages within their text to sway the reader’s perspective.

Canadianization

Dating back to the moment in World War 2 where Canada joined the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Canada provided an indispensable amount of contribution to the generation of British air power. Despite the eventual success due to the tag teaming by both the Canadian air force and the British, Canada made sure to enforce the continued national identification of their personnel. The reason being that national identification allowed for the increase of Canadian political independence. Despite the mixed review received from Britain about the separation, many Canadians embraced the newfound “Canadianization” (Johnston, 2015) Going ahead with this bold move, it was one that was successful as Canadians celebrated, ensuring the importance of their national identity. National identity also increased the amount of Canadians distancing themselves from those whom were seen as non-Canadian. This distance led to the emergence of the anti-immigration perspective.

Fig. 1. Manny Easson. Panel from “The Mystery of The Million Dollar Baby” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 8, 1943, Bell Features & Publishing Company Limited, p. 5. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166599.pdf

In order to feel patriotic there is the aspect of appreciating one’s culture and then there is also the put down of other cultures, as a form of whom is to be regarded as superior. The Nazi’s are mocked in this panel due to the faux imitation of their accents. Mocking is a sign of discrediting intelligence and belittling the culture and foreign language being spoken. It provokes this feeling of alienation, humiliation, and disrespect to those of the mocked heritage. This displays how some Canadians felt about German foreigners and their own air of superiority.

Germanophobia

During the time of World War 2 as many soldiers were abroad fighting, Germans in Canada were suspicious of their fellow Canadians. There were many posters and propaganda alike, floating around in promotion of hailing Canadians at war, while at the same degrading the Germans. The method of spreading information through mediums such as texts and the media, allowed the importance of these immigrants’ presence to go unacknowledged and ignored. Instead German immigrant’s importance was replaced with the title of an “enemy alien” (Bassler, 1990) Those with German descent in Canada began to see him or herself as unwanted, to their Canadian neighbors. In comic books there was the mockery of German accents, creation of the German characters as evil and made to look angry, all endorsing these negative stereotypes.

Fig. 1. Manny Easson. Panel from “The Mystery of The Million Dollar Baby” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 8, 1943, Bell Features & Publishing Company Limited, p. 3. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166599.pdf

There is a clear binary present as the happy American family is depicted and immediately right after, there is the aggressive German Nazi’s. By illustrating this family as those whom would sacrifice their life in order to save their kin, “The ambassador and his wife huddle around Adorable in an effort to save her life” (Easson, 1943) displays the good North American family image. Something the North American readers would be proud of to relate too. Meanwhile, representing the Germans as those opposing this happy lifestyle, with adjectives such as “merciless” when drawn as attackers.

Fig. 2. Manny Easson. Panel from “The Mystery of The Million Dollar Baby” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 8, 1943, Bell Features & Publishing Company Limited, p. 5. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166599.pdf

Humor and Propaganda

Propaganda is the aggressive dissemination of a distinct point of view for a specific purpose. Using persuasive techniques, images, wording and messages to manipulate targeted audiences. By having them assume the propagandist’s perspective is the correct vantage point of view that should be adopted, believed and acted on. (McRann, 2009) Humor allows writers and artists of all kinds to attain a method of expression. Texts embedded within comedic expressions can have large impacts on its audiences, winning over hearts, wars and minds. Humor was used as an approach during the war to construct a national identity, decoding the importance of humor, especially to children during the time of war. Wartime cartoonists were big on getting children involved in the war efforts through their drawings. (Penniston-Bird & Summerfield, 2001) These cartoonists would embrace the gender roles by drawing little boys as soldiers while also promoting the theme of national identity to little girls as well, reminding them to remain patriotic and not make amends with the opposition.

Fig. 3. Manny Easson. Panel from “The Mystery of The Million Dollar Baby” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 8, 1943, Bell Features & Publishing Company Limited, p. 2. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166599.pdf

Dizzy Don is introduced as a comedic radio host, who leads the adventures in many of The Funny Comic book issues alongside his pal Canary Byrd. As the main protagonist in this children’s comic book series, his comments and actions are depicted clearly in the story, including his sentiments. Canary Byrd starts off his interaction with Dizzy on the radio saying: “Say Dizzy – when our grocer told you that domestic sardines are 15 cents and imported 25 cents which did you take?” and Dizzy’s response: “Domestic, why should I pay their way over?” (Easson, 1943) Being introduced as a comedian aids the harsh message of how Dizzy feels about foreigners from abroad coming into his homeland. Although the banter can be taken lightly due to Dizzy’s stature as a comedian, the context of the racist message is still present right at the beginning of the story. This also displays clear patriotism, as the support for domestic products over imported is not even something to be questioned by Dizzy.

Conclusion

Humor, especially the sort that is a medium for social and political commentary, plays an important role in the community of a wartime nation. Furthermore, understanding the intention behind a text can be problematic as it reveals discovery on the social impact of the audience. (Penniston-Bird, & Summerfield, 2001) This comic uses the method of humor to promote anti-immigration sentiments, due to the light hearted stance the genre takes, in which the audience is expected to put their guard down. This creates a dimmer focus on the serious aspect of the topic when being discussed, resulting in non-consequential results from its readers. Unknowingly, this targeted audience does not realize the influence Bell Features authors’ texts have on their daily interactions and perspectives, as it creates racist stereotypes and promotes exclusion of those whom are of German descent. This aids explanation as to why there was the continuous racist endorsement; especially as many German Canadians during the war were put under a lot of scrutiny. Putting this in a children’s book allows these ideologies to also exploit the future generation and further these thoughts. Through the use of the main character Dizzy Don and his interactions, he was used as a platform to spread anti-immigration sentiments embedded within humorous texts.

Works Cited

  • Twark, E. Jill. “Approaching History as Cultural Memory Through Humor, Satire, Comics, and Graphic Novels.” RULA Archives & Special Collection, Ryerson University. Toronto, Ontario. https://journals-scholarsportal-ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/pdf/09607773/v26i0001/175_ahacmthscagn.xml. Accessed 30 Nov 2017.
  • Easson, Manny. The Funny Comic and Dizzy Don No.8: The Mystery of the Million Dollar Baby. Bell Features, 1943. Print.
  • Johnston, E. Iain. “The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and the Shaping of National Identities in the Second World War.” RULA Archives & Special Collection, Ryerson University. https://journals-scholarsportalezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/pdf/03086534/v43i0005/903_tbcatpiitsww.xml. Accessed 30 Nov 2017.
  • Bassler, Gerhard P. “Silent or Silenced Co-Founders of Canada? Reflections on the History of German Canadians.” Canadian Ethnic Studies = Etudes Ethniques Au Canada; Calgary. vol. 22, no. 1, Jan.1990, pp. 38–46.
  • Penniston-Bird. C. Summerfield. P. “Hey! You’re Dead! The multiple uses of humor in representations of British national defence in the Second World War.” RULA Archives & Special Collection, Ryerson University. https://journals-scholarsportalinfo.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/pdf/00472441/v31i0123/413_ydtmuoditsww.xml. Accessed 30 Nov 2017.

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.

 

“Propagandizing the Wartime Canadian – A Study of Wartime Media in Triumph Comics No. 19”

© Copyright 2017 Dylan Gibbons, Ryerson University

Introduction

During WWII, after having print materials such as comic books and magazines restricted from other countries, Canada in turn experienced the “First Age of Canadian Comics” from Bell Features and lead artists such as Adrian Dingle (Kocmarek 148). Predicated on the need to bolster the Canadian dollar during the war, the early years of comic books in Canada are particularly interesting, being that art and story telling were never at the core of the media, as they might have been in other countries. As this paper will show, this implicitly entails an agenda. The comics were designed not only with economic prosperity in mind, but also with the explicit agenda of adding to patriotic, nationalist attitudes, the promotion of traditional British niceties and politeness, and to instill in the reader the necessity of supporting the war effort (Kocmarek 150). These tropes and underlying motivations behind the creation of this media are blatant in most comics of this time, including the primary source material of this exhibit, Triumph Comics: No.19.

Perhaps what is most significant is what the comic signifies within the broader context of the war effort: a shift from simply believing that the Allies’ enemies in WWII are bad to a collectivised message with focus on patriotism and doing one’s civil duty in supporting the war effort. This exhibit will analyze Triumph Comics: No. 19, created in 1944, with reference to other contextual sources, to show how this comic was used, similarly to other media released at the time, to propagandize the Canadian people into adhering to certain normative attitudes and into making certain economic decisions, and show how this was not at all random, but implemented by government institutions.

Manufacturing Normativity

Perhaps the most explicit implementation of propaganda the comic gives us is found in Ted Steele’s ‘Speed Savage’ story (38-46). The story follows the superhero the ‘White Mask’ and his attempt to administer justice in wartime (WWII) Canada. In the comic, the main villain is one who is trying to sabotage the war effort by shooting factory workers out of a cannon (Steele 42-45), wherein they plummet to their death, subsequently frightening the citizens and preventing them from working (Steele 39). However, what is more interesting is that the White Mask’s heroism involves, not only defeating the villain, but assaulting a frightened factory worker who no longer wants to support the war effort through the creation of missile shells (Steele 39-41).

“Speed Savage”, Pg. 40-41. 1944. Triumph Comics, No. 19.

Upon closer examination, this tells us that in wartime Canada the highest form of villainy is someone derailing the war effort and the highest form of heroism is the patriotic perpetuation of the war effort, by any means necessary. That the citizen who has lost faith in the war effort becomes criminal in the eyes of the hero suggests a propagandistic element behind the making of this comic and the attempt to manufacture a new normativity of radical nationalism. Here we find a double-sided message on the part of the comic’s creators. We see a desire to instill supreme, unwavering support of the nation by glorifying patriotism and, conversely, the threat of being removed from the group and becoming enemy if you fail to comply. The comic shows us, quite crudely, the repercussions for not engaging with the community and subscribing to the war effort narrative: beaten up by a masked ‘superhero’, while all your friends cheer your beating on. This makes explicit the agenda the government and emerging comic book industry were sending to the audience, in this case, children: assimilate, be patriotic, or face ostracization.

Upon further investigation, this turns] out to be exactly what was intended. During WWII, the Canadian Government enacted an institutional campaign to create propaganda over multiple media, including this comic, utilizing fearmongering and patriotism with the hopes that these two incentives would suffice in promoting the purchase of war time bonds (Brownell 67-74). Citizens were even recommended to rent out their spare rooms to workers so there would be more space to create armaments, as shown in an animation titled Empty Rooms Mean Idle Machines (National Film Board of Canada). In this way, even the privacy of one’s home was meant to be infiltrated and politicized. Overall, each and every media, from film to poster to comic book, was coopted, to a greater or lesser extent, in the pursuit of propagandizing the Canadian populace for various reasons, mostly economic.

“Victory Bonds Flier”, 1944. Collections Canada.

Gives Us Your Money and Do Your Patriotic Duty!

In an article titled “Building Citizenship: English Canada and Propaganda during the Second War”, William R. Young illustrates the process of Canadian propagandas shift from promoting unified hatred of an enemy to the promotion of collectivism, or ‘Canadianism’ (123) and having shared goals to promote support for the war effort during WWII. Simple hatred of an outgroup, such as what is seen in Ross Saakel’s ‘Ace Barton’ and the hostile portrayal of the Japanese, was found to be a limiting approach that failed in selling Victory Bonds (Canadian war bonds) during WWI. Simply propagandizing a nation into hating another was not sufficient in creating unity within Canada, nor did it help in the efforts to convince Canadians to invest in these bonds, thus new methodologies were conceived. The idea of shared goals was much more effective in collectivising otherwise disjointed groups, such as Indigenous Canadians, Francophones, and Anglophones (Young 124-125). Thus, the Wartime Information Board (the institute in charge for the creation of propaganda) undertook the task of convincing Canadians to make evermore sacrifices to support the war effort (Young 125-130); Prime Minister Mackenzie King signed off on all of this (Young 125). This is not to say that hatred for the enemy was discouraged in subsequent media, which nearly every story in Triumph Comics: No.19 shows to be the case. However, this is always coupled with sentiments of doing one’s duty, protectionism, ingroup preference, etc., which is very much explicit in the aforementioned ‘Speed Savage’ story.

The comic’s title story, Rene Kulbach’s ‘Tang’, also has this tactic imbedded; though, it fails dreadfully. The story is clearly a parody of the popular American television show The Lone Ranger, with a one-dimensional Indigenous sidekick and all. The story displays a meager attempt to amend race relations, despite the story, on the surface, supposedly being uninvolved with the war effort. This attempt is made through the conceptualization of ingroups and outgroups. While the protagonist’s Indigenous sidekick, Hank Steel (of course possessing a highly Westernized name), is made and dressed to appear as part of the ingroup, in the third through sixth panels Buddy Brackenbridge (the protagonist) slaughters a group of Indigenous raiders, Buddy remarking as he fires his gun, “One Redskin less…” (11). This, and that Hank Steel is only given the capacity to make observational one-liners, leads to the conclusion that Hank is being made out to be ‘one of the good ones’. This shows the incapacity of the artists to understand outgroups, unless members of those outgroups assimilate into the ingroup and take up the role of flatterer, sidekick, and tag along, incapable of expressing complex thought or emotion. Fundamentally, despite being an attempt to create a unity between races, it misses the mark of genuineness by several leagues. However, it is an attempt nonetheless, and one that likely would not have been made without the previously mentioned government initiative to create unification between Canadians. Certainly, the protagonist’s, and, potentially, the artist’s, attitudes towards Indigenous people more generally suggests this.

A Change in Gender Roles (Sort of… For now)

Another major part of government propagandizing was changing the role of women in the absence of a large male workforce; this is reflected in the conflicting consistency of presenting women in the comic. Most of the female characters are presented in their stereotypically helpless gender role; however, there is also the emergence of something quite new: a female superhero, Nelvana of the Northern Lights (Dingle 1-9). Even in this case, the female protagonist is given little action or dialogue, but it is still noteworthy in that she is portrayed as being dignified and maintaining the aspect of self-sufficiency – something that would have been reflective of a primarily female population needed for factory work. It is important to note this dualism: women are expected to play their assigned roles as perpetual ‘damsels in distress’, as seen in Ross Saakel’s ‘Captain Wonder’ (20-26), but are now having their identities affirmed so as to be dignified in the archetype of the heroine, the polar opposite of the damsel.

Perhaps one might postulate that this is not evidence of propaganda, rather evidence of the natural progression of women’s improved agency in society. However, in hindsight, nothing about this societal shift was natural, rather an explicit symptom of government campaigns to manipulate women into occupying the factory assembly lines to support the war effort. By 1944, nearly half of adult women had joined the work force (Harttman 16), which was aided by government changes in policy to allow women to serve their country in the production of military equipment and armaments. During this time, numerous government campaigns were implemented to achieve this, and women’s participation was won primarily through the amalgamation of femininity with the idea and setting of factory work to promote female friendly environments where women could see themselves working (Hartmann 17). This was evident not only within the factory, where monthly beauty competitions were held as an appeal to women’s desire not to come off as too masculine, but can be viewed in several wartime propaganda posters, particularly posters aimed at selling victory bonds. These posters were explicitly created with the intent of coercing the female populace into joining the factories, again, by appealing to a sense of patriotic duty (Halbesleben 77-78). The assault was, then, twofold: feminize the workplace to hoodwink women into desiring the monotony of factory life, and, in case this was not sufficient, guilt them into supporting the war effort with persistent talk of duty.

“War Time Propaganda Poster”, 1940-1945. Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum.

This was only to be flipped on women post-war, however, with reverse campaigns promoting the return to ‘the kitchen’, along with significant drops in the wages of women who wanted to continue factory work (Hartmann 17-18). What these factors suggest is that women’s labour was not only expendable to the Canadian government, but was actively exploited. What was, later, perhaps, falsely interpreted as societal recognition and acknowledgement of women’s capacity to fill traditionally male occupied positions was more realistically active manipulation. Furthermore, if government institutions had truly felt that women were equal to men, that they too could be superheroes and not just damsels, then they would not have been so apt to discourage female workers from factory work upon the return of the male populace. This, in part, may explain why the character of Nelvana, despite being a superheroine, still embodies stereotypes of female passivity. What this shows is the disingenuousness of the comic’s attempt to create a female protagonist that is empowering, but rather that the comic only followed trends of the Canadian wartime, helping to create the façade of recognition to facilitate women’s propagandizing.

Conclusion

Having comprehensively analyzed Triumph Comics: No. 19 and affectively contextualized the media, it is evident that the collection of comics is nested in and is an example of wartime propaganda for expressly economic purposes. What may cause the greatest disdain from this exhibit’s findings is the span of such propaganda, targeting women, children, men, and even reaching towards racialized groups. One may make certain allowances given the context, WWII, and make the case that all was a matter of necessity. However, regardless if such allowances are valid, the comic still serves as a prime example of a nations attempt to create a collectivist culture using fearmongering and nationalism. Subsequently, and rather unfortunately, this leaves the origin of Canada’s comic book industry muddied from the start, having less to do with art, and more to do with politics and propagandizing the citizenry.


Works Cited

  • Brownell, Kathryn Cramer. “‘It Is Entertainment, and It Will Sell Bonds!’: 16mm Film and the World War II War Bond Campaign.” The Moving Image, vol. 10, no. 2, Feb. 2011, pp. 60–82. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/415434.
  • Canada, National Film Board of. Empty Rooms Mean Idle Machines, 1942. www.nfb.ca, https://www.nfb.ca/film/empty_rooms_mean_idle_machines/.
  • Dingle, Adrian, et al., editors. Triumph Comics: No. 19. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944, pp. 38-46. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Halbesleben, Jonathon R. B., et al. “‘We Can Do It!’ Recruitment and Socialization Through WWII War Effort Posters in the United States.” Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship; Sheffield, vol. 8, no. 4, Oct. 2003, pp. 68–85. Business Premium Collection, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/203912716?accountid=13631.
  • Hartmann, Susan M. “Women, War, and the Limits of Change.” National Forum; Baton Rouge, vol. 75, no. 4, Fall 1995, pp. 15-19. Periodicals Archive Online, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1297782757?accountid=13631.
  • 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.
  • Victory Bonds Flier. 1944, http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/pam_archives/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayEcopies&lang=eng&rec_nbr=2847132&rec_nbr_list=3635777,3635761,2847102,3635772,3665095,2846950,2847132,2846866,2847027,2847157&title=Enlist+Your+Dollars+in+Bonds+for+Victory+%3A++seventh+victory+loan+drive.&ecopy=e010695630-v8. Library and Archives Canada, MIILKAN no. 2847132.
  • Wartime Propaganda Poster. http://www.airmuseum.ca/postscan.html. Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum.
  • Young, William R. “Building Citizenship: English Canada and Propaganda during the Second War.” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’Études Canadiennes; Peterborough, Ont., vol. 16, no. 3, Fall 1981, pp. 121–132. Periodicals Archive Online, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1300019791?accountid=13631.

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 educatio

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

© Copyright 2017 Simon Mancuso, Ryerson University

The “Canadian Whites” and WWII Propaganda

Introduction

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

What is Propaganda?

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

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

Conspiracy?

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

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

What About Dizzy Don?

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

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

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

But How?

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

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

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

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

Unknown Author. “Tokyo Kid Say” 1945

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

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


Work Cited

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

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

Propaganda for Immigrants in The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don Issue 10

© Copyright 2017 Ruba Hassan, Ryerson University

Introduction:

The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don issue 10 “Double Trouble in Hollywood” was created by Manny Easson and published in 1944. The comic comes during a robust and flourishing time for Canadian comics referred to as “The Golden Age” (Bell). Like many wartime comics, the comic issue inevitably deals with war themes and World War II specific events. In this issue, a German spy network attempts to use one of its secret agents, whose day job is that of an actress, to fund their anti United States and Canada propaganda in the States. The female spy in the comic, Ula Rave, is a very peculiar character considering the time of the comic’s publication. Although she is German, she expresses displeasure with her position as a tool for the German spy network. She also shows a lack of faith in Germany wining the war against the United States. Last but not least, she struggles in the shadows and indirectly aids Dizzy Don in defeating and catching the spies. The peculiarity of this anti-German stance that Ula Rave, a German character, takes throughout the comic can be explained by looking at the comic as propaganda.

Dizzy Don issue 10 came at a time where German immigrants in Canada were facing tremendous discrimination and were under great suspicion. Yet, their contribution to the Canadian war effort would be useful. Therefore, this paper will argue that Dizzy Don’s 10th issue is a form of propaganda, aimed at German immigrants in Canada, and meant to influence them to support the war effort in Canada. The comic presents Ula Rave as a German who believes in American military power and ideals rather than German ones. Ula Rave also acts in a heroic manner by refusing to betray America for the sake of Germany no matter what it cost her. Finally, her attitude towards Germany, and her support for American nationalism, make her into an ideal example of a German immigrant in wartime Canada who helps separate nazi Germans from German immigrants.

Attitudes towards German immigrants during the war:

Although Canada and Germany were enemy nations during World War I and II, Canada was still home to many German immigrants. However, these immigrants were heavily discriminated against, treated with suspicion, and forced to assimilate so that they can coexist with Canadians during a heavily charged political climate. German immigration into Canada dates back to the 1750s. According to Bassler, during the two World Wars, despite Germany’s position as an enemy state, Canada was pressured by Britain to accept German immigrants. However, the immigrant groups who were accepted were limited in number and branded “non-preferred” immigrants (Bassler). With this history of immigration, and the fact that Canada and Germany were at war, it is easy to see that Germans in Canada belonged to a marginalized group and that being German in Canada came with many negative connotations.

German immigrants viewed with suspicion:

Germans not only belonged to a “non-preferred” immigrant group, but their rejection of nazism and want to escape Hitler’s Germany was regarded with a lot of suspicion.

A main source of suspicion is something that acts as the main plot in Dizzy Don’s 10th issue, and that is spies. Canada was in a constant fear and anxiety of German spies infiltrating the government and leaking information that might lead to Canada’s destruction in the hands of Germany. This fear can be observed in newspaper articles of the time. For example, one newspaper article from 1939 from the Globe and Mail talked about a German woman who was held in prison by immigration officials because she was suspected of being a spy (Oliver 1). The article talks about how evidence at the time was lacking to prove that she was a “romantic figure in the spy world, using her feminine wiles to extract military secrets from important and impressionable figures” (Oliver 1). This article makes the inspiration for the plot line of an undercover German spy in the issue clear, and presents a general view of the sentiment towards German immigrants during World War II.

German Immigrants Coping with their oppression:

To deal with this marginalization and suspicion, German immigrants living in Canada were forced to assimilate. To assimilate meant that Germans had to accept and cope with the oppression they lived in, as well as  to stay hidden as much as possible, and to stay clear of anything that might put them under suspicion. Massa and Weinfeld used the term “Germano-phobia” to describe the prevailing attitude towards Germans in World War I (20). German people were faced with violence from their neighbours, discriminated against in employment, and had their assets confiscated by the government in fear that it will be sent to serve nazism (Massa & Weinfeld 20). This social and economic oppression continued on in World War II, but by then, German immigrants had improved their coping mechanism with this oppression. World War I taught German immigrants “the expediency of camouflaging their ethnic identity and reinforced their already-marked tendency to assimilate rapidly” (Massa & Weinfeld 20). Germans assimilated, joined the army, and took up any chance to prove their loyalty to Canada. This, although good for the Canadian side, was not quite enough. Since Canada wanted German immigrants to not become invisible, but to show their loyalty to Canada by supporting the war effort and helping in things like exposing spy networks. This is were propaganda and fictional characters like Ula Rave in Dizzy Don come in.

Canadian propaganda influencing German immigrants:

The use of propaganda, that is, of biased information that is designed to influence an audience and support an agenda, was common during the two World Wars. During the war, propaganda was used in different forms to encourage the support for the war effort in Canada. The Canadian government created a variety of propaganda posters and films to sell victory bonds, or paint a hopeful and prideful picture of Canada.

There is evidence of propaganda being used to influence German immigrants

Government. Buy Victory Bonds (Chinese). Canada. Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-30-1378. 1941. Public Domain.

during the war. For example, the War Finance Committee released posters in 1941in different languages encouraging immigrants to buy victory bonds; one of those languages was German. Furthermore, according to Lawson, Germans being influenced by Canadian propaganda was not a new phenomena (277). Lawson observes the effects of Canadian propaganda generated by the government, and its effect on late 19th and early 20th century German literature. One narrative painted the Canadian as a “superhuman” and an “exotic specimen” while romanticizing Canada and commending its power (Lawson 280). This piece of information presents a promising chance for Dizzy Don issue 10 to have the same influence, since the comics shares the same themes with a typical World War II propaganda.

The Comic as propaganda:

The comic issue explicitly addresses propaganda early on; in fact, propaganda is a main plot point in the story. Ironically, propaganda is talked about by German spies who are trying to utilize it to interfere with the war effort in Canada and the United States (Easson 11). The more implicit use of propaganda however is the point of interest to this paper.

Ula Rave, the German actress in the comic, reaffirms the audience’s faith in Canada’s power. She  talks to another character called Hilda Gesser about German

Fig.3. Manny Easson. Panel from “Double Trouble in Hollywood”. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 10, 1944, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, p. 20. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166601.pdf

armies being defeated in the war (Easson 20). Gesser tells Ula Rave that what American newspapers say about German soldiers retreating is all lies, upon hearing this, Ula Rave thinks to herself “ No they die before they get the chance” (Easson 20). By adding this conversation, the creator of the comic asserts the authenticity of American newspapers and does so from a point of view of none other than a German. Seeing a German character provide this affirmation has a different effect form it being a Canadian or an American one. This is because Ula Rave provides a sort of inner point of view of Germany and its situation during the war, and tells the audience that Germany has become so weak that even its own citizens have no faith left in its military power.

Ula Rave also shows her support for Canada and America in different parts of the comic. At one point specifically, she compliments American people and says “I refuse to be a traitor any longer to thees adopted country which treats me so well” (Easson 24). With this statement, Ula Rave establishes an image of Canada that could have the same effect on the comic’s audience as the one in German literature about Canada presented by Lawson. Ula Rave tells the audience that Canada is a country that would treat someone from an enemy nation with kindness. These examples show how Ula Rave’s character was a part of a wider campaign of propaganda that supports Canada and the United States. The more this helped German immigrants find Canada agreeable, the more loyalty and support for war effort the country gained. But, for Ula Rave to have this effect on the audience, she needs to be an appealing enough of a character. This means that she needs to imitate a comic book hero in more ways than one.

Ula Rave as a Comic book hero:

At first glance, the comic’s main protagonist Dizzy Don, seems like the main hero of the comic. But after reading a bit further, the reader realizes that Ula Rave is the one who takes centre stage in the comic and plays a more dramatic role than Dizzy Don. Dizzy Don fights the male spy at the end of the comic and saves the day, in this sense he is the main hero. However, by looking at the role Ula Rave plays in the story line, it can be inferred that she acts as a secondary hero. Ula Rave does one of the most important things for a comic hero in wartime to do, and that is spread nationalism.

Beaty looks in his article at how comic book heroes embodied ideas of nationalism during World War I and II. When discussing  features of a nationalist superhero he says “Central to the convention of the superhero story is the idea that superheroes will act in a clandestine, and often illegal, manner when the national interest, however that is defined, is at stake”(Beaty 428). This feature of a comic superhero can be observed in Ula Rave’s behaviour and statements in the comic. Although she is part of the German spy network,

Fig.4. Manny Easson. Panel from “Double Trouble in Hollywood”. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 10, 1944, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, p. 16. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166601.pdf

she expresses her disgust at being used for funding the network, and establishes a degree of innocence for herself early on. This innocence is further induced by a revelation the creator offers the reader; which is that her parents were held hostage by Nazi agents, leaving her no choice but to comply (Easson 19). Ula Rave also expresses  her lack of faith in Germany throughout the comic, and goes as far as saying “Dirty Nazi” at some point (Easson 27). The resistance she shows is met with violence—two slaps from the male spy and one punch from Hilda Gesser to be exact—and yet she does not give in and do the spy networks biding (Easson 20-25. Ula Rave struggles in secret to serve American interests and stand in the way of nazi Germany getting what it desires. Although her struggle is kept secret from other characters in the story, the audience is aware of it. This helps make the audience sympathize with Ula Rave and appreciate her efforts, and increases their pride in America.

Ula Rave creating a space for German immigrants to belong:

Another way that Ula Rave’s character spreads nationalism is through establishing the “us vs. them” narrative that is common to wartime propaganda and wartime comics. Explaining this propaganda technique, McCann says “We is a powerful word in establishing identity with a group. We by very definition means us, our crowd, our side, as opposed to them, those others, those outsiders, those foreigners” (60). This narrative is one that unites a group of people and convinces them that they must act as a collective force to combat another group of people. The us vs them narrative is dangerous because it does not only unite. It also convinces people that they are definitely on the right side, and that their enemy is a force of evil that must be destroyed. In Dizzy Don issue 10, the creator uses this technique with German immigrants as his target audience. This is done through Ula Rave as Ula Rave presents Canada and America in a good light. She emphasizes how cruel nazi Germans can be by mentioning the kidnapping of her parents and by being a victim to violence from the German spies. With this, the creator displays a typical us vs them narrative with Canada or the United States being the “us” and nazi Germany the “them”.

This argument however can be taken further if the focus is moved to the fact that a German character is used to establish this narrative. By making Ula Rave a secondary hero, the creator allows for the German immigrant audience to see a chance for them to belong to the “us” and join Canadians in fighting the “them”, which is nazi Germany. With this argument in mind, Ula Rave becomes a hero created to serve as someone German immigrants can relate to. This helps in giving them a sense of belonging and creates a model for them to follow, which is something that serves the creator’s interest.

Ula Rave as the ideal German immigrant:

The fact that war comics influenced the audience even if slightly is something that was acknowledged and irrefutable. Newspapers of the time talked about how “those who follow the adventures of the comic strip characters may have their political and social views influenced in no small degree” (“The Serious-Minded ‘Funnies.’”). This is why the creator of Dizzy Don issue 10 made the effort to create a complex character like Ula Rave. Ula Rave who denounced nazism, acted as a a hero behind the curtain, and betrayed Germany for the sake of Canada and the United States, was created to act as an ideal German immigrant for the audience. By reading the comic this way, it becomes clear that the target audience was German immigrants, and the goal is to get them to follow Ula Rave’s example by helping expose spy networks and supporting the Canadian war effort.

Conclusion:

At a time of very negative attitudes towards Germans in Canada, The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don’s 10th issue brings about important ideas to the minds of German immigrants. The comic gives them a German character that directly tells them that Germany is losing the war. This same character also speaks of the kindness of Americans while facing violence from German spies. She is then allowed to be a secondary superhero to commend her efforts in protecting American interests. Finally, she creates a grey area for German immigrants to exist under the Canadian flag and shows them examples of how they had to act to belong in this area.


Works Cited

  • Bassler, Gerhard P. “German Canadians.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 27 Mar. 2017, http:// www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/german-canadians/.
  • Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, 2006, pp. 427–39. Scholars Portal Journals, doi:10.1080/02722010609481401.
  • Bell, John, ‘Comic Books in English Canada’, The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2015 <http:// www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada/> [accessed 4 October 2017]
  • Easson, Manny. “Double Trouble in Hollywood”. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, no. 10, 1944. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http:/ data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166601.pdf.
  • Lawson, Robert. “German Representations of Canada and Canadian Soldiers: Karl Bröger’s Bunker 17, Wolfgang Borchert’s ‘Billbrook’ and Rainer Kunad’s Bill Brook.” British Journal of Canadian Studies; Liverpool, vol. 20, no. 2, Sept. 2007, pp. 276–288, Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database; International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS), http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest- com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/205013433?accountid=13631.
  • Massa, Evelyne, and Morton Weinfeld. “We Needed to Prove We Were Good Canadians: Contrasting Paradigms for Suspect Minorities.” Canadian Issues; Montreal, Spring 2009, pp. 15–28, Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/208675213?accountid=13631.
  • McCrann, Grace-Ellen. “Government Wartime Propaganda Posters: Communicators of Public Policy.” Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, vol. 28, no. 1–2, 2009, pp. 53–73. Scholars Portal Journals, doi:10.1080/01639260902862058.
  • The National Committee Victory Loan. Buy Victory Bonds (Chinese). Government, 1941, http:// data2.archives.ca/e/e431/e010761225-v8.jpg. Library and Archives Canada, Posters and Broadsides in Canada.
  • Oliver, Charles. “IS SHE NAZI SPY? OFFICIALS CAN’T MAKE HER TALK.” The Globe and Mail, 9 Dec. 1939, pp. 1–2, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1325629332?accountid=13631.
  • “The Serious-Minded ‘Funnies.’” Toronto Daily Star, 18 Jan. 1943, Canadian War Museum, Democracy at War database. http://collections.warmuseum.ca /warclip/pages/ warclip/ResultsList.php.

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.