Tag Archives: Triumph Comics

The Missing Details: A Nation Without Automobiles

 

INTRODUCTION

The Canadian Whites are comic books that circulated during the WWII era. The writers and illustrators of these comics do well to reflect what was happening on the Canadian Homefront during the war and relay specifics about the problems of the time that Canadian citizens braved. A close analysis of the entire twenty-second issue of Triumph Comics (June 1944), reveals something curious about transportation during WWII. The comic incorporates examples of unique and diverse modes of transportation such as jets, boats, dirigibles and animals and almost completely omits automobiles as a means of transportation.

This paper argues that there is a conscious exclusion of automobiles so as to reflect social and economic details such as an insufficient number of cars being produced as a result of strikes, gentrification and a high demand of steel for weaponry. In aims of a detailed analysis and genuine comprehension of these sub-categories, it will be helpful to divide each topic into three parts. First, it is important to unpack the history of each problem so as to help understand context. Following will be a close reading of the comics in relation to these topics and how the stories’ details convey messages that speak to these troubles. Finally, the analysis will deepen as I dissect how the issues have resulted in much larger problems concerning the transportation industry. The paper’s larger aim is to emphasize to modern audiences, readers and scholars how the absence of automobiles throughout the comic communicates much broader issues that focus on social and economic problems on the Canadian home front that negatively impact the automobile market.

STRIKES

On the Canadian home front during WWII, people were primarily fixated on the development and progression of the war. Similarly, citizens on the home front were enduring their own battles concerning economic challenges. It was discovered that there was a massive strike called by General Motors Corporation workers mid-twentieth century across eight plants who demanded a 10-cent raise, this affected approximately 100,000 working men and set back vehicle production and manufacturing for years to follow (“Strike Called” 11). This hitch was crippling to Canada’s transportation industry and could have plausibly sparked problems regarding access to automobiles and further, shifted peoples’ preferences on how they travelled as they adjusted and began using other modes such as boats. The absence of cars and road vehicles within the comic is a subtle nod to the economic wars raging on the home front.

Fig. 1. ‘Villains exiting automobile’. Ross, Saakel. Panel from “Captain Wonder.”  Triumph Comics No. 22, p. 24, June 1944, Digital, Bell Features Publishing.

Throughout the entire comic, there is almost no reference to or mention of automobiles, apart from a single brief illustration of villains exiting a car in “Captain Wonder” (24). The illustration is a small panel featuring a medium shot, honing in on the villains accompanied by bold typography that relays their malicious plan (see Fig.1). The persisting absence of automobiles is trying to inform readers about a very real strife on the home front. The illustrators in “Captain Wonder” chose to incorporate a sole image of a vehicle attended by villains so as to suggest an alliance with the workers of General Motors and depict the cooperate officials as criminal and foul figures. This comic is ultimately a commentary on cooperate greed and the ramifications of low wages and injustice for the working people, thus shedding light onto economic specifics of the Canadian home front during the war.

After initial consideration, a strike does not stand as an obvious culprit to the problems transpiring on the Canadian home front, especially not one large enough to be so heavily integrated into comic books. In recognizing this speculation, it is essential to highlight the vast scope and importance of automobile manufacturers to society. During the twentieth century, automobiles were regarded as symbols of modernity, as a result, manufacturing plants boomed and moulded the economic and social dimensions of urban life on account of being large employers and creating prosperity in the wake of their success, leaving cities and citizens bound to the fortunes of these corporations (Pizzolato 419).  This breakdown of the correlation between automobile manufacturing companies and social life emphasizes how the two were inextricably dependent, making reasonable the idea that something as simple as a strike had such paramount ramifications on society and – more broadly- the transportation industry. The automobile industry’s wide reach and influence underlines why there is an emerging narrative subtly woven into the details (or lack thereof) throughout the comics.

GENTRIFICATION

Economic problems expanded far beyond production strikes as complications branched into the social lives of Canadian citizens. Several exceedingly insightful and informational clips from the National Film board speculate on and broadcast issues concerning housing and gentrification on the Canadian home front during WWII. One short clip highlights a significant lack of housing within Canada, so much so that employees were unable to make it into work from their distant residences and families were being encouraged to rent out rooms in their houses in an attempt to remedy the problem (Ragan). Moreover, an alternative clip delves into the dire circumstance and emphasizes the industrial boom and the subsequent influx of skilled workers (10-20% increase in population sizes), resulting in congestion, lack of proper housing and unhealthy living conditions making it difficult for citizens to find a place of residence close enough to their place of employment (McInnes). This surge of people and acceleration of gentrification posits that there was a noticeable absence of workers in factories and production companies, thus inhibiting and slowing down production, especially in massive industries such as that of transportation.

The continual absence of automobiles throughout the comic grows increasingly apparent as the mediums of transport gradually become more peculiar and uncommon to reality in Canada. This absence supports a parallel between the comic’s subliminal narrative (via the lack of cars) and the rising issues concerning gentrification on the Canadian home front. In the story “Speed Savage”, there is detailed mention and focus on a dirigible (blimp) as a means for getting around and travelling the country, not exactly an agency that frequented the city skies of Canada (Triumph Comics 30-32). To make matters progressively unusual, the story “Race for Life” follows a dog named Zip who couriers messages to soldiers on the warfront, as opposed to humans on a tank or by plane (Triumph Comics 32-34). These analytical extractions from the comic do well to highlight the “cultural lexicon” of visual references that cartoonists and illustrators of the time strived to incorporate in order to capture the social and intellectual context of a specific time period (Retallack). In understanding the function of comics in this manner, it becomes easy to apply meaning

Fig.2. ‘Zip the dog delivering documents to the war front’. Jerry, LaRare. Panels from “Race for Life.” Triumph Comics No. 22, p. 31, June 1944, Digital, Bell Features Publishing.

and deduce ideas from core and repetitive conventions within the comics. In dissecting the comic, there are interwoven elements of reality in the stories that provide context and a narrative on societal issues concerning transport during WWII. Zip – the dog in “Race for Life”- is used and dispatched as a way to mock the Canadian government and urban planners who failed to take action and remedy a social and economic epidemic that widespread across large Canadian cities (see Fig.2). The illustrators are using hyperbolized parody in order to foster a satirical and bizarre storyline in efforts to underline the widespread housing problem and communicate both the absurdity surrounding it and dire need to remedy the situation. The comic is not only highlighting the problem but also using the story as a beacon for change and call for action from those in positions to do so in order to sustain jobs and meet resource demands.

Effective urban development did not transpire until the 1950s, leaving the 1940s in a state of lack and concern for citizens regarding finding a place to live (Arku 378). Recognizing this position of the people conveys a displaced societal focus, where citizens’ primary worries were not on buying and producing automobiles, but rather on finding housing so that they could actually make it into work on a daily basis. The continuous absence of Canadian workers suggests that that the volume of automobiles being produced likely declined and the entire industry plummeted on account of social problems, namely gentrification.

MONOPOLY OF STEEL FOR WEAPONRY

Wartime housing was, however, an infinitesimal problem in comparison to the growing demand for steel in response to the war front’s need for weaponry. A short screening captured by the National Film Board reveals that majority of manpower was being used to create tanks and other warfare (such as guns) and thus, steel was being monopolized for these purposes, the clip even underlines that, “they could not have enough steel” (McDougall). As a result, attention on the home front and its shortage of automobiles was not of priority and so supply and volume of automobiles nosedived (see Fig.3) .

Fig.3.”Canadian workers during WWII in a manufacturing plant producing steel for usage in warfare and tanks”. Front of Steel, Directed by John McDougall, National Film Board, 1940. Public Domain.

Throughout the comic, there is a continuous presence of bizarre modes of transport. The stories are littered with peculiar methods of travel and hone in on them as there are constant close-ups on panels that encompass agencies of travel. The comic spans boats, blimps, jets and animals which range from horses to donkeys to dogs (47). The varying mediums highlight the consistent absence of automobiles and unusual alternative means, which is striking as in the mid-twentieth century, automobiles transformed Canada, shaping the landscapes, mobility and norms of society (Leighton). The absence of automobiles communicates a significant message as the illustrators excluded the most common, convenient and readily available method of travel, replacing it with an array of diverse and outlandish means that occupy the entirety of the stories. Also noteworthy is that the comic is filled with an abundance of war paraphernalia, such as tanks and weaponry, as is evident in “Jake McSwine” and “Lank the Yank” both of which heavily feature guns and tank machinery (29-48). The heavy presence of warfare supports underlying ideas that emphasize a shortage of steel for the transportation industry that resulted in a decline in volume and production.

The prime years for tank production were between 1915 and 1945 (Castaldi 548). Tank technology was essentially being proliferated, perfected and mass produced during the release of the comic. The time link solidifies the notion that heavy focus was placed on the war front and that the priorities of the working people and government were geared toward the needs of the soldiers and all efforts to advance and win the war. On account of this overarching objective, steel was monopolized and vehicles were plausibly not as common on the roads resulting in a decline for the automobile industry.

CONCLUSION

WWII is a period of history commonly studied for its loaded political, gender and race wars. As a result, there are gaps in research from this time that continuously overlook telling details which do not slot into any of the aforementioned topics. The goal of this paper is to shed light on a scarce and unfamiliar topic and provide an in-depth examination of the transportation industry during the war. This research looks at the comic as a piece of history with details of reality embedded within it and expands and studies those elements in order to discover growing social and economic issues. The main problems have been identified as manufacturing strikes, gentrification and a monopoly of steel for war weaponry and machines. In recognizing these issues, it is evident that the stories within the comic provide valuable information about the transportation industry during WWII and the struggles it endured on account of rising social and economic strife.

 

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Works Cited 

Arku, Godwin. “The Housing and Economic Development Debate Revisited: Economic Significance of Housing in Developing Countries.” Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, vol. 21, no. 4, Dec. 2006, pp. 377–95. Springer Link, doi:10.1007/s10901-006-9056-3.

“Canadian workers during WWII in a manufacturing plant producing steel for usage in warfare and tanks”. John McDougall. “Front of Steel”, National Film Board, 1940. Public Domain. https://www.nfb.ca/film/front_of_steel/

Castaldi, Carolina, et al. “‘Chariots of Fire’: The Evolution of Tank Technology, 1915-1945 RD.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics; Heidelberg, vol. 19, no. 4, Aug. 2009, pp. 545–66. ProQuest, doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1007/s00191-009-0141-0.

Empty Rooms Mean Idle Machines. Directed by Ragan, Phillip. 1942. www.nfb.cawww.nfb.ca/film/empty_rooms_mean_idle_machines/.

Front of Steel. Directed by McDougall, John. 1940. www.nfb.ca, https://www.nfb.ca/film/front_of_steel/.

Jerry, LaRare. “Race for Life.” Triumph Comics, No. 22, June 1944, p. 31. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166543.pdf

Leighton, Douglas. “Automobiles – Cars.” The Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Oxford University Press, 2004. www.oxfordreference.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca, http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195415599.001.0001/acref-9780195415599-e-101.

Pizzolato, Nicola. “Workers and Revolutionaries at the Twilight of Fordism: The Breakdown of Industrial Relations in the Automobile Plants of Detroit and Turin, 1967–1973.” Labor History, vol. 45, no. 4, Nov. 2004, pp. 419–43. Crossref, doi:10.1080/0023656042000292234.

Retallack, G. Bruce. “Cartoonists.” The Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Oxford University Press, 2004. www.oxfordreference.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca, www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195415599.001.0001/acref-9780195415599-e-304.

Ross, Saakel. “Captain Wonder.” Triumph Comics, No. 22, June 1944, p. 22. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166543.pdf

“STRIKE CALLED BY C.I.O. FACTION IN G.M. PLANT: Die Workers’ Walkout May Affect 100,000 Production Men ASK TEN-CENT RAISE.” The Globe and Mail (1936-Current); Toronto, Ont., 6 July 1939, p. 11.

Triumph Comics: No. 22. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944, data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166653.pdf. Ryerson University Library and Archives.ca

Wartime Housing. Directed by McInnes, Grham. 1943. www.nfb.cahttps://www.nfb.ca/film/wartime_housing/.

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

 

How The Circus Informs Bias in Triumph Comic No. 19

© Copyright 2018 Melanie Fernando, Ryerson University

Intro

The Canadian Whites are a body of comics produced in Canada during World War II after trade restrictions cut off the supply of “luxury goods” from the States. These black and white stories provide a window into Canadian culture during this time period, and the study of them helps us understand our predecessor’s mindset in the creation of a Canadian identity during this time of hardship.

The “Speed Savage” story in the 19th issue of Triumph Comics (Steele) uses racism and othering to vilify the circus and create a Canadian identity through exclusion. In doing so Steele is able to condemn the idea of entertainment and relaxation without alienating its young readers. Within this issue, the circus acts as the hub for villains who murder workers from the munitions factory by shooting them out of a cannon and making bodies mysteriously fall from the sky. Speed Savage, otherwise known as the ‘White Mask’, has to find out where these bodies are coming from and put a stop to it before the factory workers leave their jobs out of fear. By using racialized villains, a distinguished art style for the circus folk, and heavy-handed propagandistic text, this story attempts to convince Canadians to keep working through hardship and not leave their important jobs for recreation by instilling fear in them. As well, by representing many forms of the ‘other’, this comic defines the Canadian identity through means of exclusion. This specific issue was released in 1944, in the midst of World War II, when citizens were tired and fearful of the negative psychological consequences of war (Iarocci and Keshen 204). This comic is an example of how racism might have been used to boost morale and give Canadians a feeling of purpose so that they would continue to support the war effort as the fighting dragged on. The use of racism in tandem with the obviously villainous circus made luxuries such as days off of work seem disloyal to the Canadian identity, and a lack of these things during wartime a more palatable concept.

The Cultural Coding of “Circus Freaks”

In “Speed Savage”, Ted Steele uses pre-existing impressions of the circus as exotic and mysterious to further his own point about the ‘danger’ of entertainment. The circus at this time was known to be filled with people of colour as well as working women, things that were only really acceptable in these travelling shows (Hughes). The circus was one of the few spaces during the early 20th century where it was deemed suitable to have different races mingle, as the goal wasn’t to build bridges between white people and people of colour but to widen the social and emotional gap through exaggeration and stereotypes. Because of the cultural coding surrounding these travelling shows, the circus became both a place of empowerment and degradation for minorities, as it offered otherwise unattainable employment at the cost of humiliation and discrimination of one’s culture (Hughes).

Davis states that “the circus’s celebration of diversity was often illusionary.” (10) as it embodied the racial and gender norms of the time but claimed to be different from the rest of society. This dichotomy made the circus a particularly appealing concept to citizens during wartime as it offered something familiar and comforting under the guise of something mysterious and new that would distract them from their daily hardships. Davis also describes the circus as an escape for young boys who felt as though they were outcasts in their regular life (31). The circus being a place of refuge would be a dangerous concept during wartime, as citizens would be looking for an escape from the fear and lack that surrounded them, but all hands were needed on deck.

This is not to say that the circus was seen purely as an escape, as it was a space filled with visually and socially unacceptable things such as women in tight clothing or black individuals in ‘traditional’ garb (Davis 102, 134). These usually scandalous and possibly horrific images were framed under entertainment and thus were deemed safe to partake in. That said the circus was still thought of, in at least some ways, as a threat. In Hutchison’s article on travelling shows he used Intergroup Threat Theory (ITT), which examined how perceived threats could lead to prejudice, to argue that since the circus relied on exaggeration to shock and entertain the audience, it garnered fear and thus the deepened the prejudice that Canadians felt against the minorities depicted (238).

This fear is made even more clear and utilized in “Speed Savage” as the tension surrounding these mixed spaces expresses itself through the vilifying of the circus members. It is this preexisting knowledge that the circus is filled with exotic and ‘strange’ things that Steele uses to alienate the reader from the idea of entertainment as a whole, as well as unite Canadian citizens. Within “Speed Savage”, the idea of the circus as a place that holds dangerous ‘savages’ is placed in opposition to the honest factory workers in order to create a Canadian identity. By using exoticism and racializing characters from the circus, this comic promotes the war effort and more specifically tells its readers that instead of being associated with something as malicious as the circus, they should be working at the factory and supporting the men out on the home front.

Drawing Lines Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’

In order to solidify a Canadian identity that would urge civilians to support the war effort, Steele drew the villains in “Speed Savage” as more distinguished and detailed than the factory workers to clearly illustrate what a Canadian isn’t. The circus folk are much uglier because of their distinct features, and as a result less relatable than the hard-working Canadians. Specifically, the owner of the circus is drawn in much more detail than the other characters. He has thick eyebrows, a handlebar mustache, is quite bald, and has obvious and defined wrinkles. In some panels, the way he is drawn is reminiscent of an angry ape, as can be seen in the image on the left.

Circus owner yelling orders to kill Speed Savage. Panel from “Speed Savage” Triumph Comics: No. 19. 1944, Bell Features and Publishing
Company Limited, p. 45. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University,
Toronto, Canada.

Drawing the owner, along with the rest of the villains, in this detailed but ugly style shows Canadians what they aren’t and shouldn’t be. While the factory workers all look like average men that the young boys reading Triumph Comics could grow up to be, the circus folk are drawn to look strange and unfamiliar. Speed Savage is the only good guy that is particularly distinguished, as his superhero persona wears a white mask and tight suit. That said, his primary trait is that he is ‘white’ and Canadian, which safely separates him from the racialized villains. 

It is not just racism that is used to create an image of the other, femininity is also exploited and seen in the posture of the villains. This can be observed in the image to the right, when Jeff Blackett, a factory worker that is a double agent for the circus, makes a rather feminine gesture with hands left limp as he is punched by the White Mask. This works as both comic relief for the reader and as a way to further degrade the villains.

Jeff Blackett flails as he gets punched. Panel from “Speed Savage” Triumph Comics: No. 19. 1944, Bell Features and Publishing
Company Limited, p. 40. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University,
Toronto, Canada. 

Attempting to create a Canadian Identity through othering is not a strategy limited to “Speed Savage” or this Triumph Comic issue. During and before World War II the US was a powerhouse in terms of comic production and it was difficult for Canadian publishers to keep up. To combat this, Canadian comics attempted to “take the higher moral ground for culture in opposite to that of the United States”(Beaty 438). Canadian comics had to focus on stereotypes and cliches in order to create a solid identity, and because of the fear of “American cultural domination” heroes such as Speed Savage ended up relying on othering and racism in an attempt to solidify their white Canadian identity (Beaty 438).

A Call to Arms

Ted Steele uses othering and heavy-handed text to unite his Canadian readers during the time of this comics production and rally their support for the war effort. The dialogue in “Speed Savage” directly links race to the circus as well as shames any workers that attempt to leave their post. On the first page, a description of the circus is given by a cigar smoking man seeking to promote his show. He states that they have a “killer lion from India” named Satan and “Fifteen gorgeous gals brought here from old Hawaii” (38). The descriptions that he gives pairs these faraway lands with intrigue and fear as most of the shows promoted sound dangerous in some way. Coding the circus as menacing accomplishes two things at once, it warns the reader not to be pulled in by the idea of the circus for entertainment and it gives Canadians something to fear and thus fight against.

Canadians fear of World War II is addressed in “Speed Savage” through the anxieties of the factory workers. On the second page of this story Speed Savage picks up a newspaper that details how the men at the munitions factory are being killed and this is causing “hundreds (to) leave the job” due to unrest. Which, of course, reflects the deaths of young men in the real world during 1944 happening across the sea. The next panel immediately transitions to later that night as the men at the factory get the news that yet another body has been dropped from the sky. Two of the factory workers talk about leaving work, but another calls them “Yellow rats” for thinking about walking out on their duty to the war effort and says that “Canada needs the shells we’re making”(40). This interaction, along with others like it sprinkled throughout the story, accepts that the reader might be afraid but declares that it is cowardly and unacceptable to walk out on one’s duty. There is a fair amount of shame linked to leaving their job, not just because they would be abandoning their fellow Canadians, but that they would be the same as a “yellow rat” linking them to the ‘other’ that Steele has so clearly illustrated is villainous.

Along with providing an enemy to avoid, Steele gives the reader a role model to aspire to be. Speed Savage acts as the perfect Canadian and encourages the readers to follow his lead. Throughout this story, he blatantly tells factory workers that they are needed at their jobs and can’t leave out of fear. On the last page Speed Savage even turns to the reader and states that “The workers at Carson city can go back to their vital jobs of victory”(46), directly calling Canadians to continue to support the war effort from the home front. 

Conclusion

In Ted Steels “Speed Savage”, the representation of the circus as ‘other’ and dangerous is used to cement a Canadian identity that would make it easier for citizens to push through the difficult war times and continue to support the troops on the front. Steele did this by creating a clear divide between the hardworking factory men that the reader is supposed to identify with and the strange backstabbing circus folk, who are classified as the ‘other’. Using exotism and fear Steels story unites Canadians and vilifies not just the circus but the concept of abandoning ones duty for leisure. He paints the good Canadian as one that is willing to give up their own luxury as well as safety to keep evils such as the circus out of their country. 

 


Works Cited

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.

Davis, Janet M. The Circus Age: Culture & Society under the American Big Top. University of North Carolina Press, 2002, http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b1459347.

Ted Steel “Speed Savage” Triumph Comics: No. 19. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944, pp. 38 – 46. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Hughes, Sakina M. “Walking the Tightrope between Racial Stereotypes and Respectability: Images of African American and Native American Artists in the Golden Age of the Circus.” Early Popular Visual Culture, vol. 15, no. 3, 2017, pp. 315–33. Scholars Portal Journals, doi:10.1080/17460654.2017.1383028.

Hutchison, Paul, et al. “Predictors of ‘the Last Acceptable Racism’: Group Threats and Public Attitudes toward Gypsies and Travellers.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, vol. 48, 5, May 2018, pp. 237–47. Crossref, doi:10.1111/jasp.12508.

Iarocci, Andrew, and Keshen, Jeff. A Nation in Conflict: Canada and the Two World Wars. University of Toronto Press, 2015. catalogue.library.ryerson.ca Library Catalog, http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b2639176.


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