Tag Archives: WWII

Pedagogy and Propaganda in Active Comics no. 7

© Copyright 2017 Christine Dionio, Ryerson University

Introduction

During the Second World War, the War Exchange Conservation Act placed in December 1940 restricted the importation of non-essential, luxury goods. This placed a strain on several industries, such as the comic book industry, as American comics thrived amongst Canadian readers (Bell “Comic Books in English Canada”). Rather than halt the comic book industry, the importation ban proved to be a precedent to the golden age of Canadian comics through the creation of the “Canadian Whites,” Canadian produced comics that, unlike the coloured American comics, had pages printed in black and white (Beaty 429). Many of the comic books that composed the “Canadian Whites” are similar to American superhero comics, however, they are more in-tune with Canadian sensibilities. Since the “Canadian Whites” were produced during the war, the comics’ storylines are not only a reflection of how the war was perceived by Canadians, but how Canadians wanted to inform the comic book market (i.e. children) about the war with a particular ideology in mind. The visual and textual war references in the seventh issue of Active Comics from September 1942 depict the fictional stories in a wartime context that the readers were exposed to through other forms of media, such as newspapers, propaganda posters, and films. The explicit visual and textual references seen in seventh issue of Active Comics demonstrates how the “Canadian Whites” served as a pedagogical tool used to address the anxieties of Canadian youth during World War II, using war-focused, nationalistic imagery to ease their anxieties and foster pride and support for the Allies during the war.

Canadian Strength and Adversity

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

The visual and textual references found in the seventh issue of Active Comics paralleled the actual events of the war in a way that celebrates Canadian strength and adversity. This is despite lacking any kind of explicit superpowers, with the exception of “The Brain”, who has clairvoyant abilities. The narratives had to discourage cynicism the reader may have towards the war without creating an irrational, over-inflated sense of optimism. As well, the heroes are expected to support the country by being active in the war, but their capabilities cannot be great enough to end the war on their own since this would create an unrealistic vision of the war and the enemy (Cord 60). While The Brain is the only hero in Active Comics no. 7 to have a superhuman power, he does not participate in the war. Rather, he fights local city crimes and uses his clairvoyant powers to foil unlawful citizens. Dixon of the Mounted lacks any kind of powers and, rather than being classified as a superhero, is a mere corporal supporting the Allies by fighting enemies within Canadian borders. The seventh issue in particular has Dixon fighting against Nazi agents who “intend to wreak havoc and destruction [at a Canadian munitions centre]” (Active Comics 1). Similar to soldiers fighting the war, Dixon depends on his pistol and determination to thwart the Nazi’s plans. Not only does Dixon lack superpowers, he also acts as a symbolic metaphor through his Mountie attire. Similar to propaganda posters, the characters embody cultural symbols as a means to connote them to a particular culture and nation. Dixon, in his Mountie uniform, represents Canada and fights for the law. The Nazi agents, introduced with a Swastika as a backdrop (Active Comics 1) signify Germany and antagonize them as threats to Canadian security. As a Mountie, he acts for the sake of law and justice, embodying both without compromise through an explicitly Canadian character. Ultimately, Dixon parallels the strife of Canadian soldiers in their fight with Axis soldiers and, despite lacking superpowers, demonstrates how those fighting alongside law and justice shall overcome the enemy.

Collective Canadian Triumph

The comic also demonstrates how success lies not only in the individual, but in the collective effort, which also applies to the events of the war. Both “Capt. Red Thortan” and “Thunderfist” demonstrate success against the enemies through the cooperation of everyone involved. In both stories, the characters are fighting against Japanese in a naval context. Active Comics no. 7 came out in September 1942, a year following Pearl Harbor (Greenhouse “Canada and the Battle of Hong Kong”) and a month following the Dieppe Raid (Herd “Dieppe Raid”). During this time, the Allies had to not only combat an enemy in a territory that they were unfamiliar with, but they also had to strike back following the many casualties at Dieppe. In both “Capt. Red Thortan” and “Thunderfist,” the respective heroes are both seen to thwart the Japanese’s advances onto the Allies albeit in an unfamiliar terrain. The emphasis on collective efforts was prevalent during World War II, as demonstrated in posters among other ephemera that worked to promote recruitment, promote bond sales, and promote unity both through domestic cooperation and by sympathizing with soldiers fighting overseas (Halliday 3).  While the heroes lacked any kind of extraordinary powers, they helped reassure the anxieties the young readers may have had about the war by including heroes that are similar to the soldiers who, despite lacking superpowers, can still unite and fight against the enemy.

The Axis and Otherness

Al Cooper. Panel from “Capt. Red Thortan.” Active Comics, no. 7, p. 43. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

One important aspect of visual representation in Active Comics are the way that characters coming from Axis countries are represented through stereotypical characteristics. In doing so, the Japanese and German characters are dehumanized and delineated from the reader as the other – something not to be identified with (Murray 181). With comics as both a visual and textual medium, it is important to consider how the visual representations retain as much meaning as what is demonstrated textually. Most of the major characters in Active Comics involved in the war are drawn realistically, thus the reader cannot identify as well with the protagonist and the antagonists as well as they could a more abstract figure (McCloud 36). However, this works to the advantage of fostering feelings of contempt towards the Axis powers. While the reader may not be a muscular adult male, they identify much closer with them than they do the dehumanized German and Japanese characters. The exaggerated, menacing depictions of the Axis powers not only reduce the enemies to flattened stereotypes, but also associate them with evil (Murray 191). The characters act as metaphoric symbols, standing in place of countries, and the stories of Dixon fighting the Nazi agents and Thunderfist thwarting the plans of the Japanese navy are meant to parallel the ongoing narratives of the war. The Axis characters, being visually antagonized, are not only delineated from the reader, but connoted with evil, thus rationalizing the archetypal triumph of good over evil which is prevalent in Active Comics‘ stories.

Shifting War, Shifting Narratives

“Active Jim’s Monthly Message.” Active Comics, no. 7, September 1942, p. 29. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

It is important to keep in mind that, due to the uncertainty of events, the visual and textual war references are subject to the changing events in the war. In a sense, the characters are a reaction to the battles, as was the case with how the Japanese are presented in Canadian media. In Legg’s film, “Warclouds in the Pacific,” Japanese residing in Britain and America are described to be “intensely loyal to the democratic principles they have adopted [and] proud of the New World heritage” (Legg “Warclouds in the Pacific”). However, Active Comics no. 7 expresses a different sentiment through the way that the Japanese characters are stereotyped and, as seen in “Capt. Red Thortan”, referred to as “Japs” and even “yellow friend” (Active Comics 38). Since the seventh issue of Active Comics was published following the attack at Pearl Harbor (Greenhouse “Battle of Hong Kong), it can be seen that as the events shifted in the war, as did the feelings towards the Axis powers and, in turn, the way that they are represented in mass media. However, the comics were not limited to negative depictions of the enemy with respects to the war. The comics inform the reader of the war both by negatively portraying the enemy and glorifying Allied soldiers. Despite Dieppe being a tragic loss for Canadians (Herd “Dieppe Raid”), “Active Jim’s Monthly Message” commended the “heroism displayed by all ranks at Dieppe” (Active Comics 29). While the Dieppe Raid resulted in a high amount of casualties, “Active Jim’s Monthly Message” celebrates the soldiers’ efforts, discouraging any kind of pessimism regarding the casualties at Dieppe.  The comics, being released on a monthly basis, actively react to the events and foster particular ideologies. That said, the comics act as propaganda, however it is with the youth readers’ anxieties and sensitivity to the war in mind.

Rationalizing Violence

The characters in Active Comics engage in realistic cases of violence, however they are rationalized through the context of the comics’ plots. The wartime context of the comics are what is considered “a state of exception” (Bainbridge 757), meaning that while the actions of the characters may go against the law in a regular context, acting against the law in favour of justice is permissible so long as it is in favour of the common good. In “Dixon of the Mounted”, the story in the issue is resolved with Dixon shooting a traitor, Karnz, dead. While murder is condemned, Dixon’s actions are rationalized since killing Karnz subverts “another Nazi Plot of Sabotage” (Active Comics 10). The comics justify wartime violence so long as it is at the benefit of defending the country and subduing the enemy which, during World War II, are the Axis powers. This can also be seen in “Capt. Red Thortan” when a Japanese pilot is shot down by a turret (Active Comics 44) – Captain Red Thortan killing another individual is permissible during these exceptional circumstances. While the readers of the comic are too young to fight in the war themselves, rationalizing violence still had a practical function at home. Similar to wartime posters, justifying wartime violence against the Axis powers works to promote feelings of contempt which then help foster nationalism and, in turn, support for the war effort (Halliday 128). The readers who associate themselves closer to Canadian characters such as Dixon and Captain Red Thortan than with the Japanese and German characters then are prompted to help support the war effort despite being to young to fight themselves. Overall, in rationalizing the war and the violence associated with it, the comic works to foster nationalistic support for Allied soldiers since the characters, despite technically breaking the law, are acting in exceptional circumstances for justice’s sake.

Conclusion

The seventh issue of Active Comics demonstrates both how Canadians responded to the war and the kinds of ideologies that they wanted to disseminate through wartime ephemera. In celebrating the valour of Canadian heroes, delineating the reader from the enemies, and justifying the violence, the comics work as a highly ideological pedagogical tool that not only informed their market, but influenced them in favour of nationalism. Doing so had pragmatic purposes, as doing so acted as a means to garner support for the war effort from members of Canadian society to young to fight on the war front. What differentiates the “Canadian Whites” from other wartime ephemera is how the approach had to appeal to a youth audience that, while is not completely passive, is still highly impressionable. Active Comics, in taking advantage of its visual and textual capacities, demonstrates the multifaceted ways that different mediums can be encoded with particular ideologies.

Works Cited

Active Comics, no. 7, September 1942. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/art/bell-features/Documents/Active_Comics_7.pdf

Bainbridge, Jason. ““The Call to do Justice”: Superheroes, Sovereigns and the State During Wartime.” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law – Revue international de Sémiotique juridique, vol. 28, no. 4, May 24 2015, pp. 745-763. Scholars Portal Journals, DOI:10.1007/s11196-015-9424-y.

Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, 2006, pp. 427-439. Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database, DOI: 10.1080/02722010609481401

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, August 7 2015. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada/.

Edwardson, Ryan. “The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and the Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Hero.” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 31, no. 2, November 2003, pp.184-201. Scholars Portal Journals, DOI: 10.1111/1540-5931.00063.

Greenhouse, Brereton and Richard Foot. “Battle of Hong Kong.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, November 15 2016. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/battle-of-hong-kong/.

Herd, Alex. “Dieppe Raid.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, June 4 2015. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/dieppe-raid/.

Legg, Stuart. “Warclouds in the Pacific.” The National Film Board, 1941. Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GU1GXo_i4bQ.

Halliday, Hugh A. “Posters and the Canadian War Museum.” Canadian Military History, vol. 3, no., January 1 2012, pp. 126-129. Scholars Commons @ Laurier, http://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol3/iss1/16/.

Heller, Steven. “The Ministry of Fear.” Social Research, vol. 71, no. 4, 2004, pp. 849-862. Project Muse, muse.jhu.edu/article/527363.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, William Morrow, 1994.

Murray, Christopher. Champions of the Oppressed: Superhero Comics, Popular Culture, and Propaganda in American During World War II, Hampton Press, 2011.

Scott, Cord A.. “Fighting for Freedom (1939-45).” Comics and Conflict, Naval Institute Press, 2014, pp. 54-90. ProQuest Ebook Central,               http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=1577594.

Stacey, C.P.. Revised by Richard Foot. “Second World War (WWII).” The Canadian Encyclopedia, May 13 2015. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/second-world-war-wwii.

Media Disclaimer

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

 

A Women’s Role in the War Effort in Russell Braddon’s Woman in Arms: the story of Nancy Wake

Front cover of Russell Braddon’s Woman in Arms: The Story of Nancy Wake.

© Samantha Ruinsky, Ryerson University 2014

Traditional war heroes of past literature have often been associated with the memories and images of brave and strapping young men, ready to do battle on the field with other brave and strapping young men. Russell Braddon’s Woman in Arms: the story of Nancy Wake, abridged junior edition published in 1963, turns the traditional ideal of a war hero on its heels and introduces us to the life story of one of the most decorated servicewomen serving the Allies’ in the Second World War. 

Title and author on the book's spine
Title and author on the book’s spine. Photograph taken by Samantha Ruinsky 2014.

The physical edition of Russell Braddon’s book is found in the Children’s Literature Archive Collection at Ryerson University, published in London by Collins in 1963 (originally published in 1956). Its genre falls into several categories, including non-fiction, biography and history (WW2). There are only a few images in this book, including a map of France and scans of photographs of Nancy and her friends, allies and fellow servicemen. In relation to the greater topic of Children’s Books and War it is important to look at the influence Wake’s story had on those reading the novel when it was published, and those reading it today. Looking at Wake’s influence as a celebrated heroine of World War Two, and by looking at resources such as newspaper clippings and historical accounts, the authority of women in the war effort will develop as a crucial approach to the theme of Children’s Books and War.

In order to stipulate the books contents into the larger umbrella theme of children’s books in war, it is important to understand its context and specifics about certain aspects of the war, pertaining to the events described. By looking at certain ideological such as gender and sexuality, understanding the context and the meaning of the book becomes important as we can begin to understand the books intentions on its audience. By asking questions about gender roles, masculinity, and issues surrounding power and authority, we can begin to understand this books critical role in the discussion of its position in the theme of children’s books in war.

Background to French Resistance in The Second World War

 World War II as a war fought between the Axis Powers and the Allies (Britain, the Soviet Union and the USA), after Germany had disregarded accordance’s with the Treaty of Versailles, invading Poland and other Eastern European nations. Germany refuses to leave Poland and Britain declares war in September 1939. In 1940, 3/5 of France fell to Germany in rapid succession, while the rest of France was established as a neutral state with its government at Vichy (Wright, 2013). The Vichy Government was a pro-German puppet to administer unoccupied France and the colonies. The Maquis, with whom Wake worked with closely with for years, was the underground patriotic movement in France from 1939-1945 (Hoad 2003).

Description of the Text as a Physical Object

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Photo of Nancy Wake’s Forged Identity Card, taken from the book, and photographer unknown.

This Junior Edition of Women in Arms: the story of Nancy Wake is a small book that fits roughly in the size of your hand. The book itself is short (192 pages) and has 14 illustrations throughout, including maps, photographs of family, membership cars, and photographs of the real characters discussed in the book. The sources of the photographs are unknown as there are no captions describing such, and no extra notes provided by Braddon about its citation. There are no inscriptions in the inside cover of the front or back of the book, except the pencil scribbles of the book’s call number.

Summary 

The book follows the true story of a native New Zealander participating in the French Resistance movements and eventually joining the Special Operations Executive (a branch of the British Army), during the Second World War in Europe. With her work on the resistance front and as a British Agent, Wake, also known as the White Mouse as she ran laps around the Gestapo, became one of Churchill’s most highly decorated special agents (Willsher, 2011). The story starts off with a more than brief introduction into Wake’s emigration to France and her marriage to Henri, a wealthy industrialist from Marseille at the breakout of World War Two. With the occupation of France by the Nazis, Wake learns to drive a truck and becomes a courier of first messages, then later soldiers (Ward, 2000). She next gets involved with the movement of helping wounded or deserter soldiers exit France. Her fiery personality and natural ability to sweet-talk anyone and everyone within a 20-mile radius of her propelled her success and popularity amongst those involved in the resistance movement.

Map of areas where Nancy was during the Resistance Movement and fighting with the SOE
Map of areas where Nancy was during the Resistance Movement and fighting with the SOE. Image taken from the novel. Illustrator is unknown.

Throughout this time she is arrested and questioned and ultimately released, weaving a web of intricate and detailed lies. Once she became a well-known enemy of the Gestapo, she had to make an exit from Marseille to avoid capture. Travelling from Spain and eventually to London, she becomes involved as a British Agent working with the Special Operation Executive. After parachuting into Auvergne, central France, to organize the Maquis and its Resistance preparation for D-Day, Wake led thousands of men into guerrilla style warfare while inflicting severe damage on German troops and facilities. A year after Wake had left France, she learnt, her husband had been tortured and killed by the Germans, after refusing to give information on where she might be. (Ward, 2000). As Braddon concludes in the last chapter of his book, Wake remained in Paris until 1947, returned to the Australia of her youth, dabbling in politics of the Commonwealth Liberal Party, and eventually returning to Britain in the fifties, where she remained- completely unaffected by her high military awards from the United States, Britain and France (Braddon). Not included in the book because of its publishing date, but Nancy Wake died on August 7 2011 in a London Hospital, at the age of 98.

“I’m glad I was there. I’m glad I did what I did. I hate ward and violence but, if they come, then I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud good-bye and then knit them balaclavas.”- Nancy Wake, Final Chapter in Braddon’s Book.

Typical Children’s Book?

Within the larger context of children’s books and war, Nancy Wake is a representation of a different take on a book for children about the Second World War, because of its lack of traditional characteristic’s children’s books generally have, such as colourful pictures, larger text, and a bright and vivid welcoming front cover. The fact that this book has virtually none of those characteristics allows it to become one of its own and stands out from what is commonly referred to as the children’s books.

Published Archival Text on Braddon’s Book

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Advertisement in “The Times”. Image taken from The Times Digital Archive, under the section, Multiple Display Advertisements.

Published by The Times in London, England is an advertisement (see left) for a conference  put on by “The Society of Women Writers and Journalists”, in which Russell Braddon was slated to present at. This speaks volumes of the novels response by women, as being chosen to speak at such an event becomes an important connection into discovering the books likability, as a woman’s story told by a man.

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An Advertisment for Braddon’s book on Nancy Wake. Taken from “The Times Digital Archive”, under the section Index.

Russell Braddon wrote this book in 1963, almost a decade after it was originally published in 1956 (See advertisement on the right). The book was published in a time when the world was in the middle of an inter-war period, with an almost imminent daily threat of war, between the continuation tensions of the Cold War and Vietnam on the brink of a civil war. The early sixties was also a time where gender roles and specifically the traditional role of a woman, was a continually discussed hot topic. The publication of this book and the story that it tells, become as I believe, a triumph for women in the discussion about “gender roles in war”, as it tells a story embracing a heroine, and showcases the strong willed and successful life of a female resistance fighter.

Production by Braddon & His Interest in Historical Biographies

The production of the novel was not something out of the sort for Braddon, as his specialty was in writing non-fiction and even more specifically non-fiction and war. His first novel was the retelling of his own story as a prisoner of war during World War Two by the Japanese (Starck 2009). Braddon himself met with almost every one of the characters Wake mentions in her story, travelling all over Paris, Nice, Marseile and London, who, as he describes, pieced together her story for me and brought back for me what they had known of her (Braddon 2009).

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Author’s Note: A Message From Nancy Wake.

Russell Braddon’s retelling of Nancy Wake’s heroic experiences in The Second World War is a story written in an inter-war period, for children and young readers with an appetite for a different and new perspective besides that of the traditional male soldier story. New research has found that children’s books are dominated by male central characters, creating a gender disparity sending a message to children that, women and girls occupy a less important role in society than men or boys” (Flood 2011). Braddon’s novel confirms the importance of erasing this message, and aims to provide a more inclusionary one to send to young readers. A Woman in Arms‘ crucial connection to the overriding theme of children’s books in war, familiarizes readers with the ever growing discussion regarding gender roles, by examining the expansive role of women in war time from all walks of life.

                        “My war was full of laughter and people I loved”

                                                                                 -Nancy Wake ( Braddon 2009)

 

Works Cited

Braddon, Russell. Woman in Arms: The Story of Nancy Wake. Abridged Junior Edition. St. James Place, London: Collins Clear-Type Press, 1963. Print. Ryerson University Children’s Literature Archive.

Braddon, Russell. Nancy Wake: SOE’s Greatest Heroine. Gloucestershire: The History Press. 2009. E-book.

Flood, Alison. “Study finds huge gender imbalance in children’s literature: New research reveals male characters far outnumber females, pointing to ‘symbolic annihilation of women and girls”. The Guardian. May 6, 2011. Accessed March 21 2014.

Hoad, T.T., ed. “The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology.” Maquis Published online 2003: 1. The Oxford English Dictionary.

“Index.” Times [London, England] 10 Dec. 1959: 13. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 22. Mar. 2014.

“Multiple Display Advertisements.” Times [London, England] 22 Nov. 1956: 13. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.

Starck, Nigel. “The Mind of Russell.” The National Library Magazine September 2009 (2009): 12–15. Print.

Ward, Paul. “Nancy Wake: The White Mouse.” NZEDGE.COM- The Global Life of New Zealanders. 19 Apr. 2000. Web. 7 Mar. 2014. http://www.nzedge.com/nancy-wake/

Wright, Edmund, ed. “A Dictionary of World History.” Vichy government (1940-1945) Published online 2007 : 1. Dictionary of World History.

—, ed. “A Dictionary of World History (2nd Ed.).” Gestapo Published online 2007 : 1.

Dictionary of World History.

Willsher, Kim. “Farewell to Nancy Wake, the Mouse Who Ran Rings around the Nazis.” The Guardian. 8. Aug. 2011: 1. Web