© Copyright 2017 Daniel Jonoski, Ryerson University
Comic books in the 1940s featured a multitude of issues and problems that were alive and well during that time period. The comics would display social themes and hegemonic beliefs regarding certain genders, races and ideologies. In Triumph Comics #19 published in the year 1944, female characters’ perception and persona are altered and distorted specifically in the featured comic “Tang” by Rene Kulbach and “Capt. Wonder” by Ross Saakel. Why this is a prominent theme will be discussed further below as well as the implications as a result of it. The way this comic represents women is in such a way that it begs the question as to why they are shown this way, what are the reasons for it? It is obvious that the ways women are portrayed in the comic are not even remotely close to how they are in real life; justification is not needed for that. However, the cultural perception of women and the propaganda/media that was present at that time helped pave the way for comic book writers to write female characters into their stories the way that they have, this being in a distorted, unrealistic and misrepresented sort of way.
The Cultures Perception
For Triumph Comics #19 the cover page art or featured comic is “Tang”, written and illustrated by Rene Tulbach. The comic strip features the main protagonist Buddy Breckenridge and his Indian friend named Scout; their goal in this issue is to retrieve the stolen property papers that belong to a woman, Indigenous peoples being the ones who stole the papers. Upon encountering the woman, she is shown as helpless, defenseless and unable to fend for herself, and must be saved by the man. The cultural perception of women during the 1940s “was exemplified by the traditional gender constructions of men as producers and providers and women as wives and mothers” (Gourley 12). The public’s perception and portrayal of women is that of someone who would typically stay inside and provide and take care of her children, “The cultural perception was a woman’s ultimate goal was to be married and to have children, to have her life revolve around domesticity” (Gluck 4). The point being made here in terms of a connection with comic books is that illustrators and creators latch on to these social norms and construct their characters in their stories based on the cultural perception of that gender. During the 1940s the public perception of them was not that they were strong, capable and intimidating, it was the complete opposite. As a result of this cultural perception, the same type of stock female characters arise in many of the stories that were constructed during that given time period. The terms “stock” and “static” are useful words that help indicate how females are presented and displayed in these comics. If they were not at home and had to work “out” they “were often able to secure jobs in stereotypically feminine employment, such as domestic service, clerking, secretarial work, and teaching” (Cardinale 22) and “Job placement only became problematic with work that was considered masculine” (Hall et all. 233). Women would have this perception put upon them by the general public and as a result, these comics display a persona and perception that is distorted and essentially multiplied x10 (meaning their perceived traits) to the point where their portrayal would be nothing like how they actually are. The way in which women are perceived stems from how they are brought up, “women were raised at the time to behave, dress, and act in a certain (feminine) way”(Hall et all. 235). This is why many of these female characters that are present in this comic are shown almost as an accessory and a side character (apart from Nelvana) and are not the main focus of the text.
I’M ON MY WAY TO TAKE CARE OF IT
The female character in “Tang” who gets her property papers stolen is referred to as “girl” in the first panel she is presented in. It is evident based on the illustration of the “girl” that she is in fact not a girl at all; she is drawn as a woman. This is where the distorted vision comes into play. When you invision a “girl” or think about a “girl”, you think of terms like “vulnerable” and “weak”, young girls are not as strong and capable as they are when they are older. This is why the creator chose to call the female character a “girl”, because it is more believable in terms of the plot and progression of the story. But it is odd as she is clearly drawn as a woman, as shown in the picture below. It is more believable for
something like this to happen for a “girl” rather than a grown woman. The line, “I’m on my way to take charge of it” (Dingle et all. 11) is used by the female character. The ironic aspect of this line is that in terms of the comic strips plot; the female character is ultimately not the one to “take charge of it”. The character that ends up taking charge is Buddy Breckenridge, male essential character. Females “were denied access to “the front”, to “combat” so that men can claim a uniqueness and superiority that will justify their dominant position in the social order” (Enloe 15). This is what happens in this comic strip, the female character essentially takes a back seat to men just as it was in society during that time. The perception that is put upon females during the 1940’s allowed the comic book creators and illustrators to present characters such as the “girl” in “Tang” in such a way that was unlike how they actually were. A big part is the cultures perception during that time; these comic book creators gave into these unrealistic and distorted ideologies regarding women and put them into their stories.
BOB THE WHOLE BUILDING IS SHAKING!
Further evidence of a distorted female character is evident in the comic strip “Capt
Wonder”. Upon seeing the gorilla escape and attack the city, the female character, who has no influence on the actual outcome of the story, leaps into the arms of Capt Wonder and eventually faints. It is said that “women were often reminded of their secondary status” (Brenneman 21) meaning that this perception of the being known as “secondary” gets displayed first hand in Triumph Comics #19, specifically with regards to the female who faints. “Tool” is a good term to describe female characters in 1940s comics; all they did was help bring out the reason for the existence of man during that time. Women during that time contributed to the war effort in small as well as large ways, whether that is true or not is being questioned, it is the fact that they are presented and shown in such distorted ways in the forms of media present during World War II and it begs the question as to why this was a thing in the first place. The same stock type of female character appears here once again; she is unable to do things herself and must be saved by the male protagonist. This is a reoccurring theme in
these comics during this time. This proves once again the idea of how the cultures perception influences the ways in which the creators of these comics write these female characters into their stories. If the general public is lead to believe that this type of distorted persona is the norm then that is how these comics are created and accepted. Cultural Perception is everything.
THE USE OF MEDIA
During World War II the use of propaganda was heavily influential as it would be seen everywhere you would go. The issues displayed on these posters would include a variety of things pertaining to bother genders. The use of the propaganda was a way of swaying the public to do certain things or think a certain way about the given subject that was in the poster. The use of film was a heavy influencer in terms of the perception of women. Just like the comic books, film makers were also persuaded to believe these notions of women and further helped bring to light this fake perception of women that everybody during that time seemed to be gravitating toward. For women, propaganda and other forms of media (ex. film) that pertained towards them changed leading from the 30s into the 40s. It went from showing them in roles “that did not allow them to take charge of their own destinies. Women had to rely on men to come save the day” (Brenneman 21). This would be right before WWII and eventually lead into it. These “propaganda messages instructed women how to behave at home and asked for women as volunteers and workers” (Brenneman 22). The propaganda and films that were present at that time helped the general public create this vision of how women are and how they should be and normalized it to the point where it can be considered okay and acceptable to be shown in a comic. It went from that to eventually showing them as “valiant, patriotic caretakers, volunteers and workers, all of whom have the ultimate priority of helping the war effort in whatever ways they can” (Brenneman 21). But this preconceived notion that was loosely based off of the posters and films that were already present for some time made that culture believe that this is how women should be and how they actually are. The point of “Women had to rely on men to come save the day” (Brenneman 21) overlaps completely with the plot from the Capt Wonder comic strip. The “damsel in distress” falls into the mans arms and must be saved from the danger. The comics are a direct representation of the misrepresentation of the women during that time. These notions and ideologies of how women should be and act is just a fabrication done by media (meaning film, comics, propaganda). In World War II propaganda, “Women, incapable of protecting themselves, serve as the grounds on which to persuade men to exert their masculinity and vanquish the enemy” (Kumar 298), this being much like the comic strips that were created which the likes of Buddy Breckenridge and Capt Wonder showing off their masculinity in order to save the female.
The same regurgitated female characters appear in the vast majority of comics during World War II that showcase a female character. They have the same characteristics and it is those characteristics that are distorted, unrealistic and misrepresented. Through cultural perception that is heavily influenced by the use of media, comic book creators create these female characters that are unlike how females actually were in real life. Secondary, Static and Stock are indicators, which describe the type of character that a female was in 1940s comic books. 1940s comic books are a direct representation of how the general public thought during that time and what there views and ideologies were. Even though propaganda geared towards women changed over time, that perception of them as being weak and essentially second to men stayed the same. This was as a result of the media previously associating them with terms like that and causing people to believe and be persuaded by it, forming these distorted visions of women.
- Gourley, Catherine. Rosie and Mrs. America: Perceptions of Women in the 1930s and 1940s. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2008. Print.
- Gluck, Sherna Berger. Rosie the Riveter Revisited: Women, the War, and Social Change. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Print.
- Hall, Martha L., Belinda T. Orzada, and Dilia Lopez‐Gydosh. “American Women’s Wartime Dress: Sociocultural Ambiguity regarding Women’s Roles during World War II.” The Journal of American Culture, vol. 38, no. 3, 2015, pp. 232-242.
- Brenneman, Brianne. “‘Morale Boosting Necklines’ and Other Forms of Support: Propaganda Aimed at American Women in World War II Films.” Film International, vol. 13, no. 4, 2015, pp. 20-22.
- Kumar, Deepa. “War Propaganda and the (AB)Uses of Women: Media Constructions of the Jessica Lynch Story.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 4, no. 3, 2004, pp. 297-313.
- Enloe, Cynthia H. Does Khaki Become You?: the Militarization of Women’s Lives. Pandora, 1988.
- Dingle, Adrian, et al. Triumph Comics: No. 19. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944.
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