©Copyright 2017 Vera Almeida, Ryerson University
Comic books became an important source for providing information and education for children about the World War. Active comics were used to display adventure through war stories and demonstrating to children about Canadian identity through superheroes. The period of Canadian superheroes started around the 1940’s releasing the “Canadian Whites”. According to Beaty, “These comics, so-called due to the black and white interiors that distinguished them from the four-color American comics of the period, arose in response to the wartime importation ban on non- essential goods that removed American comic books from Canadian newsstands” (Beaty 429). Active comic #1 has carried out a way to demonstrate children about war in a way where they are separated from reality, thus still being taught war in a much more fun approach. This exhibit’s critical aim is that the superheroes in Active Comics Issue #1 (February, 1942) like Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist explore the depictions that show children about Canadian society and values. In particular the masculine role that these two superheroes perform in order to demonstrate that all Canadian soldiers were brave and strong. The comics have never been as effective, as advertising, but the ideology of maintenance for Canadian military is still there. However, as long as they are considered a ‘children‘s book’ the comic book will serve as an active way of teaching them.
The Children being drawn into Canadian-ness:
Active Comics was served to explain the importance of strong and intelligent superheroes to illustrate what it means to be Canadian. These comics portrayed all sorts of action and fun stories in order to catch the children’s engagement and the conformity on the battlefield. Moreover, the two superheroes Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist’s goal was not only to defeat the enemy, thus to engage children that these superheroes were strong Canadian figures. These two superheroes summon into question the theme between connecting popular culture and nationalism about Canadian-ness through comic books. Moreover, Active comics put forth the idea of importance for those children who have brothers, fathers and uncles serving in war. The adolescent and pre-adolescents of Second World War read the comics eagerly. The comics provided that young audience, which did not read newspapers and had no television to watch, with probably their only source of information on the war.
Moreover, Bell Features seemed to work in giving life and durability to these Canadian comic books and “looking back at them they were a significant piece in the puzzle of our Canadian-ness”(Kockmarek The war-time Comics of Bell Features Publications). Bright, bold and with colour only on front page, this comic reveals how the publishers wanted to get as much attention as they could for children to buy it. These publishers know exactly of what the comics provided and what type of audience’s the comics would have. Beaty questions, “Why superheroes? Why comics? They are not just entertaining fantasy figures. They are important to our history because they are symbols of our Canadian identity” (Beaty 431). Through making the superheroes play the role of what it means to be Canadian, this embraces the popular culture and makes children aware of what it means to be Canadian. Representing Canadian-ness was a brilliant way to let children, who were the main consumer’s to get a copy of this comic, engage with Canadian nationality. Beaty states, “Superheroes of the Second World War into legitimated representations of Canadian wartime aspirations that could be affectionately regarded in hindsight as examples of Canadian popular culture” (Beaty 431). According to Beaty, these superheroes were the finest way to represent the Canadian culture to children during the war. Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist were superheroes that fit the role to represent their Canadian abilities that children learned from. Active comics was a great source for children to engage and know what it meant to be Canadian, thus the only Canadian popular culture the children was being open too was the whole concept of masculinity features.
Masculinity taking action during World War Two:
The two heroes in the Active Comic #1; Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist are adventurous and demonstrate the representation of masculinity throughout their stories in order to keep the Canadian ‘identity’. The first story in the issue, Dixon of the Mounted, plays out the strong and brave man as he is going through a blizzard in the mountains searching for his female companion, Ruth Barton. He was a Corporal in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police labeling for Canada then the beaver and even the maple leaf. Thunderfist opens up as a strongman and as a scientific man known for the strangest inventions. His abilities are his allow him to advance at great speed and makes him fly through the electrical currents. Thunderfist’s costume makes him immune to electrical attacks and he has an intelligent mind that leads him to create devices and his own costume. The realization of the need for mental and physical toughness on the battlefield demonstrates the presumed virtues of dominant masculinity for both Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist, which men bring to the military service. Both of these heroes portray what its like to be in Canadian popular culture through their intelligence and strength. Saying that, this makes them Canadian and the children take on that every soldier who fought in the World War two and was Canadian; they had to be like Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist. There was even aToronto Evening Telegram portraying Men of the Mounted, which contained a strip about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Dixon of the Mounted is a Royal Canadian Mounted police and through this telegram, it is portraying that the superhero is being advertised in a different media form than the comic. Kockmarek states that, “The ‘Men of the Mounted’ daily strip was created by Edwin Reid “Ted” McCall and drawn by Harry S. Hall for the Toronto Telegram on Feb. 13, 1933” (Kockmarek Men of the Mounted). Dixon of the Mounted was so popular that he began to be advertised in other ways. Through both superheroes encouraging Canadian-ness towards children in a masculine way, this started to educate children they way the comic intended too.
Active Comics #1 played a significant role in education a young populace before, during and after the war, encouraging the children that the soldiers that they would win and defeat their enemies just like the Canadian superheroes. Beaty affirms that, “The effect of The Oreat Canadian ComicBooks was twofold: first, it introduced into comic book fandom an awareness of the specifically Canadian contribution to the development of the medium during the war; second, it initiated an association between comic books and nationalism that would subsequently shape the discourse surrounding Canadian comics” (Beaty 431). Throughout the war, the comic book super heroes were involved in helping soldiers defeating their enemies. The representation of the superheroes action was always good, since they are fighting the evil enemies away. The characters always illustrated war aims and how children can be assured that their fathers or brothers were strong and would win the war because they are brave just like the Canadian superheroes. According to the article Part of golden age of Canadian comic books, “Peter Birkemoe, owner of the Beguiling comic book store in Toronto, said that during the war many artists like Riley realized the commercial potential of their comics…these were businesses, this wasn’t an art collective or art-driven,” (Riley Part of golden age of Canadian comic books). In compliance with Peter’s statement, the comics had a specific reason that they wanted children to look at which how the superheroes portray the Canadian popular culture in a masculine way. Children had the mindset that Canadian heroes would always win because of their strong Canadian strength and intelligence. Comics present combat most often as the business of ordinary men and the courage and ability to fight as intrinsic to all men. The Comic promotes the idea that every man, is able to rise to the occasion and defeat the enemy, but only if they have the Canadian-ness powers that Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist portray.
Superheroes and Canadian Nationalism:
The mobilizations of clichés that are in the place of these superheroes are substantial. Active Comics mentions stereotypes with its two superheroes Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist and it is clear that the overt nationalism of Canadian superheroes in the contemporary era had as much to do with frustrations over sustaining a viable Canadian comics publishing industry as it did with representational issues of Canadian identity. For Canadian superheroes to partake in the discourse of Canadian nationalism, therefore, it was necessary for the proponents of those heroes to disavow cultural production. With these two Superheroes Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist the children were becoming aware that since these superheroes were Canadian they knew all about what it was to be a Canadian. The comics were demonstrating that these superheroes fought and thought like Canadians, since they were strong and intelligent because of their actions and were Canadian. Children were being drawn to all the masculine aspects of these superheroes which made them believe that all Canadian men were supposed to act as accurately as they performed. Furthermore, Willard’s Chocolates, a shop that opened up in Toronto in 1917 and came up with an idea of, chocolate with trading cards inside. Willard’s, “…came up with the “Sweet Marie” caramel and nut filled chocolate bar in 1931 and was eventually purchased by George Weston in 1954” (Kockmarek Men of the Mounted).The trading cards consisted of Men of the Mounted, which was inspired by the superhero Dixon of the Mounted; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Saying that, with Willard’s chocolates connecting to Dixon of the Mounted, it is portraying Canadian-ness. The superhero was being portrayed into popular culture through a company who sold chocolates with these trading cards in them. This idea was made because Dixon of the Mounted made great success in the first Canadian adventure strip to appear in Canada. With this being said, the superheroes were becoming popular, which was a great way to influence the Canadian-ness to everyone especially the children being targeted. These chocolates influenced children with their trading cards, which was a good way to get children involved with Canada’s popular culture.
Conclusively, Active Comics Issue #1, examined the portrayal that displayed to children about Canadian popular culture through Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist encouraging Canadian-ness towards children in a masculine method. Canadian superheroes in the contemporary era had many clichés, in particular the masculine role that these two superheroes perform in order to demonstrate that all Canadian soldiers were brave and strong during the World War two. Through making the superheroes play the role of what it means to be Canadian, this embraces the popular culture and makes children aware of what it means to be Canadian. Representing Canadian-ness through these two superheroes was a brilliant way to let children engage with Canadian nationality. Saying that, these comic books limited the children’s concepts of what it means to be Canadian since it was being portrayed in a masculine way.
Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.
Anonymous. “Artist Michael Riley Part of Golden Age of Canadian Comic Books.” Canadian Press NewsWire, Aug 29, 2006, Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database, http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/347347292?pq-origsite=summon
Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, Oct. 2006, pp. 427–439., doi:10.1080/02722010609481401.
Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 7 Feb. 2006 www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada
Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne De Littérature Comparée, Canadian Comparative Literature Assn, 2016. https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/611725
Kocmarek, Ivan. “Men of the Mounted.” Comic Book Daily, 8 Jan. 2014 www.comicbookdaily.com/collecting-community/whites-tsunami-weca-splashes/men-mounted
Laurie, Ross. “Masculinities and War Comics.” Journal of Australian Studies, 18 May 2009, www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14443059909387455.
Legault, E.T. (w) and M. Karn (a). “Dixon of the Mounted and Thunderfist.”Active Comics, no. 1, February, 1942, pp. 1-29. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.