This digital exhibit, analyzing social and economical dynamics of World War II, will focus on a popular series from the Canadian Whites. The comic series that serves as a focal point for this exhibit is The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, specifically issue #7 “In the Case of the Missing Steak”. This issue is an ideal example as it has elements of both humour, as well as coping with war on the home front. From this comic and these main themes, the main quality or feature of the story I will be focusing on is rationing coupons and their significance throughout the text. First this essay will establish a brief history of the Canadian Whites, as well as elaborating on the role of humorous aspect of the comic series. The humour present throughout the comic can be discussed in relation to the connection between the possible necessity for light hearted humour during a dark time. However, the humour does not extend to the topic of food rationing which is handled in a very serious way despite the humour throughout the rest of the comic. There is an important distinction the be made between the two prominent aspects of the comic one being humour and the second being the rationing coupons. By including research on rationing coupons, and the effect they had on the home front, this essay intends to show how the seriousness that food and rationing coupons were treated with throughout the comic issue is a representation, or evidence of, how serious the concept of food rationing was in contributing towards the victory of World War Two.
Why Comics? Why “The Funny Comics”?
During the war time there was a gap in the market for comics in Canada as comics were deemed non-essential by the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA). This lead to the creation of the Canadian Whites as a fan base for comics had already been established in Canada leading up to the 1940’s (Boyd). Therefore, The Funny Comics had a well carved out role during war time as making up for the lack of comics being shipped from the United Sates as well as creating an outlet for resilience and individual release through humour (Brown 124). The importance of humour during tough times, such as war, can be described through the effects that humour has on civilians. Humour has been known to serve as “an alternative to violence” because “positive emotions lead to passivity and inaction” (Brown 124). Aside from humour being used to aid in “life challenges” (Brown 125) in general, it is also articulated to be a specific aid during times of war. A study done by Fischer (2002) states that “jokes in war time can function also as a way of releasing fear. For example, in Bosnia testimonies include: “So we laughed a lot during the war. It was our secret weapon”” (Brown 125). This evidence serves to highlight the role humour can play during challenging circumstances, but is the comic “In the Case of the Missing Steak” funny?
The title alone is an indication of the humorous aspect of The Funny Comics, issue #7. There are, however, many more humorous aspects throughout the comic. For example, there are many jokes throughout the comic that play on the fact that one of the main characters, “Bill Canary” is less than intelligent. One example is in the beginning of the comic, where Bill goes on stage and is wearing two different coloured shoes, to which Dizzy Don responds that “when the sponsor advertises you as a wit, he’s only half right” (Easson 3). This play on words in calling Bill a half-wit is just one example of many jokes on his lack of intelligence throughout the comic. Other jokes throughout the comic tend to be puns, specifically about meat which is prime focus of the comic. These jokes include phrases such as “what’s cookin” or feeling like a “cooked goose” (Easson 22,28). Puns such as these are an example of the light-hearted humour which is embraced and used as a “secret weapon” during war.
Following the initial story arch, there is an inclusion of multiple shorter comical plot lines. Preceding these comics is a large, full page spread featuring Hy, the radio announcer, who is seemingly speaking to the live audience. The message included, however, is intended for the reading audience. Hy says “the pages which follow have been created with one purpose in mind “to make you laugh” if you find enjoyment in this book why not pass it on to a friend in our armed forces. It may be just the humor to cheer him up” (Easson 42). This statement is an admission of comical intent for the purpose of cheering up troops in the armed forces; with this intent in mind, why are rationing coupons and the delegation of food not included in the scope of humour?
Food is No Laughing Matter
Any aspect of humour regarding a food shortage is shut down by Investigator Keen when he says “stealing steaks may sound funny. But this is serious business. There’s a black market in meat. The Racketeers get their supplies by stealing them” (Easson 5). There is also an emphasis placed on the ramifications of the meat black market. For example, when the previously established “lesser then intelligent” character, Canary suggests they just go to the black market to buy meat, he is scolded. There is an emphasis placed on this scolding as a fellow character reminds him that it is “illegal” (Easson 6), and the word illegal is highlighted through the use of italics, making it stand out from the rest of the page. This theme is repeated more in the following pane as Dizzy Don, the protagonist, informs Canary that “crooks are stealing meat and selling it to people who are foolish enough to buy it without ration coupons” (Easson 6). This quote is significant as it sends a message, not just to Canary, but also to the reading audience that obtaining food without a ration coupon is both illegal and foolish.
The seriousness of the allocation of food on the home front of the war is reinforced and expanded on upon by Inspector Keen when he says, “if they keep this up, there won’t be enough meat for our workers and soldiers – we’ve got to break this dirty racket up” (Easson 6). This text implies a hierarchy that the soldiers and workers that contribute more directly to the war are more deserving of protein in the form of meat. This further implies that soldiers and workers are more important than civilians. This quote, combined with the previous quotes about food rationing, further villainizes the men stealing meat as well as potentially sending a message to the reading audience in case people had an idea to partake in such illegal activities during the war, this is accomplished by utilizing the comic as a way of evoking a feeling of guilt.
Is Food the Key?
There is more to a war than the physical battle. As previously established, humour served as a “secret weapon”. However, this was not the only weapon featured in “The Funny Comics” (Easson). Food is another, non-violent, form of a weapon identified throughout the comic. “Food Rules” (Mosby 51) were put in place to maintain a fair guide during the war to attempt to avoid malnutrition and illness, specifically in workers and soldiers. These rules were utilized to ensure good health and as Mosby reflects that, “[g]ood health means better work- more work- and the spirit that wins. Eat to keep fit and work to win” (54). In a basic sense, food aids in strength physically. However, food has many other ways in strengthening a community or a cause as well as an individual.
Mosby, the author of “Food Will Win the War: The Politics, Culture, and Science of Food on Canada’s Home Front”, references the Vancouver Sun’s writer Edith Adams as she informed her readers that “[t]he Canadian woman, armed with a knowledge of home nutrition and domestic economy, wields a powerful weapon in defense of her country and democracy. She has been quick to recognize her sacred responsibility” (54). Mosby elaborates by adding that “[t]hese messages of wartime “sacred responsibility” and “patriotic duty” for the family’s health were regularly addressed to “the housewives of Canada,” “homemakers,” or, as the Canada Starch Company referred to them, “Canada’s Housoldiers.” (54). These messages towards women during war time contribute to establishing a feeling of unity on the home front by continuously reiterating the importance of the food in the domestic sphere. By emphasizing the importance of the role of women, even referring to them as their own adaptation of a soldier, or stating that women also have a powerful weapon of defense, conveys the importance of their work. It also brings a sense of unity to the home front by solidifying the unity that the Food Rules created.
Comic books are just one example of a medium used to relay the importance of food during war time. This image (Figure 1) depicts a poster which belongs to a collective exhibit titled “Powers of Persuasion”. The image features text which reads “Save waste fats for explosives. Take them to your meat dealer”. This poster features another way in which food is important to the war. Besides creating unity, and strengthening workers and soldiers, food can also be used to create weapons. This idea reiterates unity as it creates a sense that everyone can contribute, therefore a victory is everyone’s victory. This poster is a piece in a collection gathered to show the psychologic propaganda posters produce. Therefore, by examining this poster with the recognition of its position in a collection with a connecting theme, there are conclusions to be drawn as “trends and patterns emerge” (McCrann 67).
The image in the poster depicts a woman’s hand holding the skillet that holds the grease fat to be used for the explosives. This image represents the idea frequently presented by Mosby that women’s role as a domestic soldier on the home front is in fact imperative to the outcome of the war. McCrann speculates this idea of using posters in an “attempt to involve women in war work” (67). Aside from the literal use of the fat, symbolically, the utilization of the grease can be analyzed to conclude that nothing goes to waste during war time and that every little bit contributes to a victory, which works to solidify the idea of unity as discussed by Mosby.
This exhibit has focused on working in steps to show the evolution of thinking and final thought process, behind the conclusion. In an attempt to answer the question: why are the topics of food and food rationing left out of the scope of humour, there are many steps to reach before a conclusion can be formed. Beginning by establishing that The Funny Comics are indeed funny, as well as analyzing the importance of humour, the focus shifts to the serious tone in the comic regarding food and its rationing during war time. Following this is an analysis focused on the significance of food in the war. Despite the different treatments utilized towards the topic of humour and food in “In the Case of the Missing Steak” (Easson), both humour and food serve as weapons. They both lift spirits on the home front as well as working together to create a sense of unity. This train of thought leads to the answer of the initial question being that humour does not extend to food as to not undermine the efforts put forth by the government to create a unity and emphasize the importance of food as a tool in winning the war, while still utilizing their platform to spread messages regarding food as well as spreading cheer through light hearted humour.