© Copyright 2017 Julia Cicchelli, Ryerson University
The Second World War was a global war that occurred from 1939-1945. It was branded as the most widespread armed war in history and directly involved over 100 million people and over thirty countries, including the United States of America, Germany, and Canada (Encyclopedia of Espionage). During this time, wartime legislation banned “foreign periodicals” (Loubert and Hirsh) from entering domestic countries and as a result the United States of America was no longer allowed to provide Canada with popular periodicals such as magazines and comics that Canadians relied on for entertainment (Martin and Sarfati).
The absences of these comics lead to the creation and the short lived success of the Canadian Whites. The “whites” were a lineup of comics written, drawn and published by Canadians in the 1940s (Loubert and Hirsh). These comics monopolized the superhero comic genre, which was a sensation during this time, and illustrated a diverse range of heroes that ranged from unworldly and magical, such as Nelvana of the Northern Lights, to more realistic heroes who were “everyday men “such as Ace Barton or the Black Avenger. These comics also included Canadian advertisements promoting subscriptions to other comic issues created by the “whites” as well advertisements for toys about war that directly targeted children reading the comics.
There are numerous papers and articles that examine the relationship between war and its effects on children as well as articles and papers on children and their relationship to comics but I was not able to find any scholarly works that examined war related comics and their effects and relationship with the children who made up their target audience. Therefore I want to use my paper to explore how these comics portrayed superheroes as “every day men” and left them visually indistinct so as to generate the widest possible range of kids to see themselves in their heroes. I want to juxtapose this to the use of advertisements promoting toys about the war that targeted children. I believe that these comics used superheroes as a hard hitting spokesperson to children in order to fulfill the need to recruit fresh soldiers for the war effort in addition to fulfilling the economic needs for profit and the entertainment needs of children.
The Changes to Everyday Life Caused By WW2:
The six year long war brought many changes to the Canadian lives and families impacted by the Second World War. The majority of adult men present in a child’s life were recruited and posted across seas in order to serve in the armed forces, which left many women to enter the paid work force to sustain the economic needs of their family in addition to allowing them to contribute to the war efforts. The Canadian Historica Encyclopedia provides an explanation regarding the many Canadian families that dealt with shortages in sugar, meat, butter and gasoline which lead to rationing coupons being issued in order to provide a fair share to all (Cooke).
In addition, there were housing shortages in larger Canadian cities which forced working class families to house together with other families (Cooke). Ian Cooke examines in his article “Children’s experiences and propaganda” how children were “bombarded with propaganda encouraging them to be on the lookout and avoid careless talk that could aid enemy spies hiding in their communities” (Cooke). Schools focused their teachings on lessons about the “famous battles occurring overseas, war heroes, and warships and aircraft bombings that were devastating cities” (Cooke) in order make children aware of the global happenings as well as the threats that they were vulnerable to.
Basically, children were living in fear for their loved ones fighting across seas as well as their own safety. In addition to this fear instilled into them, children were given increased responsibilities and roles as a result of the gaps left by their absent parents and siblings, leaving them to balance more chores, look after siblings, and taking on employment at ages as young as ten.
The Role of the “Whites” for Entertainment:
The Canadian comics illustrated in the “Whites” were able to fulfill the entertainment needs of children in a time where entertainment was scarce in addition to being a beacon of hope in a time where children were feeling helpless and hopeless.
The comics were filled with stories of superheroes fighting against and defeating foreign enemies, who were illustrated as Nazi Germans and Japanese soldiers, in order to represent real enemies who were actually fighting against Canadian soldiers in the war. Superhero stories followed heroes such as the Black Avenger and Ace Barton. The Black Avenger was a British spy who, in this particular issue of the Triumph Comic that I am analyzing, was hired to rescue a fellow spy who was captured and being held in a Nazi camp. Ace Barton on the other hand was an English R.A.F. pilot who was captured in this issue by Nazi soldiers and was being tortured by them in order to reveal where he hid some African diamonds that he was transporting to England. Both the Black Avenger and Ace Barton are successful in escaping from the Nazis by over powering and out thinking them and successfully completing their task. These heroes are depicted as bold and adventurous soldiers who bravely fight against German Nazis in unrealistically glamorized battles that result in their continuous and therefore impending victory.
In a time where children were robbed of their childhood and forced into being responsible, working individuals, these comic heroes represented a way of escape in the sense that it allowed the child to enjoy childlike entertainment. As Avrom Fleishman argues in his paper “The Genre of the Good Soldier” war related comics provide children with glamorized war stories and an image of “golden soldiers” (Fleishman) which allowed children to slip off into an imaginary world in which they did not have any responsibilities to uphold. These responsibilities and any war related worries were put at ease by the image of these “golden soldiers” (Fleishman) who would protect them unfailingly from the foreign threats.
In addition to children needing a form of entertainment, children were also feeling helpless and hopeless, buried under their constant fears for the safety of their loved ones as well as themselves. By creating this image of a “golden soldier” (Fleishman) these comics were able to create an illusion that the war was not as bad as they believed it to be and it was something that Canadians were going to emerge victorious from because heroes like Ace Barton and the Black Avenger were fighting on Canada’s side. Comics could be understood as a beacon of hope for these children who desperately needed something to hold on to.
“Every Day Men” as Heroes to Recruit New Soldiers to the War Force:
The two heroes that I mentioned previously, the Black Avenger and Ace Barton, were both depicted in the comic as a realistic, though glamorized representation of real life heroes. Both heroes were soldiers who possessed no unworldly powers, instead they simply relied on their physical abilities and minds to successfully beat their enemies. Both heroes are shown to be strong and rely on their muscles as well as war artillery to fight off threats in addition to their quick wit to think their way out of tough situations. However neither hero was indestructible and both were as vulnerable to the physical threats of a gun or another man’s strength as any man would be.
Since both heroes possessed realistic abilities both relied heavily on their access to war weaponry, such as guns and planes in order to assist in their defeat of their enemy. By giving these soldiers realistic abilities, children reading the comic could easily interpret the actions of their heroes as something plausible for them to recreate, which encourages their desire to become a soldier so that they too could become just like their heroes.
In addition to the heroes possessing realistic abilities, the comic illustrates both the Black Avenger and Ace Barton as visually indistinct as possible. The Black Avenger wears a black mask over his entire face which leaves his identity a mystery while Ace Barton is drawn so simply in comparison to the detail given to the faces of the German Nazi soldiers, making him look compatible with any man.
By illustrating both heroes in such non distinct ways, the comic is able to mythologize these heroes as “everyday men” by generating the widest possible range of children who see their dads, their brothers and themselves in their heroes. Doing so again creates an illusion that children can easily become just like their heroes, which encourages their desire to embody the actions and position of their heroes by becoming a soldier.
Toys about War, Conditioning Children but also Profit for Economic Needs:
Machin and Leeuwen explain in their paper “Toys as Discourse: Children’s War Toys and the War on Terror” that war related toys became a popular discourse during WW2 because they “allowed children to enact with the discourses and values of war in play while also making a profit”. Additionally, Machin and Leeuwen explain how Canada’s economy during the Second World War was not as disastrous as the First World War but any war leaves a country in economic debt and creates shortages and the need to ration. Therefore selling these war related toys was able to allow toy companies to create a profit, keep people employed within the company which allowed them to be able to sustain their lives as well as their families.
Within the thirteenth issue of Triumph Comics, two advertisements were found immediately after the Black Avenger and the Ace Barton comic, advertisements selling toys about war. The first advertisement shows what is called an “Identoplane Kit” which is a plane set made up of twenty four different war planes that children were encouraged to construct and play with. The other advertisement was for the new “Commander” a wooden toy gun that made a real bang as to fully represent an actual gun.
Both of these advertisements targeted children and promoted them purchasing and playing with these war related toys in order to become “young commanders”. These two advertisements are the only of the eleven advertisements included in the comics that promote war related toys for children and are conveniently located directly after the stories of soldier heroes who are reliant on such tools in their adventures. This placement led me to believe that these ads were knowingly placed here because toy companies understood that children would want to re-enact the actions of these heroes, who relied on guns and planes and children are led to believe that in order to become like these heroes they too need to use and become familiar and knowledgeable in such tools in order to properly and effectively embody their heroes.
Therefore I understood this as another form of conditioning children by making them aware of the tools that they will need to become familiar with in addition to making them play soldier as prep for becoming actual soldiers/ real life heroes like the Black Avenger and Ace Barton.
The Canadian Whites were an important addition to Canadian life during WW2, particularly for the children who read these comics. These comics acted as a source of entertainment in a time where entertainment was scarce as well as a beacon of hope that allowed children to escape from the realities of the war. The depiction of soldiers as heroes who claimed no unworldly superpowers in addition to their illustration as visually indistinct generated the widest possible range of children to see themselves in their heroes. The comics used these heroes as spokespeople to children in order to encourage them at an early age to want to be active members in war, like their heroes. Doing so fulfilled Canada’s need to recruit fresh soldiers to the war effort in addition to fulfilling the entertainment needs of children.
The juxtaposition between these comics and the advertisements promoting war related toys was essential not only in conditioning children to enact the discourses and values of war through play but also as a way of profit to support economic needs created by the war. Therefore the overlapping of social and political needs for fresh soldiers for the war effort, the economic needs for profit and the entertainment needs of kids were all represented in these comics and through these “everyday” soldier heroes.
Armstrong, Martin. “Propaganda & Children : Always the First Target of Leaders.” Blog. Armstrong Economics. N.p., 3 May 2014. Web. Accessed March 6 2017.
Fleishman, Avrom. “The Genre of ‘the Good Soldier’: Ford’s Comic Mastery.” Studies in the Literary Imagination; Atlanta, Ga. 13.1 (1980): 12. Web. Accessed March 18 2017
Cooke, Ian. Children’s Experiences and Propaganda. British Library. Web. World War 1.
Cooke, Tim. “Canadian Children and the Second World War.” The Canadian Encyclopedia (2016): n. pag. Web. Accessed March 22 2017
Loubert, Patrick and Hirsh, Michawl. Superheroes to Call Our Own. CBC Radio Canada, 5 Oct. 1971. Web. Accessed March 2 2017
Machin, David, and Leeuwen, Theo Van. “Toys as Discourse: Children’s War Toys and the War on Terror.” Critical Discourse Studies 6.1 (2009): 51-63. Web. Accessed March 14 2017
Martin, Sandra and Sarfati, Sonia. “Magazines.”The Canadian Encyclopedia (2012): n p.Web.
Ross, Sheryl Tuttle. “Propaganda and Art: A Philosophical Analysis”. Military Engagements. Disseration / Thesis. University of Winconsin, 1999. Web. Accessed March 28 201
Stern, J.P. “War and the Comic Muse: The Good Soldier Schweik and Catch-22.” Compatative Literature 20.3 (1968): 193. Web. Accessed March 28 2017
“World War II.” Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. n.p. Web. Accessed March 29 2017
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