©Copyright 2017 Alexandrea Fiorante, Ryerson University.
Active Comics Issue #9
Writing for Canadian children and adolescence aged 7-18 during World War II, Active Comics issue nine (January 1943) relays wartime propaganda that promoted Canadian patriotism and war inclusion to youth who were too young to participate on the war front. This exhibit will study how Issue #9 involved children into wartime activities and groomed adolescents approaching wartime age through the comic “Active Jim” and his club membership “Active Jim’s Monthly Message.” Active Comics issue #9 is an important tool for recruiting the youth and creating ideal Canadian citizens from progression towards a better nation.
Canada and the Second World War
The War Exchange Act prohibited American non-essential goods, including comic books, from entering Canada during World War II. As a result, Canada emerged with comic books that promoted their own nationalistic views: The Canadian Whites. A Toronto publisher, Bell Features, created Active Comics.
Created for, and by Canadians, Active Comics issue #9 encompass patriotic heroes, wartime news and incentives for children’s involvement. It was used as propaganda to groom youth for war. Fredrik Stromberg argues that propaganda was a necessary form of communication because of wartime ideas that viewed militarization as rational for teaching values (ch 2). Comic books influenced child readers’ opinions on political, social and moral values during the 1940s, in which patriotism was expected. It created ideal Canadian citizens to enlist in the war.
The importance of comic books stemmed from the educational standards of World War II. The 1880’s education system focused on teaching youth about politics and war events at government-run institutions. Ross Collins writes that children existed as messengers to relay information to their parents, among others (ch 2). Authorities encouraged youth to partake in clubs, such as boy scouts, to learn proper values, be groomed for war, and prevent delinquency (ch 2).
The drafting age for youth on the war front was nineteen. Comic books provided information that prepared young people, aged seventeen and eighteen, who were soon eligible to participate. Many children had siblings and parents active in the war efforts. Comic book imagery and content spawned children’s desire to be like their elders.
Bell Feature’s Active Comics issue #9 works similarly. It includes Canadian morals and militarization that groomed youth for future duties. Not only is reading an educational act, but it also kept children from delinquency by including clubs to join and activities to do. Issue #9 harnesses war values and interests by providing participatory opportunities and Canadian heroes to follow (Kockmarek 150).
Analysis of the “Active Jim” Comic
“Active Jim” is a comic book hero created by Edmond Good that presented an attainable image of the ideal Canadian citizen. “Active Jim” follows the young Canadian hero Active Jim and his lady friend Joan Brian during their car ride home after a hockey game. A boy of good values, he picks up a hitch hiker who turns out to be a Nazi trying to reach the United States border. Active Jim outsmarts the Nazi, ties him up, and brings him to police. The next day, Joan acknowledges Jim’s success. He replies that “any real Canadian boy would have done the same” (Good 37).
Important to note is Active Jim’s backstory. Active Jim is a teenage boy who is not old enough to be on the war front. He is a young, average boy who, in-between his studies and watching hockey games, tries to do ‘his bit’ in support of Canada. Active Jim presents to youth a Canadian hero that is relatable in lifestyle and age. His comic pushes desires to be active in war efforts by showing an easily identifiable character and his successful attempts to fight crime. When he says that “any real Canadian boy would have done the same,” the idea of using role models is evident (fig. 1). Active Jim is an older brother figure used to groom, and persuade, young boys into being active in war efforts while showcasing Canadian values as important.
Active Comics issue #9 also uses the young, amiable hero character in “The Noodle,”created by Ross Saakel, to inspire youth to do their part. The character is a baby wearing a diaper who combats enemy threat to save himself and his girlfriend, Henrietta (fig. 2). Like Active Jim, The Noodle is too young to be involved in the war. Likewise, the The Noodle’s backstory involves that his father is battling on the war front. The comic uses the father figure to identify with children who have parents in the war. These fictional, young heroes show that anyone can aid in the war effort.
The Canadian War Museum poster “Hey Gang” uses a youth character to promote buying war saving stamps (fig 3). As done with “The Noodle” and “Active Jim,” the use of another young role model character creates a collective drive and a sense of unity that inspires other youth to participate. This poster also coincides with the idea of doing one’s part and reinforces the idea that all “Canadian’s must contribute to the end the war” (Stevenson). Considering children are too young to be on the war front, buying war saving stamps-like the poster- and victory bonds, they are able to aid in the funding of the war. The red “V” on the poster stands for victory, providing an incentive to do their part and emerge successful in their efforts and the efforts of Canada.
Analysis of “Active Jim’s Monthly Message”
Active Jim is the leader of his own membership club for wartime efforts. Created by Adrien Dingle, “Active Jim’s Monthly Message” uses the idealistic Canadian hero as propaganda for involving youth into war. His name, “Active Jim,” insinuates activeness from the use of the adjective in conjunction with the issue’s title “Active Comics.” This is evidence of blatant militarization and implementation of wartime values.
Noted in his comic “Active Jim,” the comic’s backstory tells the reader that he and Joan are in the car chatting over the “Active Team’s sensational victory” (fig. 4). This acts as propaganda within within propaganda to advertise the club in Active Jim’s own realities. By pairing the club, the comic’s themes of activism and his notion that “any real Canadian boy would have done the same,” the club is a grooming method for making war efforts desirable by penning every child as a war hero. Active Jim’s club exists as a controlled environment that militarizes children and keeps them out of trouble as Collins had suggested (ch 2).
Active Jim’s club membership is an opportunity for youth’s active participation. Providing an elitist group run by a figure like Active Jim, working with the Canadian hero and receiving a special group certificate is a huge incentive to be war hero. Similarly to figure 3, it is effective in using a heroic character to relay information and ask the youth to fulfill roles. Children can relate to the mundane character and will listen and strive to be like them because they are relatable in lifestyle and age but still make evident change in Canadian society.
Active Jim’s Monthly Message: Casablanca Conference Analysis
Active Jim’s Monthly Message in issue #9 asks for members to decode a message about the Casablanca conference. The use of a secret message not only creates excitement around an elitist group task, but relays political information to children. The Casablanca conference of January 1943, the same month and year of Active Comics issue #9, is about Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill’s next phase of World War II (Fleming 2). Cleverly nicknamed “SYMBOL” which coincides with Active Jim’s ‘symbol message,’ the mention of the political event is used to inform children about the current events. As children learn, they will pass the information on to their parents through Collin’s suggestion that youth are used as messengers (ch 2). Likewise, “Active Jim’s Monthly Message” also acknowledges that children “are doing their part in so many ways… buying war saving stamps… but there’s still plenty of growth,” insinuating that there is always work to do, and that involvement in the war is crucial (Dingle 18) (fig. 5).
In connection to the historical outcome of the next phase, the Casablanca Conference was for “unconditional surrender,” meaning they would fight until their ultimate defeat, as peace could only come from the elimination of the German and the Japanese (Fleming 3). This mention resonates with readers and the act of continuing to do their part. However, the message remains unsolved because of the inability to retrieve the code wheel.
Active Comics issue #9 includes propaganda around teaching readers feelings of racism and hatred towards enemy powers. Active Jim’s comic includes Nazi hatred propaganda, and another comic “Thunderfist” showcases negative Japanese representation. Stromberg’s notion of ‘war rage’ as seen in various comics dealing with enemy powers was evident in popular entertainment to promote patriotism (ch 2).
The World War II poster “Keep your hands off!” is an example of racial hatred towards enemies to promote patriotism (fig 6). The woman in the poster is holding a child that symbolizes innocence. The dark hands that have the emblems of the enemy powers on them are suggestively devious because of their shape in conjunction with the headline “keep your hands off!” The poster stresses the protection of youth from the enemy powers by fighting against them and posing them as a threat. The collective hatred of their enemies spawned patriotism and a desire for young people to fight against them to protect Canada and future generations.
By linking the ideas of the Casablanca Conference, mystery message from “Active Jim’s Monthly Message” and Jim’s statement to “work three times as hard to make this message a reality” Active Comics issue #9 uses the information to groom children for war by immersing them in politics and ideas essential to fighting enemies.
Likewise to the ideas of grooming youth through information, the “Command Repeating Play Gun” by Victory Models aids in this process by selling replica weapons used on the war front (fig. 7). Through purchasing the items, the youth who are close to their enlistment age are able to be familiar, and practice with, the gun. Children further away from the legal age of enlistment are able to be groomed along with the elders to find desire in being on the war front through engagement with the toy.
The club and the toy exist, as Collins suggested, for keeping children out of trouble by giving them war related groups and items to engage with and gain interest in the war (ch 2). By partaking in activities, they are gaining Canadian values and learning how to be successful on the war front.
Active Comic’s issue #9 (January 1943) targeted children aged 7-18 during World War II to relay wartime information and ensure the participation of children regardless of their age. Likewise, issue #9 is a method for grooming youth in preparation for the warfront. Through this issue, the form is used an important tool for harnessing youth interests and involvement through the “Active Jim” comic and “Active Jim’s Monthly Message” to create ideal Canadian citizens for wartime recruitment.
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.
Adrien Dingle. Active Comics: No. 9, January 1943, Dixon of the Mounted: Cover. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1943
Collins, Ross F. “How War Can Make Children Better.” Children, War & Propaganda. New York, Peter Lang, 2011.
“Command Repeating Play Gun.” no. 9, January 1943, p. 66. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166795.pdf
Fleming, Thomas. “The Most Ruinous Allied Policy of the Second World War.” History Today, vol. 51, no. 12, 2001, pp. 2-3. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/202814892?accountid=13631
Dingle, Adrien. “Active Jim’s Monthly Message.” no. 9, January 1943, p. 18. Bell Features Collection, Ryerson University Library and Archives. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166795.pdf
Good, Edmond. “Active Jim.” Active Comics, no. 9, January 1943, p. 35-37. Bell Features Collection, Ryerson University Library and Archives. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166795.pdf
Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, vol. 43, no. 1, 2016, pp. 148-165. Project Muse, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/611725/pdf.
Saakel, Ross. “The Noodle.” Active Comics, no. 9, January 1943, p. 30-31. Bell Features Collection, Ryerson University Library and Archives. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166795.pdf
Stevenson, Robert. “Canadian Wartime Propaganda: Second World War Propaganda Poster.” Canadian War Museum, Canadian War Museum, http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/propaganda/poster20_e.shtml. Accessed 9 March 2017.
Stromberg, Fredrik. Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History. Lewes, Ilex, 2010.