Tag Archives: childrens books and war

Romanticizing the War For Children Through Active Comics #15

© Copyright 2017 Leya Jasat, Ryerson University

Introduction to the Canadian Whites

Fig1. Active Comics. No. 15, February 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library, and Archives Canada.

Bravery, heroism, and patriotism are some of the themes found in the Canadian Whites comic books. These themes found in comics for children were also found in the war itself. Specifically, in number 15 of the Active comics (January 1944) series, one can see these themes being portrayed and projected on to the readers (children).

The influence of the great war on children was greatly underestimated. However, adults, older brothers, and uncles had started to disappear from the lives of these children when the war started and these children were just as much involved (Cook). This exhibit looks at the use of comics and their demand as a platform for grooming children in the 1940’s. These comic books were not for the sole purpose of grooming children to support the war but a lot of the stories and advertisements within the comics represent the war and patriotism to Canada. The stories in this comic book usually end happily when the heroes defeat the “enemies”, teaching children that safety, victory, and happiness can be achieved from helping with and winning the war in whatever ways possible.

Summary

The Canadian Whites are a series of comic books made on white paper with black ink during the second World War. Canada was unable to purchase non-essential goods and comics were one of those goods. Canadian children needed something to do/enjoy and the popular American colored comics were not available. Since this was the case, Canadian authors and illustrators including Adrian Dingle, Frank Keith, Leo Bachle, Kurly Lipas, Harry Brunt, Paterson, Al Cooper, and Jon Darian contributed to Canadian Comics which were called the Canadian Whites and were for the benefit and entertainment of children. These comic books consist of continuing series as well as intermittent stories that take up one or more pages. The stories are told in boxes mostly through drawings and a few words called sequential art. The comic books also include advertisements for readers to buy other Canadian comics, war stamps, toys, and notices/challenges for members.

The comic book specifically being discussed in this exhibit is number 15 from the Active comics (January 1944) series. In this comic book, the representation of guns is prominent as it is portrayed as an asset in a few of the stories and it has a full-page advertisement for a toy anti-aircraft gun as well.

Grooming children

 Adults were disappearing from children’s’ lives after the war began expecting them to help around the house, working for money, and purchasing war stamps (Cook). One of their primary sources of entertainment and one of the few activities for children was reading comics. At that time, war toys were becoming normalized (Fisher) and one of the ways this was possible was through advertising them in comic books and portraying gun users as the ones who succeed in the comics. These comics showed children who their enemies are by showing them Canadian heroes fighting people of the enemy countries. Children who were from the enemy countries were bullied once the children learned who Canada was fighting in the war, as explained by Galway “Canadians of German or Italian descent were not allowed to participate in war efforts, were teased, taunted, or assaulted” (Galway).By closely examining the stories and images, contrary to what I expected there is only one story that has the hero handling a gun. “Active Jim” is the only story that shows a hero using a gun while every other story that contains guns has them in the hands of the enemies. In “Active Jim” the police officer is handling the gun to stop a driver while “Dixon of the Mounted”, “King Fury and the Robot Menace”, “Capt. Red Thortan” and “The Brain” have the heroes fighting with their fists, knives, or swords.

The representation of guns in the comics were being used to groom the kids to want to be soldiers especially considering that the only advertisement directed to children in this comic book is for a gun. The advertisement itself has an image of a soldier with a gun above the image of a child with a gun. Children tend to do what they see and if they are seeing an image of a soldier alongside a child with a gun they will want to imitate the soldier first of all and then, of course, the image of the child. The representation of guns seen through the comic strips and advertisement is just one of the ways in which toy guns were being normalized for children in the twentieth century.

Guns were becoming normalized for children in the twentieth century, with the primary cause being the World War. They were being sold through such captivating advertisements that the children were excited to receive toy guns for Christmas and the guns were becoming consumer items (Brown). At the time children wanting to play with toy weapons was a new concept and even then the guns were used to encourage them to become familiar and skilled with weapons for the war (Brown). At the cost of the children’s childhood, weapons were being normalized so that the children could contribute to the war with more skill and enthusiasm (Brown).  Another factor for guns becoming normalized was economic, as described by Brown:

“Businesses heavily marketed cheap, mass-produced arms in this period. Gun manufacturers and retailers employed several aggressive sales techniques, such as emphasizing that using firearms could inculcate manly virtues, and redefining some weapons as toys to make them into acceptable and desirable consumer items. (Brown)”

The fact that guns were being produced in a mass amount that was benefiting the economy gave more reason for encouraging children to buy and play with them. The results of gun use being normalized for the war was not very smart as weapon use was not enforced well enough (Brown). Weapons were being misused and there were little to no laws on mishandling them. The laws that were placed were broken and were not enforced (Brown). Guns were becoming a danger to Canadians but were still being encouraged for the sole purpose of the children growing up to fight and prosper in the war.

Active comics and romanticizing guns

“Active Jim” is the only story that shows a hero using a gun. On pages 33-35 in the 15th edition of the Active comics the story of “Active Jim” and his assistant encounter a sanding crew mishap. Jim and a police officer use a gun to take down the driver who is sprinkling fine glass instead of sand. In this story, the reader is being taught that using a gun can lead to victory and justice. On the other hand, there are multiple stories with the enemies handling guns like in “Dixon of the Mounted” by R.L. Kulbach on pages 1-7 of the Active comics. In this story, the Japanese officers attack and capture Dixon using their guns to keep him from escaping. Another example is “King Fury and the Robot Menace” by Kurly Lipas on pages 22-28 of the Active comics. In this story, a doctor builds a robot and the Germans successfully steal it with the use of their guns.

These stories not only show the obedience and power a person with a gun can have but also teach the readers about Canada’s enemies. The enemies in this comic book are clearly shown to be of a different racial background through their facial features and butchered English dialogue. They were illustrated to portray the people Canada was at war against. This showed readers who their enemies were since they were also from Canada and in order to show patriotism to Canada, they were made to believe in having the same enemies as their country. The children of war were taught who their enemies were and how to treat them from such a young age. They were being groomed to make these people their enemies and dislike them through the beliefs of their country without their own intellect. In the same way, these kids were learning to romanticize the acceptance of self-sacrificing death as a price of heroism for their country (McKenzie). War was becoming their way of life.

Anti-Aircraft Gun advertisement. January 1944, Toronto, Ontario: Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited. Special Collections, Library and Archives Canada.

Apart from stories in this comic book, there is also an advertisement that strikes as utterly surprising. The advertisement is for an automatic anti-aircraft toy gun for children. It is so bluntly placed on the entire back cover (recto and verso) of the comics book. As a reader, it takes one by surprise that such a violent toy would be advertised to children. The way it is advertised is quite disturbing as well because it has an image of a soldier holding and aiming a gun similar to the toy one while there is an image of a child right underneath playing with a toy gun that looks like the one the soldier is holding. Some of the words used to capture the child’s attention are ” JUST LIKE THE REAL THING! SHOOT IT FROM THE TRIPOD, SWING IT INTO ANY POSITION SIMPLY TURN THE HANDLE AS FAST AS YOU LIKE FOR LOUD RAPID FIRE ACTION!” This advertisement is a great example of how guns were being normalized for children in such a blunt way, grooming them for war at the time they are the most vulnerable, their leisure time.

These themes of heroism, bravery, and patriotism can be seen in the comics and everything else surrounding the children of the war. In number 15 of the Active comics (January 1944) series one can clearly see the representation of guns as a primary war weapon as well as the enemies of Canada that the children soon learn to accept as their own enemies. Comics were used as a platform to groom children into accepting and wanting to fight for Canada. They used the love of comics and mixed in patriotism to Canada, Canada’s enemies, and guns. All this by capturing the children’s attention while teaching them who to like, how to behave, and to work for the war.


Works Cited:

Brown, R. Blake. “Every boy ought to learn to shoot and to obey orders” The Canadian Historical Review, vol. 93, no. 2, 2012, pp. 196-226

Cook, Tim. “Canadian Children and the Second World War.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., 04 Dec. 2016. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

Fisher, Susan R. Boys and girls in no man’s land: English-Canadian children and the First World War. Toronto u.a.: U of Toronto Press, 2011. Print.

Galway, Elizabeth A. “Border Crossings: Depictions of Canadian- American Relations in First World War Children’s Literature.” The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 39, no. 1, 2015, pp. 100-115 Research Library

Mckenzie, Andrea. “The Children’s Crusade: American Children Writing War.” The Lion and the Unicorn  (2007): 87-102. Web. 4 Mar. 2017.