© Copyright 2017 Simon Mancuso, Ryerson University
The “Canadian Whites” and WWII Propaganda
“The Canadian Whites” collection of comics provides a unique window into culture and the political climate during the Second World War. In the WWII era, propaganda played a vital role in contributing to the war effort and influenced the public on a mass scale. Allied governments distributed this pro-war content through a variety of media outlets including films, cartoons, posters and comic books. During the war every available media outlet was re-purposed to serve as a propaganda tool. The Funny Comics With dizzy Don and The Secret Weapon (Issue 12) is an example of a comic intend for children’s entertainment being used as a vehicle to distribute government messaging to citizens across the country. Throughout the comic there are multiple examples of this, ranging from the narrative itself to the illustration of its characters. This analysis will focus on those two aspects examining the depiction of the main antagonist “The Black Hand”, a shadowy and evil figure that although never appears as human in the comic is a symbolic representation of Nazi Germany. As well as the narrative itself which offers a variety of pro-war and pro-government themes that walk a fine line between entertainment and subliminal messaging. The purpose of this analysis is to understand how media and specifically this comic were used by the Canadian government as a distribution platform as well as cheap entertainment for children. A variety of evidence will be used to demonstrate this connection ranging from news articles about the government pressuring authors to insert pro war messaging into their work to Donald Duck and his cartoon commercials asking us to support the troops. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don is a clear example of a deliberate attempt on behalf of the Canadian government to re-purpose mass media as propaganda tools.
What is Propaganda?
Before analyzing how The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don is being used as a propaganda tool it is important to begin by establishing a definition of the term. The term propaganda is defined as “any information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” (Møllegaard, 2012) This definition will be used in this study to refer to a variety of illustrations and narrative themes present in The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don as well as other secondary sources. Traditionally “propaganda” is used as a derogatory term that is often accompanied by malicious intent. However, throughout this analysis a variety of examples of propaganda will be examined, some of which is hateful whereas others are harmless. For example, depictions of women and children being used to sell war bonds is an instance of harmless propaganda. Hateful propaganda occurs when the imagery or texts resort to racism or cultural stereotyping to purposefully demean its target. Examples of both are present throughout the illustration in Secret Weapon Both styles are equally effective at stirring emotional responses from their viewers, the former empathy and the latter hate.
Throughout the Second World War propaganda was a constant presence across a variety of media outlets including posters and news articles and in film where pre-show recruitment ads have become a famous symbol of World War Two era America. It is important to preface this analysis by stating that the goal is not to critique the style and content shown within these comics and posters, but to simply examine the methods in which they are used as tools to distribute a message.
The concept of the Canadian government deliberately inserting pro-military and pro-war propaganda into independent media outlets is not beyond the realm of possibility. In fact, it occurred during the Second World War on many occasions. Multiple news articles were published on the topic stating that the Canadian government was putting pressure on local authors to push government messages. In 1940, the Hamilton Spectator published an article titled “Important Task Facing Writers of the Country”. The opening line in the article reads “Canadian writers have the clear and definite duty of keeping the democratic ideal constantly before the nation’s eye.” (Hamilton Spectator, 1940) This article focuses on the responsibility that was placed upon the nations writers to communicate to the country’s youth that they are fighting an honorable and good fight. A second article titled “The Government Propaganda Machine is now in High Gear” written in the same year for the Toronto Telegram, elaborates further on this concept. This article talks about the censorship bureaus established in Ottawa who control the output of content by various media outlets. The article states that “Canadians generally may be unaware that since the outbreak of the war something in the nature of a press bureaucracy has been established in Ottawa. First of all, there are the Press Censors whose. purpose it is to scan carefully whatever is published.” (Toronto Telegram, 1940) The article goes on to talk about a “publicity corps” whose responsibility it was to make sure government messaging is communicated to the public. “Alongside the press censors there is being built up at Ottawa a publicity corps whose job it is to get government announcements and statements of policy in the newspapers.” (Toronto Telegram, 1940)
These two articles are incredibly important when establishing the argument that the Government was manipulating media by controlling what content was published and inserting pro-war messages. The quotes in these articles make reference to specific government organizations such as the “publicity corps” and “Press Censors” tasked with the goal of inserting propaganda messaging into mass media across the country. The existence of these articles establishes a precedent by acknowledging that the government was willing to pressure these independent media organizations. If they were willing to approach newspapers and authors, it’s not irrational to believe they would so the same with comics.
What About Dizzy Don?
Both the illustration and the overarching narrative of The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don and The Secret Weapon support the argument that this comic moonlights as government propaganda. The first example of propaganda within illustration comes through the depiction of the comic’s main antagonist “The Black Hand of Treason”. This character is important for many reasons. Primarily, it’s the driving force behind the story of the comic. This issue of Dizzy Don is less about the victory of its heroes and more about the demonization of its villain, who is frequently described as evil and cowardly throughout. The Black Hand of Treason is not a character in the traditional sense instead of taking the form of an individual it simply appears as a monstrous hand in the story. Because of this, the villain is not portrayed as a person but instead it exists as a symbol. The Black Hand is a symbolic representation of Nazi Germany as explained in the comic when mad scientist Mortimer Midge says, “It is a Nazi group, they want to prevent my secret weapon from being used by our armies” (Easson, 9) When German and Japanese characters are illustrated within the comic their depiction is consistent with the overtly racialized and stereotypical features found in other propaganda imagery such as large ears or buck teeth. The portrayal of these characters throughout the comic draw direct comparison to government messaging and the illustrations are consistent with traditional propaganda.
The narrative of the comic further supports the idea of comics being re-purposed as propaganda tools. The story follows the adventures of Radio Host Dizzy Don as he gets embroiled in a top-secret plan to develop a machine that will win the war for the allies. Over the course of the story Dizzy repeatedly faces off against the The Black Hand of Treason an organization trying to steal or destroy that machine. Within the first few pages of the comic it is made clear that there isn’t going to be any thoughtful commentary on World War II era politics. Instead its predetermined that the heroes will win, and the bad guys are going to lose. Throughout the story none of the characters confront meaningful adversity and all encounters with the antagonists are quickly shrugged off without much effort. The story wraps up quickly with a perfect happy ending as the allied military put the machine into production and win the war. The comic itself reads more like a recruitment ad than a story. Overall this makes for a boring and linear narrative that presents a black and white portrayal of good and evil and a pro-government, pro-military attitude that is consistent with the propaganda of era.
The depiction of the Black Hand throughout the comic can be understood as propaganda for many reasons. The purpose of propaganda is to “to influence people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors” (Møllegaard, 2012) and The Black Hand fulfills these requirements in several ways. The comic influences peoples attitude towards the character by establishing it as the villain. Furthermore, the comic goes out of its way to re-iterate how villainous the Black Hand is by continuously referring to it as evil and cowardly. When comparing that depiction to that of the heroes, who are described as smart, honest and loyal a clear line is drawn between the two sides. The comic is carefully constructed to make the reader hate the Black Hand as a symbol of Nazi Germany. The writers also avoid making any controversial political statements throughout the story, making it clear who the good and the bad guys are. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don are primarily a joke comic series and “The Black Hand” is always the target of a witty one liner delivered by Dizzy. Whether or not this impacted the behavior of its readers is impossible to say, but the intention to portray them as laughable and incompetent is clear.
The illustration of “The Black Hand” also has direct connections with war propaganda posters. The poster shown here portrays two monstrous hands enclosing themselves around a woman and her child. This illustration is identical to the depiction of the Black Hand in the comic. Within the hands are German and Japanese symbols, this not only verifies that the Black Hand is a symbol of Nazi Germany but proves there is consistent imagery between the comic and a traditional propaganda poster.
Consistency is one of the most important factors to consider when trying to run a successful propaganda campaign. Ensuring that citizens can quickly relate images seen in posters with illustrations they see in their own living room is important. This is because it allows them to relate to what they are seeing and create emotional connections, whether they be positive or negative. These emotional connections are vital because they spur people to act on their message. For example, if someone saw an ad for war bonds that gave them a strong emotional response they would be more inclined to purchase them. More examples of this can be seen in the comic when examining the depiction of a Japanese character. Although he only appears in one frame and has no dialogue, the overly stereotyped and racially insensitive illustration is similar to the portrayal of Japanese people in World War II era propaganda. The poster below is an example of one of those depictions. The long-pointed ears and buck teeth shown in the poster on the right are features consistent with the illustration in the comic.
“The Funny Comics” are not the only instance of cartoon characters being used as vehicles for government propaganda. Iconic characters such as Donald Duck have been used to try and sell war-bonds and send pro-military messages to their viewers. This video is an advertisement run in 1942 in which Donald’s devil side and angel side fight over where he should spend his hard-earned money, on himself or to buy bonds. (notice the evil Nazi mailbox) This proves that children’s cartoons are being used to sell pro-government content.
“The Canadian Whites” comics offer an illuminating view into the state of society and political ideology during the second world war. Based on the precedent established by multiple news outlets and the connections between imagery and themes within the comic to other sources it is clear that the Canadian government utilized a variety of mass media sources, including The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don as a vehicle to distribute propaganda.
- Canada, National Film Board of. Shameless Propaganda. 2014. www.nfb.ca, https://www.nfb.ca/film/shameless_propaganda/.
- Easson, Manny, and Bell Features, editors. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don: No. 12. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944.
- Frohardt-Lane., SARAH. “Promoting a Culture of Driving: Rationing, Car Sharing, and Propaganda in World War II.” Journal of American Studies, vol. 46, no. 2, 2012, p. 337.
- MacKay, Robin. “49th Parallel: The Art of Propaganda.” Queen’s Quarterly, vol. 123, no. 4, 2016, p. 572.
- Møllegaard, Kirsten. “Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History FredrikStrömberg. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010.” The Journal of American Culture, vol. 35, no. 2, June 2012, p. 192
- Odell, Gordon. “Keep Those Hands Off” Canadian War Museum. 1945, http://www.warmuseum.ca/collections/artifact/1019599/.
- The Hamilton Spectator. WarMuseum.ca – Democracy at War – Information, Propaganda, Censorship and the Newspapers. 1940 http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/information_e.shtml.
- Toronto Telegram. “Government Propaganda Machine Now in High Gear.” July 1940
- Unknown. “Tokyo Kid Say” 1945
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.