World War II was a victorious era for North America, with their triumph over Germany and Japan. Canada and the U.S benefited their victory from notable allies, mainly the U.K, Soviet Union and France. One of these allies included China. War comics portrayed the Chinese as allies to the West (U.S and Canada), as illustrated in “Clift Steele and the Mystery of Magon” in the 14th issue of Commando Comics, where a soldier code-named Captain Frank Hillary was sent into the Japanese camps as a spy, with the objective of unraveling their heinous plans and military secrets (Darian 5).
Though not directly mentioned in the comic, Hillary’s Asiatic features confirmed that he was in fact, a Chinese ally. Both China and the West shared Japan as their common opposition, therefore they co-operated as allies in defeating Japan, as recorded in World War II history. This exhibit explores the relationship between China and the West as allies, focusing on the role of the Chinese as sidekicks, which resulted in a victorious glory for both nations.
In the 1940’s, comics reflected hope for a better future after the war, where enemies were defeated by North American heroes like the beautiful and mighty Nelvana, the clueless yet lucky Loop the Droop, and the youthful symbol of hope, Captain Marvel Junior. In some of these comics, it is suggested that the heroes had assistance from Asian allies.
First, the depiction of Asian characters in World War II comics will be examined. Aside from their mutual physical attributes of caricatured eyes and high cheekbones, unlike the Japanese, Chinese characters are illustrated as courageous, full of leadership and ambition (Goodnow and Kimble 58). These courageous Chinese are also drawn in comics that featured the American air force team known as The Flying Tigers. Historically, the Flying Tigers were an American based Volunteer Group (AVG) of fighter pilots founded in 1941, because Chinese fighter pilots were incapable of being trained to prevent Japanese forces from entering through Western China, and into Burma (Troha 85). This showed early co-operation and partnership between America and China.
So why can’t the Chinese be the heroes? Goodnow and Kimble stated that, “The Flying Tigers story lines had established the Chinese as a kind of contemptible and erratic sidekick, not a fellow hero” (63). This could be for a variety of reasons, such as the fact that China did not have advanced aircraft technology and training, which prevented them from defeating the Japanese on their own. China was, however, a large nation with sufficient military. Combined with the U.S and Canadian army, China became a powerhouse in driving the Japanese out of their country.
This cultural stereotype of the Chinese being bound by their feudal tradition dates back to the political relationship between China and the U.S in 1944, where the Chinese government experienced internal turmoil between the Nationalists and Communists, making them unstable in planning their defense against Japan. American aid came when U.S Army Commander, General Albert C. Wedemeyer used his strategic reasoning and tactful approach to integrate himself with the Chinese Nationalists. Wedemeyer was able to identify the weaknesses and lack of coordination within the Chinese government that made them vulnerable to Japan’s attacks (Wang 238). At this stage, the Japanese had begun their notorious Ichigo Operation in April 1944, which has taken over most of Central China. When Wedemeyer realized that China was falling further under Japanese control, he made it a priority to drive Japanese forces out of China. In terms of war strategy, Wedemeyer ensured his tactics were compatible with those of Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-Shek, with whom Wedemeyer cooperated well with (238).
Going back to the comic series, how is it acceptable for Asians to remain as sidekicks, and not as equals with the West? Despite the physically unattractive, grammatically incorrect depiction of Asian characters in comics, there is evidence to suggest that the Chinese had a more significant role in the war. Aside from serving as allies, the Chinese also benefited from the West, which has allowed them to experience modernism, economic growth and global empowerment.
Asians in Contemporary Films
An issue from Critical Arts journal introduces a new era of Chinese and Western collaborated movies in which, unlike in the comics, Chinese characters are pictured as decently cut, well-dressed and attractive individuals who speak correct English with only a hint of their native tongue. Set during the 1938 Japanese invasion, the film Pavilion of Women defies all stereotypes of Asian women being sexual objects for Western men’s desire, and Asian men as mere sidekicks (Yang 249). Here, the marriage-oppressed, Chinese female lead of Madame Wu is “led to the ‘correct’ track of freedom and liberty” by the male character of Andre (251), who is an American missionary-doctor, while still maintaining her independence and ability to make a decision that liberates her household from the chains of feudalism. This differs greatly from most Asian movies that are solely created for Western audiences, where the female Asian protagonist does not do much other than falling in love and being rescued by her “white male saviour”. Though this does not contribute directly to the argument of Asians as loyal allies, it does show early co-operation and a positive relationship between China and the West in a World War II setting.
What can be derived from the above points? First, it’s an undeniable fact that the role of Asians in comics and films cannot exceed the heroic roles of Western characters. From World War II, it had been a clear fact that the Chinese needed help from the West; therefore the Flying Tigers air force was formed. Even the late Chinese Nationalist, Chiang Kai-Shek stated his disappointment in the West’s view of China as only needing aid (Wang 244). But is this really a bad thing? The answer is no. For there are many factors influencing the Chinese governance that made it difficult for them to achieve victory. One is their strict influence of Confucian teaching (Wang 246), which puts values in social order and limits of individuality, and is greatly implemented in their military strategies. For this reason, Western influence became crucial in modifying those traditional, feudal strategies into tactics that could bring victory. The West provided a ‘bridge’ that guided China toward a path that promised victory over Japan, and China returned the favour by crossing that bridge to the West as allies, forming a partnership. Similar how in Pavilion of Women, the character Madame Wu was led out of feudal oppression in the correct path by the American missionary-doctor Andre. This film not only shows racial integration between China and the U.S, but also features early feminism in Asia. In a wonderful irony, this film was released in 2001, just before China made its entry into the World Trade Organization (Yang 250).
Modern China and Japan
On a great, triumphant ending, Asian roles in comics and the battlefield is not a gesture of the West in belittling them, but is a gateway that allows Asians to showcase their courage, cleverness and heroic deeds that contributed to the victory of World War II. Integration with the West has resulted in positive outcomes for China and Japan, as both nations have become advanced and industrialized today, each holding a powerful position in the global economy. Both China and Japan have come out of Imperialism and have become modern nations that continue to benefit from Western ideology, while maintaining the uniqueness and exoticism of their people and culture.
Darian, Jon “Cliff Steele and the Mystery of Magon”. Commando Comics No.14, pp.1-6.
Bell Features Canada, 1944.
Goodnow, Trischa, and James J. Kimble. The 10 Cent War: Comic Books, Propaganda, and World War II. University Press of Mississippi, 2016.
Troha, Anthony L. “Historical Note on the ‘Flying Tigers’. “ Physics Today, vol. 55,
no. 7, 2002, pp. 84-85. Ryerson University Library & Archives. Accessed 10
November 2018 from https://physicstoday-scitation-
Wang, Peter C. “Revisiting US-China Wartime Relations: A study of Wedemeyer’s
China Mission”. Journal of Contemporary China, vol.18, no. 59, 2009, pp. 233-
247. Ryerson University Library & Archives. Accessed 20 October 2018 from
Yang, Jing. “The Reinvention of Hollywood’s Classic White Saviour Tale in
Contemporary Chinese Cinema: Pavilion of Women and the Flowers of War”. Critical Arts, vol. 28, no. 2, 2014, pp. 247. Ryerson University Library &
Archives. Accessed 20 October 2018 from https://journals-scholarsportal-
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.
During World War Two it was clear that the government solicited the help of its citizens to fight the war at home through a variety of means. By using different mediums like posters and news publications, citizens were encouraged to purchase war savings stamps, collect scrap metal and disengage from gossiping. What is interesting to notice is that these ideologies and propagated messages were also spread throughout the comic book, Active Comics #14 (November 1943). These comics were created and distributed to children during World War Two. Disguised as fantastic stories about superheroes participating in stories defeating Canada’s enemy, the authors and illustrators used numerous tactics to coerce the young readers into participating in vital wartime activities by modeling this behavior through the comic book character, Active Jim and his club, Active News and Views. The character and his club also worked as yet another method used to encourage children to purchase war savings stamps and perpetuate the duties of the Canadian wartime child.
ACTIVE JIM AND WARTIME YOUTH
In his comic series, Active Jim is a ‘superhero’ that possesses no superior abilities but instead is a teenager who attends school, just like much of his readers. While his adventures may vary comic to comic, they were based on Canada’s real life war time situation and were representative of the conduct and values expected of children during war two (Kocmarek 149). By creating Active Jim with no super strength, intellect, or mystical abilities, the writers leave room for the young readers of this comic to grow themselves into his character and aspire to be someone like him: an individual with a strong sense of nationalistic pride and desire to fight for his country. In his series he never accomplishes anything too spectacular, but instead is involved in stories that any child could have participated in had they been given the opportunity. For example, in issue 14 he takes on the task of tracking down an individual spreading rumors with the intention of putting it to a stop with confrontation (Dingle 54). By participating in activities that did not require any special skills, Active Jim demonstrated how easy it was to help out during the war.
Active Jim was as an excellent role model for children and teenagers growing up in wartime Canada. There was often fear from the older generations that the youth growing up during world war two would be corrupted by the lack of discipline and supervision due to the absence of parents during the war. While the weight of the war hung heavy on everyone, Doctor Baruch Silverman, A medical technician and author that advocated for patience and understanding when dealing with wartime youth, argued that older children were far more susceptible to being significantly effected by these issues would make them “restless, aggressive, rebellious and impatient with the routine of everyday life” (3). Rebellious behavior would often present itself as underage drinking, dancing, and cavorting with the opposite sex (Cook). However, it was crucial that these behaviors were prevented as much as possible. Children growing up in Canada during World War Two would be responsible for the rebuilding of the country long after the war was over and because of this needed to be molded from an early age to prepare for reconstruction after the war (Silverman 3). Children were encouraged from an early age to do whatever possible to support the war effort and very often included activities like collecting scrap materials, purchasing war savings stamps, and behaving like a model citizen (Granatstein & Oliver 60; Cook).
This encouragement was similarly reflected within Active Jim’s comic book club, ‘Active News and Views’, of whom he was the spokesman and figurehead. While being a pen pal club, it also took on the task of creating conservation tips to help with the war effort, as well as safety tips and contests for the readers (Kocmarek 158). The Active News section in each issue is also flooded with applause and admiration for the readership that made significant contributions to the war effort. Members would write in with tales of their fundraising hoping to be featured in Active Jim’s esteemed collection of chosen members with readers often competing to receive the prestigious title, member of the month, in next months issue. While the criteria for winning the title is unknown, majority of the featured members had, in some way, financially contributed to the war effort, be it through the purchase of war savings stamps or putting on plays and donating the proceeds to the red cross. For example, in issue 14, the chosen member of the month was Donald Black, who was using the money earned on his paper route to invest in war savings stamps issued by the government (Darian 40). This sense of competition present in Active News for chosen member very well may have been a significant driving factor in some children to contribute as much as they did to the war effort during World War Two. As both a superhero in his own comic and the spokesperson of the Active News and Views club, Active Jim played a crucial role in forming behaviors and initiatives of the children reading Active comics during World War Two.
ACTIVE JIM AND WAR SAVINGS STAMPS
Similarly, Active Jim also played an important role in propagating the sale of war savings stamps, bonds, and certificates to the readers. The comic acted as yet another medium to advertise these purchases to children among the thousands of posters, radio broadcasts, and billboards already present in their lives. For instance, the last panel of Active Jim in issue 14 ends with a police officer breaking the fourth wall and addressing the readers claiming, “There’s no sounder investment than war savings stamps, certificates, and bonds” after having spent the entire story dispelling rumors that their value was dwindling (Darian 56, see Figure 3). This was a message that was broadcasted religiously to not just children, but to everyone, across many different mediums the most significant being, however, of posters. In their article addressing the use of posters during both of the World Wars, Hugh Halliday claims that “posters have existed to influence public opinion, often under the guise of entertainment or information” (126). It appears that this might also be true of aspects of the Active Jim series as well. While clearly serving as a platform for entertainment for children, the series also seems to have a very biased attitude concerning the purchasing of war savings stamps that was used to frame the content published to the young readers.
At one point during World War Two, the Canadian government realized that Canadian children were a commodity that had not been fully exploited. Their contribution to the federal budget was substantial, and the tactics used to coerce them into purchasing the War Savings stamps are unparalleled. It was estimated that Canada’s approximately 2,000,000 school children alone would annually raise at least 8,000,000 through the sale of war savings stamps alone, every year (“School Children”). War savings bonds began to take over the children’s lives. Messages to encourage Canadian children to invest in Victory loans campaigns were constant and aggressive. Teachers were instructed to preach about them in classrooms, advertisements littered the school hallways, and often school principals even divided the school into sections and provided quotas for each section to fulfill (Van Loon). Penny banks were sent home with children during the summer break to encourage them to save their money to buy stamps when they returned to school in the fall and the War Savings Committee even went so far as to provide employment for some children who would be unable to otherwise purchase stamps. The committee also created special stamp book that were meant for the exclusive use of children, they were colored attractively and created to specifically appeal to wartime youth [Figure 1] (“School Children”). The constant marketing and advertising of War Savings Stamps present in the children’s everyday lives was likewise reflected in Active Comics series and played a crucial role in encouraging readers to purchase war savings stamps during World War Two.
In issue 14, the writers published a story about Jim seeking out an individual that was spreading rumors about the decreasing value of war savings stamps and encouraging all the girls to sell their stamps and certificates back to the bank (Darian 53- 56). This reflected a real-life concern of the Canadian government during world war two. While it was possible for individuals to sell back their victory loans, aggressively discouraged the Canadian population from selling them off and instead pushed hard for them to purchase more. The government was incredibly dependent on the victory loan campaigns to fund their overseas efforts. The sale of war bonds, certificates, and stamps made up a substantial part of the federal budget. Over nine brilliantly marketed victory loan campaigns, the federal government managed to borrow 12.5 billion dollars from Canadians during World War Two (Bryce 328). Despite the fact that every single bond drive had been oversubscribed, the Canadian government continued to aggressively push the victory loan campaigns and borrow as much as they could from Canadian (Granastein & Oliver 60). In a sense, The Active Jim series was used to project real life ideologies and initiatives from the Canadian governmentin a context that was more understandable and exciting to children than the propaganda that had historically used to sell the War Savings Stamps.
ACTIVE JIM AND FIGHTING THE ENEMY
Finally, the comic also perpetuates an interesting relationship between war savings stamps, bonds, and certificates and the enemy, the axis powers. The Canadian whites were “built from Canada’s war-time situation and its response to that situation”, so in a way they were a method of conveying topics or stories in the war to children (Kocmarek 149). However, being fictitious, the writers and illustrators were given a creative licence in which they were able to construct and enforce ideas concerning the enemy, as well as promote hatred of the enemy. During World War Two, there was a lot of media urging citizens to purchase war savings stamps so they themselves can contribute to the war effort and through purchasing war savings stamps directly contribute to Canada’s victory. Posters were often marketed in a way to make women, teenagers and children, who were too young or unable to enlist, directly contribute to the war effort. The posters reflected topics of fear, patriotism, and morality in order to coerce Canadian citizens to invest in one of the nine victory loan campaigns. For example, one poster presents a mother clutching her child while monster- like hands lurk at the edge waiting to grab her child with the caption “Keep these hands off! Buy the new Victory Bonds” [Figure 2] (Odell). By exploiting the fear of the individuals viewing this image, the National War Finance Committee created hundreds of posters like this to aggressively push the sale of war savings stamps, certificates, and bonds during World War Two.
Similarly, the comic also worked to exploit these fears and perpetuated a culture where purchasing war savings stamps was a way to fight the war. In the last panel of issue 14 of Active Comics the comic finishes off with the statement that war savings certificates are a solid investment and anything that one hears “to the contrary is a Nazi lie” [Figure 3] (Darian 56). The story and its final statements are part of social culture that was breeding the idea that the very idea of discussing the value or possible devaluing of war savings stamps was unpatriotic. Other statements like this existed and were posed to scare children to participating in certain activities. Threats of family members dying or being branded as assisting the enemy were displayed to prevent individuals from gossiping. “Are you one of Hitler’s little helpers” was a question that was asked weekly of listeners of the CBC broadcast, comrades and arms. The goal of the program was to warn against rumor spreading that could aid the enemy or hurt the country’s morale by using exploiting the patriotism and fear of its listeners (Strange). Interestingly enough, the comic also discourages gossiping by claiming that individuals who spread rumors were those of the most “dangerous type” and who “gain their livelihood from our inability to see through their lies” (Darian 56). This story of Active Jim was one medium of many that existed during World War Two that existed discourage individuals from selling off their investments and spreading rumors that war savings stamps were losing their value.
It is also interesting to notice that in the issue, Active Jim takes on a group of undercover Nazis whose mission it is to spread rumors on a high school campus to devalue war savings stamps, certificates and bonds (Darian 56). Grown men, who are undercover in the enemy country were given the task of spreading rumors on a high school campus, instead of assassinating a government official or planting a bomb. While it is important to remember that this story is fictitious its vital to understand the idea that this story could be alluding to, that the act of purchasing war bonds was so vital for the Canadian government that the German army had no choice but to dispatch soldiers to devalue the war savings stamps, certificates, and bonds in the hopes that it would increase their chances of defeating Canada in World War Two.
By using Active Jim as a role model for the young readers of this comic series, the writers and illustrators could create a character that the readership could project themselves onto and aspire to be, an individual with a strong sense of patriotism and the desire to fight for his country. The character’s strong attitude about war bonds as well as his admiration of the readers supporting the war effort in his “club news” section could easily be interpreted as propagating children to buy war bonds and coerce them into participate in the war effort. This was a role that was similar to that of the posters, newscasts, and other media that surrounded the Canadian Children living on the Home-front during World War Two.
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.
Bothwell, Robert, Ian Drummond & John English. Canada, 1900- 1945. University of TorontoPress, 1987.
Bryce, Robert. Canada and the Cost of World War II. McGill- Queen’s University Press, 2005.
Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publiciations.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/ Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée, Volume 43, Issue 1, March 2016. Project Muse, https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/611725
School Children of Ontario near Million in Purchases”. Hamilton Spectator, 16 April 1941. Democracy at War: War Museum Canada, http://collections.civilisations.ca
Silverman, Baruch. “Meet Wartime Youth”. Youth in Wartime, 17 January 1945. Special Collections: Toronto Public Reference Library.
Strange, William. “Hitler’s Little Helpers” Comrades in Arms, 9 October 1942, CBC Digital achieves. http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/hitlers-little-helpers