Tag Archives: Propaganda

Japanese Representation in World War II Comics -The Funny Comics With Dizzy Don no.17.

© Copyright 2017 Francesca Jamshidy Student, Ryerson University

Japanese Representation in World War II Comics

Introduction

This digital exhibit intends to analyze the historical conflicts between Canada and Japan During World War II, specifically when it came to the media. The rivalry between Japan and Canada is not discussed often when it comes to World War II, but in this exhibit, I want to shine light on how the unflattering portrayal of Japanese characters in “In the Human Rocket” in the series The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, is connected to the historical context of the conflict between Japan and Canada during World War II. The tension between Canada and Japan is depicted through Easson’s writing style, the way setting is represented in panels surrounding Japanese people and the Japanese characters physical appearance.

Writing Style in World War II Comics

The introduction to the comic is free of tension. There is a quick introduction to all the characters. This is done in order to familiarize new readers with the who is going to be in the story and what their relationship is to one another, from main characters to supporting characters. Unfortunately, after reading through the comic, it is apparent that there is one character which is excluded from the introduction, and that character is Japanese. Not only is this character not introduced, but he is also referred to as “Tokyo Joe” (13), once he is a named, or noted, character. By being referred to as Tokyo Joe, it is made apparent that his character is being “othered” as this distinction separates him from the other generic Canadian characters. In the 1940’s “younger children were preoccupied with many projects” however, “there was a fear that teenagers might be corrupted by the lack of supervision during the war” (Stranger Ross, et at.). By slipping casual racism into remarks that teenagers read, the creators of these comics were exploiting the impressionable minds of teenagers. This implied that it was okay to grow up believing and repeating racist remarks. An example of this is on page 13 when the only Japanese character is referred to as the “Stooges of Japan”, which was another form of calling him stupid. During the Second World War “Canadian policies emerged from the war… [exemplifying] long- standing racism” (Stranger-Ross, et al.), which later reflected upon not only comics but other forms of media as well. Within Easson’s work, it is evident that racism is encouraged. Tokyo Joe is only given the chance to speak once during the entire comic and the one time he speaks he is grammatically incorrect. Rather than saying “It’s not so easy my friend” instead he says “No so easy, my friend” (13), insinuating that Tokyo Joe is the only character with an accent or an inability to speak without grammatical errors. These details used to write the comic are ultimately meant to show the difference between Japan and Canada. What many Canadians didn’t know according to the article “Government Propaganda Machine Is Now in High Gear” (1940), is that during the time period that the comic issue was made there was pressed censorship. People carefully looked through work from articles to books and continued to do that during the war, in order to make sure nothing was written to comfort the enemy. This showed how controlled the media was during this time period. This also included comics, with this information it now makes sense as to why the only Japanese character was portrayed unfairly by Manny Easson. Japan was considered the enemy that the Canadian Government wanted to scare.

Background Settings

When reading a comic, a character’s physical appearance stands out right away, what many do not realize is that the background and setting of an image can subconsciously manipulate and infer/alter things into a certain perspective. When looking at “In the Human Rocket”, and analyzing the background setting within images, there is an automatic and clear switch between the backgrounds of characters depending on where they are from. Since this essay is examining the relationship between Japan and Canada, the first thing that was automatically analyzed was the background setting behind the only character that was not Canadian. When looking at the background setting of the only character not from Canada within the comic it is quite evident that his ethnicity is overly expressed through his surrounding in order to alienate him from every other character in the comic. Looking at the picture on the

Fig.1. Manny, Easson. Panel from “In the Human Rocket.” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 17, April 1945, Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada, p.13. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/ e011166608.pdf

left (Figure 1) taken from Manny Easson comic “In the Human Rocket” in the series The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don (13), right away one can see that “Tokyo Joe” has a picture of a sun symbolizing the Japanese flag and a dragon on his table cloth, both details placed in the background automatically let readers know that he is from Japan and not like the other character. On the same page in the 4th panel Easson zooms into Tokyo Joe with only the sun beams from the image behind him
showing, nothing more, as if to infer the only attribute and supporting information to him is his ethnicity, leaving readers with only two things, he is the villain in this comic and he is Japanese. What aids this theory that background, and settings are purposely placed and drawn in images in order to support the negative portrayal and alienation of Japanese people in this time period, is that it is an on-going trend, the portrayal in this comic is not an isolated incident, it happened throughout many forms of media. Below on the left there is a propaganda poster found on “Canadian Propaganda Posters” Mystery in History, published online in 2014 this website had posters from Canada during the second World War. Automatically when comparing the comic to this poster (Figure 2)

Fig.2. “This Is the Enemy”, “Canadian Propaganda Posters.” Mystery in History, June 2014, collected at https://mysteryinhistory.wordpress.com/2
014/06/10/canadian-propaganda-posters/
Fig.3. Manny, Easson. Panel from “In the Human Rocket.” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, No. 17, April 1945, Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada, p.35. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e44
7/e011166608.pdf

it is glaring to note that they were created by different artists yet they both have the same things in common, the sun rays signifying that this person is of Japanese descent and a negative portrayal of the character/person of Japanese descent. This was clearly not a coincidence but rather a tool to ensure Canadians feared Japanese people. This fear turned into a hatred because during the Second World War since Japanese people were considered the enemy “22,000 Japanese Canadians were uprooted from their homes, separated from their families, and sent away to camps” (Government Apologizes, 1988). Sadly, these people were being punished for simply being of Japanese descent although they were Canadian citizens, and many were even born and raised in Canada that was still not enough. When comparing this to Manny Easson’s illustrations, attention can quickly be brought to the only other image drawn of Tokyo Joe (Figure 3). In this image Tokyo Joe is behind bars (35). He could have been placed in any setting, perhaps at the police station or an interrogation room but instead he is last seen in jail. His imprisonment is a direct correlation to Japanese Canadians being sent to camps because that was a form of their own torture and jail. This is relevant because the jail setting showed a negative portrayal of the only Japanese character within the comic. By having the last image of Tokyo Joe being behind bars it is also arguably a comforting image as he is seen as less of a threat, providing a sense of closure to the previously established impressionable minds, since the enemy is depicted to be “contained”. This ultimately proves through background and setting, Japanese people were being targeted in many forms of media, this comic included, due to the tension between Canada and Japan during World War II.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Physical Characteristics

Unfortunately, things did not simply end with settings and backgrounds but rather got worse when it came to physical characteristics of Japanese people. When looking at “In the Human Rocket” the physical appearance of Tokyo Joe in comparison to everyone else is significantly different, not just in terms of historically accurate physical differences. According to the “Canadian Propaganda Posters,” Mystery in History (2014), stereo-types were exaggerated in the propaganda posters and in the media when it came to Japanese people.

Fig.4. “Tokio Kid”, “Canadian Propaganda Posters.” Mystery in History, June 2014, collected at https://mysteryinhistory.wordpress.com/2014/06/
10/canadian-propaganda-posters/

This exaggeration can be seen from teeth to eyes, even their ears were made fun of. In the poster above (Figure 4) published by “Canadian Propaganda Posters” (2014), the man shown is by far the most terrifying thing at first sight. When analyzing he does not look anything like a human but instead he is portrayed as an animal. He has sharp pointy fangs, small eyes that need glasses, extremely pointy ears and claws. In addition, once again this poster shows the man has a hat with sun ray beams in order to let everyone who sees this poster know that the terrifying man within this image is Japanese. When analyzing the Tokyo Joe in the comic, differences were noted in comparison to other characters. Examples of this are that out of the two villains in the comic Tokyo Joe is dressed in all black signifying darkness just like all the other portrayals of Japanese people. His mouth if looked at closely can be seen in an upside-down position rather than smiling. If given the chance to smile it could have shown a different outlook on him because people tend to be more appealing and inviting when they smile. But due to his constant frowning Easson was solely able to create a negative atmosphere for his character. Just like the poster he isn’t given a specific age but with the over exaggerated wrinkles one could assume he is prehistoric, lastly, he is the only character in the entire comic given glasses, supporting the stereotype of an inability to see. These physical characteristics are not only disgusting and incorrect, they are also a deliberate way to show that the portrayal of the Japanese culture and beauty is not celebrated but rather mocked.

Conclusion the “So What”

In conclusion, this exhibit intended to analyze how the unflattering portrayal of Japanese characters in “In the Human Rocket” in the series The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, was due to the tension between Canada and Japan during World War II. The war and the comic connected to one another because they were created during the same time period. It was also intended to analyze how the tension was deep rooted and how due to the negative portrayal of Japanese people, Canada’s fear had quickly turned into prejudice and anger, leading to the horrible events that occurred and affected many Japanese-Canadians. This was shown by many artists in many forms of media during the 1940’s, including Manny Easson’s work. Through his writing style, the way he drew the settings around those of Japanese descent and the overall illustration of Japanese characters, with specific detailing to their physical appearances, his work as well as many others proved my theory that the comic was used in combinations with other media platforms intending to encourage a prejudice against people of Japanese descent. It is also quite evident after analyzing different media forms that Japanese people were villainized whether through animalistic representations to being made the enemy which needed to be put behind bars to ensure a feeling of safety during the hard times when Canada was at war.

 


 Works Cited

“Canadian Propaganda Posters.” Mystery In History, June 2014, mysteryinhistory.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/canadian-propaganda-posters/.

Cook, Tim. “Canadian Children and The Second World War.” Historica Canada, December 2016, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-children-and-wwii/.

Easson, M. “In the Human Rocket.” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, no. 17, April, 1945, pp.1-35. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

“Governments Propaganda Machine Is Now in High Gear.” The Toronto Telegram, Canadian War Museum, July 1940, http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/information_e.shtml

Stranger-Ross, Jordan., & Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective. “Suspect Properties: The Vancouver Origins of the Forced Sale of Japanese-Canadian-owned Property, WWII.” Journal of Planning History, vol. 15, no. 4, February 2016, pp. 271-89. https://doi- org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1177%2F1538513215627837

“Tokio Kid”, “Canadian Propaganda Posters.” Mystery In History, June 2014,  mysteryinhistory.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/canadian-propaganda-posters/.

“This Is the Enemy”, “Canadian Propaganda Posters.” Mystery In History, June 2014, mysteryinhistory.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/canadian-propaganda-posters/.

“1988: Government Apologizes to Japanese Canadians – CBC Archives.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, March 2017, www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/1988-government-apologizes-to- japanese-canadians.

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.

Manipulation by Media

Children are easily manipulated as they are seen as innocent and naive. Children do not have the education to learn what the real reason is behind the madness that occurs every day. Events will happen all over the world and children will not be capable to grasp a proper understanding as to why it is happening. This is solely due to the lack of education on history. A major historic event that had a change in the world, was World War II in 1939. World War II made an impact on everyone all around the world especially in the media, as it was largely impacted. During this time, comics were very popular and they contained many different stories that were targeted towards war. A comic would show an example of how children were not being properly taught about an event. The use of racism, violence, and hatred was incorporated negatively in these comics. In my comic, there was an advertisement for war stamps that involved the illustration of Adolph Hitler. My comic found on page 15 of WOW Comics issue No. 10 (1945). Specifically focused on the aim for children to purchase war stamps. The purchase of war stamps was easier to persuade to children due to their age and young mentality. The sales of war stamps are one of the factors which helped fund the war, for it was important to keep the children engaged in purchasing. Depending on the perspective, this comic advertisement can be interpreted as a deeper meaning. This can be proven through the history presented, the illustrations, the vocabulary used and the dramatic events which unfolded in front of children in World War II.

Children and History: Historic Childhood Novelty

I found that the history of World War II was very effective while looking at this comic advertisement. Without looking into the history one would not be able to prove that children were very under-educated and manipulated. The media was able to target children with the use of comics and toys. Children have been targeted for many years, but it was most prominent during World War II because leaders found them to be more vulnerable (Martin Armstrong, 2014). In comparison to adults, children retain more information because they are continuously developing their own personalities and mentalities (David Machin and Theo Van Leeuwen, 2009). Children were targeted in this comic to purchase war stamps, however, they believed that by doing so they were helping fund the war for their nation. The message that they received was positive, as they were helping their families who were within the battle. At an impressionable age and with the passion to be involved, these children tried to come up with any way to make money. With whatever they earned, they would bring it to their school to purchase War Savings Stamps which they pinned into special booklets for post-war redemption. This created an appealing goal for them, by being able to fill and keep track of their unique stamps! Along with the mixed messages, there was the horrible bribery of the children that I found quite appalling. “Children learned to recycle and collect materials, such as metal, rubber, fat, and grease, which were reused to produce useful products for the war. In return for the children’s labour, different incentives were offered to the children such as free passes to the movies” (Veterans Affairs Canada, 2017). Apart from free movie screenings, children enjoyed playing with different toys in their free time. Toys were made to resemble the war; even today I still see these toys exist. These toys can consist of miniature soldiers, plastic machine guns, replica grenades and the full attire (David Machin and Theo Van Leeuwen, 2009). These toys would intrigue children, in relation to the plastic guns, those are not toys, even if they are plastic. These toys would intrigue a child and become an object of enjoyment, as opposed, to teaching them what their real purpose is, which is to injure and kill people. What I immediately thought was how boys-not girls because there was more sexism towards girls if they were caught wanting to play with these war toys; this could resemble their family that was out fighting for their lives. Young boys want to be able to follow in their parent’s footsteps, usually their fathers, which would make these toys more appealing. Further, into the research, it brought me to an article based on a true story made into a comic, about a young girl named  Hansi who loved the Swastika symbol (Figure 2).

This is something I found to be extremely inappropriate for a child to love. The Swastika symbol is the official emblem of the Nazi party and a symbol that holds a meaning of hatred. The Hansi comic book was part of a series of biographies of famous Christians in the 1970s. The Christian comic book was based on the autobiography of Maria Anne Hirschmann, who lived through World War II as a victim of the Germans propaganda (Comic Alliance Staff, 2010). She was an avid believer in the Bible, but then found herself intrigued and interested in the swastika.It was concerning as it is found unusual of such difference in an interest into something which negatively impacted the world. Further with age, she then returned back to her Christian faith.It was obvious the moral behind this comic, as it is showing you that your faith will always be there for you even when you do not realize it. By looking back on the history of World War II, I am able to further prove the point that children did not receive the proper education. If they had, these children would not want to resemble the toys they played with to war, misunderstand comics for wanting to help with the war and have a young girl who loved the swastika.

 

Illustration: Visual Stimulation 

I further my research on my topic by looking into the illustrations displayed in my comic advertisement. This comic I found was unique in the use of illustration, especially when looking at Hitler’s expression while he is saluting. The facial reaction displayed on Adolph Hitler plays a large part in the advertisement (Figure 3). Looking at his face is unsettling, we are not exactly sure how Hitler is feeling. Hitler looks disappointed when he is giving authority by saluting yet, he is not exactly proud of himself. He also looks guilty. When we see realistic photographs of Hitler, his face is usually flat and he has no emotion shown on his face. However, this comic shows him looking vulnerable and upset. This I find has a major effect on children because it will have the emotional grab; he does not look happy with what he is doing so why would someone else want to follow in his footsteps? It is also seen Hitler holding a swastika in his hand. My findings concluded that the swastika connected with the story of the young girl who loved the swastika symbol. This adds to the fact that children were easily manipulated through illustrations; most likely finding the symbol appealing because they would not understand the meaning behind it. Looking further into the illustration we can take notice of a solider showing force against Hitler. This I found portrayed violence, which should not be portrayed to young children. I think children should see that violence is not something that we approve, yet, this comic is showing our soldiers being violent towards one of the most notorious people in history. It is quite a contradicting illustration when discussing the impact of illustrations affecting children. Although they are young, this is the time their minds start to process information and remember things that they see such as the illustration in this comic. A child finds illustrations more appealing than vocabulary. However, in order for comics to be appealing to the young crowd, the illustrators had to use images rather than vocabulary to catch the individuals eye and have a reminding effect.

Vocabulary: Cunning Persuasion 

Lastly, a strong form of manipulation used throughout this comic is the vocabulary. There are two words that stand out to myself and those words are “heed” and “breed”. Heed is a word that expresses obedience, but also indicates a warning in this comic. Once defining this term and delving deeper into the meaning of it, I realized you have to pay attention to small details in the comic. I looked carefully at this and realized the word heed is used in an intentional way. I needed to focus on the main idea in this comic, which is Hitler. I paid more attention to him after this because what he did throughout his life was not right. His “breed,” aka the Germans, though they were doing good, but when we actually pay attention to the reality of it all, we know that Hitler was trying to create racial purity. In my article, the communicating text starts with: “A jerk called Adolph” which indicates that they are trying to keep an appropriate word for children instead of using a  vulgar term (Figure 4).

This portrays to the child that the term “jerk” would be a bad word, but not too bad as to reveal Hitler. In the verse following, “was once a kid” this removes Hitler’s scary nature, allowing children to feel somewhat empathetic. Thus, thinking that he was once like them being weak and vulnerable. Also, without caution to children of Hitler’s true nature, they might desire to be like him one day. Following that in the text, “But, when he grew up  just look what he did!” It is implying that the reader would know “what he did” and assumes they would share the same assessment as the comic author. Furthermore, the text says: “Now you” which is speaking directly to the reader of the comic. Also, reverting back to words spoke earlier which were: “can help destroy his breed,” which refers to Hitler’s mission which was to destroy the Jewish people. The ‘you’ in this ad is aimed at its readers to destroy Hitler’s breed. Hitler is known for his wanting to destroy the Jewish. There is a fine line between us attacking Hitler like, he is attacking the Jewish, it is displayed in this ad that we need to destroy his “breed” which does not equal justice. The comic displays Germans as a “breed,” just like animals, they are just something to be killed off as if they do not have to mean. We should not intend to equal the violence, we should show children that we want peace. Lastly, is the quote:  “if these words you will but heed… Buy War Stamps!” This is now trying to persuade its reader into thinking that they must buy these war stamps. The vocabulary in this comic advertisement was very particular, they added the persuasion, the double meaning and the second person perspective (WOW Comic, 1949).

In conclusion, I prove that the media has a large effect on children who lived through World War II. This was shown with the use of the historical information gathered through research of war stamps, as children paid and collected these stamps to help fund the war. The stamps were particularly advertised to children, as they were easy to persuade due to their age and passion for involvement. Secondly, toys which represented different war items allowed a child to have an imagination and feel like their mothers and fathers, who of which did their part to help the war. The true story of Hansi, allows us to understand the meaningful power of the swastika and that person’s faith will always follow them. Moreover, by looking at the illustration displayed in the comic, Hitlers image and expression is evident in showing a negative perspective. As well as, the vocabulary used, which allowed us to see many different aspects being persuasion, double meaning and the perspectives directed. Overall, comics had a lot of impacts, not only on the innocent young boys and girls but also in the aspect of how it portrayed media throughout the event of World War II.

Work Cited

Comic Alliance Staff “Comic Art Propaganda Explored: ‘Hansi The Girl Who Loved the Swastika’.” ComicsAlliance, 17 July 2010, comicsalliance.com/comic-art-propaganda-explored-hansi-the-girl-who-loved-the-swa/

Canada, Veterans Affairs. “Canadian Youth – Growing up in Wartime.” Veterans Affairs Canada, Government of Canada, 24 Mar. 2017, www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/historical-sheets/youth.

David Machin, Theo Van Leeuwen. “Toys as discourse: children’s war toys and the war on terror.” Toys as discourse: Children’s war toys and the war on terror | Critical Discourse Studies Vol. 6, No.1, February 2009, 51-63

Martin Armstrong. “Propaganda & Children – Always the First Target of Leaders.” Propaganda & Children – Always the First Target of Leaders | Armstrong Economics, www.armstrongeconomics.com/uncategorized/propaganda-children-always-the-first-target-of-leaders/.

Stacy Gillis, Emma Short. “Children’s experiences of World War One.” The British Library, The British Library, 20 Jan. 2014, www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/childrens-experiences-of-world-war-one.

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.

Morale in “Wow Comics no. 17”

Introduction

The Second World War brought many changes to the lives of Canadian children. With fathers and brothers being deployed in the battle overseas, mothers suddenly joining the work force, shortages of food, rations, and talk of Nazi spies and Japanese invasion, the echoes of war were ubiquitous in the lives of children (Cook). Undoubtedly troubling for them, one of the only offers of escape for children was comic books. Enter the “Canadian Whites”: a series of comic books created by Canadian publishing companies that filled the void left by the removal of the American popular media when the King administration passed the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) (Bell). The “Whites” lifespan was short, but nonetheless, their run fulfilled a significant role in the lives of Canadian children.

In this article, I will examine issue no. 17 of Wow Comics (a member of the “Whites” family), in particular the narratives that focus on themes of war and violence, and how those narratives quite paradoxically supply readers with a more optimistic outlook on the war they were living through. By selling children a world of clear-cut narratives to situate themselves in, where good and evil were easily distinguished, the heroes always won, and life at home was never shown as being in danger, Wow Comics perhaps served as a means of upholding morale in their lives.

Defining Morale

For the purposes of this article, I will be using the term “morale” as a measure of optimism held by Canadian children about the war. Advertisements, propaganda, and other products of pop culture (including comics) that work to improve or positively shape consumer’s outlook on the war effort can be seen as upholding morale. Additionally, anything that helped kids to orient themselves in the confusion of wartime, or provide some sense of comfort and security can also be seen as upholding morale.

Context of Consumer Culture

Figure 1. Government issued propaganda used Hitler’s image to discourage spending. H. V. Shaw (a). “Save to beat the devil,” from “Canada at War Forums”, Canada at War, Jan 2010.

When accessed digitally, there is a tendency to forget that artifacts of history belonged to a broader sociocultural context. We must then keep in mind that Wow Comics was not only a product of a consumerist culture, but highly successful ones. During the war, there was a tension between the government’s “anti-spending” propaganda campaign, and the companies that naturally wanted to keep up consumption. Businesses, to protect their success, had to be tactical about their approach to advertising. As Graham Broad puts it in his book A Small Price To Pay, advertisers’ initial response to the war was to maintain a “business as usual approach” (50). However, as the government continued developing their propaganda to align spending with treason (e.g. using Hitler’s image in anti-spending campaigns as seen in Figure 1), advertisers shifted tactics to attaching social significance to their products (Broad 61). To accomplish this, advertisers started constructing the purchase of every commodity as being useful to the war effort (77). In doing so, advertisers inverted the government’s “serve by saving” ideology into a “serve by spending” call to action. As a result, advertisers made consumerism a mode of participation in the war effort, and boosted morale in the lives of Canadians by giving them the sensation that their spending was in some way helping to win the war.

Commodifying the War

Figure 2. Toy gun advertisement. Wow Comics, no. 17, 1943, Bell Features Publishing, pp. 57.

Wow Comics fits into the consumer climate in a similar way: by working both as a source of morale and a piece of propaganda. Two advertisements in the back of Wow Comics no. 17 that promote toy guns to its readers serve as an illuminating example. The advertisements invite children to role-play as soldiers with models guns that are “Just like the real thing!” (Wow Comics 57). Margaret Higonnet, doing research on military themes in children’s culture, argues that toys can be used to domesticate war, “[granting] distance and [permitting] us to claim mastery” (“War Toys” 119-120), and we can see such a process taking place here. Purchasing these toy guns would allow children to recreate the battles they hear about in school and read about in these comics, relocating the war into an imaginary space where they have control. In other words, children can use these toy guns to imagine themselves as brave heroes of war. Since we know that toys are often employed by children to help them navigate through uncertain times (“War Toys” 118), this reconfiguration of war allows children to feel better equipped to deal with the changes wartime brought into their lives, and thereby boost morale. The advertisements also work as propaganda, as they encourage children in their play to embody soldiers fighting on the “good side” (i.e. the Canadian military) against evil (i.e. enemies of Canada, Nazis). Rehearsal of war, especially as it is informed by the advertisements and themes found in Wow Comics serves to reproduce the ideological binary of good vs. evil and solidifies the justification of the Canadian war effort.

“Hair-Raising Features”

While several of Wow Comics no. 17’s stories are based in the military genre, its representations of war are quite distant from the realities. The front cover of the lets readers know it is filled with action. The cover depicts a German U-Boat being blown up, complete with enemy bodies flung airborne, and crashing waves. In the bottom left corner is a text box that reads “‘The Penguin Strikes’ Plus 5 Other Hair-Raising Features,” advertising that at least six of the contained stories are action packed. Higonnet argues, “One of the paradoxes of war, as it is represented in children’s books, is that battle becomes distilled as individual combat” (2). Her theory applies here: while some of the comic’s stories are situated directly in the war effort, there is never a battlefield full of soldiers or towns under siege. Instead, comics like “The Penguin” take place on a nondescript coastline, with a single protagonist going up against a single German villain, “the Luger” (Wow Comics 3). Similarly, “Whiz Wallace” takes place in India, and has a battle between the protagonists and the villainous “Spymaster” and his henchmen (Wow Comics 19). The comics’ representations of war take place in contained (and due the lack of specificity in location, almost secret) places, where the violence does not reach innocent lives. Such representations reduce war to a singular heroic man seeking out and infallibly beating up singular villains without causing any auxiliary destruction. However, the reality war is far more complex, violent, and senseless than that heroic process. As a scholar on the “White”, Ivan Kocmarek, remarks that the “Canada Whites” were likely one of the only sources of information about the war for children (156), and this representation could therefore be interpreted as a realistic depiction for young readers. Appearing so controlled and one-sided, the war might have then appeared less scary for kids, as it upheld morale about the likelihood of Allied success.

Have no fear!: Heroism in the “Whites”

The cast of heroes in Wow Comics no. 17 is not what one would expect compared to classic comic heroes such as Superman. Instead of supernatural powers, the Canadian heroes used cunning, detective skills, some weapons, and their fists to dole out justice. They are not superheroes, but vigilantes, spies, and adventurers who fought for good and exhibited bravura in the face of evil. “The Penguin,” shows a lone hero in a penguin mask foiling a Nazi plot to bomb the Canadian coast without ever coming face-to-face with the enemy, merely outsmarting them by placing one of their own bombs in the U-Boat’s periscope (Dingle 5). Beyond the immediate threat of a bombing, the deadly weapon is aptly named the “demoralizer bomb” (Wow Comics 3). The Penguin is therefore not just protecting physical bodies, but also the collective spirit of Canadians, pointing to the importance of morale during wartime. Similarly, the comic “Guy Powers: Secret Agent” shows a Canadian detective uncovering a Nazi sabotage scheme in a Canadian factory. In the end, the hero expertly punches out the Nazi spy when he tries to pull a gun on him after being found out. What this common theme of self-defence reveals is a uniquely Canadian approach to the war where violence is used as a means of defence, as opposed to an all-out offensive means to victory. While these tales openly confess that the home front is always a vulnerable target, they also remind young readers that there will always be heroes that will stop the infiltrating evil before it can cause harm, further providing them with comfort, and maintaining the good vs. evil binary that justifies the war effort.

Heroism outside the war

Several of Wow Comics no. 17’s “Hair-Raising Features” take place in a setting outside of WWII. Regardless, they still keep up morale in a similar way to their militaristic counterparts by continuing to reinforce the hero vs. villain binary. As an example, in the comic “The Phantom Rider,” a vigilante hero (The Phantom Rider) rides through the Wild West seeking vengeance against the gun-wielding bandits that killed his father. On his quest, he finds the criminals, but realizes they are planning on stealing a herd of cattle from a local town. The Rider then proceeds to trap the criminals and turn them over to the authorities, saving the day. This comic reinforces the idea that justice is achieved by a clearly good hero fighting against clearly bad villains. When the sheriff says “He never breaks his word, always helps the one in need,” (Wow Comics 35) readers are further reminded that this story is an example of the Rider’s time-proven process.  The echoing heroism in the comics that exist outside of the war continue to remind the reader that there are good people who protect the innocent from evil.

Constructing villains

Figure 3. Panel from “Whiz Wallace” showing the Spymaster. Wow Comics, no. 17, 1943, Bell Features Publishing, pp. 21.

Although the Axis powers were generally understood as evil, the brevity of the comic’s stories required their visual representations of evil to be done efficiently. To do this, illustrators of the “Canadian Whites” tended to rely on stereotypical depictions of Canada’s enemies to communicate not only villainy, but also race and nationality.  Perhaps the most striking example of this is Thomson’s design of the Japanese villain “The Spymaster” in “Whiz Wallace.” The Spymaster is bald, fat, has slanted eyes, and a fu manchu (Figure 4). Although skin tone is absent in the black and white comics, he is described by one of the white protagonists as a “yellow beast” (Wow Comics 22).  Additionally, he possesses a magic that allows him to control the minds of men, and is described as being “mysterious” (Wow Comics 17), ascribing to him a sort of mysticism frequently linked to Asiatic peoples. The combination of both these visual and textual elements construct a portrait of the enemy that is immediately distinguishable to both the protagonists and the readers. This representation shows the “bad guys” as being easy to identify, and in turn, makes them easy for the heroes to find and stop. Children reading these comics might then feel more confident in the understood heroic process when it is demonstrated as being so streamlined and a simple matter of finding the stereotypical villain and swiftly putting a stop to them.

Moreover, German villains were constructed in a similar way to the Japanese: by drawing on stereotypes. The Luger in Dingle’s “The Penguin” is the perfectly designed villain: square jaw, bald, scar located on his head, devilish smirk, and even a monocle. In addition to drawing on the familiar white villain tropes, the German accent is transcribed in the dialogue to reify the connection to German nationality (as if the U-Boat and Nazi flag were not enough). “What is the hold-up” thus becomes “Vat iss der hold-up” (Wow Comics 5). Villains, then, can be recognized not only through visual signals, but also aural ones.

 Conclusion

For the price of 10 cents, Wow Comics offered children worlds parallel to their lived realities where war was not as scary as it seemed. In line with the trends of the era’s consumer culture, Bell Features was successful in turning its products into commodities with social significance in a wartime context. Within these comics, war is reduced to a game of cat and mouse where the hero hunts down and inevitably stops the villain from doing harm. Giving children a more simplistic perspective of war, a complex adult phenomenon, perhaps helped them to feel less afraid during a time of great fear and uncertainty, or at least have a stronger faith in the success of the soldiers fighting for them. Additionally, through advertising, these comics invited children to recreate these war narratives in a way that made them feel in control of their situation. Amid the sea change the Second World War brought to the lives of Canadian children, the Wow Comics fulfilled the important duty of keeping up their morale and fending off fear.


Works Cited

Bell, J., & Viau, M. “Canadian Golden Age of Comics” from “Beyond the Funnies,” Jun. 2002, Library and Archives Canada. https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8300-e.html

Broad, G. A Small Price to Pay: Consumer Culture on the Canadian Home Front, 1939-45. UBC Press, 2013, Vancouver, Canada.

Cook, T. “Canadian Children and the Second World War,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Apr. 2016. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-children-and-wwii/

Higonnet, M. “War Games.” The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 22, issue 1, John Hopkins University Press, 1998, Brooklyn, United States.

—. “War Toys: Breaking and Remaking in Great War Narratives.” The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 31, issue 2, John Hopkins University Press, 2007, Baltimore, United States.

Kocmarek, I. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, vol 43, issue 1, 2016, Canada.

Shaw, H. V. (a). “Save to beat the devil,” from “Canada at War Forums”, Canada at War, Jan. 2010. http://www.canadaatwar.ca/forums/showthread.php?t=2486

Wow Comics, no. 17, Oct. 1943, Bell Features Publishing. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166679.pdf


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.

Triumph Comics No. 23

Encouraging the Militarization of Scientific Advancement in Triumph Comics No. 23

© Gabriela Will 2017, Ryerson University

INTRODUCTION

World War II had a monumental affect on Canada’s advancement as a country, most notably on the cultural and scientific fronts. Culturally, Canada developed a strong sense of identity, as seen through the advent of the Canadian Whites: a series of comics made in Canada, targeting Canadians, and propagating Canadian imagery and values. The comic also depicts the rapid technological advancement rampant through the war years. In Triumph comics: No. 23, this is manifested through the repeated images of weapons in all sorts of contexts and across genres, including westerns, noir, superhero, and joke comics. These comics do not provide a historical lens to observe the period, so much as a mirror, reflecting back to the Canadian population the values and needs of the country, including the persistent emphasis on the invention and manufacturing of weapons technology. The importance of these advancements are reinforced throughout the comic in the form of acknowledgement and praise of the home front’s contributions, generating interest in the sciences, and instilling nationalism, with the intent of encouraging their reader’s eventual contribution. The prevalence of guns throughout the comic also contributes to the underlying theme of justice threaded throughout, suggesting further complexity to the comic’s aims, including constructing a new understanding of ethics during war time.

MEDIA AS PROPAGANDA

Like most forms of media during the time, Triumph No. 23 takes advantage of its reach and readership in order to encourage a pro-war nationalism among Canadians. It’s specific audience, as strictly Canadians, allowed for an outpouring of “nationalistic material” that was never previously possible in a comic subculture that was entirely subsidized by other countries (Foster). Beginning with the invention of the printing press, which lead to large-scale spreading of ideas and ideals, most subsequent mass produced texts served as avenues for social and political messages (Valentine 124-125). This is only amplified in war time, when writers were being pressured by many different industries to contribute to the war effort through subtle indoctrination of their readers.

The newspapers – which many comic authors are indebted to as the inaugural platform of comic strips – printed articles informing Canadian authors of their duty to portray Canada’s “proud and honourable past” in order to show the “heroic youth-and those who stay at home-what they are fighting for” (“Important”). Some comics even included “laudatory endorsements from Canadian cabinet ministers” who were trying to perpetuate an agenda of their own (Kocmarek 37). With a printing of around 500,000 copies of comics in any particular month (a number almost tripled by the known practice of circulating a single comic through multiple sets of hands), the messages contained within the pages reached a huge and often impressionable audience (Kocmarek). The effectiveness of the infiltration of the comics’ content into the Canadian consciousness is evident through the implementation of “active clubs” and other initiatives suggested by the comics that were successfully actualized throughout the population, amassing an impressive number members (Bell 156-160). By the mid-war period it was clear that the Canadian Whites had substantial influence over their large and varied readership, bringing the content “in the pages of [the comics into] the real world” (Bell 37).

INVENTION OF WEAPONS

Comics originated in the pages of newspapers, where they were “the most frequently read part … by children, and the second most [frequently read] by adolescents” (Foster). This familial relationship becomes important when analyzing the messages of the newspapers of the era, and how the news and events the authors read influenced the content of the comics they created. One such article from the Hamilton Spectator, 1942, talks about the scientific instruments that were being created in Canada including “radio-locators” and “navigation instruments”, which were at the forefront of the scientific boom (“Secret”). The added intrigue of ‘secret’ devices was used to increase interest and prestige among the readers of the newspaper, and may have influenced one particular writer, Adrian Dingle, in his comic “Nelvana”.

Fig. 1. Adrian Dingle; last frame of “Nelvana” Triumph Comics No. 23, Bell Features Publishing, Nov/Dec 1944. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

In this comic, Nelvana is trying to secure the “precious plans” for the secret “ice-beam,” an invention she and her Canadian companions are trying to keep out of the hands of the axis-agents (Dingle 1). This weapon is fantastical, yet not totally unrealistic, and may have been representative of some of the “secret devices” that weren’t talked about, but were nevertheless floating around in the consciousness of the Canadian population (“Secret”). By recycling the ideas and themes permeating the newspapers within his comic, Dingle emphasizes the importance of new scientific invention in helping the war effort. Indeed, it is the ice-beam invention that eventually defeats the Nazi “Roboms” in “Nelvana,” as told through a newspaper heading in the last frame of the comic (Dingle 7, Fig. 1). This full circle effect found in “Nelvana” – from authors reading newspapers, to creating their comics based on what they read, to portraying newspapers in their comics that share the same messages – reflects the life Canadian readers back to them in a more dramatic, elevated, purposeful way. Keeping the population attuned to the needs and realities of the situation on the home front permeates through every level of authoritative texts.

HOMEFRONT MANUFACTURING

The war brought an onset of technological advancements to the Canadian home front, specifically in regards to the manufacturing of weapons and transportation of supplies. Canada’s reputation as a country with a “virtually nonexistent” capacity for scientific or industrial development changed rapidly with the desire to be seen as self sufficient and separate from Britain’s influence (Avery 14). Therefore, Canada began their own endeavours into “radar, explosives, proximity fuses, and chemical and biological warfare,” as well as massive manufacturing projects in areas of transportation, such as the Corvette ships (Avery 25). However, the manpower needed to manufacture all these weapons was usually at a deficit (Avery). Many forms of media set their sights on improving this ratio through sending messages containing positive reinforcement to boost morale, nationalism, and the incentive for everyday Canadians back home to participate in manufacturing efforts. The first frame of the comic “Barnacle Bull” shows him on a Corvette: a ship built in Canada and used by the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II (Brunt 41, “Corvette”). These minute details threaded throughout the comics help instil a sense of pride on both a personal level for those have first hand experience with the ship, but also on a national level, wherein every Canadian can feel a sense of pride for their country’s accomplishments.

This covert propaganda tactic was seen throughout the media of the day, including a radio broadcast from 1942. Using testimony from Canadian’s on active duty stationed across the fronts, the speakers repeat the same message of thanks and appreciation to the home front for all the “new equipment [and] new weapons” (Messages). They emphasize how much it means that it “comes from Canada”, their home, and how “the people on the front [are] every it as important as any other” (Messages). Almost every person says “keep up the good work Canada,” and there is strong sense, especially in some of the stuttering, that the soldiers are following a script provided to them (Messages). This same persuasive elements of testimony and ‘glittering generalities’ are found both in “Barnacle Bull” (more discretely), as well as overtly in the radio broadcast. Both mediums use praise as means to make the Canadian home front feel more directly connected to the cause at large, creating a greater feeling of nationalism and desire to participate.

ENCOURAGEMENT OF SCIENTIFIC ADVANCEMENT

The manufacturing of weapons was not the only source of contribution that was lacking on the home front; the Canadian government and universities were also in need of educated youth to participate in the scientific invention stage of weapon making. The government tried to achieve this through “mobiliz[ing] Canadian universities for war” by allocating the majority of their resources on achieving this goal (Avery 42). Their two main goals were “developing new weapons” and recruiting students to “continue their studies in all branches of science, especially along the lines required to met national requirements as they develop[ed]” (Avery 83, 43).

The pages of Triumph Comics No. 23 are saturated with recurring depictions of weapons in many different forms. In the comic “Speed Savage,” the technical, scientific jargon alludes to the complexities of scientific advancement at the time. The evil mastermind’s “fluid of life giving cosmic energy” used to bring a statue to life was only possible because of his “years of study and research,” much like the career trajectory required of actual scientists (Steele 26). This story is also reminiscent of Frederick Banting’s career high, a Canadian scientist who’s lifesaving injection of insulin only a decade before was hugely celebrated and still fresh in the consciousness of the Canadian population around the time of World War II, when he again enlisted as a pathologist in the Canadian Medical Corps (Hume 128). Thus, a comic which prophecizes the possibilities of scientific advancement while alluding to Canada’s past scientific successes can be seen as a form of subtle propaganda aimed at instilling a sense of scientific curiosity and interest in young readers.

Fig. 2. Harry Brunt. Title of “Professor Punk.” Triumph Comics No. 23, Bell Features Publishing, Nov/Dec 1944. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

The connection between the necessity for a higher education in the advancement of weaponry is even more blatant in the comic “Professor Punk” (Fig. 2). As pointed to in the title, the main character is irrefutably associated with a university through his title of “Professor,” as well as the graduation cap he wears (Brunt 8). He uses scientific laws, such as deferring to the light of the “the deadly German V-2 rocket bombs” to track them, as they “travel faster than [the speed of] sound, so they strike before they can be heard” (Brunt 8). To defeat the bombs, he uses moles, who dig into the ground in order to avoid the light of the oncoming bombs, incidentally creating big craters for them to fall into and rendering them harmless. Even though this invention seems ridiculous, it was actually not far off some of the real suggestions put forth by actual scientists, such as “freez[ing] the clouds and mount[ing] guns on them,” or building a “bridge from Newfoundland to England” for the troops to cross over (Avery 50).

Pairing images of defensive weaponry advancement with symbols of university education not only emphasizes the necessary relationship between these two undertakings, it also suggests a relationship between publishing and university institutions. Both institutions, based in Toronto, received direct (in the form of monetary endorsement in the case of the University of Toronto) and indirect pressure from the government to aid in the recruitment of people in the war effort, especially needed in the scientific realm (Avery). Thus, the seeming collaboration of the two in the comic “Professor Punk” is not a surprising result of succumbing to these external pressures.

REINFORCING WARTIME MORALITY

The repetition of representations of weapons throughout the whole comic, specifically bombs and guns, trivializes violence and perpetuates a war time view of justice. Guns are used with a sort of reverence to their power, drawn by heroes with words like, “I’ll split you wide open,” “lead for the artist,” and “Speed’s gun is out of its holder and spitting death” (Steele 28, 30). These phrases, accompanied by flashy visuals, romanticize the act of killing another person, but only once they have been sufficiently villainized. The emphasis of a self vs. other dichotomy throughout the comic exemplifies a moral reasoning that justifies killing the enemy as long as it is the interest of the greater good. For example, in “The Voice of Justice” the detective is allowed to lie to the public in order to catch the murderer, in “Capt. Wonder,” children are absolved of their guilt to protect their innocence, and in “Ace Barton” people can be killed outright if they are an enemy or traitor (Alexanian, Saakel “Capt,” Saakel “Ace”). This type of morality has undertones of propaganda because it demonizes the enemy for the purpose of making the audience more united and, in the case of a war-time country, more nationalistic.

Scientists working on war weapons already had ethical concerns that were only amplified by the continued immensity of destruction that could be achieved now that “modern science had intensified the savagery of war” (Avery 39). Already in the first World War the invention of chemical warfare was being questioned on ethical grounds, and in World War II, with nuclear weaponry on the horizon, ethical concerns only increased. Scientists are being implicated in the ethical problems of a war they don’t necessarily support through their participation in creating the weapons being fought with. Therefore, those scientists “who contribute directly to that war will … be acting immorality” through their role in the death of thousands of young kids “due in no small part to their ‘ingenuity’” (Blue 20). This creates conflict between the advancement of scientific technologies and their implications on the war-front, where they employed the full extent their destructive power (Blue 89).

Clearly, the unethical attitudes portrayed in Triumph No. 23 do not align with the morality of Canadian scientists. This solidifies the content in the comic as propagandistic rather than realistic. Attempting to show a representation of justice that diminishes the act of killing the enemy would be more beneficial to Canada’s aim of recruiting scientists for war purposes rather than showing the result of their inventions in the form of thousands of dead youth. By advertising a new type of war-time morality that quantifies the killing of villains, traitors, and enemies, Triumph Comics partakes in an undeniable form of flag waving propaganda technique that “justif[ies] an action based on the undue connection to nationalism or patriotism or benefit for an idea, group or country” (“Flag-Waving”). Thus, with the comic’s reach as a media influence throughout the Canadian population already established, the assumption of the Canadian Whites as neutral media can be confidently refuted.

CONCLUSION

Triumph Comics No. 23 was a product of it’s time, informed by the context in which it was written and becoming part of the Canadian consciousness, infiltrating the minds of the Canadian population with the overt and covert messages about the war it carried. While the Canadian Whites dissipated with the termination of the war and the WARSAW pact, reading them reveals magnitudes about what life was like on the home front. The comic’s creators’ attempt to encourage their readers in certain directions, such as using persistent imagery of weapons to instil a curiosity in the sciences of weapons technology with the intent of motivating Canadians to participate in the invention, manufacturing, and advancement of these weapons. The theme of justice threaded throughout Triumph No. 23 in the form of demonizing the enemy in a self/other dichotomy absolves Canadians of any guilt attributed to helping create weapons used for murder, fulfilling the authors’ prescribed obligations to propagate a war-time morality within the Canadian population.


Works Cited

  • Alexanian, Aram. “Voice of Justice.” Triumph Comics no. 23, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, Nov/Dec. 1944, pp. 50-56. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Avery, Donald. The Science of War: Canadian Scientists and Allied Military Technology during the Second World War. University of Toronto Press, 1998, Scholars Portal Books. https://ryerson.summon.serialssolutions.com/#!/search?bookMark=ePnHCXMw42JgAfZbU5khZ9tYAFsjoANAjDlg4x6gIX1gmuJkEAKGgwK0mFfIT1MoTwTWAgpuriHOHrrQ5mY8dAgjPskQ1JEB1mXGRCgBAF14I60
  • Bell, John. “3 Smashing the Axis: Canada’s Golden Age of Comics, 1941-1946.” Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe. Dundurn Nov. 11, 2006. pp. 30-43. ProQuest Ebook Central. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/ryerson/reader.action?docID=611683&ppg=23.
  • Blue, Ethan, et al. Engineering and War: Militarism, Ethics, Institutions, Alternatives. Vol. 20, Morgan and Claypool, 2014. Scholars Portal Books. http://books1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/viewdoc.html?id=641253&page=34.
  • Brunt, Harry. “Barnacle Bull.” Triumph Comics no. 23, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, Nov/Dec. 1944, pp. 41. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Brunt, Harry. “Professor Punk.” Triumph Comics no. 23, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, Nov/Dec. 1944, pp. 8-10. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • “Corvette.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Nov. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvette.
  • Dingle, Adrian. “Nelvana of the Norther Lights and the Ice-Beam.” Triumph Comics no. 23, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, Nov/Dec. 1944, pp. 1-7. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • “Flag-Waving.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Aug. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag-waving. (last edited 11 October 2016)
  • Foster, John. “Comic Books – Oxford Reference.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, Edited by Jack Zipes, 2006. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195146561.001.0001/acref-9780195146561-e-0697.
  • Hume, Stephen Eaton. Frederick Banting: hero, healer, artist. vol. 12, XYZ Publishing, 2001. Scholars Portal Books. http://books1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/viewdoc.html?id=372881#tabview=tab0
  • “Important Task Facing Writers of the Country.” The Hamilton Spectator, 24 Aug. 1940. Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, WarMuseum. http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/canadawar /munitions_e.shtml
  • Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée, vol. 43, no. 1, Mar. 2016, pp. 148–65. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/crc.2016.0008.
  • “Messages to the Home Front in 1942” A soldier’s War, 1939-1945. 30 Nov. 1942, CBC Archives. http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/second-world-war-messages-to-the-home-front.
  • Saakel, Ross. “Ace Barton.” Triumph Comics no. 23, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, Nov/Dec. 1944, pp. 43-48. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Saakel, Ross. “Capt. Wonder.” Triumph Comics no. 23, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, Nov/Dec. 1944, pp. 11-17. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • “Secret Devices Made in Canada.” The Hamilton Spectator, 19 Dec. 1942. Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, WarMuseum. http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/information_e.shtml.
  • Steele, Theodore. “Speed Savage.” Triumph Comics no. 23, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, Nov/Dec. 1944, pp. 25-31. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Triumph Comics, no. 23. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Valentine, Patrick M. A Social History of Books and Libraries from Cuneiform to Bytes. Scarecrow Press, 2012, ProQuest Ebook Central. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/ryerson/reader.action?docID=1664200.

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.

Who Are You? Where Are You From? What do you Stand For? Questions of National Identity in Dizzy Don Issue 14

© Copyright 2017 Sophia Vecchiarelli, Ryerson University

Introduction

At first glance, the issues of national identity in Dizzy Don Down South America Way Issue 14 may not jump out at readers. It may appear as just another comic released in 1944 by Bell Features: to a child who lived in 1944, it could be considered funny, with an adventurous plot, and awe-inducing heroes; to a 21st Century reader, it would come across as fairly stereotypical, poorly produced and horribly racist. Through a closer reading, one begins to notice the overarching concept of identity and the all-encompassing attitude nationality seems to inflict on that identity. This paper will be discussing the historical and contextual factors that affect the way readers approach Dizzy Don Down South America Way through the lens of national identity. It will provide a constructed definition of national identity using multiple scholarly articles that have been published in that field, which can then be applied to the characters in Dizzy Don Down South America Way. Moreover, this essay will discuss the shifting of nationality and the affect it has on the identities of the characters. Most importantly, this paper will be exploring the impact of characterizing identities through nationality and how that affects the young readers Dizzy Don Down South America Way is directed to.

Historical and Contextual Factors

To begin, the historical factors of World War 2 will have an important impact on the way nationalities are depicted in Dizzy Don Down South America Way Issue 14. World War 2 took place between 1939-1945 and pitted nation against nation (“World War II Fast Facts”). During this time, who one was and where they came from were considered the same identifier (Dauphinee). One’s country of origin was used to identify a person as quickly as their name would be used (Dauphinee). An article from The Globe and Mail in 1943, titled “No Japs left on Kiska as Canucks, Yanks Land” illustrate the way people categorized each other based on their home nation (Dauphinee). The names of individual soldiers are not used in this article, it is simply their country of origin that matters and that is all a reader needs to know in order to judge these men. This technique was used to classify people as being allies or enemies during war and this technique translates into Dizzy Don Issue 14.

Furthermore, one must understand the medium of the comic book and the importance of the time period in which Dizzy Don Issue 14 was created. Comic books in Canada were in their golden age during World War 2 because of the War Exchange Conservation Act, put in place to stop trade between Canada and other countries (Bell). This Act allowed Canadian comic book makers to thrive and publish stories that enhance Canadian national identity (Bell). It can be assumed, given the content, comic books were directed mainly at young boys. It can also be assumed that comics were used to make children laugh in a time when laughter didn’t always come so easily. However, not everything in Dizzy Don Issue 14 is

Fig. 1. Manny Eason. Pp 36, Dizzy Don Comic. No.14, Aug/Sept 1944, Bell Features. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166605.pdf

humorous as many stories are filled with propaganda and bias ideas against certain types of people (Easson 36-40). It is important to remember to step back and remind oneself of the time period in which these materials were released. Many aspects of Dizzy Don Issue 14 will not seem acceptable to the mind of a 21st Century thinker but for the sake of understanding this paper and comic better, historical perspective is helpful.

A Definition of National Identity—Somewhat

The Oxford English Dictionary defines national identity as “a sense of a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, and language” (Oxford English Dictionary). This definition allows for a starting point in thinking about national identity; it is a concept that people are connected through their nation, where they live, even if they are not connected in any other way. It is another technique that humans have come up with to divide people into categories of us and them (Thompson 251). It causes people to start thinking about their home country in a certain way, as being bonded through their “shared” traditions, and outsider countries of having “other” or “different” ways of living (Thompson 251). In powerful countries, such as the United States, it creates a “nationalistic impatience” with outsiders who cannot or don’t want to assimilate into the “right” national identity (Thompson 250).

During World War 2, dictator Adolf Hitler used nationalism as way of excluding anyone who wasn’t his ideal citizen, using this concept to make citizens have the mentality of being better than other countries (Thompson 250). One could argue that the need to be the strongest nationalistic country caused the death of millions. This concept of nationalism is able to be extracted from war and politics, presented to children in the comics of 1944, and in the present, still plagues citizens at every turn.

An argument that can be drawn from this definition is that where one comes from is a part of who they are as a human being and is displayed through the way one walks, talks and approaches situations. However, Dizzy Don Down South America Way takes this concept to a new level when representing characters from all around the world; their identity of “self” and their nationhood are so intertwined that changing their nationality changes the essence of a character.

Dizzy Don Down South America Way—Identity Displayed

The article, “The Many Lives of Captain Canucks” explains the connection between national identity and comic books as such “comic books, as a visual medium, engage this act of imagination, in turn facilitating the mental construction of the nation and national identity” (Edwardson 185). Given the excerpt from this article, it is not surprising that Dizzy Don Down South America Way creates an imagined environment where what characteristics one displays are directly correlated to where they are from.

The Americans in Dizzy Don Issue 14, Dizzy Don, Shirley Watson and Canary Byrd, are portrayed as cool, sly, funny radio hosts who are going on tour to meet their fans from South America (Easson 10). They are beautiful and smart, the heroes of the story who can defeat any problems they could possibly come across (Easson 30). They are untouchable and powerful, just as the United States would have been viewed, by allies, during World War 2.

The South Americans, represented by Senor Cabana Manyana, Senor El Ropo, Sugar Lips and the South American police officer, are represented as mysterious, sexy, a bit clueless, and very useless outside of the extravagant parties they throw for their “favourite Americanos”. In particular, the scene after Shirley has been kidnapped by unknown bandits, Dizzy Don and Canary Byrd go to the police but the police officer offers to find Shirley in a month or two, dead or alive and Canary Byrd tells him “Go back to sleep now chiefy” (Easson 19). Dizzy Don proceeds to say they will deal with this themselves, furthering the characteristic created in this imagined setting of South Americans being no help and the Americans saving the day.

The Canadian, by represented by Joe Flip, seen only in one series of frames in the comic as being polite and helping the Dizzy Don and Canary Byrd save Shirley (Easson 24). He introduces himself as Canadian and then simply offers his services as a polite; the audience learns nothing about Joe other than that he is Canadian, he has the ability to fly a plane, and is eager to help the Americans.

Who these characters are cannot be distinguished outside of their nation and they are confined to the imagined national identity of that nation; until, of course, their national identity changes.

Shifting National Identities

The plurality of national identities is based on the idea that national identities are not static, they change from context to context (Andreouli and Howarth 362)). The idea of plurality is one person can hold multiple nationalities or a nation can have an influx of multiple identities (Cantle 315). According to the article “National Identity, Plurality and Interculturalism”, this leads to a nation of multiculturalism where there is “no us versus them” concept in play but a place that embraces new thoughts and ideas that can only come from outside sources (Cantle 315).

However, despite the positive expectations Cantle has for plural national identities, he predicts that

“The postwar ideal of a more integrated international community, in which ideas and cultures may bridge national boundaries to create a world in which we are more at ease with each other, is seldom now advanced as a desirable political objective, despite the evident interdependency of economic and political decision-making” (Cantle 313-314).

People view minorities and “other” national identities as threats to their carefully crafted world (Cantle 313). The need to classify and create the “us versus them” ideology is too distinct in humans; it is how people are able to make sense of their worlds and disrupting that is too challenging, even if it could bring positive possibilities, like Cantle believes.

This ideology was alive back in 1944 as portrayed in the article “S. Africa Hospital in Italy Has 26 Canadian Nurses”, where the reporter questions if the nurses in Africa have become African or if they are still Canadian. There is no discussion about whether they could be both Canadian and African, choosing to adopt traditions from both cultures. The reporter goes on to mention some of the nurses married African men and hints that they have chosen Africa over their Canadian roots (“S. Africa Hospital…”). This is the concept present in Dizzy Don Down South American Way, that there is no in-between for national identity. One can only be this or that and whichever they choose becomes an irreversible part of who they are.

What Nationality Shifts Mean to Character Development

The shift from one nationality to another for Senor El Ropo and Sugar Lips completely
change who the audience thought the characters where up until this point. Senor El Ropo was the shifty, mysterious, odd South American who a reader could think was suspicious but not outright dangerous. Sugar Lips was the sexy, mysterious, South American songstress who could be considered eye candy and little else as she only appeared to speak Spanish. Both characters kept up their façade until their true identities (nationalities) were revealed.

Sugar Lips is no longer the sensual singer, as she is no longer South American, but a skilled kidnapper from Brooklyn that plans to auction Shirley off for ransom (Easson 18).

Fig. 2. Manny Eason. Pp 18, Dizzy Don Comic. No.14, Aug/Sept 1944, Bell Features. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166605.pdf

While she is still portrayed in her South American dress and heels, her facial expression and tone shift to a cold criminal with an attitude. She tells Shirley in one frame, “Listen babe! That Spanish was just an act I was brought up in Brooklyn. See,-your pals are gonna kick in a heavy ransom for you, and we need the dough, get the angle? Sweetheart” (Easson 18) She has acquired a whole new set of traits with her new nationality and has dropped the “performance” of a South American.

Senor El Ropo, similarly drops his performance as a South American cigar company owner when he is revealed to actually be a German spy working for Hitler and the Nazis. El Ropo becomes “Nutsi Agent Schwarīzmuller” and with his new name, he adopts new personality traits (Easson 27). All of a sudden, he is willing to kill Shirley and himself in the name of Hitler, when there has been no indication thus far that he is interested in killing anyone. When he acquired his German nationality, he also acquired “his true self” of being a murdering spy. There are no traces of El Ropo left in him, as though that was a different person altogether.

These two examples display the all-encompassing role nationality plays in this imagined comic world. A character cannot be both a mysterious South American and a murdering German as the two nationalities cannot be inhabited in the same person for the sake of the traditional solo national identity.

Why National Identity (Identities) in Comics Matter

One might be considering whether the comic itself amplifies the importance of nationality for the purposes of the tale or if it has sunken into the subconscious of the writer, publishers, and illustrators involved and unfolded unintentionally. Truthfully, it could be one or the other, or it could be a bit of both but the reason why it’s there doesn’t matter—what matters is the fact that this is the representation of national identity in comics at all.

In a child’s comic book, national identity is being used as a prop to further the divide between people who are the proposed “us” and who are the “them”. In this case, it’s the Germans who are the villains, the Americans who are the heroes, the Canadians as minor aids in getting the job done, and South Americans appear as useless, as it would be reflected to one perspective in the war. It displays the idea that people can perform identities of minorities to achieve a goal but outside of that, they will never be the heroes or the villains (Barbour 271).

However, this isn’t just a staple in the past that has changed as humans evolved and became more politically correct. It is not just a comic book that has no reflection on real life. These same issues are alive in the 21st century. The countries that one labels as hero or villain may have changed but the underlying issue is still there; people are too busy pointing fingers at each other to be conscious of what blossoms from segregation. It became Hitler in 1939, believing that Germany is the only country worthy of being powerful, it became millions of people dying, fighting each other simply because of where they come from and sadly, it became education for young kids who read comics like Dizzy Don Down South America Way and saw the world in terms of nationality.


Works Cited

Andreouli, Eleni, and Caroline Howarth. “National Identity, Citizenship and Immigration: Putting Identity in Context.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 43, no. 3 (2013): 361–82. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-5914.2012.00501.x.

Barbour, Chad. “When Captain America Was an Indian: Heroic Masculinity, National Identity, and Appropriation.” The Journal of Popular Culture 48, no. 2 (2015): 269–84. Scholar Portal Journals, https://doi.org/10.1111/jpcu.12256.

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada – The Canadian Encyclopedia.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, July 8, 2015. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada/

Cantle, Ted. “National Identity, Plurality and Interculturalism.” The Political Quarterly 85, no. 3 (2014): 312–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-923X.12101.

Dauphinee, John. “No Japs Left on Kiska As Canucks, Yanks Land.” Globe and Mail, August 23, 1943. http://collections.warmuseum.ca/warclip/pages/warclip/ResultsList.php

Edwardson, Ryan. “The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and the Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Superhero.” Journal of Popular Culture 37, no. 2 (2003): 184–201. Scholar Portal Journals, https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-5931.00063.

Owens, Mickey, Manny Easson, and Bell Features, eds. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don: No. 14. Toronto, Ontario: Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166605.pdf

Thompson, Ewa M. “Nationalism, Imperialism, Identity: Second Thoughts.” Modern Age; Wilmington 40, no. 3 (Summer 1998): 250–61. ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/docview/196868484/abstract/8A2D52CC9A954AA7PQ/1

“S. Africa Hospital in Italy Has 26 Canadian Nurses.” Globe and Mail, December 19, 1944. http://collections.warmuseum.ca/warclip/pages/warclip/ResultsList.php

“World War II Fast Facts.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17, Aug. 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/09/world/world-war-ii-fast-facts/index.html

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.

Dog Fights and Ace Pilots

© 2017 Kayla McKenzie, Ryerson University

Dog Fights and Ace Pilots: Dime Comics No. 17

Introduction

Tricolour; red, yellow, and blue. Comic book cover.
Dingle, Adrian (a). Dime Comics, No. 17, October 1944.
Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf

The Second World War was a taxing period for both adults and children. Many sacrifices were made, included halting the import of none essential goods. The introduction of the War Exchange Conservation Act of December 1940 brought about such reforms. Children were hit quite hard, as they lost their Comic book heroes (Bell 30). It was a loss not only of a source of entertainment but a loss of their comic book friends.  Canadian children also had to cope with the harsher realities of wartime. Prime among this was watching their family members go to war, with the possibility of not returning. But in true Canadian spirit, Canadian comic book publishers formed. These companies were; Maple Leaf Publishing, Educational Projects, Anglo America, and Bell Features (Pascoe). Bell Features introduced a great line up of all Canadian heroes that represented the ideologies of Canadian values and appearances. Their heroes included the likes of Rex Baxter, Nitro, and Johnny Canuck.

Rex Baxter, Nitro, Johnny Canuck and other various heroic figures featured, highlighted Canadian values and what a good Canadian looked like during that time. This was important as it provided a static visual representation of “nation and nationalism” in a time of great uncertainty and self-discovery for Canada (Edwardson 185). Though through retrospect, it is unfortunate that the representations of Canadian identity had a contingency of race.  These iconic characters are among the roster of heroes that became known as “The Canadian Whites” a uniquely Canadian contribution to The Golden Age of Comics. The reign of The Canadian Whites on Canadian newsstands was regrettably very brief, as publishers ran into many problems after the war. In the period of 1945-1947, The Canadian Whites disappeared (Bell 49). Though the Canadian heroes were not around for a long time, they were a critical contribution to the morale of Canadian youth and the formation of Canadian identity for children during the war.

Relatively Realistic Super Heroes

The Canadian Whites are considerably different from current superheroes such as those from the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. For the most part, they lack “super powers” though many showed great physical strength (Pascoe).  With the notable exceptions such as Adrian Dingle’s “Nelvana of the Northern Lights” and Vernon Miller’s “The Iron Man” few of the Canadian Whites were endowed with supernatural powers such as flight (Bell 43). In the world of comics, they were realistic superheroes, for the harsh realities of wartime.

In Dime Comics No. 17 (October 1944) Adrian Dingle’s story “Pepper Pot Captures a Spy”

Dingle, Adrian (w, a) “Pepper Pot Captures a Spy” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 24-28.
Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

clearly highlights the value of physical strength and raw patriotism to the Canadian superheroes. During a session of brutal one on one physical combat with a Nazi spy, Pepper Pot wins. He was equipped with only his exceptional strength and love of Canada. The comic states, “It was because he [en]visioned his beloved land of the Maple Leaf in the hands of the Nazis and all the horror which would subsequently follow that Pepper Pot went wild! Quick as lightning his legs came up and wrapped themselves in a scissor grip” (Dingle 28). Such imagery was essential for imparting to Canadian youth that all they needed was strength and a great love of Canada to serve their country.

 

 

Attracting Canadian Children in the 1940’s to the Airforce

In Dime Comics No. 17, there is an inescapable presence of airplanes. Three separate adventures are set almost entirely in the air, with many others featuring airplanes to various degrees. By order of appearance, the first story is “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret”. Rex Baxter and Gail speed through the sky in a stolen bomber to search for their friend Zoltan. The second story is “Scotty Macdonald”. Scotty and his pals O’Hara, and Tana are fleeing after setting a Japanese aerodrome on fire. The third story is “The Flying Fool”. Frank Kent channels his rage over the loss of his brother into an unauthorized vengeance mission.

Fictional WWI Dogfight
Legault, E.t. (w, a) “The Flying Fool.” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp.36-39. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf

Comics are categorized as children’s literature. The target audience is children, though “child” is a broad category as it spans from children who have just learned to read, all the way to young adults. The featuring of combat pilots in the comics may be viewed as a tool for recruitment. E.T. Legault’s “The Flying Fool”, is a prime example. Kent’s successful vengeance mission could easily inspire young Canadians. It is presented as “…the diary of Frank Kent, Dare-Devil Pilot Canadian Ace of the Skies” (Legault 36). The presentation of this story as a found journal adds an extra layer of realism.

The loss of a brother is a story line that would have hit home with many of the story’s readers, who have family members that are serving or who were lost in service to their country.

to join the in a combative manner or actively contribute to the war effort in other ways. Kent is the kind of hero that any able-bodied boy could realistically become. That is if they have the combination of the right skills, training, and equipment. If Kent’s story did not encourage young adults to join the war effort, it was at least able to offer them solace in a time of great loss.

Adrian Dingle’s “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” shows the theme of rescue. Soldiers did not only die in the war, but they faced the threat of becoming prisoners of war. Which was very dangerous, as it could lead to being tortured for Allies secrets or death. If the torture rendered results, it could put fellow servicemen in grave danger. Zoltan’s anguish is clearly depicted as he is shown collapsed on the floor with a bayonet pointed at him. The closure in the panel states “Zoltan’s thought-train with rex is broken, his morale is shattered! As if to mercifully screen him from the grim thoughts of his impending death, the Xalantan’s mind goes blank and he falls senseless to the floor of his cell.” (Dingle 4). This story acts to show children that there is hope of rescue for servicemen that have been captured by the enemy.

Al Cooper’s “Scotty Macdonald” repeats the theme of recusing with the addition of escape. Macdonald and his friend not only successfully steal a plane from a Japanese military aerodrome, but he manages to gun down the Japanese pilot that is following them. Macdonald is so confident that he utters lines such as “It’s a cinch they won’t attack us – we could fly circles around them” (Cooper 19) and “Righto! We’ll teach the beggars we’re not in the mood to play follow the leader”(Cooper 20). Macdonald’s success brings a glory to being aa pilots and will recruit children to the war effort.

“Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” and “Scotty Macdonald” both feature women. In “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” Gail proves herself to be a capable pilot when Rex tells her to take over flying so he could use the “thought-machine” on board to try and contact Zoltan (Dingle 2). All goes well for Gail until the engines fail, and the plane crashes.  Gail’s piloting contributes to the mission, as Rex would not have been able to fly the plane and locate Zoltan with the thought-machine by himself. In “Scotty Macdonald” Tana does not fly the plane, but she provides an active lookout. Though she is rather passive in this issue’s story, her presence is still important. Gail and Tana convey to Canadian youth that women are capable of stepping into important roles abroad and at home.

Cooper, Al (w, a) “Scotty Macdonald” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 18-23.
Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Cooper, Al (w, a) “Scotty Macdonald” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 18-23.
Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Success of Real Canadian Pilots

In all the three adventures that are set almost entirely in the air, the pilots are successful on their missions or survive a crash landing only to continue their mission in the next issue. The outlandish success of the Bell Features Universe’s pilots initially seems to be merely a product of the hyper reality of the Comic book genre. However, there was a well-documented history of the accomplishments of Canadian pilots in the First World War. During the First World War, Canadian servicemen served as members of the British forces (English 5). Of the British Empire’s ten best pilots, five of them were from Canada (McCaffery 9).  Of the Canadian pilots who fought in the First World War, Billy Bishop of Perry Sound Ontario was the most famous. (McCaffery 93). Bishop mastered the “deflection shot” which made up for his average pilot skills, his expert marksmanship was formed from during his childhood hunting in the woods (Pigott 48). This is an example of how the Canadian Landscape formed its heroes.

During World War Two, Canada was an independent country. This was crucial to the formation of Canadian identity, as the remarkable achievements of Canadian fighter pilots solely belong to Canada. Though Canada was still associated with Britain, who was also a member of the Allies during the war. It was a time for Canadian pilots to be known solely as Canadian pilots.  This meant that there was an emergence of Canadian “Ace pilots”.  The status of Ace pilot is a prestigious honor bestowed on only the most accomplished pilots. To gain such a prestigious statues pilots must have a minimum of five recorded aerial victories. (Tennyson 223)

Buck Mcnair was a was a top scoring Canadian pilot in the second world war. There are two notable instances that he survived extreme conditions. He survived the English channels frigid waters for several hours only to quickly returning to combat. When shot down a second time, he suffered severe burns and blurred vision this too did not prevent him from returning to combat (McCaffery 173).  His tenacious courage makes the out allows the triumphs of the comic books superheroes plausible.

Russel Bannock was one of the most successful pilots that fought for the allies in the Second World War. Though as he was a night pilot, his kills directly saved lives as he shot down German bomber planes. In his field, he was without equal (Pigott 19). Pigott notes that from a time he flew a “Mosquitoes” aircraft model as an inimitable detail, as it was particularly fast and maneuverable aircraft (19). This is important to note as in Dime Comics No. 16 Scotty Macdonald is noted to fly that same plane model (Al Cooper 42. This again reinforces the similarities of the real Canadian pilots and their superhero counterparts.

Visual Saturation of the War Effort

If the cap fits, wear it!
National Film Board of Canada
Ephemera, 1940, English
Public Domain
http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMDC-IFTHECAPFITS&R=DC-IFTHECAPFITS
Roll ’em out!
Canada. Director of Aircraft Production
Public Domain
http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMDC-ROLLEMOUT&R=DC-ROLLEMOUT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Canadian Whites comic may have been children’s most intimate exposure to Wartime propaganda. As the act of reading is a solitary activity, allowing the comics to form a private connection with children. But there were many posters that were viewed publicly for group consumption. The wartime posters further enforced the same notions. The  “If the Cap Fits Wear It!” and the “Roll ‘em Out” posters present children with more practical but none the less indispensable contributes to the war effort. The Caps at the center of the poster are; a women’s head scarf, a farmer’s hat, and conductors hat. This indicates that the work of Canadians on the home front was vital to supporting those abroad. The second poster echoes this sentiment as it does not feature fighter pilots, but the workers that build the air crafts

Conclusion

The Canadian Whites filled the emptiness left in the heart of Canadian children during the war. They gave Canadian children a strong sense of Canadian identity and a mass culture to unity around, in time that Canada was emerging as an independent country on the global stage of the Second World War. However, it was imperfect in that it was not an inclusive identity for all Canadians. Race and gender were not equally included the adventures of the Canadian Whites. Yet it was a means of support, inspire, and entertainment for most Canadian Youth of the Second World War.

 

 

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.


 

Works Cited

 

Cooper, Al (w, a) “Scotty Macdonald” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 18-23. Bell                      Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf

 

Bell, John. Invaders from the North, edited by John Bell, Dundurn, 2006. ProQuest Ebook            Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=611683.

 

Dingle, Adrian (w, a) “Pepper Pot Captures a Spy” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp.         24-28. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf

 

—.  “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret.” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 1-7. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf

 

Edwardson, Ryan. “The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and the        Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Superhero.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 37,   no. 2, 2003, pp. 184-201, doi:10.1111/1540-5931.00063.

 

English, Allan Douglas. Cream of the Crop, MQUP, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central,         http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=3331472.

Legault, E.t. (w, a) “The Flying Fool.” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp.36-39. Bell Features  Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf

 

McCaffery, Dan. Air Aces: The Lives and Times of Twelve Canadian Fighter Pilots. Lorimer, 1990. Scholars Portal Books,            http://books1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/viewdoc.html?id=37765.

 

Pascoe, Will. Lost Heroes., 28 February 2014. McNabb Connolly, film.            www.mcnabbconnolly.ca.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/RyersonGeneralListing/titles/LHI-LH.

 

Pigott, Peter. Flying Canucks, edited by Peter Pigott, Dundurn, 2012. Ebook ,          https://toronto.overdrive.com/media/1184391

 

Tennyson, Brian Douglas. Canada’s Great War, 1914-1918, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers,     2014. ProQuest Ebook Central,             http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=1874264.

Themes of the Representation of Violence and War through Canadian Identity and the Portrayal of the Axis Powers in Dime Comics Issue No. 22

©Copyright 2017 Abigail Tamayo, Ryerson University.

Introduction

Published by Bell Features, Dime Comics’ 22nd issue of the Canadian Whites comic books was released in April of 1945. It is one of twenty-nine published comic books issued by Dime Comics from 1942 to 1946 during and after World War Two.

Dingle, Adrian (a). Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features: Cover, Bell Features collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Dingle, Adrian (a). Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features: Cover, Bell Features collection, Library and Archives Canada.

From front to cover, the comic issue contains several action, adventure and science themed stories and includes two activity pages. The stories included in the comic issue are as follows: “Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” written and illustrated by Adrian Dingle, “Chick ‘n’ Fuzz” written and illustrated by Bill Thomas, “Oolay the Eskimo” story by Cal, “Nitro” written and illustrated by Jerry Lazare, “Professor Punk” written and illustrated by Harry Brunt, “Johnny Canuck” written and illustrated by Leo Bachle, “Let’s go back and face the draft, he says there’s a war on here too!” story by Mickey Owens, “The Mongoose” written and illustrated by Bill Thomas, “Firebug’s Fiasco” written and illustrate by Jerry Lazare, “Drummy Young” written and illustrated by Jerry Lazare, “Monster of the Deep” written and illustrated by Fred Kelly, and “Murder Star” written and illustrated by Tedd Steele. Although the comic was released around the end of the war, there were still strong instances of national identity presented throughout the issue which battled the depicted characterization of the axis powers. Within the writers and artists’ representation of violence and war, the differences between Canadian identity and that of the Axis Powers were distinct. Readers can easily distinguish the ethnicity and political positions of certain characters due to the stereotypes we are aware of now, implanted within their words and appearances.

Bell features publishing originated due to the government’s program of “Eliminating non-essentials” (“We Must Do Without”), and their existence contributed to the Canadian Whites’ influence in popular culture during World War Two. Dime Comic’s issue no. 22 manifested Canadian ideologies in its production, becoming a form of Canadian propaganda by perpetuating Canadian identity in the comic through its superheroes and the depiction of an anti-axis powers political view through its Japanese and Nazi-German characters.

Representation of the Axis Powers

The comic issue incorporates various elements of representation when conveying the diverse characters that appear in its stories. A crucial reoccurring essence of representation that is worth observing is how the axis powers are represented in the comic issue. The way in which the Axis Powers are represented provided readers in the 1930s with a manufactured vision of who the enemy was, and when compared to their pre-conceived notion towards Canadian identity it benefited an uplifting movement that encouraged national pride and Canadian nationality as “the good guys”.

Characters in this issue ranged from being Canadian, American, Japanese, and Nazi-German. The characterization of all characters in the issue were done by Canadian writers and artists. The writers and artists of this issue had the tendency to represent “the other” in World War Two, referring specifically to the Japanese and Nazi-German characters in the issue, through the racialization of their Japanese and Nazi-German characters.

In this comic issue, Nazi-Germans appear in the comic issue as unintelligent individuals, at least in comparison to the Canadian characters that appear alongside them. Emphasizing on how ludicrous and ill-advised the Nazi-Germans are in the stories they appear in, provides the reader with a tone-deaf representation of actual Nazi-Germans during World War Two.

 

Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret

Written and illustrated by Adrian Dingle, “Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” is the first comic that appears in the issue. The story features the characters Rex Baxter and Gail Abbot who rescue Zoltan from a Japanese prison camp from the south pacific. The panels on the pages represent various moments in time, first placing the reader in a radio station (Dingle 1-2), then immediately into the action; Rex Baxter running towards a plane and in the sky (3-5), and communication between Americans, Canadians, and Rex Baxter. (6-7)

Within the language of the story, Dingle includes several World War Two slang terms. To refer to a Japanese person; anything Japanese Dingle shortens the word to simply ‘Jap’, however Dingle also makes use of a more offensive term in synonymous to a Japanese person: ‘Nip’ which originates in the 1940s as an abbreviated form of the term ‘Nipponese’. (“Nip3”) Tension had risen in the beginning of 1942 between Canadians and the Japanese since the attacks on Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941, resulting in a sense of distrust of Japanese-Canadians which lead to the imprisonment of Japanese-Canadians in internment camps. (Marsh) They remained detained in these camps, located along the pacific coast, for the duration of the second world war until the war ended in 1945. (Marsh)

Dingle, Adrian. Panel from"Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta's Secret." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Dingle, Adrian. Panel from”Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Another offensive term referencing the Japanese is the word ‘squints’, which is a racial reference to the physical features of a Japanese Person.

Dingle, Adrian. Panel from"Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta's Secret." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Dingle, Adrian. Panel from”Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Chik ‘N’ Fuzz

Written and illustrated by Bill Thomas, “Chik ‘N’ Fuzz” follows two main characters Chik and Fuzz (notably a racist story due to Thomas’ depiction of Caucasian and African Americans through the two main characters) who are on their way to England when they intercept a Nazi-German submarine and take the opportunity to wreak havoc from within enemy lines. The Nazi-German characters in this story are easy to point out due to Thomas’ use of the characters’ speech bubbles and appearance to convey his Nazi-German representation.

Thomas, Bill. Panel from"Chik 'N' Fuzz." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Thomas, Bill. Panel from”Chik ‘N’ Fuzz.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Note the emblematic Swastika of the German Nazi party on bands around the arms of the German soldiers. (Jeff) The characters also speak in a thick German accent which Thomas depicts through the intonation of the words he writes in the speech bubbles for the Nazi-German characters. In one frame, the Nazi-German characters appear to “Heil Hitler”.

Although Thomas’ representations of Nazi-Germans are watered-downed versions of real Nazi-German’s during World War Two, the representation provides readers with a basic concept of identifying Nazi-Germans.

Thomas, Bill. Panel from"Chik 'N' Fuzz." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Thomas, Bill. Panel from”Chik ‘N’ Fuzz.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Thomas, Bill. Panel from"Chik 'N' Fuzz." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Thomas, Bill. Panel from”Chik ‘N’ Fuzz.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Johnny Canuck

In his comic, Leo Bachle’s character Johnny Canuck is captured and held captive by Japanese soldiers and is tortured for information. Bachle’s depiction of the Japanese soldiers in the comic reveal a racialized appearance and speech, apparent in how he drew the soldiers and the diction he used in their speech bubbles.

Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Maximum Advantage in pictures: propaganda as Art and History. From a Poster. This is the Enemy. Public Domain.
Maximum Advantage in pictures: propaganda as Art and History. From a Poster. This is the Enemy. Public Domain.

The dehumanization of the axis powers was not uncommon during the second world war, due to the increasing amount of propaganda posters made by the allies. The appearances of the Japanese were often caricaturized as ghastly monster-like individuals, inflicting malice to instill fear in the audiences the posters were propagandized towards. One American anti-Japanese propaganda poster called “This is the Enemy” shows a Japanese soldier holding a dagger in one hand with sharp-nails on the other, appearing to claw and reach for the woman who is running away in terror.

The Japanese soldier on the poster bears the Japanese Rising Sun Flag on his hat which was Japan’s flag during the late 19th and early 20th centuries but has since then changed due to its connection to the military significance during World War Two, wherein it acted as Japan’s insignia as an allied force of the Nazi-Germans who they shared similar ideologies with. (Kim) The racialization of Japanese persons in propaganda posters utilizes racial stereotypes to distinguish ‘the other’ and inflict fear of ‘the enemy’. This form of propaganda permeates Bachle’s comic, evident in the portrayal of the Japanese characters who are depicted as ruthless, remorseless and violent individuals.

 

National Identity

Two of the comics in this issue, “Nitro”, and “Johnny Canuck”, feature superheroes highly popularized during World War Two, Nitro and Johnny Canuck respectively, who Guardians of the North listed as members of a group of comic superheroes purposed to personify the Canadian spirit embedded within Canadian identity. Unlike the typical superhero who is characterized to have supernatural abilities, Nitro and Johnny Canuck are uncharacteristically portrayed to use more mundane abilities in battles. Nevertheless, the two share the ability of superhuman strength though in their comics “Nitro” and “Johnny Canuck” have them seen using intellectual based abilities, natural of a regular person alongside their superhuman ability. In Nitro and Johnny Canuck alone, it is evident there is a plethora of representation of Canadian identity which is primarily projected through the superhero’s actions, thoughts and words, and even so far as the way they are drawn by their artist.

Nitro
Lazare, Jerry. Panel from"Nitro." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Lazare, Jerry. Panel from”Nitro.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In Jerry Lazare’s “Nitro”, Nitro appears to the reader firsthand as Terry Allen, a regular person who at the crime scene assesses the situation to an officer nearby, revealing his sharp attention to detail when pointing out a piece of evidence went amiss. He then switches into his alias, Nitro, to confront the perpetrator of the crime. He bears a skin-tight costume with the letter “N” on his chest, boots and gloves, and shorts held up with a belt that also has the letter “N” on its buckle.

 

 

Lazare, Jerry. Panel from"Nitro." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Lazare, Jerry. Panel from”Nitro.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Lazare, Jerry. Panel from"Nitro." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Lazare, Jerry. Panel from”Nitro.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Nitro is not only strong physically but mentally too. His enemy (“Curly” Edwards) admits inevitable defeat because Nitro is ‘To wise for his own good.’

In the face of danger Nitro defeats his enemy, showcasing his ability to use his quick wit and intelligence alongside his fighting skills. His contribution to Canadian identity surfaces in his near ‘normality’, emphasizing the concept that having superhuman abilities is not a necessary quality for a person who wants to help in the instance of a crime, rather instead if a person is willing to help and makes the effort of helping someone of authority then that person has done their part. It is a subliminal message of Canadian Nationalism that permeates a lot of the superhero stories produced by Dime Comics. The comic mirrors the implications of Canadian propaganda released during World War Two which focused on a collective group coming together for the greater good- wherein using a nation’s shared strength, intelligence, and the force in unity– Canadians contribute to the war time effort. On the Homefront, Canadians were encouraged to support the Canadian military service men through thriftiness, conservation of food and duel, recycling and reuse of resources, and loans (victory bonds) which would finance the war. (“War and Military”)

Library and Archives Canada. From a Poster. The Men Are Ready...Only You Can Give Them Wings :  Canada's war effort and production sensitive campaign. Public Domain.
Library and Archives Canada. From a Poster. The Men Are Ready…Only You Can Give Them Wings :  Canada’s war effort and production sensitive campaign. Public Domain.
Library and Archives Canada. From a Poster. If You Don't Need it... Don't Buy it. Public Domain.
Library and Archives Canada. From a Poster. If You Don’t Need it… Don’t Buy it. Public Domain.
Canadian War Museum. From a Poster. Save Waste Bones -They Make Glue For Aircraft .. And Are Used For Explosives... Public Domain.
Canadian War Museum. From a Poster. Save Waste Bones -They Make Glue For Aircraft .. And Are Used For Explosives… Public Domain.
Canadian War Museum. From a poster. Invest and Protect. Help Finish the Job. Public Domain.
Canadian War Museum. From a poster. Invest and Protect. Help Finish the Job. Public Domain.
Johnny Canuck
Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Guardians of the North refers to Johnny Canuck as “Canada’s superhero.” Johnny Canuck was created by Leo Bachle and was used as a figure of response to the outside threats during World War Two. (Reynes-Chikuma et. al.) Johnny Canuck, also often referred to as Captain Canuck, helped legitimized a pre-conceived consciousness of Canadian identity, reinforcing the perception as Canada as a “peaceable kingdom.” (Edwardson 184) In his article, Ryan Edwardson explains the use of comic books which as a visual medium, encourages the imagination to be used, thus resulting in a conscious construction of the nation and national identity. (185) In issue no. 22, Johnny Canuck is placed under captivity by Japanese soldiers and is tortured for information, but later is thrown into a jail cell where he meets an elderly man who validates his persona as Captain Canuck while also validating the image of Canadian identity.

Captain Canuck became a part of Canadian consumer culture (195), especially as he mirrored Canadian nationalistic values that were propagandized towards Canadians on the Homefront in posters– moralism, natural strength, and self-sacrificing persona to name a few. (186) One artist pointed out the success of using propaganda posters as a tool to send messages, noting the artwork’s ability of permeating a message in an instant and aesthetically pleasing manner, alongside the tendency for posters to be internalized rather than analyzed, made them effective. (“Canadian WWII Propaganda posters”) In issue no. 22, Johnny Canuck exhibits the traits of a selfless hero whose perseverance goes unnoticed.

Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Johnny Canuck’s strength is tested here, as he blames his lack of food and water on his being weaker than usual. The elderly man who is with him encourages him to drink the water and eat the bread he has hidden under his bed to help him regain his strength.

Bachle, Leo. Panel from"Johnny Canuck." Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Bachle, Leo. Panel from”Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics. No. 22, April 1945, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Mental_Floss. From a poster. We Are Saving You, You Save Food. Public Domain.
Mental_Floss. From a poster. We Are Saving You, You Save Food. Public Domain.

When creating most of the propaganda posters made during World War Two, government officials consulted old posters from the first world war and other resources at the Public Archives. (“War and Military”) Johnny Canucks’ need to be fed to maintain his strength mirrors the message of a Canadian propaganda poster that was made during World War One, tiled “We Are Saving You, You Save Food” which also includes the following statement: “Well fed Soldiers Will Win the War”

 


Bibliography

Bachle, Leo (w, a). “Johnny Canuck”. Dime Comics, no. 22, April, 1945, pp. 23-28. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166584.pdf

“Canadian WWII Propaganda Posters.” Air Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. http://www.airmuseum.ca/postscan.html

Clark, Jeff. Uniforms of the NSDAP: Uniforms, Headgear, Insignia of the Nazi Party. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2007.

Dingle, Adrian (w, a). “Chapt-Nine Conclusion: Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret”. Dime Comics, no. 22, April, 1945, pp. 1-7. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166584.pdf

Edwardson, Ryan. “The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and the Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Superhero.” Journal of Popular Culture 37.2 (2003): 184-201. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. http://journals2.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/pdf/00223840/v37i0002/184_tmloccoaccbs.xml

Lazare, Jerry (w, a). “Nitro”. Dime Comics, no. 22, April, 1945, pp. 15-20. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166584.pdf

“Nip3.” Oxford Dictionaries. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/Nip#Nip_Noun_500. Accessed 22 March 2017.

Kim, Dongwoo. “Why One Should Never Use the Japanese Rising Sun Flag.” Web. http://thewandereronline.com/why-one-should-never-use-the-japanese-rising-sun-flag-by-dongwoo-kim/

Marsh, James. “Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears.” The Canadian Encyclopedia 2012. Web. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/japanese-internment-banished-and-beyond-tears-feature/

Reyns-Chikuma, Chris. “Exploring Canadian Identities in Canadian Comics [Special Issue].” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Litérature Comparée 43.1 (2016): 5. Print.

Thomas, Bill (w, a). “Chik ‘N’ Fuzz”. Dime Comics, no. 22, April, 1945, pp. 8-13. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166584.pdf

“War and Military.” Archive. Library and Archives Canada. N.p., n.d. Web. https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/posters-broadsides/026023-7200-e.html

“We Must Do Without.” Editorial. Toronto Telegram, April 13, 1942. Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, Canadian War Museum. http://collections.civilisations.ca/warclip/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=5043709

The Portrayal of Women in Active Comics no. 3

© Copyright 2017 Olivia D’Agostino, Ryerson University

Introduction

This exhibit identifies the ways in which Women are portrayed to younger audiences in Active Comics Issue #3, April 1942. The portrayal of women present in the comic book that display women as helpless and weak do not match how women acted during World War II. Women played a major role in World War II, helping in munitions factories as well as keeping everything together on the home front. In the comic book, there are advertisements that are aimed towards boys and girls, this created the research question, why do the comic books display women as helpless and clueless when it comes to efforts in the war? After doing some research, it was evident that there is not much information on why women were perceived and illustrated this way. However, through analysis of the comic and seeing how women were portrayed, the display of women may have been depicted this way to help encourage men to enlist in the war by making it look glamorous.

Women in WWII

World War II caused political, ethnic, language, gender and class lines that changed the roles each person played during the war and these changes included women becoming a key role in war efforts (Morton, 989). As expressed in the article, Women and War, women have been involved in war efforts since the beginning of war time (Chenier, 1). They’ve been assets to the war in different fields including nursing, munitions factories, and by providing efforts at home that boosted war efforts (Chenier, 1). Women even took over male jobs during wartime which helped Canada during the war and helped advance women’s rights (Chenier, 1). Women even took on the role of training for the home defense which included outfitting themselves in uniforms and training themselves in riffle shooting and military drill (Chenier, 1). Eventually women also enlisted to help in the war which included the air force, army and navy (Chenier, 1). At first the women were only trained for clerical, administrative and support roles but eventually were trained as parachute riggers, laboratory assistants, and trained in electrical and mechanical trades (Chenier, 1). Eventually the Canadians Women’s Army Corps trained their women in the same way, starting them off as cooks, nurses and seamstresses but later began training them as drivers and mechanics (Chenier, 1). On the home front women also helped with code breaking and espionage (Chenier, 1). Women on the home front also ensured the economy did well by producing and conserving food, raising funds to finance hospitals, ambulances, hostels and aircraft, and even volunteered their services inside and outside the country (Chenier, 1).

In the article, The Nursing Sisters of Canada, they discuss how the Nursing Sisters became a major role in the second world war. The work the Nursing Sisters conducted is important to note because it shows how important women were and how they could be perceived as heroes as well. The Nursing Sisters were even sent into action performing first aid to wounded soldier wearing battle dress, steel helmets and backpacks (1). They worked under pressure, they were brave, intelligent and resourceful which are traits that all the male superheroes possess.

Ephemera

Canada Wartime Information Board. Women of Canada! Save and Serve. Broadside. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection. Public Domain

 

There are even some war posters that are present in the Toronto Public Library that depicted the importance of women’s help in the war. One of the posters titled “Housewives! Wage war on Hitler” displays what the women did on the home front to support the war. Their job was to save and re-use items such as rubber, metal, paper, fats, bones, rags and glass to help salvage resources. Another poster with the title “We’re in the army now” was used for the same effect. To help support the idea of re-using items to save on resources.
One poster found in the Toronto Public Library states, “They (women) have done a great work for the Empire in encouraging the men to enlist.” This information proves that the government used women to encourage men to enlist in the war. Women being used as propaganda by the government proves it can also be true that women could have been used as propaganda in comic books to promote men into believing that enlisting in the war could make them more desirable. The stories that follow in the issues of Active Comics number three demonstrate how women were depicted as clueless and helpless in every story in the Canadian comic.

Active Comics Representation of Women

Leo Bachle. Panel from “The Brain and the Mummy Man.” Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 11. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

Inside the issue of Active Comics number three, the first story is called The Brain and the Mummy Man (1). In this story, the authors make being the heroine look desirable to the young male audience. This story starts off with the Mummy Man asking his henchman to find a pretty girl to capture so that the heroine of the story, The Brain, must come to her rescue. “master say…catch purty girl…use as bait to trap brain!” (3). The illustration also displays the nameless women as helpless by showing her tied up to a chair. She is also displayed with a perfect figure and ripped clothing to make her look desirable and in need of rescuing (3). When The Brain rescues the woman, she stands helplessly at the back waiting for The Brain to do all the work, deliver justice to the villain, and then get her to safety (8-9). With the woman just standing in the background doing nothing, this makes her look weak, and at the mercy of all the men around her. Then to make being the heroine look even more desirable, at the end of the story, the pretty woman rewards The Brain for saving her with a kiss, meanwhile The Brain acts modest (11). Therefore, this teaches young male audience that, if they join the army they can become a hero just like The Brain, save the day by defeating villains as well as win over the pretty girl. However, this also leaves an impression on young female readers that they are not heroic and resourceful but should only be pretty and defenseless to attain the attention of a superhero.

Panel from "Active Jim". Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 14. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Panel from “Active Jim”. Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 14. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In the short excerpt that introduces Active Jim, they do introduce a woman, Joan Brian, as a working woman. However, she only assists Active Jim in sorting his mail and picking him up from the airport (12-14). Joan does not assist in any crime fighting, or even gathering information on villains, but is instead just an errand girl. This subconsciously sends the message to young female readers that they can not be superheroes who save the day, but only assistants who help the male hero. In the first frame, Joan is seen checking herself out in a compact mirror making sure her hair is perfect (12). Joan is also depicted as a beautiful woman with a perfect figure. This proves that all women associated with superheroes in comic books must be perfect looking. This also send the message to young female readers that they must be beautiful and helpless to keep male attention.

Al Cooper, Panel from "Capt. Red Thortan." <em>Active Comics,</em> No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 21. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Al Cooper, Panel from “Capt. Red Thortan.” Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 21. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The second story of the issue Active Comics number three, introduces the character Carole Powell who needs rescuing by Capt. Red Thortan. In the first image, Carole is seen on her knees, with the Capt. holding her head down and asking her to stay back (18). This depiction displays that Capt. is the dominant person in this situation. He is in charge and in control which shows us that he will do everything to save the day and all she must do is sit back. Later in the story Carole feints after watching Capt. wrestling the tiger. This shows the reader that Carole is weak and delicate. Carole can not handle the situation and can not handle the thought of the Capt. getting hurt (29-31). Once again, Joan is depicted as having a perfect body with a beautiful face (18). After being saved from the tiger, Carole rewards the Capt. with a kiss. Again, the superhero acts noble and suitable while acting coy (31). While Capt. is off fighting the Japanese, Carole gets lost from him again which proves that she is clueless and in need of constant guidance and assistance. This story proves that the males have the dominant helpful stereotypes while the females have the submissive defenseless stereotypes.

Theodore Steele. Panel from "Dixon of the Mounted." Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 46. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Theodore Steele. Panel from “Dixon of the Mounted.” Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 46. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The third story of the issue Action Comics number three is about Dixon of the Mounted. The synopsis of the story immediately reads that he must go find Ruth Barton, another female who has been captured by a villain in the Northern Yukon. Ruth, like the rest of the women, has the perfect body that is paired with a beautiful face. She is also wearing revealing clothing displayed by a dress that is ripped (42). Her disheveled appearance reinforces the idea that she needs to be saved. Throughout the story Ruth gets tied up to a post and is rendered useless (42). The helpful character stereotype even goes towards the dog in this story, who can untie Dixon who can then free Ruth (45). This story demonstrates to the reader that Ruth is clueless, non resourceful and helpless to the point where a dog does more to get them free.

 

M. Karn. Panel from "Thunderfist." Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 64. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
M. Karn. Panel from “Thunderfist.” Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 64. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In the fourth and final story of the issue Action Comic number three, the woman they introduce is a reporter named Beverly. She is displayed as clueless because she cannot figure out that Randolph Steele is also Thunderfist. Thunderfist arrives at the location where the report is occurring, while talking to Beverly he realizes that he needs to help so he disappears to save the day. Once the situation is resolved he returns to Beverly who is worried and searching for him. Beverly never once puts the two facts together that Randolph could be Thunderfist. A woman who is supposed to report on odd things and come to realizations for the public could not put two simple facts together. This makes Beverly look unintelligent, while making Thunderfist look mysterious, intelligent and brave.

Conclusion

The Canadian White comic books were created with multiple genres as the focus, with war being one of them and which also ended up being the most prominent (Bell, 1). The Golden Age of comic books arose because of the ban on American Comic books during the war (Bell, 1). The production of Canadian comics started at first as a business opportunity to make a lot of money on a product that was desperately sought out by children of the time (Bell, 1). Using women as propaganda as a sort of prize to be won was not the focus for producing comic books. However, based on the depictions of these women and the number of times these stereotypes are depicted throughout the comic, it is evident that men would be more likely to join the war after seeing how the heroes fair with women. Women of this period participated and helped in the war in numerous ways that were beneficial to war efforts, therefore there is no logical reason, other than propaganda, as to why women would be depicted as clueless, unintelligent and useless. After analyzing all the information, it seems apparent that at the time of World War II, using women to get men to enlist in the war was more important than creating positive female ideals towards the younger female audience.

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.


Bibiliography

Bachle, Leo. (w, a). “The Brain and the Mummy Man.” Active Comics, no. 3, April, 1942, pp. 1- 11. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166504.pdf

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada/. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.
Canada, Veterans Affairs. “The Nursing Sisters of Canada.” Veterans Affairs Canada, 18 Nov. 2016, www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/those-who-served/women-and-war/nursing-sisters. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.

Chenier, Nancy Miller. “Women and War.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/women-and-war/. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.
Cooper, Al. (w, a). “Capt. Red Thortan” Active Comics, no. 3, April, 1942, pp. 17-30. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166504.pdf

Legault, E.T, (w.) and M. Karn (a). “Thunderfist.” Active Comics, no. 3, April, 1942, pp. 51-64. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166504.pdf

Morton, D., Granatstein, J. L., & Cafferky, S. (2004). Canada and the two world wars. International Journal, 59(4), 988-991. http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/220852809?accountid=13631

Steele, Theodore. (w, a). “Dixon of the Mounted.” Active Comics, no. 3, April, 1942, pp. 35-48. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166504.pdf

Canucks and Commies: Canadian Nationalism in Dime Comics No. 11

© Copyright 2017 Maggie Ly, Ryerson University

Edmond Good. Dime Comics. No. 11, October 1943. Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Russia occupied a strange space in the conscious of Canadians during World War II. Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, proved decisive for the course of the war, yet the USSR’s transition from foe to friend was not instantaneous. They found a reluctant ally in Canada, but fear of betrayal and hidden Communistic agendas persisted through the war. Public demand to disband the Communist Party of Canada grew and ‘Commies’ were likened to fascists and Nazi sympathizers (Caccia 162). As the manpower and potential of the Red Army was realized, the Canadian government began using propaganda in the form of posters and print, radio statements, and rallies (many of which were held in Toronto) to absolve the Soviet Union’s uneasy reputation and create support for the Eastern front (164). Among the variety of print medium in Canada, the comic emerged as a powerful form of propaganda and a site to build and break national identities.

Published two years after Barbarossa, “The Spirit of Russia” is a continuing series in 11th issue of Dime Comics (March 1943). The story was created, written, and illustrated by one of Bell Feature’s key artists, Leo Bachle. It follows Johnny Canuck’s adventure in Soviet Russia where he is saved from the grips of a German soldier by a Red Army sniper. The sniper takes Johnny to a Russian camp where Nick, a Soviet commander, gives Johnny the new Soviet fighter plane called The Spirit of Russia to fly to Cairo. He takes down several Lufftwafte fighters on the way there and commends the plane for its flying ability (Bachle 40-46).

The Canadian Whites and the Comic in the Context of War

Nick recognizes Johnny Canuck.
Leo Bachle. Panel from “The Spirit of Russia.” Dime Comics, No. 11, October, 1943, Bell Features, p. 42. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166574.pdf.

“The Spirit of Russia” belongs to a collection of comics called the Canadian Whites produced during Canada’s Golden Age of Comics from 1941 to 1946. The War Exchange Conservation Act of 1940 banned the import of luxury goods and enabled Canadian publishers to establish themselves without American competition (Bell). Canadian companies like Bell Features (formerly Commercial Signs of Canada), Maple Leaf, and Anglo-American published many titles including Dime Comics, Active Comics, Triumph, and Three Aces. When the ban was lifted, Canadian companies could not compete with American ones and in 1946, the Canadian Golden Age of Comics was over (Bell).

The propaganda value of the Canadian Whites come from the combination of circumstance and the literary features of comic books. The War Exchange Conservation Act meant that the Canadian Whites were created by Canadian artists and writers for an exclusively Canadian audience. Where America had Superman and Captain America, Canada filled with Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Johnny Canuck, and other Canadian national superheroes (Bell & Viau). For those few years, readers of comics had something special of their own. Insulated from the outside world, they experienced the ideas and meanings shared from one Canadian to another.

The comic is the medium for those Canadian narratives. Like other literary forms, they communicate through stories that allow us to find meaning in characters’ actions and words. Stories are powerful ways to communicate, and the comic transforms story-telling. Presented as an intertextual sequence of moments, a series of flashes before our eyes, they combine words and images to make content easily digestible to readers. This is especially important during times of war. War comics capture the “simplicity of human behaviour” (Hirsh & Loubert 139), a condition that makes us see evil as absolute evil and good as unconditionally good. In Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History, Fredrik Strömberg describes it as the way in which humans naturally see the world (9).

Most of the stories in the Canadian Whites can be considered simplistic in narrative deliverance, but they are often larger than life, reflecting the experience of a war that completely enveloped the lives of Canadians. They depict the captivating adventures of superheroes doing extraordinary things. These adventures occur in the equally terrifying and exciting setting of war where the heroes can defeat outlandish villains and real-life enemies like the Nazis. Thus, the simplistic and blatantly didactic quality of the comics resides within exciting narratives that appeal to readers because it helps them make sense of the war. In the same way that comics transformed story-telling, the war transformed the Canadian Whites into a medium with mass appeal to propagate nationalistic messages about Canada’s position in World War II.

Wartime Rhetoric: Propaganda in World War II

World War II Propaganda Poster
Albert Cloutier and Eric Aldwinckle. Notre Armée a besoin de Bons Canadiens. Acc. No. 1983-30-111. Library and Archives Canada Posters and Broadsides in Canada, www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/posters-broadsides/026023-7200-e.html.

“Just one of many forms of self-expression and communication available to us” (McCloud162), comics exist among other forms of propaganda in the Second World War. Canada’s Wartime Information Board (WIB) produced propaganda in various forms. It controlled the sharing of information to promote war efforts and increase public support and moral. The poster is perhaps the most like comics. It uses a combination of image and text and often propagate war narratives in oversimplified stereotypes of good and evil. Some propaganda posters illustrate images of brave and heroic Canadian soldiers likened to other figures with those ideal characteristics, such as the knight (Cloutier & Aldwinckle). The Wartime Information Board was also heavily involved in the media. Canadian war correspondents worked within guidelines established by the WIB and some “acted as official state propagandists” (Engler 162). Articles like “Churchill, King, Lapointe Confident that Dominion Will Supply Huge Demand” (Hamilton Spectator) and “Happy Commercial and Cultural Tie is Promised with Russia” (Saturday Night) were subject to censorship regulations. Beyond print propaganda, rallies, press conferences, films and radio worked to shape public opinion to suit the needs of the country. Their strategies of persuasion and dissemination are reflected in the Canadian Whites. Like comics, traditional forms of propaganda exploit words and images, using simplicity to counter the complex emotions of war.

Enemy or Ally?

World War II Propaganda Poster
Harry Mayerovitch (a), and Canada Wartime Information Board. Carter? Caron? Caplan? Canakos? Cantrowicz? Canadian! 1944. Acc. No. 1981-32-10R. Library and Archives Canada Posters and Broadsides in Canada, https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/posters-broadsides/026023-7200-e.html#cont.

At the surface of “The Spirit of Russia” is an effort to bolster the relationship between Canada and the USSR. Johnny Canuck is saved just in time by a skilled Soviet sniper. A Red Army captain whom Johnny affectionately greets with “Hey Nick…. you old walrus!” (Bachle 42) is depicted as an old friend of Johnny’s. The Spirit of Russia can handle the risky flying maneuvers that Johnny performs. The inclusion of the USSR into the narrative of a prominent superhero reflects Canada’s propaganda efforts to improve public perceptions of the Communist nation. In 1932, the Wartime Information Board admitted that it was hard to overcome negative impressions of Russia (Granatstein 79). Polls that year indicated that 47% of Canadians wanted to see Canadian-Soviet relations improve while only 25% did not (80). Propaganda efforts to improve Soviet reputation in Canada is well-documented. Rallies were documented in news articles like one titled “Toronto’s Homage Paid to Russia At Monster Rally” published by The Globe and Mail (1942). Many posters aimed to relieve tension among cultural and ethnic groups in Canada. The positive portrayal of Russians, their skill, and quality of their war resources reflect Canada’s effort to change public perceptions of a former foe.

German soldier recognizes Johnny Canuck.
Leo Bachle. Panel from “The Spirit of Russia.” Dime Comics, No. 11, October, 1943, Bell Features, p. 46. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166574.pdf.

Delving deeper into “The Spirit of Russia”, it is evident that Russians are consistently undermined. The Russian sniper who saves Johnny’s life occupies only two frames and disappears from the narrative altogether (Bachle 41). He remains unknown to Johnny, who wakes up singularly focused on delivering his message that will help the Russians. The Soviet Captain Nick’s authority and rank is devalued in his encounter with Johnny. Upon recognizing Johnny, he dismisses the nurse’s request to order Johnny to rest. He also admits that Johnny will be better flying without a convoy, suggesting that a Russian assistance will only hinder the Canadian superhero (42). Finally, The Spirit of Russia is undermined when the Germans recognize Johnny Canuck as its pilot. The trap they set for the Russian plane is thwarted when Johnny, a threat greater than the guns of the fighter, is recognized by the enemy (46). Combined with the depiction of Johnny Canuck as the ideal Canadian, these examples reveal a trend in the simple narrative of Canadian superiority over Russia.

Shades of Canadian Nationalism

The trend of the devalued Russian in “The Spirit of Russia” points to its Canadian nationalist subtext. However, the Soviet Union is not the only cultural scapegoat of a missing Canadian identity in World War II. German and Japanese portrayal is often used to characterize difference in comics. They are portrayed as pure evil, lacking intelligence, morals, and in many cases, good looks. From the same issue of Dime Comics, Scotty MacDonald’s fight with the Japanese reveal them to be just that (Cooper 48-56). They fit the black-and-white stereotypes used to effectively fuel propaganda, but Russia does not. Compared to the portrayal of definite enemies, the representation of Soviets defies binary portrayals of good and evil.  Tall and brave people who spoke English without an accent, they were also less than the Canadians they were allied with. If World War II’s pro-Russian propaganda had the same undertones as in “The Spirit of Russia”, it could account for why Canadians had such little faith in Canadian-Soviet Relations.

Photograph from Toronto Star
“Canada and USSR Friends in War and Peace.” Toronto Star 1945. Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive. Toronto Star License.

Where nationalist subtexts did little to increase public support for the USSR, it helped build a Canadian national identity. Canada was not considered a major power in the war and it was still not independent of Great Britain. Dittmer and Larsen note that a collective Canadian identity is often thought to originate from fear of Canadian inferiority (738). Canada was ready for a larger role on the world stage, and the USSR’s position after Barbarossa proved to be the perfect opportunity. It was a large, dominating nation with a uniting ideology that bound its constituent countries together. It was also in a place of limbo between good and evil. In “The Spirit of Russia”, the Soviet characters stick out because they reside in that grey space between the stereotypical, black-and-white depictions of good and evil. The story exploits the vulnerable position of the USSR, painting Russians in colours that are deceivingly non-Canadian. It propagates an underlying narrative that Russians are only good allies because Canadians are better people. “The Spirit of Russia” creates a complex portrayal of Russians who are not evil nor completely good, building Canadian identity through a covert act of exclusion.

Cultural Fallout

The rise and fall of Canada’s Golden Age of Comics parallels Russia’s positive relationship with Canada. Like the Canadian Golden Age of Comics, the relationship between Canada and the USSR was held together by the weak bonds of wartime necessity, and within those bonds, Canada found a course to promote nationalism and a unique national identity. In Dime Comic’s 11th issue, “The Spirit of Russia” (1943) reflects propaganda efforts to align the public interest with Canadian nationalist ideals. In narratives that move beyond demonizing the enemy and sanctifying a former foe, the portrayal of USSR Soviets reveal how difference is manufactured as colossal gaps of disparity and minute nuances of difference to build an exclusive Canadian identity.

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.


Works Cited

Bachle, Leo (w, a). “The Spirit of Russia.” Dime Comics, no. 11, October, 1943, pp. 40-46. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166574.pdf.

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Anthony Wilson-Smith, 8 Jul. 2015, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada/.

Bell, John and Michael Viau. “Canadian Golden Age of Comics, 1941-1946.” Beyond the Funnies: The History of Comics in Canada and Quebec. Library and Archives Canada, 31 Jan. 2015, www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8300-e.html.

Caccia, Ivana. Managing the Canadian Mosaic in Wartime: Shaping Citizenship Policy, 1939-1945, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.

Cooper, Al (w, a). “Scotty MacDonald.” Dime Comics, no. 11, October, 1943, pp. 48-56. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166574.pdf.

Dittmer, Jason and Soren Larsen. “Captain Canuck, Audience Response, and the Project of Canadian Nationalism.” Social and Cultural Geography, vol. 8, no. 5, Taylor & Francis Group, 2001. Scholars Portal Journals, resolver.scholarsportal.info/resolve/14649365/v08i0005/735_ccaratpocn.xml.

Engler, Yves. A Propaganda System: How the Canadian Government, Corporations, Media, and Academia Sell War and Exploitation, Fernwood Publishing/RED Publishing, 2016.

Granatstein. J.L. “Changing Alliances: Canada and the Soviet Union, 1938-1945.” Canada and the Soviet Experiment: Essays on Canadian Encounters with Russia and the Soviet Union, 1900-1991, edited by David Davies, Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc., 1987, 75-87.

Hirsh, Michael, and Patrick Loubert. The Great Canadian Comic Books, Peter Martin Associates, 1971.

“Russia Anxious, Eager to Make Lasting Peace.” Toronto Daily Star, 3 Jul. 1945. Canadian War Museum Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/intro_e.shtml.

Strömberg, Fredrik. Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History, Ilex, 2010.

“Toronto’s Homage Paid to Russia At Monster Rally.” The Globe and Mail. 23 Jun. 1942. Canada War Museum Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/intro_e.shtml.

Pedagogy and Propaganda in Active Comics no. 7

© Copyright 2017 Christine Dionio, Ryerson University

Introduction

During the Second World War, the War Exchange Conservation Act placed in December 1940 restricted the importation of non-essential, luxury goods. This placed a strain on several industries, such as the comic book industry, as American comics thrived amongst Canadian readers (Bell “Comic Books in English Canada”). Rather than halt the comic book industry, the importation ban proved to be a precedent to the golden age of Canadian comics through the creation of the “Canadian Whites,” Canadian produced comics that, unlike the coloured American comics, had pages printed in black and white (Beaty 429). Many of the comic books that composed the “Canadian Whites” are similar to American superhero comics, however, they are more in-tune with Canadian sensibilities. Since the “Canadian Whites” were produced during the war, the comics’ storylines are not only a reflection of how the war was perceived by Canadians, but how Canadians wanted to inform the comic book market (i.e. children) about the war with a particular ideology in mind. The visual and textual war references in the seventh issue of Active Comics from September 1942 depict the fictional stories in a wartime context that the readers were exposed to through other forms of media, such as newspapers, propaganda posters, and films. The explicit visual and textual references seen in seventh issue of Active Comics demonstrates how the “Canadian Whites” served as a pedagogical tool used to address the anxieties of Canadian youth during World War II, using war-focused, nationalistic imagery to ease their anxieties and foster pride and support for the Allies during the war.

Canadian Strength and Adversity

T.A. Steele. Page from “Dixon of the Mounted.” Active Comics, no. 7, p. 1. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The visual and textual references found in the seventh issue of Active Comics paralleled the actual events of the war in a way that celebrates Canadian strength and adversity. This is despite lacking any kind of explicit superpowers, with the exception of “The Brain”, who has clairvoyant abilities. The narratives had to discourage cynicism the reader may have towards the war without creating an irrational, over-inflated sense of optimism. As well, the heroes are expected to support the country by being active in the war, but their capabilities cannot be great enough to end the war on their own since this would create an unrealistic vision of the war and the enemy (Cord 60). While The Brain is the only hero in Active Comics no. 7 to have a superhuman power, he does not participate in the war. Rather, he fights local city crimes and uses his clairvoyant powers to foil unlawful citizens. Dixon of the Mounted lacks any kind of powers and, rather than being classified as a superhero, is a mere corporal supporting the Allies by fighting enemies within Canadian borders. The seventh issue in particular has Dixon fighting against Nazi agents who “intend to wreak havoc and destruction [at a Canadian munitions centre]” (Active Comics 1). Similar to soldiers fighting the war, Dixon depends on his pistol and determination to thwart the Nazi’s plans. Not only does Dixon lack superpowers, he also acts as a symbolic metaphor through his Mountie attire. Similar to propaganda posters, the characters embody cultural symbols as a means to connote them to a particular culture and nation. Dixon, in his Mountie uniform, represents Canada and fights for the law. The Nazi agents, introduced with a Swastika as a backdrop (Active Comics 1) signify Germany and antagonize them as threats to Canadian security. As a Mountie, he acts for the sake of law and justice, embodying both without compromise through an explicitly Canadian character. Ultimately, Dixon parallels the strife of Canadian soldiers in their fight with Axis soldiers and, despite lacking superpowers, demonstrates how those fighting alongside law and justice shall overcome the enemy.

Collective Canadian Triumph

The comic also demonstrates how success lies not only in the individual, but in the collective effort, which also applies to the events of the war. Both “Capt. Red Thortan” and “Thunderfist” demonstrate success against the enemies through the cooperation of everyone involved. In both stories, the characters are fighting against Japanese in a naval context. Active Comics no. 7 came out in September 1942, a year following Pearl Harbor (Greenhouse “Canada and the Battle of Hong Kong”) and a month following the Dieppe Raid (Herd “Dieppe Raid”). During this time, the Allies had to not only combat an enemy in a territory that they were unfamiliar with, but they also had to strike back following the many casualties at Dieppe. In both “Capt. Red Thortan” and “Thunderfist,” the respective heroes are both seen to thwart the Japanese’s advances onto the Allies albeit in an unfamiliar terrain. The emphasis on collective efforts was prevalent during World War II, as demonstrated in posters among other ephemera that worked to promote recruitment, promote bond sales, and promote unity both through domestic cooperation and by sympathizing with soldiers fighting overseas (Halliday 3).  While the heroes lacked any kind of extraordinary powers, they helped reassure the anxieties the young readers may have had about the war by including heroes that are similar to the soldiers who, despite lacking superpowers, can still unite and fight against the enemy.

The Axis and Otherness

Al Cooper. Panel from “Capt. Red Thortan.” Active Comics, no. 7, p. 43. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

One important aspect of visual representation in Active Comics are the way that characters coming from Axis countries are represented through stereotypical characteristics. In doing so, the Japanese and German characters are dehumanized and delineated from the reader as the other – something not to be identified with (Murray 181). With comics as both a visual and textual medium, it is important to consider how the visual representations retain as much meaning as what is demonstrated textually. Most of the major characters in Active Comics involved in the war are drawn realistically, thus the reader cannot identify as well with the protagonist and the antagonists as well as they could a more abstract figure (McCloud 36). However, this works to the advantage of fostering feelings of contempt towards the Axis powers. While the reader may not be a muscular adult male, they identify much closer with them than they do the dehumanized German and Japanese characters. The exaggerated, menacing depictions of the Axis powers not only reduce the enemies to flattened stereotypes, but also associate them with evil (Murray 191). The characters act as metaphoric symbols, standing in place of countries, and the stories of Dixon fighting the Nazi agents and Thunderfist thwarting the plans of the Japanese navy are meant to parallel the ongoing narratives of the war. The Axis characters, being visually antagonized, are not only delineated from the reader, but connoted with evil, thus rationalizing the archetypal triumph of good over evil which is prevalent in Active Comics‘ stories.

Shifting War, Shifting Narratives

“Active Jim’s Monthly Message.” Active Comics, no. 7, September 1942, p. 29. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

It is important to keep in mind that, due to the uncertainty of events, the visual and textual war references are subject to the changing events in the war. In a sense, the characters are a reaction to the battles, as was the case with how the Japanese are presented in Canadian media. In Legg’s film, “Warclouds in the Pacific,” Japanese residing in Britain and America are described to be “intensely loyal to the democratic principles they have adopted [and] proud of the New World heritage” (Legg “Warclouds in the Pacific”). However, Active Comics no. 7 expresses a different sentiment through the way that the Japanese characters are stereotyped and, as seen in “Capt. Red Thortan”, referred to as “Japs” and even “yellow friend” (Active Comics 38). Since the seventh issue of Active Comics was published following the attack at Pearl Harbor (Greenhouse “Battle of Hong Kong), it can be seen that as the events shifted in the war, as did the feelings towards the Axis powers and, in turn, the way that they are represented in mass media. However, the comics were not limited to negative depictions of the enemy with respects to the war. The comics inform the reader of the war both by negatively portraying the enemy and glorifying Allied soldiers. Despite Dieppe being a tragic loss for Canadians (Herd “Dieppe Raid”), “Active Jim’s Monthly Message” commended the “heroism displayed by all ranks at Dieppe” (Active Comics 29). While the Dieppe Raid resulted in a high amount of casualties, “Active Jim’s Monthly Message” celebrates the soldiers’ efforts, discouraging any kind of pessimism regarding the casualties at Dieppe.  The comics, being released on a monthly basis, actively react to the events and foster particular ideologies. That said, the comics act as propaganda, however it is with the youth readers’ anxieties and sensitivity to the war in mind.

Rationalizing Violence

The characters in Active Comics engage in realistic cases of violence, however they are rationalized through the context of the comics’ plots. The wartime context of the comics are what is considered “a state of exception” (Bainbridge 757), meaning that while the actions of the characters may go against the law in a regular context, acting against the law in favour of justice is permissible so long as it is in favour of the common good. In “Dixon of the Mounted”, the story in the issue is resolved with Dixon shooting a traitor, Karnz, dead. While murder is condemned, Dixon’s actions are rationalized since killing Karnz subverts “another Nazi Plot of Sabotage” (Active Comics 10). The comics justify wartime violence so long as it is at the benefit of defending the country and subduing the enemy which, during World War II, are the Axis powers. This can also be seen in “Capt. Red Thortan” when a Japanese pilot is shot down by a turret (Active Comics 44) – Captain Red Thortan killing another individual is permissible during these exceptional circumstances. While the readers of the comic are too young to fight in the war themselves, rationalizing violence still had a practical function at home. Similar to wartime posters, justifying wartime violence against the Axis powers works to promote feelings of contempt which then help foster nationalism and, in turn, support for the war effort (Halliday 128). The readers who associate themselves closer to Canadian characters such as Dixon and Captain Red Thortan than with the Japanese and German characters then are prompted to help support the war effort despite being to young to fight themselves. Overall, in rationalizing the war and the violence associated with it, the comic works to foster nationalistic support for Allied soldiers since the characters, despite technically breaking the law, are acting in exceptional circumstances for justice’s sake.

Conclusion

The seventh issue of Active Comics demonstrates both how Canadians responded to the war and the kinds of ideologies that they wanted to disseminate through wartime ephemera. In celebrating the valour of Canadian heroes, delineating the reader from the enemies, and justifying the violence, the comics work as a highly ideological pedagogical tool that not only informed their market, but influenced them in favour of nationalism. Doing so had pragmatic purposes, as doing so acted as a means to garner support for the war effort from members of Canadian society to young to fight on the war front. What differentiates the “Canadian Whites” from other wartime ephemera is how the approach had to appeal to a youth audience that, while is not completely passive, is still highly impressionable. Active Comics, in taking advantage of its visual and textual capacities, demonstrates the multifaceted ways that different mediums can be encoded with particular ideologies.

Works Cited

Active Comics, no. 7, September 1942. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/art/bell-features/Documents/Active_Comics_7.pdf

Bainbridge, Jason. ““The Call to do Justice”: Superheroes, Sovereigns and the State During Wartime.” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law – Revue international de Sémiotique juridique, vol. 28, no. 4, May 24 2015, pp. 745-763. Scholars Portal Journals, DOI:10.1007/s11196-015-9424-y.

Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, 2006, pp. 427-439. Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database, DOI: 10.1080/02722010609481401

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, August 7 2015. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada/.

Edwardson, Ryan. “The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and the Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Hero.” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 31, no. 2, November 2003, pp.184-201. Scholars Portal Journals, DOI: 10.1111/1540-5931.00063.

Greenhouse, Brereton and Richard Foot. “Battle of Hong Kong.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, November 15 2016. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/battle-of-hong-kong/.

Herd, Alex. “Dieppe Raid.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, June 4 2015. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/dieppe-raid/.

Legg, Stuart. “Warclouds in the Pacific.” The National Film Board, 1941. Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GU1GXo_i4bQ.

Halliday, Hugh A. “Posters and the Canadian War Museum.” Canadian Military History, vol. 3, no., January 1 2012, pp. 126-129. Scholars Commons @ Laurier, http://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol3/iss1/16/.

Heller, Steven. “The Ministry of Fear.” Social Research, vol. 71, no. 4, 2004, pp. 849-862. Project Muse, muse.jhu.edu/article/527363.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, William Morrow, 1994.

Murray, Christopher. Champions of the Oppressed: Superhero Comics, Popular Culture, and Propaganda in American During World War II, Hampton Press, 2011.

Scott, Cord A.. “Fighting for Freedom (1939-45).” Comics and Conflict, Naval Institute Press, 2014, pp. 54-90. ProQuest Ebook Central,               http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=1577594.

Stacey, C.P.. Revised by Richard Foot. “Second World War (WWII).” The Canadian Encyclopedia, May 13 2015. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/second-world-war-wwii.

Media Disclaimer

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose ofresearch and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study or education.