Tag Archives: Children’s Books and War

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

Our Great Gendered Expectations: Dominant Masculinities in Dime Comics 23

© Copyright 2017, Mariam Vakani, Ryerson University

INTRODUCTION:

The early moments of Canada’s declaration of war against Germany saw a time of economic turmoil. By the end of 1940, the Foreign Exchange Control Board introduced the War Exchange Conservation Act, which essentially banned the import of non-essential American goods, which included comic books and pulp-fiction periodicals, in hopes of conserving the American dollar. (Bell, 30). The American comic-books enjoyed by Canadian children disappeared from the newsstands, leaving a gaping hole in the popular culture of the time.

This gap was quickly noticed by children, and just as quickly exploited by the four independent publishing houses that reacted immediately to this business opportunity, beginning what would later be known as the Golden Age of Canadian Comics. First led by Maple Leaf Publishers and Anglo-American, the Golden Age was marked by the onslaught of creative Canadian heroes and stories written by Canadian artists. Amongst these artists and publishers was Adrian Dingle, who had first worked with Hillborough Studies on their only title, Triumph-Adventure, but later joined the brothers Cy and Gene Bell in creating what would come to be known as the greatest publisher of Canadian comic books, Bell Features. Amongst their several titles was Dime Comics, which ran through the end of 1946.

The black and white paneled pages of Dime Comics showcase many stories of bravery and damnation, demonstrating the complex creativity that was born during the war. Issue No. 23 of Dime Comics was published in October of 1946, little more than a month after the war officially ended. The issue includes full-length comic stories, shorter spreads, and direct insight into the world that inspired the fictional stories. Amongst the themes that we see in this particular issue is that of the idealized masculinities embedded in the stories of superheroes, promoting a framework of stereotypical hegemonic masculinity that was both a standard to which the men of the era were held and a dream that adolescent readers aspired to become.

WHAT MAKES A HERO: COMIC BOOK PHYSICALITY AND HYPER-MASCULINITY

Photograph of a soldier from WW2, carrying a gun through the forest
“Private H.E. Goddard of The Perth Regiment, carrying a Bren gun while advancing through a forest north of Arnhem, April 15, 1945 Netherlands. Credit: Capt. Jack H. Smith Canada. Dept. of National Defence Faces of War Archives at Library and Archives Canada

“…Hyper-masculinity is the most visible and most mute way of responding to the anxiety generated in the North American male’s search for masculinity” (1103) writes Klein, author of the journal article, “Comic Book Masculinity”, in which he discusses the links between body-builders and internalized misogyny and homophobia. In addition to their valiance, the superheroes must also fit a certain physical type. Each of the men is broad-shouldered and chested, with a strong jawline and chin; they are young and handsome and ready for action. A strong build was one of the physical demands of war-time strength.

Even in the case of exhaustion, as we find Johnny Canuck in during his kidnapping, the male superhero is always ready for action, Terry Allen is instantly prepared to become Nitro and save the day, Drummy Young is immediately ready to engage in physical combat with the enemy; their bodies work in their favour and are undeniably strong, flexible, and healthy. “There seems never to be a hesitation or a backward glance: the superhero knows what he has to do, even if this implies only being on the move—performing, in a word,” states Yann Roblou (79), discussing the hyperbolic activity of the male superheroes’ body. No matter the situation, the heroes are never to be seen as fazed in their speech or in their body language.

WHAT’S A MAN TO JUDGE: THE MORAL INTEGRITY OF COMIC BOOK HEROES

Comic book masculinity also extends itself to expectations of male vitality: they must always be ready for combat and be above feeling pain. Indeed, even when Johnny Canuck succumbs to pain and fatigue, he is revitalized by the end of the page and announces that he is ready to “take another crack at the Japs.” (Bachle) While exhaustion and fatigue are felt by the superhero, he must be quick in recovery and be ready to continue his duties.  The Faces of War collection at the Library and Archives Canada depicts the male soldiers of the Second World War, all of whom have the same strong build and vitality that we see in the heroes of Dime Comics. The physical build was a reality as much as it was a fictional depiction, though the comic book drawings were a hyperbolic version of that reality.

Issue No. 23 of Dime Comic hosts four interesting male characters: Rex Baxter, Nitro, Drummy Young and Johnny Canuck. Each of these men embody an idealized masculinity, characterized by their rationale, justice and sense of protection. Hutchings writes, “almost all attempts to characterize (military) masculinity include risk taking and rationality as well as discipline, endurance, and absence of emotion.” (393)

Rex Baxter, the “United Nations Counter-Spy”, leads his squadron through the air and is faced with the threat of new invasions from Hitler.  Nitro, the second hero that we see, is the alter-ego of Terry Allen, a patriotic Canadian shown buying war bonds with his fiancée, Lynn, when the bank is robbed. Terry Allen turns to Nitro, determined to save the day, whilst remaining a concerned fiancé and leaving the crime-scene with Lynn when she is shot.

Drummy Young, a model citizen, realizes that a radio-show host was a Nazi spy, using his platform to provide Nazi forces with the latitudes and longitudes of ships at sea, thus enabling their attacks. Drummy stops the “bad guy” on time, preventing further harm to Canadian servicemen at sea. Finally, we see Johnny Canuck, weakened in an enemy dungeon, but watch as he escapes, avenges the death of his prison-mate and seeks vengeance for the lives of all those who “endured a living death” in the dungeons.

It is interesting to note that while not all these characters are military men, per se, they clearly demonstrate the making of soldiers, in their particular strength of character, sense of justice and moral integrity. Perhaps it could be said that their remarkable feats of bravery were meant to demonstrate to children the power of the ordinary citizen- that by being vigilant and active, they, too, could play their part in the war.

EXCEPTION OR EXAMPLE?

Hourihan writes, “the hero’s task is to defeat the forces of chaos, fear and ignorance and so ensure the survival of the state, the realm of civic order and rational behaviour.” (88) This concept is evidenced in the characterization of each of these ultra-male superheroes; they are meant to act as defenders of peace and protectors of Earth. Rex Baxter tackles the peculiarity of seeing strange planes in the sky with a cool-headed approach, a curiosity and a strong sensibility of the possibility of danger. Johnny Canuck, fatigued from his capture and time in the enemy dungeon, still recognizes his moral responsibility to avenge the deaths of his prison-mates, and, once he escapes and is reinvigorated, is immediately ready to reengage with the enemy soldiers.

Nitro holding his fiancee, Lynn, with a speech bubble that says,"Looks like i'll have to forget Simms for now, Officer, this girl's life is worth more than a dozen like him."
Jerry Latare.
Panel from “Nitro” Dime Comics, No.23 October 1946, p.15.
Bell Features Collection,
Library and Archives
Canada.

Drummy Young does not have explicit ties to the military in the same way that Rex and Johnny do, but, by being a vigilant citizen, Drummy finds the Nazi spy amongst a group of radio show hosts and saves the lives of hundreds of servicemen at sea. When the bank is robbed while he is buying war bonds with his fiancée, Lynn, Nitro rushes to stop the heist until he turns to find that she has been shot. At that point, he exclaims that “this girl’s life is worth more than a dozen like him!” (Latare) and leaves in order to find medical help for her. Nitro presents a duality of masculinity, conflicted when faced with a situation in which he must act as savior both to the masses and to his fiancée, Lynn, and is ultimately rewarded when he must fight the robber to obtain a blood sample for the transfusion that Lynn needs to survive.

This determination to save the day, the careless disregard for one’s own well-being, and the unwavering faith in their own goodness and conviction in the causes they fight for characterize our heroes, and our expectations of Canadian men. Our saviors fit the characteristics of being tall, muscular, conventionally attractive white men who seek protection for those that are weaker than them, placing the safety of women, children, and the elderly above their own needs.

TALL, WHITE AND HANDSOME: THE BIASES IN THE HEROES WE CHOOSE

Furthermore, the dominance of the white, muscular, heterosexual male superhero is asserted when he is placed against the backdrop of immoral characters and apathetic women, who play foil to his excellence. Within the black and white pages of Dime Comics, the hero exists in a metaphorically black and white moral binary, where he is the unequivocal force of goodness in a world that is populated by petty thieves, Japanese enemy soldiers, and Nazis.

As such, we begin to question exactly what differentiates our male hero from the antagonist, when they both engage in violent behaviour in the defense of their causes. The simple answer is that the heroes we follow, Johnny Canuck, Drummy Young and Nitro, (as we do not see Rex engage in combat with anyone) truly believe that they are protecting the weak as they fight. The more complex answer would be that the artists and writers have their own ideological biases that bleed through their stories –the masculinity that is acceptable is that which is in accordance with the commonly held values of the Canadian people, and through the blatant othering that is present throughout the stories, we are made to believe that the superheroes are dispensing justice.

Additionally, the women that are placed around the men serve little more purpose than props or plot devices, such as where Lynn distracts Nitro from his work saving the bank and Gail Abbot, Rex Baxter’s girlfriend, exists in the background as he expounds on the conflict. We find the men in drawn as unquestionably more intelligent and interesting than the women around them, and continue to read them as such. The men exist, then, as unequivocally good because they are never confronted with their equal opposites, only men who are meant to be read as evil and women who are purposefully written as unintelligent.

While the truth of the matter is that the Canadian superheroes were fighting to protect the weak and the helpless, it cannot go unstated that “such figures are not helpful role-models for ordinary boys and men who are full of normal imperfections, who must live in a mundane world where there are no unequivocally evil enemies to fight against…” (Hourihan, 72). The comic book hero exists in a vacuum, there is no goodness but him and he has little evil in him, at all.

HEROES TO OUR CHILDREN:

Johnny attacking his captor who is begging for mercy, while Johnny's speech bubble is him talking about how he is seeking vengance for the lives lost.
Leo Bachle. Panel from “Johnny Canuck” No.23 October 1946, p.43
Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

However, this does not negate the fact that these heroes were role models to children both during and after the war. They stood as symbols of patriotism, created by artists specifically for the purpose of providing Canadian children the same patriotic heroes that American superheroes were for American children. As narrated by John Bell in his book Invaders of the North, Johnny Canuck was created by a fifteen-year-old Leo Bachle, who amused a Bell Features investor with his criticism of the artwork of some of the Bell Comics. (50) Upon request, he showed the investor some of his own artwork and was hired the next day as a freelance artist for Bell Features, soon creating Johnny Canuck, who stands to this day as a symbol of patriotic Canadian heroism. Johnny Canuck was a hero who constantly came in contact with Hitler, frequently “slugging the Nazi dictator”, and in essence, became a catalyst of wish-fulfilment for many of the children who had to watch the war from home.

Despite the aggression and structured expectations that the comic books seemed to be setting forth, that the heroes also presented themselves as a means through which the child-readers were allowed to partake in a war they had to see from the sidelines is undeniable. It is also undeniable that the heroism and war-like behavior of the comic-books was an exaggerated, over-sentimentalized versions of what war-time masculinity should look like. Neither of those facts override the other but exist simultaneously as the context which created the comic culture of the time.

CONCLUSION:

The stories of Rex Baxter, Nitro, Drummy Young and Johnny Canuck portray a double-ended societal expectation and youthful desire to be the hero of the war. These heroes exist because they were needed, in the way fiction is, to comfort, appease, enlighten and intrigue children, although not necessarily to teach them the realities of war as it played out for soldiers on the home-front. They portray the aggression and masculinity that was deemed appropriate for the time, channeled, unfortunately through their hatred for the “others” and the sense of masculine superiority and dominance that exists within the stories; but there remains the fact that the heroes and their worlds provided a sanctuary in which Canadian children could dream themselves into super-heroes and military men, fight alongside their fathers and brothers and make their way towards a victory.

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). “Johnny Canuck.” Dime Comics, no. 23, October, 1945 pp. 39-45, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.    http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166585.pdf

  • Bell, John. Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe, Dundurn, 2006.
  • Hourihan, Margery. Deconstructing the Hero: Literary Theory and Children’s Literature. Routledge, 1997.
  • Hutchings, Kimberly. “Making Sense of Masculinity and War.” Men and Masculinities, vol. 10,    no. 4, September 2007, pp. 389-404. Sage Journals. DOI: 10.1177/1097184X07306740,            http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1097184X07306740

  • Klein, A. “Comic Book Masculinity.” Sport in Society, vol. 10, no. 6, November 2007, pp. 1073-1119.      Scholars Portal Journals. DOI: 10.1080/17430430701550512,           http://journals.scholarsportal.info/details/17430437/v10i0006/1073_cbm.xml

  • Latare, Jerry (w, a). “Nitro.”  Dime Comics, no. 23, October, 1945 pp. 11-16, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.        http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166585.pdf

  • Roblou, Yann. “Complex Masculinities: The Superhero in Modern American Movies.” Culture, Society and Masculinities, vol. 4, no. 1, 2012, pp. 76-91. Men’s Studies Press. DOI: 10.3149/CSM.0401.76