Category Archives: ENG810 Fall 2018 Section 011

Identifying the Robot as the Enemy in Active Comics: No. 15

© Copyright 2018 Natalia Orasanin, Ryerson University


In the midst of the Second World War, the growing trade deficit Canada experienced with the United States resulted in the Canadian government implementing the War Exchange Conservation Act, in an effort to stabilize the Canadian dollar (Bell 1). Canada banned all imports that were considered non-essential, deeming books and comics as luxury items  (Nguyen 1). As a result, Canadian publishers began producing their own comics books, referred to as The Canadian Whites, due to their black and white interiors (Bell 1). Although the production and sale of Canadian Whites such as Active Comics, Commando Comics, and Dime Comics plummeted after the ban was lifted near the end of the war, these comics can be viewed as a portal or window to Canadian society during wartime. Superhero characters were especially popular for soldiers on front lines, representing strength and patriotism — the same characteristics associated with soldiers during the war (Babic 111). Therefore, the character representation in comics provides a glimpse at the historical attitudes and perspectives of the time in which they were produced (Babic 111). Additionally, many comics reflect the anxieties surrounding war time, including the shifting roles of women in society, fears of losing the war to Axis powers, pressure on increased production, and related issues (Babic 111).

I will be examining the ways in which robots are portrayed throughout Active Comics: No. 15. (1944), specifically three key areas: “King Fury and the Robot Menace,” (22 – 28) the front cover, as well as an activity page that prompts the reader to identify all of the hidden robots throughout the issue (11). In the same way that the public view of soldiers was associated with superhero characters, robots in the comic are much more than merely characters, they function as mirrors to the representations of Axis powers during wartime. In this essay, I will show how the portrayal of robots as mechanic, mindless followers is representative of the way Germans and other Axis powers were viewed during the Second World War, and how this portrayal was utilized in comics and newspapers in order to identify the enemy within popular discourse. Further, the identification of the robot as the enemy highlights the resemblance between the activity page and government propaganda during World War II, both instructing individuals to remain on the look out for enemies who are under the control of a dangerous leader.

The “Robot” and the Enemy

The term “robot” was incredibly common in public discourse and Canadian newspapers during World War II. “Robot” appears hundreds of times in The Toronto Daily Star, The Globe and Mail, Hamilton Spectator and many other news sources. Notably, in these articles the word is excessively used to describe members of the Axis powers. In an article, titled “Human Robots” by George Axelsson featured in the Globe and Mail, both the terms “civilian robots” and  “a senseless robot, mechanically obeying his master’s voice” are used to describe the Germans (Axelsson 1). Comparatively, in an article in the Hamilton Spectator, Japanese soldiers are described as having the mentality of robots, completely dependant upon commanding officers and “helpless” without their guidance (“Nothing to Fear From Jap Entry; Men But Robots”). Additional terms found in articles range from “Nazi robots,” “Robots of the German airforce, [who need] a slave – driving general to tell them what to do,” to describing Germans as “slaves” and British pilots as “free men, self – reliant and ground in the dignity of manhood” (“Knights on Winged Steeds”). These terms are all degrading and speak to the lack of agency and mindlessness associated with robots, relating these attributes to the Germans and the Japanese Axis powers.  Another way in which the word robot is used in these articles is in reference to the robot bomb, even coincidentally a 1944 article titled “Menace of the Robot Bomb” in the Globe and Mail. The robot bomb, created by the Germans, is essentially a pilotless bombing aircraft specifically designed to attack the British. The fact that it is pilotless, and unmanned is important as it is a machine that is set out to perform a particular task, decided by those in possession of it. Parallels are also drawn when one takes into consideration that the robot bomb is a an aerial bomb, and that in the comic “King Fury and the Robot Menace” the Germans escape with the robot menace on a soundproof plane that King Fury and the Canadian Military cannot detect (28). In the comic, the robot is considered “good” when in the possession of the Americans, and “bad” when in the possession of the Germans, indicating that the “goodness” or “success” of the machine is completely dependant upon who has control. Seeing as the Germans had predominant control of the robot bombs, and they gain control of the robot in the comic, the robot symbolizes  an empty vessel for potential evil.

The Robot Menace

When comparing the portrayal of robots within World War II newspapers to Active Comics,  the identification of the robot as the enemy is present in the comic “King Fury and the Robot Menace” by Kurly Lipas, as well as the front cover. King Fury pays a visit to Dr. Tone and his daughter Tonee, and is welcomed by a robot identified as Dr. Tone’s newest invention (23). Dr. Tone is excited about the robot, as he can exercise his control over the robot with a remote control, stating that the government can make great use of his invention (23). It was not uncommon in the wartime for robots to be used as symbols for the portrayal of the enemy, as psychologically, many individuals associate robots with manufacturing and militarization (Cheng 1). In her analysis of Kakoudaki’s Anatomy of a Robot, Jennifer Rhee writes that robots are often a mechanical reflection/representation of our own human bodies, and our vulnerability to being controlled by forces external to us (Rhee 408). Further drawing from literary examples, Kakoudaki states that robots are often used to provide labour through elements of control, and that this relationship between the robot and the possessor brings forth notions of dehumanization, objectification and slavery (Rhee 409). In “King Fury and the Robot Menace,” this element of control is largely prevalent as the German’s overlooking Dr. Tone’s home break in to steal the robot. When they enter Dr. Tone’s home, Dr. Tone is so busy directing the robot that one of the Germans knocks him out and gains possession of the remote control. The robot then attacks King Fury and the Germans escape on a soundless plane with the robot, undetected by King Fury or the military (27). The robot in the story demonstrates no sense of agency, and surrenders completely to the individual in possession of the remote control. Control implies that the robot can be in the wrong hands, and Dr. Tone’s distraction when directing the robot to follow him as the Germans invade his home is ultimately the reason he is caught off guard and gets the remote control taken away from him. When the robot attacks Dr. Tone and King Fury as a result of this, the robot also becomes the enemy. Furthermore, the front cover of the issue features a terrified young woman in the arms of a robot that appears as though it is going to hurt her. Yet again, the robot is not captured in any positive light, and the human being is innocent and under the threat of the robot. The cover illustrates the identification of the robot as an enemy, and subsequently the fear of this enemy.

Destroying the Robot Menace

Cover, Active Comics No. 15, January 1944, Bell Features Publishing.
Dingle, Adrian. Cover, Active Comics No. 15, January 1944, Bell Features Publishing. 

There is no denying a rhetorical trend in newspapers describing Axis powers as being robotic, mechanized, thoughtless, and incredibly vulnerable to external influence and control. In “King Fury and the Robot Menace,” the German agents are often being commanded. For starters, it appears as though they are on a mission to steal the robot to bring back to Germany, commanded by an authoritative figure. When in possession of the remote control, the German agent states, “It’s as if I were the robot itself” (24). Ultimately, this quote suggests a mirroring between the German agent and the robot, that is only reinforced by the reverse shot sequence of the Nazi attacking Tonee, and the robot attacking King Fury, both of them striking the other in the head (26). In this way, the robot and the German operate as one in the same. The comic creates these parallels yet again in the second last panel, when King Fury tells Tonee, “If the Nazis ever build up an army of those robots our boys would have no chance against them… somehow with my strength and God’s help, I’ll destroy the robot menace” (28). Language plays a key role here, as the comic features the heroic character King Fury, who “Utilizes his great strength to help destroy the axis dictators,” and “Pits his strength and wits against the robot menace” (22). The term “menace” used to describe the robot directly implies a negative connotation, whereas the terms “King,” “strengths” and “wits” used to describe King Fury attribute his man power to goodness, identifying King Fury as the hero. Moreover, when one of the German agents says “Dis vill be a great day for the Reich,” (in reference to the Third Reich) on the plane, the text only reaffirms the rhetoric that these men are under the control of a leader and carrying out an instructed task. 

Spot the Robots 

"Even Under This Friendly Roof There May Be Enemy Ears." Wartime Security Poster, 1939 - 1945. Canadian War Museum.
“Even Under This Friendly Roof There May Be Enemy Ears.” Wartime Security Poster, 1939 – 1945. Canadian War Museum.

Seeing as the comic establishes the robot as an enemy that the protagonists fear, it is also important to note the preventative measures the comic is advocating for in resistance of these enemies, and how this is a reflection of World War II government propaganda. Comics were often directly marketed to children due to their cheap price, accessible narratives, adventure and sense of escapism (Babic 14). Many of the messages found in the comics directly correlated with the roles children had in society during that time. When the war started, new responsibilities were given to children as their parents either entered the workforce or left to fight overseas (Cook 1). Children were considered involved in the war effort, with posters around schools encouraging children to be on the lookout for spies and to avoid spilling any information or talk that would help the enemy (Cook 1). Spy work as an activity is exemplified on page 11 of Active Comics: No. 15, as the page features a competition titled, “How Many Robots can you Find on the Cover” (11). The competition asks readers to tear off the cover of the comic and circle all of the robots that they can find, looking at every “figure, tree, rock, boat, gun, etc” (11). The page illustrates the activity of being on the lookout for robots, as they may be hiding. Seeing as the robots are portrayed in a negative light throughout the entirety of the comic, the activity speaks to being perceptive and on the lookout for the enemy. The responsibility that is being put on the reader in this comic is exemplified in much of the propaganda regarding security during World War II in Canada. As demonstrated in the “Wartime Security” poster, there was a climate of fear built on the notion that the Germans were constantly listening, stating that enemy ears could be everywhere. Thus, propaganda instructed individuals to look beneath the surface, look out for enemies, and to police themselves in order to ensure national security. The comic does this in the form of  a competition, but it is nevertheless the same idea of surveying others due to a fear that has been ingrained in the individual based on the idea that the enemies can be anywhere. 


The portrayal of the robots within the issue relates to the narratives that dominated government propaganda and newspapers at the time, tying into a much larger representation of the axis powers within the media. Just on the cover, the issue establishes the threat, featuring a woman being defeated by a robot, surrounded by rubble. The portrayal of the robot in “King Fury and the Robot Menace” as being entirely susceptible to control and whose sole purpose is as an object controlled to achieve a means to an end calls to mind the discourse of the time comparing the Germans and Japanese as being controlled by an evil leader, machine like in their actions. Robots as machine like and in the possession of the enemy can also be viewed as a symbol for the robot bombs during World War II and the climate of fear perpetuated by these pilotless bombs, used heavily by the Germans. Overall, the use of robots in Active Comics: No. 15 establishes the enemy as a looming threat, challenging the reader to search for the robots just as children and adults were told to survey those around them. The activity page, when combined with the portrayal of robots throughout the issue, suggests that the enemy was using unassuming vessels to perform dangerous tasks, that could be found everywhere and anywhere, successfully heightening the public’s paranoia towards them.

Works Cited

Axelsson, George. “Human Robots.” Globe and Mail, 13 November 1944.  Democracy at War:  Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, Canadian War Museum.

Babic, Annessa Ann.  Comics as History, Comics as Literature : Roles of the Comic Book in Scholarship, Society, and Entertainment, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2014. ProQuest, doi: 978-1-61147-557-9.

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. 8 July 2015.

Cook, Tim. “Canadian Children and the Second World War.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. 12 April 2016. wwii.

Cheng, Ching-Ching, Kuo-Hung Huang, and Siang-Mei Huang. “Exploring Young Children’s Images on Robots.” Advances in Mechanical Engineering, vol. 9, no. 4, 2017. ProQuest, doi: 10.1177/1687814017698663.

Dingle, Adrian, et al. Active Comics: No. 15. Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

“Even Under This Friendly Roof There May Be Enemy Ears.” Canadian War Museum. 1939 – 1945,

“Knights on Winged Steeds.” Globe and Mail, 22 August 1940. Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, Canadian War Museum.

“Menace of the Robot Bomb.” Globe and Mail, 31 July 1944. Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, Canadian War Museum.

Nguyen, Linda. “Artist Part of the Golden Age of Canadian Comic Books; Helped to Create this Country’s Superheroes After WWII, Designed Graphics, Logos for Products.” Toronto Star, 2006. ProQuest, 439026882?pq-origsite=summon.

“Nothing to Fear From Jap Entrey; Men But Robots.” Hamilton Spectator, 11 December 1941. Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, Canadian War Museum.

Rhee, Jennifer. “Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema, and the Cultural Work of Artificial People by Despina Kakoudaki (Review).” Science Fiction Film and Television, vol. 10, no. 3, 2017, pp. 407-412. Project MUSE, 674425.

Images in this online exhibition 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.

Asian Allies in World War II Commando Comics #14

Chinese ally
Captain Frank Hillary. Darian, Jon “Clift Steele and the Mystery of Magon” Commando Comics No.14, p.5. Bell Features 1944.

© Copyright 2018 Whitney Rahardja, Ryerson University

World War II was a victorious era for North America, with their triumph over Germany and Japan. Canada and the U.S benefited their victory from notable allies, mainly the U.K, Soviet Union and France. One of these allies included China. War comics portrayed the Chinese as allies to the West (U.S and Canada), as illustrated in “Clift Steele and the Mystery of Magon” in the 14th issue of Commando Comics, where a soldier code-named Captain Frank Hillary was sent into the Japanese camps as a spy, with the objective of unraveling their heinous plans and military secrets (Darian 5).

Though not directly mentioned in the comic, Hillary’s Asiatic features confirmed that he was in fact, a Chinese ally. Both China and the West shared Japan as their common opposition, therefore they co-operated as allies in defeating Japan, as recorded in World War II history. This exhibit explores the relationship between China and the West as allies, focusing on the role of the Chinese as sidekicks, which resulted in a victorious glory for both nations.
In the 1940’s, comics reflected hope for a better future after the war, where enemies were defeated by North American heroes like the beautiful and mighty Nelvana, the clueless yet lucky Loop the Droop, and the youthful symbol of hope, Captain Marvel Junior. In some of these comics, it is suggested that the heroes had assistance from Asian allies.

First, the depiction of Asian characters in World War II comics will be examined. Aside from their mutual physical attributes of caricatured eyes and high cheekbones, unlike the Japanese, Chinese characters are illustrated as courageous, full of leadership and ambition (Goodnow and Kimble 58). These courageous Chinese are also drawn in comics that featured the American air force team known as The Flying Tigers. Historically, the Flying Tigers were an American based Volunteer Group (AVG) of fighter pilots founded in 1941, because Chinese fighter pilots were incapable of being trained to prevent Japanese forces from entering through Western China, and into Burma (Troha 85). This showed early co-operation and partnership between America and China.

So why can’t the Chinese be the heroes? Goodnow and Kimble stated that, “The Flying Tigers story lines had established the Chinese as a kind of contemptible and erratic sidekick, not a fellow hero” (63). This could be for a variety of reasons, such as the fact that China did not have advanced aircraft technology and training, which prevented them from defeating the Japanese on their own. China was, however, a large nation with sufficient military. Combined with the U.S and Canadian army, China became a powerhouse in driving the Japanese out of their country.

This cultural stereotype of the Chinese being bound by their feudal tradition dates back to the political relationship between China and the U.S in 1944, where the Chinese government experienced internal turmoil between the Nationalists and Communists, making them unstable in planning their defense against Japan. American aid came when U.S Army Commander, General Albert C. Wedemeyer used his strategic reasoning and tactful approach to integrate himself with the Chinese Nationalists. Wedemeyer was able to identify the weaknesses and lack of coordination within the Chinese government that made them vulnerable to Japan’s attacks (Wang 238). At this stage, the Japanese had begun their notorious Ichigo Operation in April 1944, which has taken over most of Central China. When Wedemeyer realized that China was falling further under Japanese control, he made it a priority to drive Japanese forces out of China. In terms of war strategy, Wedemeyer ensured his tactics were compatible with those of Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-Shek, with whom Wedemeyer cooperated well with (238).

Going back to the comic series, how is it acceptable for Asians to remain as sidekicks, and not as equals with the West? Despite the physically unattractive, grammatically incorrect depiction of Asian characters in comics, there is evidence to suggest that the Chinese had a more significant role in the war. Aside from serving as allies, the Chinese also benefited from the West, which has allowed them to experience modernism, economic growth and global empowerment.

Asians in Contemporary Films

Sino-Japanese War 1938
Willem Dafoe and Luo Yan in Pavilion of Women. Dir. Ho Yim. Universal Studios 2001. Image retrieved from eBid on 20 November 2018.

An issue from Critical Arts journal introduces a new era of Chinese and Western collaborated movies in which, unlike in the comics, Chinese characters are pictured as decently cut, well-dressed and attractive individuals who speak correct English with only a hint of their native tongue. Set during the 1938 Japanese invasion, the film Pavilion of Women defies all stereotypes of Asian women being sexual objects for Western men’s desire, and Asian men as mere sidekicks (Yang 249). Here, the marriage-oppressed, Chinese female lead of Madame Wu is “led to the ‘correct’ track of freedom and liberty” by the male character of Andre (251), who is an American missionary-doctor, while still maintaining her independence and ability to make a decision that liberates her household from the chains of feudalism. This differs greatly from most Asian movies that are solely created for Western audiences, where the female Asian protagonist does not do much other than falling in love and being rescued by her “white male saviour”. Though this does not contribute directly to the argument of Asians as loyal allies, it does show early co-operation and a positive relationship between China and the West in a World War II setting.

What can be derived from the above points? First, it’s an undeniable fact that the role of Asians in comics and films cannot exceed the heroic roles of Western characters. From World War II, it had been a clear fact that the Chinese needed help from the West; therefore the Flying Tigers air force was formed. Even the late Chinese Nationalist, Chiang Kai-Shek stated his disappointment in the West’s view of China as only needing aid (Wang 244). But is this really a bad thing? The answer is no. For there are many factors influencing the Chinese governance that made it difficult for them to achieve victory. One is their strict influence of Confucian teaching (Wang 246), which puts values in social order and limits of individuality, and is greatly implemented in their military strategies. For this reason, Western influence became crucial in modifying those traditional, feudal strategies into tactics that could bring victory. The West provided a ‘bridge’ that guided China toward a path that promised victory over Japan, and China returned the favour by crossing that bridge to the West as allies, forming a partnership. Similar how in Pavilion of Women, the character Madame Wu was led out of feudal oppression in the correct path by the American missionary-doctor Andre. This film not only shows racial integration between China and the U.S, but also features early feminism in Asia. In a wonderful irony, this film was released in 2001, just before China made its entry into the World Trade Organization (Yang 250).

Modern China and Japan

On a great, triumphant ending, Asian roles in comics and the battlefield is not a gesture of the West in belittling them, but is a gateway that allows Asians to showcase their courage, cleverness and heroic deeds that contributed to the victory of World War II. Integration with the West has resulted in positive outcomes for China and Japan, as both nations  have become advanced and industrialized today, each holding a powerful position in the global economy. Both China and Japan have come out of Imperialism and have become modern nations that continue to benefit from Western ideology, while maintaining the uniqueness and exoticism of their people and culture.


Works Cited

Darian, Jon “Cliff Steele and the Mystery of Magon”. Commando Comics No.14, pp.1-6.
Bell Features Canada, 1944.

Goodnow, Trischa, and James J. Kimble. The 10 Cent War: Comic Books, Propaganda,
and World War II. University Press of Mississippi, 2016.

Troha, Anthony L. “Historical Note on the ‘Flying Tigers’. “ Physics Today, vol. 55,
no. 7, 2002, pp. 84-85. Ryerson University Library & Archives. Accessed 10
November 2018 from https://physicstoday-scitation-

Wang, Peter C. “Revisiting US-China Wartime Relations: A study of Wedemeyer’s
China Mission”. Journal of Contemporary China, vol.18, no. 59, 2009, pp. 233-
247. Ryerson University Library & Archives. Accessed 20 October 2018 from

Yang, Jing. “The Reinvention of Hollywood’s Classic White Saviour Tale in
Contemporary Chinese Cinema: Pavilion of Women and the Flowers of War”.
Critical Arts, vol. 28, no. 2, 2014, pp. 247. Ryerson University Library &
Archives. Accessed 20 October 2018 from https://journals-scholarsportal-


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

Violence Against Women in Active Comics No.9


Copyright © 2018 Anjali Jaikarran, Ryerson University


Women are multi-faceted individuals who play many roles and undergo an abundance of experiences, however, society, on many occasions tends to delegate them to roles and experiences far beneath them. In the ninth issue of  The Active Comics (1943), two particular comics portray women being subjected to violence at the hands of another. In ‘The Brain: The Scarlet Zombie’, the villain threatens to strangle a female character if she does not relinquish information the villain believes she has. He follows through with his threat, wrapping his hands around her throat as the woman is paralyzed with fear (Bachle 24). Earlier, within the same comic, the villain’s monstrous creation, the Scarlet Zombie is seen

M, Harn. Panel from “Thunderfist.”
Active Comics, No. 9, January 1943, p. 58. Bell Features Collection,
Library and Archives Canada.

roughly grabbing the woman and tossing her across the room (22). In ‘Thunderfist’, another superhero comic, the hero’s love interest is taken captive by a Japanese spy when she attempts to follow up on a lead for a story she is pursuing. The villain binds her to a chair with rope to keep her from escaping so that he may use her as leverage (Harn 58). Examples from the reality surrounding women’s contributions and tribulations during WWII will be drawn on to shed light on the discrepancy between reality and the portrayals of women in the comics as a reflection of the value of women in Canadian society during the 1940s.

Women’s Contributions During the War

        The Second World War focuses on fearless soldiers laying down their lives on European soil for their country. Men are immortalized in history for their contributions, while the women are overshadowed by their counterparts. On the homefront, women inhabited every occupation possible to provide aid during the war. Stanley Hawes’ film, Homefront (1944), a propaganda film intended  to boost morale and incite patriotism, depicts women taking part in hospitality endeavours: anywhere from running canteens for weary soldiers to forefronting blood transfusions in the medical field as nurses. These women are said to be  ‘the living link between home and the inferno’ (Hawes, Stanley). In this propaganda film, women were seen as important and crucial to the war effort; without the aid of these formidable women, soldiers would not have been able to fulfill their duties to their nation. In the story, ‘Thunderfist’, the captured woman is a reporter who is following a lead on a possible story related to the war (Harn 58). Although her contribution is of a different sort than those aiding in domestic or medical affairs, her job lands her in a dangerous position as the captive of a Japanese spy. If the creators and illustrators of the comics had wanted to draw parallels alongside what was occurring within the real world, they would have created strong female heroines instead of male ones. They could have also created ones that worked alongside the male heroes as their equals. This is not the case with the female heroine in ‘Thunderfist’ as the woman is forced to wait for the male hero to come to her rescue, insinuating that she is incapable of saving herself, delegating her to a role without allowing her the chance to prove herself.

       On the front lines, women in WWII made an equally significant impact: “About 350, 000 women served in the [American] military… 14 000 were WACs, 100, 000 were WAVEs, 23, 000 were marines, 13, 000 were SPARs, 60, 000 were Army nurses, and 14, 000 were Navy nurses” (Campbell 251-253). While these numbers are not as staggering as those of men that enlisted during the war, however, it proves that women were not insignificant on the warfront. The most noteworthy reason for women choosing to enlist were “patriotic and emotional reasons” (Campbell 254). They risked their lives, left their family and friends behind to serve their country and help end a war that tore them from safety and normalcy. Propaganda was also essential in their involvement, there are many posters and films geared towards enlisting these brave and fearless women to the war front. One example is a propaganda film titled, ‘I’m the Proudest Girl in the World,’ which is a Hollywood-esque musicale that gives further insight into the duties of women during the war (Roffman, Julian). This musicale number can be seen as glamorous and whimsical, in which in the women are presented as driven, eager, and pragmatic. The discrepancy lies within the comics, where women are depicted as weak and subservient, waiting to be saved from one man (the villain) by another (the hero). In reality, women went towards the danger alongside the men as real life heroines.  Another propaganda piece is a poster titled, ‘The Spirit of Canada’s Women’, this poster depicts fierce women in uniforms whom are flagging a woman on a horse (Odell, Gordon K.).  The woman on the horse is assumedly Joan of Arc. This furthers the idea that the women portrayed alongside her are equally as strong and brave. However, in the comics, when they try to portray strength or bravery, the villains easily force them to back down, either through physical or verbal abuse; enforcing the ideal that men are the dominants while women are the submissives as a reflection of the societal views of the era. The Canadian government would have been desperate and in need of additional support if they were advertising for the enlistment of women in the war, thus, the portrayals within the propaganda film and poster are purely circumstantial as it benefited what was necessary at the time. The contributions made by women both on the home front and the front lines were influential to the war effort, the stereotypical portrayals of them in the comics do them a great disservice. Furthermore, the sexual violence they were subjected to is not only a slight against their contributions but their humanity as well.

Sexual Violence During the War

      Sexual violence against women  is known to be a consequence of war. ‘A Dictionary of Gender’ defines violence against women as:

   “‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life’. Such violence is widespread in both the public and private sphere, and may take the form of domestic violence or rape in war’” (Griffin, Gabrielle).

     Throughout the course of the war, women were subjected to sexual violence by American, Canadian, British, French, and Soviet soldiers alike. The exact amount of rapes is unknown but they could range from tens of thousands to millions, which were incited in no small part by a desire for revenge against the Germans for their assault of ‘non-Aryan’ women in the East (Matthews, Heidi). The idea itself of revenge by means of committing the same heinous acts perpetrated by the Germans gives strong insight into the value of women by men. Women, both in the comics and in the real world were merely token pieces used by men for their own convenience. In both ‘The Brain: the Scarlet Zombie’ and ‘Thunderfist’, the female characters are used by the villain for their own means. In ‘The Brain’, the woman is a source of information for the villain, when he does not get what he

L. Bachle. Panel from “The Brain: The Scarlet Zombie.”Active Comics, No. 9, January 1943, p. 24. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

desires, he throttles her in retaliation (Bachle 24). While in ‘Thunderfist’, the woman is used to both lure the superhero into the villain’s clutches but also to stop her from foiling his plans to blow up a ship harbour (Harn 58).  In a way, the women pose a threat to the villains as they need the women to commit their evildoing, but without their cooperation, the villains resort to physically assaulting the women to elevate their role as the antagonist.

    This does not justify the sexual violence experienced by women in reality, but only serves to make the depictions in the comics more problematic. In her dissertation, ‘Silenced Voices: Sexual Violence During and After World War II’, Cassidy Chiasson states:  “…sexual violence should not be brushed off as a consequence of this type of war since it is a problem with long-lasting negative effects on its victims. Sexual violence appeared in many forms during World War II, not just as rape. Mass rape was a major problem, but women also fell victim to sexual violence because of complicated situations and circumstances they were placed in.” (Chiasson 1) This conclusion makes the violence illustrated in the comics insensitive, it trivializes their suffering for the sake of creating an entertaining storyline. Statistically, psychological symptoms are more severe and frequent in victims of sexually related violence in war in comparison to non-sexual violence in war: “Results of the current study revealed that rape survivors reported greater severity of avoidance and hyperarousal symptoms compared to survivors of other war-related traumas; these symptoms are between 0.29 – 0.41 higher for victims of sexually related assaults in comparison to other war related traumas.” (Kuwert et al., 1062)  These statistics suggest that the comic creators are only mocking and devaluing the women who had become victims of sexual violence during the war. If they had any concern for women, they would have excluded it or allowed the women to save herself and exact revenge on the villain, but she remains in the clutches of the villain and her trauma until the hero rescues her.

     The article, ‘A Content-Analysis of Race, Gender, and Class in American Comics’ discusses the concept of benevolent sexism and its relation to submissive women and violence in comics: Benevolent sexism refers to delegating women to roles that are stereotypical and confining. These roles insist that the women have the protection of men. Furthermore, portrayals of violence against women has declined in comics but the ideas of benevolent sexism and the ‘damsel in distress’ still remain ( ‘A Content-Analysis of Race, Gender, and Class in American Comics’). However, this is only done in an effort to evoke a reaction from the male hero as they hold a significant relationship with him as a love interest or a friend.  In reality, circumstances forced women to learn agency and the find means to survive: untold numbers of women in the “German-occupied territories found themselves forced into survival prostitution. Due to the atrocious living conditions and strict legal regime, women and girls of all ethnicities resorted to this… They bartered sex for food, shelter, documents, and jobs,” (Jolluck 523). Thus, being in said state (at the ‘mercy’ of the villain) leaves the the female character no choice but to wait for the hero to come to save her as society typically has women in roles that do not allow them the agency to fend for themselves.

      Similarly to reality of the war, the villains are violent towards the women in both comics in an effort to elicit feelings of degradation and submission from them. Chiasson illustrates again the widespread severity of the sexual violence in WWII, “One must understand that this type of sexual brutality and dominance over women occurred on almost every side, and was not limited to one or two militaries. For example, when the Germans entered the Soviet Union, they raped, pillaged, and acted with extreme brutality,” (Chiasson 1). By degrading and hurting the women that are valued by the male heroes, the villains are exacting revenge on the heroes. This is because during the era, a woman’s value was seen in relation to the value she had to a man, and this still occurs today. Based on the values of the era, in her helpless state, the woman is at her most useful state as she elevates the status of both men. She elevates the villain when he captures her because it serves to make him more dastardly. While, when she is saved by the hero, she glorifies his heroic stature. Sexual violence is not to be trivialized as the victims suffer from severe physical and psychological trauma. The violence within the comics display a lack of concern regarding how female readers would react to it while the violence during the war occurred simultaneously; women both fighting for their country and their lives.


     The comics, ‘The Brain: The Scarlet Zombie’ and Thunderfist’ within the ninth issue of the Active Comics portray women being subjected to violence by the male villains. The female character in ‘The Brain: the Scarlet Zombie’ is physically assaulted by both the villain and his creation (Bachle 24). While, in ‘Thunderfist’, the woman is tied up to prevent her escape in the midst of doing her job as a reporter (Harn 58). These women are forced to become victims in these comics as the values of society in the era have bleed into these stories. Their contributions upheld the war yet they were undervalued and assaulted in both media depictions and real life as a result of normalization of said behaviour. In the 1940s, it is perpetuated, whether in reality or within a fictional story, a women’s value is tied to a man; based upon how she builds his masculinity. In truth, women are nothing less than the resilient, fierce, and exemplary individuals they strive to be in the face of adversity; whether it is it is in war or in everyday life.


                                                                                          Works Cited

Bachle, L. “The Brain: The Scarlet Zombie” Active Comics, no. 9, Bell Features, January, 1943, pp. 20-28. Canadian Whites Comic Collection, 19-41-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Bachle, L. Panel from “Thunderfist.” Active Comics, No. 9, January 1943, p. 58. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Campbell, D’Ann. “Servicewomen Of World War II” Armed Forces & Society, vol. 16, no. 2,     Jan. 1990, pp. 251–70. Crossref, doi:10.1177/0095327X9001600205.

Chiasson, Cassidy L. Silenced Voices: Sexual Violence During and After World War II.   University of Southern Mississippi, Aug. 2015.

Facciani, Matthew, et al. A Content-Analysis of Race, Gender, and Class in American Comic     Books. Vol. 22, no. 3/4, 2015, pp. 216–26.

Griffin, Gabriele. “Violence against Women.” A Dictonary of Gender Studies, Oxford   University Press, 2017,                                                                                                                                     

Harn, M. “Thunderfist.” Active Comics, no. 9, Bell Features, January, 1943, pp. 54-63.     Canadian Whites Comic Collection, 19-41-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections,   Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Harn, M. Panel from “The Brain: The Scarlet Zombie.”Active Comics, No. 9, January 1943, p. 24. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Hawes, Stanley. Home Front. National Film Board of Canada, 1940.,                   

Jolluck, Katherine R. “Women in the Crosshairs: Violence Against Women during the     Second World War.” Australian Journal of Politics & History, vol. 62, no. 4, Dec. 2016, pp.     514–28., doi:10.1111/ajph.12301.

Kuwert, Philipp, et al. “Long-Term Effects of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Compared   with Non-Sexual War Trauma in Female World War II Survivors: A Matched Pairs Study.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 43, no. 6, Aug. 2014, pp. 1059–64. Link-springer-, doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0272-8.

Matthews, Heidi. “Allied Soldiers — Including Canadians — Raped Thousands of German   Women after Second World War: Research.” National Post, 8 May 2018,                                        thousands-of-german-women-after-second-world-war-research.

Odell, Gordon K. The Spirit of Canada’s Women. 1942,                                                                        Canadian War Museum   Archives (online).

Roffman, Julian. ‘I’m the Proudest Girl in the World!’: A WWII Recruitment Film. 26 Feb. 1944,


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.

Strategic Japanese Misrepresentation In Media During World War II

By: Madison Trafford


Media in Canadian society during World War II largely covered the subject of war, which translated through all forms of media, including comic books. The 21st issue of Commando Comics, a comic book from the Canadian Whites collection published during World War II, displays the prominence of war-related media. Additionally, much of the content in this issue is regarding race, particularly portraying Japanese people as the antagonist of the stories. What this exhibit will discuss is that this issue 21 of Commando Comics reflects the general societal view of Japanese people as “the enemy” during World War II, as well as representing Japanese people in a negative light in order to shape public opinions of Japanese people. This reflection of society within the comic is evident through the consistent pattern of Japanese people being the antagonists of the stories, as well as the physical content in the issue portraying Japanese people in a stereotypical, offensive way, such as referring to them in derogatory terms. The importance of this is that this purposeful shaping of public opinion resulted in mistreatment and discrimination against Japanese-Canadians that would continue for decades following World War II. 

Distorted Portrayals, Derogatory Terms

This issue of Commando Comics displays the overt racism prevalent at the time it was written, through the way Japanese Characters are referred to and the stereotypical way in which they speak and act. The most prominent way this is evident in the comic is the use of the word “Japs” to refer to Japanese people. In the story “Doc Stearne”, the antagonists, which are Japanese soldiers, are referred to as “Japs” six time in the first three pages of the story(Dexter, 44-46). This excessive use of the offensive term confirms that not only is the overall tone towards the Japanese strongly negative, but also that the author of the story, Fred Kelly, did this very deliberately; It is a very strongly offensive term, and the repetition serves to emphasize this. As for the word “Japs”, it is a crude, shortened version of a word encompassing an entire race, showing direct disrespect and outright hatred for the race as a whole, through refusal to use proper terminology. This is significant, as the Canadian Whites, the group of WWII comic books in Canada, were popular and widely-read. Therefore, the messages and ideals that the stories in issue 21 of Commando Comics presented were being spread throughout Canada, cementing a very anti-Japan mentality into Canadian society. 

Another aspect of the physical comic book and its illustrations that demonstrate the same anti-Japan sentiment is that the antagonists of the stories sometimes are not explicitly identified as Japanese, but are drawn to look Asian, leading the reader to believe that these characters are also Japanese. Additionally, in the Doc Stearne story, Japanese writing characters are presented in a speech bubble above a Japanese character’s head. This is significant, as the Japanese character not speaking English creates even more of a barrier between Japanese people and the comic’s English-speaking readers, leading to misunderstanding and discrimination. The visual portrayal of antagonists as Asian in the stories and the use of a language barrier make it very clear that these characters are Japanese, and therefore the fact that the antagonists of many of the stories are Japanese further confirms the idea of Japanese people being the ultimate enemy. 

The significance of this negative portrayal of Japanese people lies in the fact that this was done deliberately in comic books in order to sway public opinion regarding Japanese people, and therefore create a country united against the enemy of Japan. In a journal article published in the Pacific Historical Review called “This is Our Enemy”, the way in which war and media are intertwined is discussed: “The comics are drumming up a lot of hate for the enemy, but usually for the wrong reasons—frequently fantastic ones (mad Jap scientists, etc.). Why not use the real reasons—they’re plenty worthy of hate!’’ (Hirsch, 54) This quote demonstrates the anti-Japan mentality that existed in the Western world during World War 2, as the speaker clearly has many reasons to hate Japan. Additionally, they are not concerned about public opinion being swayed by comic books, but encourage hate towards Japan. This supports the claim that the negative portrayal of the Japanese in comic books swayed public opinion about the race as a whole, as well as that this was done deliberately by comic book writers.

Japan: The “Enemy”

Race is a prominent theme throughout the entirety of issue 21 of Commando Comics, as the majority of the protagonists of the stories are white Canadians and most of the antagonists of the stories are either Japanese or unspecified Asian. For example, in the story “Doc Stearne”, Doc Stearne, the white male protagonist, fights a group of Japanese kamikaze corps. Most of the stories in this issue that feature  Japanese antagonists present them in a very negative and violent light. For example, in the story “Ruff and Reddy”, the antagonists, a group of presumably Japanese men are very violent, kidnapping the protagonist as well as highjacking the protagonist’s plane. (Dexter, 10-15) The presentation of Japanese people as violent and as the enemy, not only paints all Japanese people, and even all Asian people as bad people, but leads the public to believe this rhetoric and act accordingly.

  In Ann Gomer Sunahara’s book, “The Politics of Racism: The Uprooting of Japanese Canadians During The Second World War”, the effects of World War 2 on Japanese people in Canada are outlined: “[…]the events of the eight years between 1942 and 1950 left Japanese Canadians in a state of trauma that has been compared to that of a rape victim.[…] Although conscious that they were innocent victims, Japanese Canadians felt humiliated by their degrading experiences.” (Sunahara, 1) The use of the phrase “innocent victims” is significant in this quotation, as it reflects the reality of the situation during

Canada Wartime Information Board. Propaganda poster. Don’t depend on Hara-Kiri – Finish the Job. Canadian War Museum. 1945. Public Domain.

World War 2, which was that Japanese Canadians were innocent of the war crimes of the Japanese.  The negative, antagonistic way in which the Japanese are portrayed in issue 21 of Commando Comics greatly contrasts this reality. This reveals that comic book writers were deliberately using overly negative portrayals of Japanese people to negate the reality of their innocence. The distorted portrayal of Japanese people as the ultimate enemy in this comic led to massive ramifications for Japanese people in Canada at the time. 

Additionally, the image displayed in this section demonstrates the way in which media was used to cement Japanese people as the enemy, as it shows two white English Canadians standing over the body of a Japanese dragon they killed. Even in media like posters, Japanese people were deliberately being presented as the enemy that was to be destroyed. Being that this is a propaganda poster, the presentation of the Japanese as the enemy, signified by a Japanese dragon, is significant; Japanese people were deliberately displayed as the enemy in media, such as propaganda posters, in order to shape an anti-Japan sentiment throughout Canadian society.

The Ramifications 

The portrayal of Japanese people as the enemy in WWII comic book issues had lasting ramifications for Japanese Canadians for decades to come, impacting the lives of decades of Japanese Canadians. As previously discussed, the portrayal of Japanese people in issue 21 of Commando Comics is very negative, labelling them as the enemy in many stories, and this portrayal of the entire race led to the public opinion of the Japanese to become increasingly negative. The years surrounding World War 2 held a large amount of discrimination for Japanese Canadians; Japanese people were constantly being shown as awful enemies, leading society to view Japanese Canadians in the same light, which then led to incredible discrimination and mistreatment. 

In the Canadian Historical Association booklet “Ethnic Minorities During Two World Wars”, this discrimination is discussed: “The day after the destruction of Pearl Harbour, The Royal Canadian Navy confiscated 1300 fishing boats, for fear that their Japanese Canadian owners would use them to guide an invasion force[…]” (Thompson, 16) This quotation directly outlines the discrimination against Japanese Canadians due to the war crimes of the Japanese, highlighting the ingrained anti-Japan sentiment present in society during World War II. Additionally, the majority of this discrimination is a result of the public opinions of Japanese people and the need to please English Canadians, as well as calm their fears about Japanese Canadians, even if these fears are unjustified. Issue 21 of Commando Comics displays clearly the use of media to reflect public opinion in opposition of Japanese people. The significance of the large role media had on public opinion is the impact that these opinions had on Japanese Canadians. Another excerpt from the booklet “Ethnic Minorities During Two World Wars” states that “[…] Japan’s rapid series of military successes inspired a public hysteria which in turn forced the federal cabinet to implement policies of rapidly escalating severity.” (Thompson, 16) The term “public hysteria” is significant, as this shows that public opinion had a direct impact on the treatment of certain groups. 

In Commando Comics issue 21, many of the stories display the way that Japanese people are viewed in society, through the negative portrayals of Japanese people. “Ruff and Reddy” and “Doc Stearne” are not only almost always Japanese or unspecified Asian, but are also shown as violent and evil. In an excerpt from “Doc Stearne”, a woman is captured and tortured by a man, the man saying: “Sato! Throw the woman into a cell until I devise a

Fred Kelly. Page from “Doc Stearne”. Commando Comics, No. 21, 1946, p. 45. Bell Features Collection.

suitable torture to loosen her tongue.” (Dexter, 45) This page is included on the left, as this displays the clear anti-Japan sentiment present in much of the comic book. An additional story in the comic book that clearly displays the way in which the Japanese were viewed in society at the time is the story “Salty Lane”, in which a white Canadian convoy is destroyed by unspecified Asian soldiers. Not only are both of these examples presenting the Japanese, and even encompassing all Asian people in a very violent light through violent actions, but also presents the people themselves as evil.

The damaging way that comic books shaped public opinion of Japanese people, through the generalization of Japanese people as evil and the violent acts they commit, directly affected the way that Japanese Canadians in society as a whole were treated. This is also displayed directly by the included page, as it shows the strong anti-Japan sentiment present in society. The damaging effects of the discrimination against Japanese Canadians, like the confiscation of Japanese Canadian property, are therefore a lasting result of World War II comic portrayals of the Japanese.


Throughout issue 21 of Commando Comics, Japanese characters are presented in a stereotypical and offensive light, through the use of derogatory terms like “Japs”, and the Japanese characters are almost always the enemy in the stories. This clear distortion of Japanese people as a whole had a direct impact on public attitude towards the Japanese in Canada, shown through the fact that public hysteria directly led to the mistreatment of Japanese Canadians. The portrayal of Japanese people in this comic book was not only deliberately used by comic book writers to shape public opinion, but it therefore also shaped the way in which Japanese people were subsequently treated, revealing the extent of power comic books have over society. 


Works Cited

Aslin, H. Don’t Depend on Hara-Kiri – Get The Job Done! 1946, Canadian War Museum,

Hirsch, Paul. “‘This Is Our Enemy’: The Writers’ War Board and Representations of Race in Comic Books, 1942-1945.” Pacific Historical Review, vol. 83, no. 3, Aug. 2014, pp. 448– 86. JSTOR, doi:10.1525/phr.2014.83.3.448.

Kelly, Fred. Commando Comics, No. 21, 1946. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Kelly, Fred (a). “Doc Stearne”. Commando Comics, no. 21, 1946, pp. 44-50. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Sunahara, Ann Gomer. The Politics of Racism: the Uprooting of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. Lorimer, 1981.

Thompson, John Herd. Ethnic Minorities During Two World Wars. Canadian Historical Association, 1991.


Images in this online exhibition 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.

Females as Supportive Sidekicks to the Male Protagonists in Active Comics No. 14

© Copyright 2018 Sarah Morris, Ryerson University


The 1940s not only brought on the devastation that was the Second World War, but also helped with the advancements and changing roles of Canadian women. The Second World War, being larger than that of the First World War meant that Canadian women had to step up to replace the countless men that had to head overseas as soldiers. Women all over Canada were moving into the everyday and militaristic workforce (Yesil 103). Women had become much more prominent in society, and this is what began to be seen in the female characters of Canadian comics. The fourteenth issue of Active Comics, released under Bell Features, in Toronto, Canada, during 1943 is where these prominent female characters are seen. There are four specific comics from the fourteenth issue that are significant to the research of supportive female characters being “Capt. Red Thortan”, “Thunderfist”, “King of Fury”, and “Active Jim”. The female characters that play big roles in these comics are “Missy Howath”, “Dave’s unnamed sister”, “Tanya”, and “Joan Brian”, respectively. Each of these female characters play important roles in their comics when it comes to helping the male protagonists fulfilling their heroic duties. It is these supportive female characters that then aid the research topic of why female characters were so commonly depicted as supportive sidekicks to the male protagonists (heroes) in the fourteenth issue of Active Comics.

Having a better understanding as to why these female characters were shown as supportive sidekicks can reveal how the real women of Canada were being perceived in media and everyday life. The perception of women during the early and mid-20th century is complicated as there was advancements, but also disadvantages. Women were being seen as strong and independent during the war, but they were also only being shown as the supporters. It was the male soldiers who were being seen as the heroes of the war, while the women were there to aid them. The female characters in Active Comics represent this contrast of being seen as independent, and as only sidekicks. These more supportive and helpful roles that the female sidekicks play can be linked back to the Canadian Women’s Army Corps during the Second World War, the changing roles of women from the 1930s to the Second World War, and even the strong influence of the popular Nancy Drew novel series.

The CWAC and “King of Fury”

The female sidekick in “King of Fury”, Tanya, is a perfect example of the real Canadian women who held positions in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) (Dundas, Durflinger). Tanya, who works with the Nazis, has a higher ranked position than some of her male counterparts. When Tanya asks to be let inside the prison cell of one of the male protagonists, the Nazi soldier allows her in, although the soldier is reluctant, as explained by the narrator, he cannot say no to her (Lipas 29). Like Tanya, many Canadian women also held high positions in militaristic jobs. Mary Dover was the second highest ranked women in the Canadian forces, and was well respected by both men and women (Thrift 10). Tanya and Mary Dover  are similar through their high ranked positions, and their support for the men in their lives. It is understandable to see a woman in Canadian comics with such a high ranked position, when many women in Canada were the same.

A photograph of Mary Dover in uniform taken in 1942.
“Mary Dover (1905 to 1994)”. Alberta Champions, 1942. Champions/mary-dover-1905-1944/.

The support that Tanya provides for the male protagonist can also be linked back to the women of the CWAC. As Mary Dover once stated:

“As men are needed to take their place in the field of battle, so the women are needed in theirs behind the lines…” (Thrift 9).

The women of the CWAC and Tanya are all supporters, and would explain why, despite having higher positions, are still only the sidekicks to the male protagonists. Mary Dover was known to say that once the war was over, the women would leave their positions, and go back to their household duties (Thrift 7). This is comparable to when Tanya is injured by Nazi gunfire, and the male protagonist must bring her to safety. in the end, the women of the CWAC will go back to their household duties and Tanya will be saved by the male heroes. The women of the CWAC and Tanya of “King of Fury”, although independent women with high ranked jobs, are still only the sidekicks to the heroes. Seeing the female character as a sidekick to the male hero is not only seen in “King of Fury”, but also “Capt. Red Thortan” with Missy Howath.

Changing Roles of Women and “Capt. Red Thortan”

Over the course of the Second World War, the roles of women went through a drastic change (Yesil 103). Women began working in predominantly male based professions, like factory work, as men took their place as soldiers for the ongoing war. The changing of Canadian women’s roles can be seen in the abundant amounts of Canadian war propaganda, which urged women to join the working force. The changing of female roles is also depicted in Canadian comics, with many female characters playing supporting roles for the male protagonists.

Canadian propaganda poster from 1943 titled "ATTACK ON ALL FRONTS".
Rogers, Mr. Reginald Hubert. “WARTIME PRODUCTION POSTER, ATTACK ON ALL FRONTS”. Canadian War Museum, 19730004-030, Wartime Information Board, 1943. https://www.

The comic “Capt. Red Thortan” shows this supportive female role through the character Missy Howath. The Japanese, who have captured Howath and Red (the male protagonist), say that Howath is a very wealthy Dutch woman. It is later revealed that Missy Howath must be in a position of power or has slight influence as an unnamed Indigenous man frees the male protagonist, Red, so they can go and help Howath. It is Missy Howath’s unknown influence (as of issue fourteen of Active Comics) that frees the male protagonist from captivity, leading to her own liberation. However, Missy Howath’s character, despite her power, still conforms to the early 20th century’s idea of “stereotypical femininity” (Hall, Lopez-Gydosh, Orzada 234). After she is saved, Missy praises Red for saving her, as if Red’s escape from captivity was of his own doing. Although Missy Howath enabled Red’s escape from prison, she is still merely portrayed as the supporter, while Red is shown as the hero. The roles of supporter and hero were also being seen in the real world with Canadian women and men. Even though Canadian women were stepping up to take on the previous jobs of the men, they were still only the supporters to the ‘real’ heroes of the Second World War, the male soldiers. However, these changing roles of Canadian women were not the only things influencing Canadian comics as other aspects of the entertainment industry were as well.

Nancy Drew’s Influence in “Thunderfist” and “Active Jim”

The Nancy Drew novels were a series that, after first coming out in 1930, became immensely popular with children and young adults (Boesky 189). Nancy Drew was an iconic heroine character, known for her independence and brilliant detective skills (Cornelius). These traits are also present in the female characters of Canadian comic books, such as “Thunderfist” and “Active Jim”. Both these comics include female characters who aid the male protagonists of the story with their detective skills. Dave’s unnamed sister in “Thunderfist” is the one to inform Thunderfist (the male protagonist) about the gangster’s plot to steal money, and possibly murder her brother. If it was not for the information that Dave’s sister presented, then Thunderfist would never have known about the dire situation.

A scene with Active Jim and Joan Brian from the comic "Active Jim".
Dariam. “Active Jim”. Active Comics, no. 14, 1943, pp. 53-56, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1943, Toronto. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Nancy Drew’s influence is even more prominent in the character Joan Brian from the comic “Active Jim”. In “Active Jim”, Joan and Jim overhear important gossip from some girls in their university. At Jim’s request, Joan quickly enters the girl’s conversation, and acquires the details that they need to continue on with their mission of stopping the Nazi supporters. Joan Brian is very similar to Nancy Drew in the fact that her role is to infiltrate and obtain information that will aid her in her missions (with Jim). The only difference with the female characters in comics, compared to Nancy Drew is that they are not the heroines in the story. These female comic characters have more realistic standings with the real women of Canada as they were both the supporters of the men. The women were the sidekicks, and not the ‘heroes’ of the war, as that went to the male soldiers. However, this does not mean that women were not treated fairly, compared to their male counterparts. The truth of how women were seen during the Second World War is not as obvious as many would like to think.

The Complicated Roles of Women

It is almost impossible to know exactly how women, as a collective, were treated during the Second World War as it is unfair to ultimately decide that all women were either treated as lesser or as equals to men. It is better to assume that the roles and treatment of women were improving, but with the prolonged presence of some misogynistic aspects. When analyzing the roles that the female characters in Active Comics played, they can be seen as both independent women and stereotypical “damsels in distress”. Characters like Tanya and Missy Howath despite possessing higher positions of power, still are saved by the male protagonists. Tanya is described as a “burden” (Lipas 31) that the male protagonist has to carry to safety, while Missy Howath throws herself into Red’s arms when he saves her. Both women are the reason that the male protagonists are able to escape, yet it is the males who are shown as the heroes of the comics. It is the same with the characters of Joan Brian, and Dave’s unnamed sister, who are influenced by Nancy Drew, despite not being the heroines of the story, like Nancy Drew is in her novels. The female sidekicks are the main reason why the male heroes are able to complete their missions, and without the women, the men would not be able to function, in both the comic world and the real world.


The common depiction of female characters as supportive sidekicks to the male protagonists in Active Comics issue fourteen is a research question that requires further investigation to fully be understood. Not being able to ask the Active Comics illustrators and writers, means that the exact intentions of the supportive female characters cannot be known. The influence of the evolving roles of Canadian women, and the Nancy Drew novel series are very likely to be the inspiration for the female characters in Canadian comics. Tanya and Missy Howath both share similarities with the improving roles of Canadian women during the Second World War. Tanya is a women of high standing in the military, as were the women of the CWAC. Missy Howath is an example of women being seen with more influencing positions, as she is someone that the Japanese are interested in. Joan Brian and Dave’s unnamed sister share detective like similarities with the popular heroine of the novel series Nancy Drew. However, these women are not fully in control of the story, as that goes to the male protagonists that they aid. Tanya is described by the narrator as being a burden to the male protagonist when he has to carry her, while Missy Howath throws herself into Red’s arm to thank him for saving her. Joan Brian and Dave’s unnamed sister, although sharing many similarities with Nancy Drew, they are not the heroines of the story, like Nancy Drew is. The female comic characters, although helpful, are merely the sidekicks to the male heroes, like how Canadian women were the supporters for the male soldiers.

Work Cited

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.

Patriotism in Active Comics no. 5/ Instilling the Canadian Identity


©Copyright 2018 @Yousef Farhang, Ryerson University


American comics were popular during WW2, and the Canadian youth immensely enjoyed reading them. However, the Canadian Whites, “due to the black and white interiors that distinguished them from the four-color American comics of the period, arose in response to the wartime importation ban on non- essential goods that removed American comic books from Canadian newsstands” (Beaty 429). These comics were used an entertainment medium for young readers, and influenced the role of youth during the war. Political messages were spread in newsletters and narratives of these comics to direct the readers into being faithful towards their country. In Active Comics no.5, the repeating theme of loyalty portrayed by Active Jim and other narratives, portrays the political aspects of the comics during the war, and how these messages were ultimately used to instill the Canadian identity into both the male and female readers. These comics advertise allegiance in their narratives, while also challenging the political issues of the war.

Themes in Comics: Loyalty

The Canadian Whites were not just a medium for entertainment. They included a variety of themes in their stories to influence the readers. Active Comics no. 5 (May 1943) is filled with stories about different superheroes who fight evil and represent the Canadian identity through their actions. In fact, Active Jim, “an athletic and clean-cut young man who serves as the spokesman and figurehead of the Club and who, from this issue on, merits a regular story in Active Comics until issue 24” is the voice of a Canadian youth during the war who advertises loyalty and how vital it is to be allegiant (Kocmarek 157). By using a character such as Active Jim, the writers not only made these comics interesting, but they also effectively included themes of loyalty which influenced patriotism to the children and adolescents who read these comic books.

As previously mentioned, the comic books were not only there for entertainment. Ann Babic, in her 2013 novel Comics as History, Comics as Literature, says “the stories within [the comic book’s] pages are more complex than a tale of a hero surpassing a villain” (Babic 15). In the Canadian White comics, there are some deliberate choices of themes in these comics. The comics bring political ideas to readers through their theme of good versus evil, which is portrayed by the superheroes and the villains. Active Comics no. 5 portrays the themes of good vs. evil by having two narratives where the hero of the story stops a villain who attempts to betray their own country. To illustrate, in the first story if Active Comics no. 5, “Dixon Of The Mounted,” Dixon, who is the protagonist of the story,

Steele, T.A. (w.a). Active
Comics. Dixon of the Mounted. No.5, May 1942, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

finds out the sheriff of the town is helping the villain of the story get away with his crimes. Similarly, in the story “The Brain,” the mayor of the city deceives everyone into thinking that he is helping the hero of the story, The Brain, save the city from Dr. Black who is a corrupted villain. However, The Brain is able to outsmart the mayor, and reveals that he was in fact Dr. Black. Aside from having racial intentions in naming a villain “Black,” which is interpreted as people of colour being evil, both of these short narratives were written to portray the themes of not only good versus evil, but also the theme of loyalty. In both stories, the villains were of high authority (sheriff and mayor) and are both breaking the law. In this way, the writers of the comics were able to show how being disloyal is being evil and it leads to not succeeding. Although the theme of loyalty is covert here, it is obvious that the plot of these stories had a message behind them and were done deliberately. To glorify loyalty and patriotism, Active Jim is a utility used by the writers of the comics to remind the audience of their duty towards their country. In fact, “Active Jim’s Monthly Message” does the same job as those two narratives. As mentioned before, in this monthly message, Active Jim praises loyalty and explains the importance of being loyal towards the “king and country” (Active Comics no. 17). This section of the comic is dedicated to a whole message about why allegiance is important. With the corrupted characters losing in every story, and the theme of loyalty and its benefits being spread in the comic, it is evident that that the repetition of this theme is vital because it is glorifying loyalty and denouncing corruptness.

Loyalty was taken seriously when it came to the Second World War. The pressure of war forced governments to do as much as they could to minimize any betrayal of loyalty. In fact, they praised loyalty through propaganda and newspapers. For example, in “French-Canadian Loyalty Demonstrated at Montreal,” a newspaper article from April 14th 1942, it is mentioned that “loyalty is, and always has been, one of the greatest qualities of French-Canadians” (“French-Canadian Loyalty Demonstrated at Montreal”). This praising of allegiance illustrates how much loyalty was important to Canada, and how conveying themes of loyalty in comics was not out of the ordinary and in fact, done deliberately.

Challenging The Norms of Political Messages

During the war, political messages were spread using many different mediums from television, radios, newspapers, and, of course, comics. While political messages that glorified Canada are easily spotted in Active Comics no. 5, political comments that are against Canada are not expressed overtly. However, when looking at both the art and the narratives of these comics, it is safe to assume the writers did have their own opinion of their government and what they thought of it. Going back to “Dixon Of the Mounted” and “The Brain,” these two stories do have messages that challenge the corruptness of the government of Canada itself. For instance, Dr. Black, who ends up being the mayor, wears a hat that has the British flag on it. This hat is very hard to see in the comic because it is shaded extremely dark. However, when looked closely, it is obvious that the hat does have the

L, Bachle. Panel from “The Brain”Active Comics, No. 5, May 1942, p. 18. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

British flag on it. The hat is significant because the artists of the comics were pointing fingers at the people in authority who ran the government (Dr. Black does after all end up being the mayor) and questioning their faithfulness towards their country. Similarly, in “Dixon of the Mounted,” it is the sheriff who is corrupted, even though it could have been anyone else in the story. Also, the sheriff being corrupt is only mentioned towards the end of the story, and they did not put much focus on that part; the writers did not challenge these norms by being blatantly obvious. This is vital because it shows how furtive the writers must have been to share their own unpopular and unwanted (by the government) opinion. This could have been because they knew what the government wanted the audience to take away from the comics, and that was to become more loyal towards their country instead of questioning if the government is corrupt or not. These issues of corruption are ways in which the writers broke thorough norms and challenged authority, while also pushing allegiance towards the readers. By doing this, the authors were able to express their own ideas through small details in the comics, while also being able to help the readers become more attached to their country and perhaps join the war for their country, since that is what their childhood heroes (the superheroes) have advertised in the comics they read.

The Male & Female Audience of The Comics

It is clear that these comics were used to push messages of loyalty to the readers and influence their ways of living during the war. However, it is vital to understand who these audiences were, and why they would be influenced by these comics. The comics “were read eagerly by the adolescents and pre-adolescents of Second World War” (Kockmarek 156). “During World War II, Canadian comics were the only option for comic book readers, [and these comics were] different from their American counterparts in their scope as well as their levels of violence and patriotism” (Reyns 15). The Canadian Whites being the only accessible comic, forced the readers to read these comics and also helped the messages these comics contained reach all the comic book fans, which were “both boys and girls” (J.L. Granatstein and F.Oliver). Knowing that both male and females read the comics, it is certain that Active Jim’s monthly message to stay loyal during the war was therefore for both the male and the female audience. It is easy to assume women did not have a role in the army, and therefore that his message most likely was not directed to the female audience of the comics. However, this is entirely false. Women were active in the war effort just as much as men, and they had many responsibilities such as “street car drivers to aircraft designers – and 1.4 million women were employed, a participation rate of almost one in three, at the wartime peak in 1945” (J.L. Granatstein and F.oliver). Understanding the role of women in connection to the comics is significant since that means the political messages of loyalty were just as much directed towards the female readers as the male readers.

Instilling The Canadian Identity

The superheroes are the characters who express loyalty towards Canada, and the evil villains are the ones described as “crooks” (Active Comics no. 5 11). The children who read these comics praised these heroes and wanted to be like them. This is why all the superheroes are men who are loyal to their countries. According to Beaty, the superheroes in these comics represent the Canadian identity (Beaty 431). With this being said, the superheroes were “not just entertaining fantasy figures” (Beaty 431), and indeed they played a much higher role. The roles of heroes such as The Brain were to show what a good soldier is like and how important it is to not lose your self identity. However, having superheroes who have powers was not very productive in influencing the readers. Therefore, the comics that “were often doled out by teenage creators only a little older than” the readers themselves” (Kocmarek 157), used characters like Active Jim to leave more room for the readers to relate to the comics. Active Jim did not have any powers and was an ordinary teenager during the war. He was the perfect example of a hero who was “exciting, but not overly exciting; active in the war, but not so active as to accomplish much of significance” (Beaty 430). Including relatable characters was done deliberately to help the readers connect to the characters more which ultimately helps the influence of the heroes become much higher; if the heroes did something completely unimaginable for the readers, the young readers would not be able to put themselves in the position of the hero and therefore not relate to the Canadian identity.


The Canadian Whites have been part of the Canadian culture since the Second World War and have been a great medium to influence the children of war. These comic books were not only used as entertainment in a time of war, where Canada was having difficulties with American goods; they were also used to influence the young readers to become more patriotic towards their home country. The political messages of allegiance spread by the narratives such as “The Brain” and “Dixon of The Mounted,” as well as “Active Jim’s monthly messages,” all contributed in helping the comic writers shape the Canadian identity and influence readers to not betray their own country and even join the war to support their leaders and families.

Continue reading Patriotism in Active Comics no. 5/ Instilling the Canadian Identity

Canadian Nationalism Informed by Captain Red Thortan in Active Comics No.1

© Copyright 2018 Nicole Bernard, Ryerson University

The Second World War saw the emergence of a Canadian national identity, crafted by the actions of the government and military, and articulated through the popular literature of the era. During the war, maintaining the Canadian economy was essential, and so the government sought to prevent the diversion of Canadian funds to other nations unless absolutely necessary. The War Exchange Conservation Act was introduced to restrict luxury imports including popular fiction. This created a demand for Canadian equivalents. One form of Canadian popular fiction which emerged from the War Exchange Conservation Act was the Canadian Whites, a collection of comic books which were iconically Canadian in both their production and content. The War Exchange Conservation Act not only encouraged the investment of Canadian money in its own market, it created an opportunity for Canadian artists to showcase their talents and for Canada to take pride in the abilities of its citizens.  In this paper, I will be focusing on the character Captain Red Thortan from A. Cooper’s “Capt. Red Thortan” featured in Active Comics No. 1 published in 1942. Captain Red Thortan reveals the inherent hypocrisy of Canadian society by representing the emerging Canadian nationalism of the Second World war despite the transgressive reality of racist, anti-democratic, and discriminatory practices in Canada.

The Canadian War Hero in Comics: Captain Red Thortan

Captain Red Thortan in search of his captured companion, Lieutenant Harley, in the Malayas.
A. Cooper. “Capt. Red Thortan” Active Comics, No. 1, p. 34

The protagonist and namesake of the “Capt. Red Thortan” comics is an iconic Canadian hero, reflecting inherent cultural assumptions regarding who merits idolization based on gender, race, loyalties, language, and ethics. Captain Red Thortan is depicted as an Anglo-Saxon male in the military. He also presents Canada’s loyalty to Britain by protecting the British Malayas from Japanese invaders and saving a British unit from impending harm (Cooper 32). Captain Red Thortan speaks exclusively in English, reflecting British tradition as well as a discontent with alterity. This appeals to the majority of the Canadian population and the narrative of Anglo-Saxon superiority. The democratic ethics of Captain Red Thortan, along with the public’s desire to eradicate all anti-democratic people, makes the discrimination against those who do not conform to the ideals of the Anglo-Saxon Canadian evident. The Canadian war hero, as embodied in Captain Red Thortan, is qualified through masculinity, Anglo-Saxon heritage, loyalty to Britain, English language, and democratic values.

WWII and Canada’s Emerging National Identity

World War II was a milestone for Canadian identity as it was the first war in which Canada acted independently of Britain. Historically, Canada had loyalties to Britain as a member of the British Commonwealth alongside nations such as India, Australia, and the Malayas. Canada officially declared war on Germany one week after Britain, showcasing its independence while still maintaining loyalty to Britain out of respect rather than obligation.

Canada maintained this relationship through military actions, allying itself with Britain first and foremost. Canada hosted British children in the homes and schools of Canadian families in 1940. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan also instated air training schools and ancillary units in rural Canadian communities (The Canadian Encyclopedia). The formal cessation of Canada’s obligation to serve Britain allowed for the emergence of an innovative and modern national identity. Canada gained the ability to declare independent values and standards.

Gatekeeping in the Military: Who are Canada’s Heroes?

In 1939, Prime Minister Mackenzie King inquired as to Canadian popular opinion and due to French-Canadian dissent, chose that enlistment would be voluntary. However, within a year, under pressure of societal demands, he rescinded his promise and instituted conscription across the nation (The Canadian War Museum). The process of conscription began with the distribution of the national registration: a series of questions which were to be used to determine which individuals were eligible to serve and their skills.

Military service has a psychological association with national loyalty and rights to citizenship: “Being prepared to die and to kill on behalf of the nation continues to be an ideological cornerstone of national belonging and a sound qualification for the material benefits of democratic citizenship” (Ware 321). The social value ascribed to those who serve in the military contributes to the concept of the national hero. The Canadian government’s selective choice in who among its citizens could serve in the military undermined the status of certain minority ethnic groups within Canadian society. This gatekeeping was an underlying principle of the national registration and the ensuing conscription for service: “[M]obilization officials charged with the calling up of men into the Armed Forces were instructed to classify men identified as Negros within their internal documents, ‘along with the Chinese, Japanese etc., as “not acceptable for non-medical reasons” (Department of Labour 1943a, n.p.)’ (Thompson 710)”. The explicit exclusion of certain ethnic groups from serving in the military is an injustice that isolates such groups from being included in the concept of Canadiana.

The racist exclusion of these groups from military service subjected them to additional discrimination as even Canadians who served at on the homefront were disdained and deemed “zombies”: lacking human decency, subhuman beings (The Canadian Encyclopedia). Serving in the army was viewed by the majority as an act of duty and valour, and being willing to sacrifice one’s life to defend democracy overseas was regarded as the greatest of such acts.

Questioning Canadian Democracy

In “Captain Red Thortan”, the Axis nations of the Second World War are referred to as “the enemies of democracy” (Cooper 18). This mentality of the war as a defense of political beliefs rather than a war between countries juxtaposes the Allied countries and the Axis countries, distinguishing a disdain for the alterity of non-democratic nations. However, this implies that in order to be a member of the Allied nations, a nation would need to be democratic. This implicit requirement demands the questioning of Canadian democracy.

In 1939, the Provincial Elections Act prevented Chinese, Japanese, Hindus, and Indians from voting in British Columbia. That same year, women were deemed eligible to vote in Quebec. The isolation of certain minority groups from their right to vote in British Columbia were repealed in 1947. It did not extend to all groups but it was a conscious start to right the wrongs done in the name of national interest: “This discovery of prejudice and discrimination, and the steps taken to safeguard human rights, were remarkable in a country where discriminatory practices remained largely unchallenged until the war (Patrias and Frager 1).” Discrimination had been an implicit subtext within the narrative of Canadian national identity. Canada is, after all, a nation formed by frontier men, who took advantage of the groups native to the region for personal profit. The repeal of 1947 still prevented Japanese and Aboriginals from voting and certain other groups lost their right to vote without performing military service. The voting rights for all racial groups within the body of Canada was not completely restored until 1960 (The Canadian Human Rights Commission).

Canada’s choice to legally remove voting capabilities from certain members of its body specifically violates the concept of democracy. Therefore, Canada was an anti-democratic nation defending democracy abroad when it was absent within the confines of the country itself. This hypocritical judgement of minority groups emphasizes the narrative of Canadian policy makers and of the sole group which possessed complete inalienable rights: English-speaking Anglo-Saxon males. Their loyalty to their nation was not subject to questioning due to race or heritage. In fact, popular media praised the Anglo-Saxons, in a fashion similar to the white-superiority narrative propagated by the Nazi party:

” [Watson Kirkconnell] was a leading member of the Nationalities Branch and author of the Bureau of Public Information’s most important propaganda effort to promote national unity [. . .] proclaimed that ‘ [. . .] The Anglo-Saxons, who have displayed the greatest political genius of any age or people, have bequeathed to Canada the master-principle of responsible government and federalism.’ (Patrias and Frager 6)”

The implications of these racial biases is that there was one concept of a true Canadian, which was a descendant of Britain, maintaining British values.

The Treatment of Enemy Aliens in Canada

Japanese internees preparing to board a train from Slocan City, B.C. where they were relocated.
Photographer unknown, taken in 1946.

During World War Two, tensions were high and, out of fear, Canada turned inwards likening race and heritage to political position in the war. Due to the Axis powers’ fighting in opposition to Canada in the war, discrimination against Germans, Italians, and Japanese was prevalent. The most extreme and most documented of these cases of discrimination is against Japanese:  

“Canadians of Japanese descent were actively harassed after Canada went to war with Japan in December 1941. [. . .] 23,000 Japanese Canadians who were viewed as threats to Canada’s security [were] moved by the government from their homes on the British Columbia coast to communities and camps in the interior (The Canadian Encyclopedia).”

While not explicitly violent, this segregation creates a national divide within Canada, reinforcing prejudices against alterity.

Enemy alien groups in Canada were subject to frequent questioning of their loyalties. In order to assess these loyalties, individuals were tested and then were treated in a method corresponding to their attitudes:

” Ultimately, enemy alien individuals were allocated to one of three categories. First, those determined to be un-Canadian were relegated to internment camps across the country. Second, those who were found to be participating in Canadian society but were not above suspicion were to be kept under police surveillance as part of a parole system. Finally, those who had proven their importance to Canadian society were to be granted Certificates of Exemption, marking these individuals as exempt from nearly all of the government’s legal exclusionary policies targeting enemy aliens (Thompson 711).”

Even though one could possibly obtain a Certificate of Exemption, all groups who visually conform to the image of an enemy alien individual were subject to question and to prejudices based on the government narrative of these individuals as suspicious.

Jim Crow Law and the Treatment of African-Canadians

African Canadians also experienced discrimination in Canada during the Second World War. While slavery had been abolished for a long duration, African Canadians still were not treated fairly due to the Jim Crow Laws. These laws enabled individuals and businesses to refuse to serve African Canadians on the grounds of racial difference. This discrimination was not forgotten during the war:

” African Canadians were acutely aware of the glaring injustice of the government using slogans like ‘Canadians all’ to urge them to make sacrifices in the fight for freedom overseas while permitting fellow Canadians to deny them jobs, housing, and even service in restaurants and bars at home because of the colour of their skin (Patrias and Frager 8).”

This exemplifies the disparity between Canada’s desire for the participation of previous civilians in the war through conscription with its racist dialogue against the right of minority members of its ranks to merit citizenship.

The Importance of the Image of the Canadian Military Hero

Characters like Captain Red Thortan were important in Canadian society during the Second World War. He was a role model for the youth who were the readers of Active Comics. In wartime especially, it is important for children to have a strong role model encouraging the traits of strength, valour, and loyalty which are commonly ascribed to the masculine. The choice for the embodiment of Canadiana to be an English speaking Anglo-Saxon male is a reflection of the sociopolitical climate of World War Two Canada. The lack of representation of minority groups in literary positions of power and influence is a direct product of the racist rhetoric which was then prevalent. Yet, the White image of a Canadian Military hero is problematic due to the social theories of Anglo-Saxon supremacy that were accepted during the Second World War. Canada’s explicit action in preventing certain ethnic groups from meriting citizenship mirrors the anti-democratic attitudes embraced by the Nazi regime. The character of the Canadian Military hero has historically held inherent prejudices against certain groups. It is because of this blind hypocrisy that the representation of Canadian Military heroes in popular literature such as “Capt. Red Thortan”  must continually be questioned to reveal the underlying morality of such characters.


Works Cited

Cooper, A. “Capt. Red Thortan.” Active Comics, No. 1, Commercial Signs of Canada, 1942.

Library and Archives Canada. ‘Embarkation of W.W.II Japanese Internees from Slocan City, B.C., Probably in 1946’. Library and Archives Canada, 1946,

Patrias, Carmela, and Ruth Frager. ‘“This Is Our Country, These Are Our Rights”: Minorities and the Origins of Ontario’s Human Rights Campaigns’. Canadian Historical Review, vol. 82, no. 1, 2001, pp. 1–35. Scholars Portal Journals, doi:10.3138/CHR.82.1.1.

The Canadian Encyclopedia. Canadian Children and the Second World War. Accessed 1 Oct. 2018.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission. ‘Voting Rights’. Human Rights in Canada: A Historical Perspective, Accessed 13 Nov. 2018.

The Canadian War Museum. ‘Conscription – Canada and the War’. Democracy at War, Accessed 1 Oct. 2018.

Thompson, Scott. ‘Real Canadians: Exclusion, Participation, Belonging, and Male Military Mobilization in Wartime Canada, 1939-45’. Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études Canadiennes, vol. 50, no. 3, 2016, pp. 691–726.

Ware, Vron. ‘Whiteness in the Glare of War: Soldiers, Migrants and Citizenship’. Ethnicities, vol. 10, no. 3, 2010, pp. 313–30. Scholars Portal Journals, doi:10.1177/1468796810372297.



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.

Circling the Perimeter/ Entrenching the Perspective: War Comics as Vision Machines

Copyright @Monique Tschofen

…the comparative success or failure of any given war becomes dependent on securing ocular dominance. (Mark Featherstone, 436)

…a supply of images would become the equivalent of an ammunition supply… (Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception, 1)

 Comics, as much as pornography or video games or theme park attractions, are products and producers of what Jean-Louis Comolli described as the modern “frenzy of the visible.” They are designed to make us look, and to look closely, at the same time as they supercharge that seeing. While comics studies has tended to focus on how comics are at their core story-telling media, comics readers—especially children—know that the story or its characters often matter little. Much of the pleasure of the text emerges from the way a comic frames our vision. We take delight in the comic’s lexicon of close-ups and low angles, point of view and reaction shots, and detail inserts. We are seduced by the chiseled chin, the bulging bicep, and the punch at the reverberating instant after it has hit its mark. In even the most facile comics story, moody shadows and spotlights, jagged lines and cloud-like bubbles can provide deep satisfaction to a gaze that lingers.

This paper departs from the premise that, despite its medium specificities, comics belong to a broader visualculturewhere they work alongside other practices to generate and replicate ways of seeing and produce observers. In order to understand the ideologically persuasive force of comics and their complicity in inculcating certain kinds of beliefs it is necessary to consider the comic’s construction of vison as part of a far larger set of technologically-mediated culturally-determined practices of seeing. Doing so makes it possible to connect the comic’s embeddedness in systems of representation—that is, in ideology[i]—to its participation in broader representational systems—that is, to a schema of technologies and techniques that frame a perspective of the world.

Comics and Media Studies

Despite the similarities between comics and other visual media like film or picture books, the discipline of comics studies has grown largely from the assumption that comics are unlike other visual art forms, and require medium-specific critical approaches.[i]However, the discipline’s need to delineate its own contours by asserting how comics differ from other media has been unnecessarily restrictive. In the afterword to a special issue of Critical Inquiry devoted to comics,W.J.T. Mitchell seeks to take away the protective barriers between comics studies’ and other media studies. He poses two questions: “Where do comics fit among the media, and what can the study of media tell us about comics?”[ii]

Submarine explosion
C.T. Legault (a). Active Comics. No. 1, February 1942,
Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features
Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The first part of his question about comics, where do comics fit among media, asks comics scholars to do some inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary work. To understand comics, he hints, one needs to acknowledge that media do not emerge in isolation from one another; many practices feed into and out from comics such as drawing and writing as do many technologies such as newspapers, magazines, and pulp publications.[iii]Mitchell would caution against a reductive, linear understanding of media history in which each medium would be seen to remediate the one that came before it.

The second part of Mitchell’s question, “what can the study of media tell us about comics?” (255),  hints that the kinds of questions that other disciplines ask can be productively imported into comics studies. Doing so would not condemn comics to a subordinate position within some specious hierarchy of media, as many comics scholars have suggested.[iv]Rather, one of the implications of Mitchell’s work is that understanding comics as a visual practice within a media culture,for example, would make it possible to enrichen the questions we pose about comics.

Prompted by Mitchell’s invitation to widen the optic of comics studies, we should therefore not only ask what comics are and what modes of engagement they demand from the viewer. Neither should we only ask about what they do when they traffic in stereotypes to transform ideology into myth and convince the masses of the rightness of systems of belief. We could use a “form sensitive analysis,” which according to Dilip Gaonkar and Elizabeth Povinelli, asks “how to engage [cultural and technological] forms as mobile vectors of cultural and social imaginaries…to foreground the social life of the form” rather than merely “reading social life off of it.”[v]

 Works cited


Images in this online exhibition 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.