Category Archives: Commando

Anti-Japanese and Germanphobic Sentiments: Perpetuating Fear and Loathing of the Enemy in Commando Comics, Issue No.15

© Copyright 2017 Hallifax, Michaela, Ryerson University



Upon first glance, the 15th edition of Commando Comics published in January of 1945 may seem like an innocent comic meant to entertain and delight Canadians during a tumultuous time during World War II. However, after further examining its propagandistic subtleties scattered throughout this issue, it becomes clear that these comics were not simply blatantly racist and nationalistic but were a result of and contributor to the anti Japanese and German-phobic ideals that were being perpetuated throughout the allied nations during WWII. By portraying certain depictions of the enemy meant to represent an entire country of people, the 15th issue of the Commando Comics helped feed into this notion that all of the Japanese and all of the German people were inherently evil and inferior, whether they were directly involved with the war or not, ultimately giving rise to racist sentiments throughout the allied nations.

It was in the early 1930’s that the comic book industry really started to gain ground as a mainstream source of media and entertainment. With the release of Action Comics No.1, which featured the now iconic hero Superman co-created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the popularity of comic books continued to rise, subsequently inspiring others to contribute their own costumed characters to the growing industry (Bell). In 1939, despite the outbreak of war overseas, the comic book industry continued to rise in popularity and began to spread throughout Canada. However in December of 1940, faced with a country that was experiencing the demands of a war economy and a growing trade deficit with the United States, the King government passed the War Exchange Conservation Act, effectively putting a stop to nonessential goods being imported into Canada, including comic books (Bell). Taking advantage of these war time restrictions, multiple Canadian publishers began to distribute their own comic books featuring uniquely Canadian superheroes; one publisher being Bell Features who was publishing more than 100 000 comics per week, including Commando Comics (Bell).




Throughout war, one of the driving forces on any home-front has always been to instill and call upon nationalism throughout that specific nation; to gather support, to help with enlisting, and to raise moral throughout a country during an extremely difficult time. It was no different in Canada during World War II. The Canadian Whites collection were simply a more disguised form of propaganda meant to rally nationalistic sentiments throughout the country, as are most Superhero comic books. Although comic books simply seem like an appealing children’s story that are based on childhood superhero fantasies, they are usually a more complex, nationalist allegory (Heet). The Superheroes that Bell Features were publishing were nationalist ones who really spoke to Canadian’s pride and belief that they were essential in defeating Hitler and the Nazis. Johnny Canuck for example, who appeared in several Bell Features comics, continuously fought and overcame Nazi oppression and was crucial in the destruction of Hitler’s war material factories, all the while being praised by Winston Churchill who was in awe over what this Canadian hero was achieving (Heet). This nationalistic depiction can be seen throughout the 15th edition of the Commando Comics as well, in the way that the Canadian heroes are drawn and displayed.  In The Young Commandos, written and illustrated by Jerry Lazare, the young heroes are drawn as very handsome, tough, muscular men, embodying the most positive physical characteristics that Canada would want to see in their heroes (10-15). These characteristics used to positively depict Canadians can be seen in other stories throughout this edition; including Chick Tucker, written and illustrated by Alfred Zusi, Ace Bradley, written and illustrated by Harry Thomson, and Clift Steele and the Mystery of Magon, Part 2, written and illustrated by Adrian Dingle. These depictions of the Canadian heroes illicit a sense of nationalism within Canadians, for they are handsome, tough and embody everything Canadians want to see in both their heroes and within themselves.

In stark contrast to the way in which the Canadian heroes were depicted in the Commando Comics, the vilified nations of Japan and Germany were made to look like unintelligent and crude barbarians who were much inferior to the Canadians who always thwarted them. In one of the Bell Features comics, Hitler is portrayed as illiterate fool, speaking in a bad mix of English and German to the people of Germany; “Peoples of der Reichtag, ve haff been informed through der Gestapo that John Canuck is now in der country … he must be found! I vill giff 10,000 marks for him…dead or alive!!” (Heet).  This portrays the Germans as illiterate and intellectually inferior to Canadians and the allied nations. Furthermore, in the 15th issue of Commando Comics, in the story Clift Steele and the Mystery of Magon , the Japanese hiss when they pronounce their ‘s’’s, as shown in the image below (Dingle 6).

Dingle, Adrian. Panel from “The Young Commandos.” Commando comics. No. 15, January 1945, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 13. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Likewise in The Invisible Commando, they cannot form full sentences (Bachle 35). This further perpetuates the idea that the German and Japanese are not only evil, dangerous enemies, but that they are illiterate making them intellectually inferior to the Allies. These crude depictions of the Japanese and Germans seen throughout the 15th edition of Commando Comics not only portray them as unintelligent illiterates, but they also portray the people of those nations as scary, ugly men. In The Young Commandos, Jerry Lazare draws the villain Kato Aomori as a thick headed, buck toothed man who is losing his hair in patches (12). In Clift Steele and the Mystery of Magon, the Japanese villains are depicted as larger men, with hunched over almost buffoonish stances, with bucked teeth and thick necks (Dingle 4-5). These portrayals emphasize the widespread notion during WWII that the Japanese were not only inferior to the Allies in warfare and intellectual standing, but also in physical appearance. This comic book helped perpetuate the propagandistic notion that the Allied nation’s enemy was inferior to them in every way.




These notions of Japanese inferiority that the Canadian Whites –including Commando Comics– perpetuated helped give rise to anti Japanese sentiment that was beginning to fester in Canada during the latter half of World War II. In British Columbia the racist colour metaphor know as “Yellow Peril” began to rise, and in 1942 the Canadian government started to detain and dispose of any people of Japanese descent living there. Racism towards the Japanese in Canada was not unheard of before their detainment; laws in British Columbia had previously prevented Japanese peoples from working in mines, from voting and excluded any whom the people of British Columbia declared to be an ‘undesirable’ from being involved with any project funded by the province (Marsh). On December 7th 1941, following attacks on Pearl Harbor and bombings in Hong Kong where Canadian troops were stationed, fears of the Japanese and a possible invasion became heightened throughout Canada, giving rise to their distrust of the Japanese. Japanese schools and newspapers were subsequently shut down, and 1,200 Japanese-owned fishing boats were impounded by the Royal Canadian Navy (Marsh).

The racist sentiments held towards the Japanese people were in full effect after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, and propaganda such as the Commando Comics only furthered the Canadians’ belief that the Japanese were crude monsters who deserved to be feared and detained. Because of these fears, on February 24th 1942, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie issued an order to remove “any and all persons” in the country; although those orders were ambiguous enough to allow the detention of any person, the specific target of the issue was the Japanese Canadians, specifically along the West Coast (Marsh). The British Columbia Security Commission was soon established with the purpose of carrying out Japanese internment, and on March 16th the first Japanese Canadians were taken by special trains that brought them to Hastings Park, where eventually more than 8,000 detainees would pass through (Marsh).

The anti-Japanese racism was not solely confined to British Columbia, but was spread throughout Canada during WWII. By the end of WWII, over 90 % of Japanese Canadians had been uprooted and displaced and sent to internment camps such as the one seen in the image below. By the end of the war over 21 000 people, most of whom were Canadian citizens by birth, had been interned (Marsh). By the end of the war, Prime Minister King did not show any remorse for the way he and his government had been treating the Japanese Canadians, instead giving them an ultimatum; to move to Japan or to spread to the provinces east of the Rocky Mountains (Marsh).

“Japanese Interment Camp in British Columbia.” Photograph. Wikimedia Commons, 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Ideas that are espoused in Commando Comics issue 15, helped give rise and distribute these extreme anti- Japanese sentiments throughout Canada during WWII. By maintaining that the Japanese were barbaric monsters who were inferior to the Canadians and the Allied Nations in every way, Canadian citizens began to see Japanese Canadians as the crude monsters they were depicted as. Major-General Kenneth Stuart, who served Canada in both World War I and II, wrote that “from the army point of view, I cannot see that Japanese Canadians constitute the slightest menace to national security” (Marsh). Despite those who advocated for the Japanese-Canadians and against the treatment they were receiving from the Canadian government during WWII, Escott Reid who was a Canadian diplomat during the war, said that Canadian politicians due to their rage towards and fear of the Japanese, spoke about them in the way that the Nazis spoke about the Jewish people of Germany. Reid stated, “When they spoke I felt… the physical presence of evil” (Marsh). There was already an anti-Japanese sentiment on the rise throughout Canada during the onset of WWII, and propaganda such as Commando Comics issue 15 only furthered this racist, biased position by distributing crudely drawn and illiterate representations of the Japanese people.




Issue no. 15 of Commando Comics not only depicts Japanese people as inferior, but it also portrays the Germans as evil,  uneducated villains as well. In Loop The Droop written and illustrated by Harry Brunt, Hitler is depicted as a bumbling buffoon, who scares easily and spends his days in fear of the United Nations. At one point he is waiting around in Berchtesgaden, speaking in a mangled mixture of German and English; “I vunder vot der United Nations haff up dere sleeves now? (sigh)… Diss zuzbenz iz driving me grazy- my nerves iss all on edge!” (Brunt 55-56). This depiction of Germany’s leader, speaking English whilst alone with a poor German accent, perpetuates the notion that Germans are foolish and cannot speak properly making them intellectually inferior to Canadians. Propaganda such as this contributed to German-phobic sentiments during WWII because Canadians were being shown not to fear the Germans, for they were simply scaredy-cats and bumbling idiots.

Anti-German sentiments such as this were present before WWII, and were widespread throughout Canada. In World War I for example, an extreme backlash against the Germans and all things German became prominent within Canada. Public schools removed any German curricula from their schools; orchestras refused to play German compositions; and in Winnipeg residents went as far as to change the name ‘hamburger’ to nip so that any association with Germany and the enemy language was eradicated (Anti-German Sentiment). Furthermore, a small town named Berlin in Ontario that was home to many German Canadian citizens became the focus of unease after avid patriots removed a statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I from the centre of the town. In the hopes of eliciting nationalistic feelings the town committee changed its name to Kitchener in 1916 (Anti-German Sentiment).

These fears and concerns were being perpetuated through the use of anti-German propaganda. From the beginning of WWI most Canadians demonized the enemy, believing stories from overseas of supposed German war-crimes and accepting without question fabricated German atrocities. The war propaganda being perpetuated throughout Canada convinced Canadians of the Germans’ barbarity and reinforced stereotypes that intentionally obscured the line between fact and fiction (Anti-German Sentiment). This propaganda soon referred to German Kultur as “a damning insult, a predisposition for war, cruelty, and destructiveness” (Anti-German Sentiment). This stamp on German culture placed the Germans outside of a community of civilized nations, depicting them as barbaric and inferior. While Commando Comics issue no. 15 may not reach this level of severity towards the Germans, it still helped perpetuate notions that the Germans were not only inherently evil villains, but also intellectually inferior and therefore easy to defeat in battle.

Despite the work of ‘revisionist’ scholars who labored tirelessly to reconstruct the way Germany was seen by the Western World post WWI, there was a permanent Germanphobic view that resided deep in the minds of the Westerners (Connors). During WWII these deep-set views were called upon and exploited by writers who espoused Germanphobic literature and propaganda that was worse than that of WWI (Connors). Propaganda such as Commando Comics.  Anti-German –which is distinct from anti-Nazi– views were given wide publicity by anti-German newspapers and were espoused with such enthusiasm that it was hard to not believe that all of the Germans were solely responsible for WWII (Connors).  Even a distinguished professor and writer from Australia who was known for being impartial wrote:

“The Germans are a politically retarded race. They are still in the “myth” stage of development … The Germans have never wanted democracy; they crave for authority, and respect the strong arm. They do not want individual freedom … The average German would much rather salute a uniform than have a vote … The German is designed by history and nature to provide mass material for dictatorship.” (Connors)

Harsh, unrelenting propaganda such as this, caused Canadians and other Allied nations to look down upon the Germans and regard them as inferior; intellectually, politically and in every other sense of the word. Anti-German propaganda became widespread throughout not only Canada, but in Britain, Australia and the United states as well, reaching extreme proportions (Connors). In the 15th issue of Commando Comics, depicting  the Germans as buffoonish clowns who are afraid of their own shadows and who cannot form proper sentences, only further perpetuated these Germanphobic sentiments within Canada. This ultimately  caused Canada to not simply fear the Germans, but to mock and loath an entire supposed, barbaric nation.



The 15th edition of Commando Comics’ underlying propagandistic tones, perpetuated anti-Japanese and Germanphobic sentiments throughout Canada during WWII. Comic books, meant to delight and entertain are almost always nationalist allegories, and Commando  Comics no.15  is no exception. With heroic, handsome depictions of Canadian heroes thwarting crude and barbaric portrayals of the enemy, Canadians began to believe that they were not only instrumental in defeating the Nazis and the Japanese, but that they were far more superior than their enemies.  By portraying an entire nation as intellectually and physically inferior, Commando Comics issue no.15 helped contribute and give rise to racist sentiments that became prominent within Canada during World War II.





“Anti-German Sentiment.” Enemy Aliens: Anti-German Sentiment, Canada and the First World War, Canadian War Museum.


Bachle, Leo (w, a). “The Invisible Commando.” Commando Comics, no. 15, January, 1945, pp. 30-35. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.


Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 7 Feb. 2006, Accessed 17 Feb. 2017.


Brunt, Harry (w, a). “Loop the Droop.” Commando Comics, no. 15, January, 1945, pp. 55-56. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.


Connors, Michael F. “Dealing in Hate: The Development of Anti-German Propaganda.” Institute for Historical Review.


Dingle, Adrian (w, a). “Clift Steele and the Mystery of Magon Pt. 2.” Commando Comics, no. 15, January, 1945, pp. 1-7. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.


Heet, Jeer. “POW! BLAM! ZOWIE! Eh?” Literary Review of Canada, vol. 75, no.5, June 2007. Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.


Lazare, Jerry (w, a). “The Young Commandos.” Commando Comics, no. 15, January, 1945, pp. 10-15. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.


 Marsh, James H. “Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 23 Feb. 2012,  Accessed 17 Feb. 2017.


Thomson, Harry (w, a). “Ace Bradley.” Commando Comics, no. 15, January, 1945, pp. 43-49. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.


Zusi, Alfred (w, a). “Chick Tucker.” Commando Comics, no. 15, January, 1945, pp. 37-42. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.



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.


Soldiers, Comics, and World War Two

© Copyright 2017 Brittany Diamond, Ryerson University

Background Information

Commando Comics is a comic series printed from 1942-1946 with a dominant war theme shown throughout most, if not all, of the stories. Commando Comics were the final of the Bell Features’ comic series. These comics are part of a collection called the Canadian Whites produced by Bell Features, a comic publishing company (Kocmarek 155). The front and back covers are produced in colour while the rest of the book is all in black and white. These comics were sold for $0.10 at the time they were printed, but today are worth significantly more than that due to how difficult they are to find in readable condition.

In November 1944, volume 14 was printed and it is no exception to the war theme. There are 12 different black and white stories within the 48 pages all based around the war. Different individuals write a majority of the stories, and all contain different plots that always relate back to war.

Contextualizing The Comic in Daily Life

The Commando Comics were written during World War Two, this could explain the reason the comics were completely war-themed (Kocmarek 155). Adolescents and pre-adolescents of the time read these comics. The readers would have learned about the war through the different stories (Kocmarek 156). Although they were fictional, they still provided an insight to what it would have been like for the Canadian soldiers fighting against the enemies (Kocmarek 156). The comics were seen as the only source of information about war for the young age group because the newspapers were for an older audience, and television was no accessible as it is for the youth of today (Kocmarek 156-157).

The stories and characters would have been seen as very interesting to the youth because the war took place in a foreign place and contained storylines of violence and sabotage (Kocmarek 157). However, it could have provided the youth with hope because the Canadians in the stories were always successful in their missions. This could have caused the youth to have stronger beliefs in what the Canadian soldiers despite the stories being fictitious. The Commando Comics were an important source of information for the younger generations during the time of war, because the medium they were presented in was easily accessible and easily understood (Kocmarek 156). These comics became the primary source of information about Canadian soldiers and the war for the youth.

World War Two Background Information

World War Two lasted from 1939 to 1945. The Second World War was an entirely new battlefield for many Canadian soldiers. It was different climate and terrain than what most of them had ever experienced (Sumner 53). The Canadians along with the British and Americans were a part of the Allies, which is the side that ended up winning the war. The Allies were battling against the Axis, which was the side of the Germans, and the Japanese. This war used many different types of battle including surface ships and U-boats, and air warfare (Sumner 54, 57). The armies, navies, and air forces were the three different types of soldiers found on each side in the war (Sumner 57). The civilian and military intelligence organizations had to work hard to ensure that they could fulfill the needs of these three groups. It was very important for the military to know how to position their soldiers in order to win the war (Sumner 62). In the end, the Allies planning and decisions seem to have been effective because they are the ones who won World War Two.

Can Comics Train Soldiers?

In October of 1940, there was a newspaper article released in the Toronto Telegram called “Ottawa’s “Comic Capers” and Compulsory Service” about how comics were briefly used as way of training soldiers. The idea behind this was that the comics would have glorified the war instead of showing the harsh and brutal conditions the soldiers would be facing. This was supposed to appeal to young Canadians before beginning their 30 grueling days of preparing to defend Canada (Ottawa’s “Comic Capers”). However, this idea was not well received. It was seen as childish and offensive to recruits who were more intelligent and did not fit into the young Canadian demographic (Ottawa’s “Comic Capers”). However, it was soon decided that comics should be used as a form of entertainment where soldiers can be featured rather than a form of training for the soldiers who are going to go to war.

Soldiers in the Commando Comics

Every story is related to war whether it is soldiers fighting the Japanese, soldiers fighting the Germans, or a proposed idea for war success. There is always war, and with war comes soldiers. The Canadian soldiers portrayed in Commando Comics are always the stronger and smarter ones, and this always leads them to victory. Although, different artists draw the soldiers they have a lot of similarities.

The soldiers are all very masculine, young men in their mid-twenties who are well groomed, and basically the ideal soldier (Cord 50). The soldiers are always capable of getting themselves out of whatever trouble they are in, even when it seems impossible. The soldiers are drawn and presented in a way that positions them as smarter than the enemy and able to defeat them.

Leo Bachle. Panel from “Invisible Commando.” Commando Comics, No. 14, November 1944, p. 26. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The image shown is from the opening image of “Invisible Commando” by Leo Bachle. Without explanation, or relevance to the rest of the storyline, the soldier is pictured shirtless. He is not only shirtless, but his muscles are well defined and he can be perceived as almost “Hulk-like”. He is extremely well groomed for someone who is at war with his helmet falling off his head revealing almost perfectly styled hair. He is holding a very large gun and aiming it out of the frame presumptively at an enemy. He looks like an ideal solider, and almost all the other soldiers are drawn with similar characteristics (most are wearing shirts, though).

The Real Soldiers of World War Two

Canadian soldiers in World War Two looked much different than the soldiers presented in the comic books. Advertisements for the army included a man who looked to be about 25 years old dressed in full uniform (Hayes and Goodlet 46). This man has on shined boots along with spurs and jodhpurs, a tailed jacket with a belt over his right shoulder complete with a tightly knotted tie (Hayes and Goodlet 45). This is supposed to be what the ideal and most masculine soldier was to look like. The Canadian soldier was encouraged to always wear a proper uniform (Hayes and Goodlet 59). Realistically he wore what he could in order to survive the harsh conditions. A shirtless existence would not suffice.

Masculinity is something that was almost enforced in the Canadian army during World War Two. The soldiers were meant to be as tough and “manly” as they possibly could be in order to be the best soldiers that they could be.

The soldiers in the Canadian army were typically around mid-twenties, making them more likely to be young and carefree. They were carefree because when they enlisted, many had no dependents (Grace 341). The more experienced soldiers had three or four years of service, but lack experience in civilian life. A lot of the soldiers did not have a lot of education due to other priorities in their lives furthered by the fact that they were unable to access education or the poverty in some areas (Grace 341). The soldiers were not very connected with the current events of that time as they had little access to newspapers. The men were instead taught about different part of Canada, which provided them with more information about their country and places in it that they had not been to (Grace 342). This kept them busy while educating them about their homeland.

A Canadian paratrooper of the 1st Parachute Battalion. These 600 men were the first Canadians to land in France on the night of June 5-6. 84 were killed. Canada Alive! Juno Beach, 5 June 2014. Photo.

The image shown depicts a Canadian soldier holding a large gun. He is said to be a Canadian paratrooper of the 1st Parachute Battalion, one of the first Canadians to land in France (Canada Alive!). He is wearing a full uniform, with a helmet on his head, and is not well groomed. Compared to the soldier presented in the Commando Comics, he looks prepared for war.

Fictional Soldiers

Many popular superheroes today came from American comic books, such as “Batman”, “Superman”, and the “Green Lantern” (Cord 28). However, these were not the only hero type seen in comics. Soldiers were viewed as heroes in many comic books, including American ones. Many of the American comics, similar to the Canadian ones had the main characters (soldiers) fighting and winning against various countries that were a part of the Axis. The comic soldiers lived easy lives where every situation had a doable solution despite the fact they were supposed to be living in a warzone.

The comics allowed everyone to feel as though they were a part of war through the stories being told. The comics were seen as truth, allowing children to identify different aspects of the war such as the weapons, uniforms, and language (Cord 48). The men were drawn as what one might the ideal soldier to look like complete with “handsome chiselled features, broad shoulders, and a superior knowledge of science and technology” (Cord 50). This is a very specific way that the soldiers were drawn, and is applicable to the Canadian comic soldiers as well.

Comic Soldiers versus Canadian Soldiers

The main difference between the comic soldiers and real soldiers seems to be the way that they look physically. Comic soldiers are always very muscular, well groomed, and not always dressed in the most war appropriate clothing (Cord 50). The Canadian soldiers do not have to be muscular, but they must be well trained. They are not as well groomed because it is real life war and looking the best that they can was definitely not a priority. They were dressed in ways that someone who is fighting a war should be. They tended to have the appropriate gear and weapons that they would need to survive as long as possible.

A similarity between the two types of soldiers is how they were perceived as masculine and manly. This was something that was highlighted not only in the comics, but also through many different types of media concerning Canadian soldiers. Soldiers seem to have been described simultaneous as soldiers and masculine (Shaw 24). No soldiers were described as weak or scrawny despite the unavoidable fact there were definitely some who were not as masculine as others. Masculinity seems to have been not only important to the comic soldiers, but also very important to the real Canadian soldiers.


The Commando Comics portray soldiers in a very specific way, even though all are drawn differently. The main idea of the soldier stays the same. They are muscular, handsome, smart, young men. They are the ideal people who one would have wanted to be protecting their country. The soldiers are usually holding weapons and come with an infallible plan about how to defeat the enemy. They are wearing significantly less gear and protection than they should be during war, but that usually does not matter since they do not get injured. The soldiers in the comics can be seen as the perfect soldier.

When the comic soldier is compared to the real Canadian soldier, the differences and similarities are obvious. However, both type of soldier (comic and real) can be seen as heroes in society. The soldiers in the comics always beat the enemy or save someone in distress. Real soldiers are fighting for Canada and freedom. It is important to understand the difference between the two soldiers because one is a reality while the other is not. The comic readers were almost being led to believe that Canadian soldiers were undefeatable, yet in reality they lived in harsh conditions and were fighting for their lives. The comics seem to show the soldiers going through minimal struggles to win, and always having the perfect equipment. World War Two was nothing like this; it was hard work and a lot of it. Although, the comics were aimed at the youth, it would still be beneficial for them to understand how hard the Canadian soldiers were working, and that it was not as easy as it is portrayed in the Commando Comics.

Soldiers are important to the comics and even more important to Canada. Through looking at the comic and real soldiers, they can both be seen to be significant to Canadian society. Without the comic soldiers, the contemporary youth would not have been able to learn about World War Two and how hard it was and how vital soldiers were to it. Without real soldiers, there would be nobody protecting Canada or keeping the peace, as Canadian soldiers are typically known to do. Soldiers show how their role in society is one that needs to be appreciated and understood through everything that they are able to accomplish through their enlistment or through their comic stories.


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


Works Cited

A Canadian paratrooper of the 1st Parachute Battalion. These 600 men were the first Canadians to land in France on the night of June 5-6. 84 were killed. Canada Alive! Juno Beach, 5 June 2014. Photo. Accessed 23 March 2017.

Commando Comics, no. 14, November, 1944, pp. 1-36. Bell Feature Collection, Library and Archives Canada. Accessed 23 March 2017.

Grace, John. “The Canadian Soldier and the Study of Current Affairs.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), vol. 20, no. 3, 1944, pp. 341–46. Accessed 23 March 2017.

Hayes, Geoffrey. & Goodlet, Kirk. W. “Exploring Masculinity in the Canadian Army Officer Corps, 1939-45.” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes, vol. 48 no. 2, 2014, pp. 40-69. Project MUSE, Accessed 23 March 2017.

Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée, vol. 43, no. 1, March 2016, pp. 148–65. Project Muse, Accessed 23 March 2017.

“Ottawa’s “Comic Capers” and Compulsory Service.” Toronto Telegram, 16 Oct. 1940, Accessed 23 March 2017.

Scott, Cord A. Comics and conflict: War and patriotically themed comics in American cultural history from World War II through the Iraq War. 2011, p. 45-51.

Shaw, Amy. “Conscientious objection in Manitoba during the First World War.” Manitoba History, no. 82, 2016, pp. 22-27. Academic OneFile, Accessed 23 March 2017.

Sumner, Lori. “Know Your Ground: A Look at Military Geographic Intelligence and Planning in the Second World War.” Canadian Military Journal, vol. 14, no. 3, 2014, pp. 53-63. Accessed 23 March 2017.

The Relatable Hero: The Inception, Impact and Novelty of the Canadian Comic Hero During World War II in Commando Comics No. 16

© Copyright 2017 Maxwell-Turanski, Victoria, Ryerson University


When a time is remembered, it is most often for their heroes. Those who stand out as admirable are an embodiment of the epoch values and beliefs. Thus, to analyze a hero’s characterization is to know the impact of the time period on their personality. Furthermore, to seek out fictional work from a historical moment is to know the time-specific idealizations of a hero.


In studying the “Canadian Whites,” a comic collection dating back to before the Second World War, there is a rare chance to understand the idealized Canadian hero (Kocmarek 148). Not too often does Canadian work spread as quickly and widely as the Bell Features comics did. The success was the result of an American comic ban placed by the Canadian government at the start of the war (Kocmarek 149). It is important to note that despite a recognizably lower quality of work than American competitors, (due to a lack of resources and experience) the children of the nation devoured Canadian comics. Readership was high and expectations were unimportant because of limited competition, giving the “Canadian Whites’” authors and artists freedom to create anything that their hearts desired (and resources allowed, which was not much considering that their materials only stretched so far as to print in black and white; hence the name “Canadian Whites”) (Kocmarek 148). The result has been an intriguing combination of references to both historic realities and dreams that provide a peek into World War II and those heroes who were ‘true’ Canadians.



During the years 1939-1945 (World War II), Canadians were riddled with anxiety about the survival of loved ones. 1.1 million of the total 11-million-person population of Canada served in WWII (Granatstein). This large number of involved Canadians was reached only after years of careful, steady increases in governmental persuasion, working to make citizens into soldiers. With the extreme unease of potential enforced consignment, there was a desire for some reprieve (Granatstein). This came in the form of entertainment. Leisure during the war was defined by the government as citizen participation in activities that had the ultimate, overriding purpose of bettering the nation. In any case turning away from the war often resulted in turning to the arts that celebrated the underlying themes and feel of the nation, the war-stricken nation.


In this vein of thinking it became clear that the importation of the American comic books was an unwanted method of “Americanization” in the eyes of the Canadian government (Morton). In order to lessen the grip of American culture on the related but certainly not identical nation of Canada, the American comic ban came to fruition (Foster). This governmental act not only allowed for an economic opportunity, albeit a naive one in the long run, but held the microphone to the lips of Canadian authors and artists, giving them a chance for their voices to be heard across the country. This chance gave life to the curiously ordinary Canadian hero. Ordinary insofar as the supernatural abilities of other comic heroes prevalent in the American market were non-existent in the vast majority of their Canadian counterparts. They were, however, extraordinary in their unique representation of Canadian ideals and values.



In order to encapsulate the contextually important belief system of the time, the term “ideology” helps us to discuss “the way comics reflect various social and cultural beliefs in a given society” (Berger 377). It is evident within the “Canadian Whites” that the ideology, specifically about a citizen’s role, works as an assumed, universal belief by the heroes and fellow characters. Most often this means that there is a promotion of certain ideologies that have already been proven to be important in Canadian society or in other words it is about: “reproduc[ing] the status quo,” which in effect makes the comic “an instrument for mainstream ideological reproduction … [one of the] tools of indoctrination” (Mellor 122) (Pineda and Jimenez-Varea 1157). To be asserting these ideologies as nationally held was unquestionably a product of the war-time heightened desire to find unity and strong relations on every level of life. Its implication was that a wide audience experienced this decisive stance and were in some way affected in their beliefs. This is something that Caswell argues when he describes the comic as both resulting from and adding to the narrative about the society from which it is birthed (219). From understanding the larger context of Canadian pressures during WWII, we must seek to explore the consequence on the Canadian comic hero, what Beaty calls “a hero who had no superhuman powers” also known as the “Fighting Civil Servant” (430). The Canadian hero’s personality was not larger than life, but instead relatable and on most platforms, achievable.



In the “Canadian Whites” comic collection, there are seven different types of comics produced and for the purposes of this study volume 16 of the Commando comics will be analyzed. There are distinctions to be made between the characters that populate the Commando comics but more significantly there are striking similarities between them. These similarities should be explained by the common traits of bravery, intelligence and good pilot skills. The traits are of course implications of the war time period, attested to by Beaty’s prescription of the comic hero being best “understood” through the examination of the ideology prevalent during their creation (428). Furthermore these specific traits add to the likelihood that the characters could be not only the heroes of the story but also that these representations of good Canadian character were attainable for the reader themselves, which was importantly not only suggested but encouraged.


In this volume the first enticement of being a hero is when there is an implicit acknowledgement of brotherhood and friendship in becoming a soldier. The Canadian soldier is the occupation most conducive with the aforementioned traits. This sense of brotherhood between soldiers is established best when the text utilizes common ground language. In the story “Clift Steele and the Island of Floating Death” the two Canadian soldiers refer to each other as “fella” and “brother,” which indicates a shared understanding, relationship and experience (Dorian 4). This is a recurring instance in many of the stories. Although this exploration may seem to lean towards discovering propagandistic tactics of persuasion for nationalistic agendas, I would insist that this is a different case. Despite promoting many of the same messages that government propaganda of the wartime typically would, propaganda is not meant to “foment enthusiasm or assent” (Skylar). This comic book very clearly incites enthusiasm and is implying desirability in terms of the conditions of a soldier’s life. The propagandistic feel of the text occurs simply from the inevitable leakage of ideology into the fictional heroes’ behaviours.


Further to this point of being inviting to the reader, the text addresses its audience’s present state of youth in terms of ability and maturity by how it presents its advertisements. In the commercial for “a barrel-body chariot,” “microscope made from a spool” and “pair of stirrups” the products are advertised as “both safe and comfortable,” which seems at curious odds with the idea of a brave, heroic Canadian (R.S. 16). The fact is that the comic acts as an invitation to the youthful reader. The invitation says: we know you are only young children right now, but we want to teach you how to be like these heroes, so begin here with safe learning and then aspire to be brave, intelligent and great pilots.


A comic page depicting children playing with a barrel-body chariot, microscope and stirrups.
R.S. Panel from “Fun For You ‘Shades of Ben Hur’.” Commando Comics, no. 16, March 1945, p. 16. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.


Then the comic moves towards the next step, providing a more tangible motive to do these hard things. In the story “The Young Commandos” it is apparent that one action can lead to a specific reward. This is developed when the main character describes how his older brother “knocks down zeros” and then “gets medals and gals” (Lazare 11). Essentially, if you do this brave act then you get rewarded with the prominent desires of fame and love. The tale even ends with the reaffirming line: “That’s the story…and it only shows how brave the lads in our armed forces are!!!” (Lazare 15). This takes the hero character one step further to be inclusive of necessary participation in the armed forces and this is implied again to be the place most suitable for doing the heroic actions and then receiving the ideal rewards.


A comic page depicting a plane fight and the Canadians ultimately blowing up their enemy's plane and ammo.
Jerry Lazare. Panel from “The Young Commandos.” Commando Comics, no. 16, March 1945, p. 15. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.


In an expansion of the possible actions, the stories each work to outline different methods for achieving the same heroic status. For instance in “Ace Bradley Again” the hero is known for “seizing the moment” while in “Lank the Yank” the hero becomes intelligent and creative with weapon making when noticing a boot that is “not dainty but definitely useful” (Thomson 22) (Brunt 25). In “Wings Over the Atlantic” the hero “keeps a sharp look-out” and “tries to stop” the enemy and similarly, in “Professor Punk” the hero tries “to solve the problem” as hard as he can (Andre 27) (Brunt 46). There are countless more defining actions of heroes in each of the comic stories. Evidently the greatest gift that the superpower-less hero gives its readers is the picture of reality that comes across as less sensational than American heroes but is really the best way to “attempt to bolster the morale” (Weigel). If the superheroes of Canadian comics were not “essentially hatless Mounties out of their scarlet tunics,” but instead supernatural, entirely fictional characters then the outcome would be far less potent for inspiration, potentially even ineffectual (Kocmarek). In a time of great horror plausible optimism seems to be the comic book’s answer to the unsure nation.



After consideration of the traits that the comic heroes ascribe to, it is important to establish the likely impact on its readers. Knowing that the “Canadian Whites” heroes were “based on the real life exploits [of Canadian heroes] … [and that] most of their characters and stories had Canadian backgrounds and connections,” it becomes a reaffirmation and further repetition of the things that one must do to become great (Kocmarek). The audience was largely males ages eight to twelve who were born into a time of distress and would naturally be motivated and interested in solving the problems that they faced daily (Foster). The messages that were conveyed by the portrayal of the Canadian hero were doable things that a child could hold onto. It was also a means to negotiate the role that they saw their nation playing in the conflict.


For adults war was interpreted through news that was circulated. In a Toronto Daily Star article from 1944 a soldier is described with the utmost admiration for his heroic actions that saved lives because of his bravery in the face of fear (“Canadian Hero of Ortona”). This was celebrated because Canadians desperately needed something to be hopeful about. The heroes were discussed at length because they were meant to inspire people to do the tough things that humans are tempted to shy away from.


The young men who read comics were likewise establishing themselves in a narrative. While they knew the hardships of war, they did not have much information on the state of the conflict, in fact: “The comics provided that young audience, which did not read newspapers … with probably their only source of information on the war” (Kocmarek). With little real information the comic book audience may have been subjected to a “clever way of sugaring an ideological pill,” but they inevitably also gained hope from those heroes who did not seem quite so far away from their reality (Mellor 123). These arguably goofy, short comic stories were a way to give “interpretive agency to the reader (an empowerment perhaps especially important to readers in the liminal state of adolescence)” and one that could very well have made all the difference in a choice between mediocrity and heroism (Hatfield and Svonkin 433). These comic book heroes were role models that gave unique hope to their avid readers.



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

Continue reading The Relatable Hero: The Inception, Impact and Novelty of the Canadian Comic Hero During World War II in Commando Comics No. 16

A Difference in Discrimination in Commando Comics No. 12

© Copyright 2017 Malcolm Abbas, Ryerson University

Comic books, a unique medium that uses panel type illustrations mixed with dialogue and narration. Telling fantastical stories, comic books intended audience has always been children.  Housing stories of super heroes defeating villains trying to wrong with pictures depicting these event, kids fell in love with comic books.

Gaining popularity in the early 20th century, the comic book medium saw its rise during a very hectic time in society’s history. At the time when comic books were gaining popularity among youth, the world was still recuperating from World War I, while at the same time having World War II loom in the back of people’s minds. Eventually people’s fears were realized as World War II came into fruition. And even the comic book industry could not escape the effects of World War II.

Due to the war, American comics were not able to make their way past the border and into the hands of Canadian kids. Seeing an industry untapped, Canadian companies like Maple Leaf and Bell Features decided to jump into the market and create Canadian comic books. What followed was a variety of different home grown comics hitting Canadian shelves. One of these comics went by the name “Commando comics.”

Focused on World War II, Commando comics was one of the marque Canadian comic books during the period between the 1930s – 1940s. Commando Comics multiple series all were primarily about Canadian soldiers besting the Japanese and Germans, Canada’s main enemies during the war. These Canadians soldiers, who almost always had no superpowers, would be able to beat the Japanese and Germans through their brains or brawn.

Despite both being portrayed as the main antagonists, the Germans and Japanese in the twelfth issue of Commando comics were completely different. While the Germans were drawn normally, accurately capturing how Germans looked, the Japanese were drawn to look like inaccurate caricatures of themselves. Exaggerating certain features such as their eyes and teeth, the Japanese in Commando comics looked nothing like their real world counterparts.

Why was there a huge disparity in the depiction of these two races in Commando comics #12, despite both being Canada’s wartime enemies? Well, there’s a few reasons why this phenomenon occurred.

They’re no threat to us

Although one of Canada’s main adversaries during World War II was Germany, people of German descent received very little discrimination in the country during war time. Unlike other ethnic groups, Germans were not faced with a huge amount of systemic propaganda by the media, or burning epithets on the streets. At this point in Canadian history, there were around 360,000 individuals of German descent living in the country, making up 11.2% of the nation’s population (attitude towards Germans 18). Considering the time period and percentage, this statistic meant that those with German ethnicity made up a significant portion of Canada’s population. Canada, even if they wanted to instill an anti-German sentiment onto the country, the Canadian government would face major backlash from a significant part of their population. Logistically this proposition would lean towards being unfeasible.

Although it would be difficult, if Canada really wanted to push an anti-German agenda, there would be good reason to believe that the government would find a way. Though Canada did not want to alienate not only German Canadians, but also Germany itself. William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s prime minister from 1935 – 1948 had a unique perspective on the events leading up World War II. Unlike the leaders of Britain and France, before war broke out, King’s opinion of Hitler was positive. Feeling empathy towards the strife Hitler and Germany were going through post Versailles conference, after meeting with the leader of Germany in 1937, King came away feeling that Hitler was a good man, trying to to do the best for his country, which at the time were in an economic crisis.  (Attitude Towards Germans 19). This empathy extended all the way up to Germany’s invasion of Danzig. In his diaries, King revealed that he thought Germany’s invasion of Poland was partly due to Britain and France (King Diaries). If Britain and France had given Hitler and Germany some leniency on the restrictions created at Versailles, this invasion would have never come into fruition (King Diaries). With all this good faith King was trying to build with Hitler/Germany, there was no way he would throw away this hard work by authorizing slanderous propaganda of Germans.

Additionally, during the start of World War II, Canadians were informed by the government that while all Nazis were bad, not all Germans were Nazis. This move by the government got Canadians to focus their anger and rage not on German Canadians, but at the Nazis living within the nation. This caused an investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to find and takedown all Nazi affiliated organizations in Canada (Agents Within the Gates). This investigation resulted in the Canadian government assuring its citizens that all Canadian-based Nazi organizations were taken down, thus giving Canadians peace of mind (attitude towards Germans 17).

A Nazi spy
Smith, Gordon. Panel from “The Young commandos.” Commando comics. No. 12, July 1944, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 13. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Throughout Commando Comics issue #12, you can see this chain effects translate into different stories. In The Young Commandos (Smith 17), one of the comics in the issue, the Canadian soldiers meet a many different German people, who looked much like the soldiers themselves. The only person depicted in a distorted manner was the lone Nazi spy, who made his reveal nearing the end of the comic.

Why not the Japanese

Why not offer the Japanese the same level of empathy and understanding the German population received? Like with most prevalent issues of the early 20th century, it was because of race. While many of the Germans in Canada during World War II were immigrants, they still looked like the other Canadians in the sense that they shared the same skin colour/facial features, practiced the same religions of Canadians, and for the most part had an easy time integrating within Canadian society. Japanese immigrants on the other hand were quite the opposite. The Japanese looked entirely different from “White Canada”. The Japanese spoke a foreign language, Followed different social queues, practiced different religions, and the list goes on.

When Asians first started immigrating to Canada at the beginning of the 20th century, Caucasian Canadians, who made up almost Canada’s entire population began to feel threatened. Dubbed the “yellow peril”, Canadians felt that the Asians were trying to change Canada’s identity as a nation, slowly forcing Canadians to bend to their ideals (Kawai 112).

Japan’s actions during World War II also made it very easy for Canadians to both fear and hate their countrymen. Aside from their battles against Canada, Japan was engaging in villainous acts across the world during World War II.  While the war was occurring, Japan made an attempt to invade and take over neighboring nation, China. While their efforts ultimately failed, during this invade, Japan committed gruesome atrocities towards the Chinese, the most notable act being the Nanking Massacre (Guo 3). When the Japanese made it to Nanking, the capital of China at the time, Japanese soldiers engaged in mass murder and rape of Chinese civilians, spanning over the course of six weeks (Levene 28).

With the addition of Japan’s hellacious war time acts stacked atop of Canadian’s already prejudice thoughts towards Asians, and a nationwide hatred for Japanese citizens in Canada is created. Unlike the Germans, the Japanese only made up a tiny percentage of Canada’s population (McAllister 146), meaning that there was almost no way to fight against this discrimination. Eventually Canada’s fear and hatred of the Japanese grew so large that they created and sent the Japanese to internment camps during World War II (144).

How does this relate to Commando comics #12? Well, during this time period war time focused comic books like Commando comics were used as a tool to indoctrinate the youth with the ideologies of the state (Scott 328). These comics would feature villains of the same race/ethnicity of those Canada were fighting as a way to get children to also grow a hatred towards those foreign groups. For Canada, this indoctrination tool was especially needed given their circumstances. Sending an entire ethnic group to internment camps, Canada needed to make sure that the youth “understood” why the Japanese were considered evil and needed to be sent away.

Thus, Canadian children were greeted with Commando comics #12, an issue which predominantly targeted the Japanese.  In the various comics within the issue that featured the Japanese, they were always without fail drawn to be inaccurate caricatures of themselves, with the artists giving the Japanese buck teeth and slit eyes.

A Japanese pilot speaking to a comrade
Darion,. Panel from “CLIFT STEELE.”Commando comics. No. 12, July 1944, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 2. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In Lank the Yank, the second comic featured in Commando comics #12, the protagonist calls a Japanese soldier “nip” (Brunt 10). This Japanese racial slur coined during World War II is written into Lank’s dialogue as if the word was part of everyday speech. This type derogatory language was normal to see in these old war time Comics.

Reading comics like Commando comics #12, Canadian youth subtly were indoctrinated to the anti-Japanese mindset of Canada.

Back to present day

As you can see, comic books historically have been politically motivated. During World War II, the rise of Canadian comics, society was able to use the medium to fuel racially driven issues. Commando Comics #12 was an example of this.

A comic based around the World War II, one read through any almost anyone would notice a difference in the depictions of the Germans and Japanese, the two main villains in the stories. While the Germans were drawn accurately, the Japanese were depicted to look like terrible caricatures of themselves.

And as we have learned, there a myriad of factors that caused this difference of discrimination. But among these factors, the two most prevalent were the backroom politics dealings between William Lyon Mackenzie King and Germany, as well as the already existing racism towards Asians in Canada in the early 20th century. If anything Commando comics #12 serves to show how far Canada has come in the 70 years since the comic’s release. Now looking back it is shocking to think that a comic once given to children is now looked back upon with disgust.

Works Cited

Bassler, Gerhard P. “Silent or Silenced Co-Founders of Canada? Reflections on the History            of German Canadians.” Canadian Ethnic Studies= Etudes Ethniques au Canada 22.1                (1990): 38. ProQuest

Brunt, Harry (w). “Lank the Yank.” Commando Comics, no. 12, July 1944, pp 10-12.                              Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special                        Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Darion, John (w). “CLIFT STEELE.” Commando Comics, no. 12, July 1944, pp 2-9. Canadian             Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections,                   Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Guo, Sheng-Ping. “The Living Goddess of Mercy at the Rape of Nanking: Minnie Vautrin and          the Ginling Refugee Camp in World War II (1937–1938).” Religions, vol. 7, no. 12, 2016,             pp. 150. doi:10.3390/rel7120150

Kawai, Yuko. “Stereotyping Asian Americans: The dialectic of the model minority and the            yellow peril.” The Howard Journal of Communications 16.2 (2005): 109-130. doi:                         10.1080/10646170590948974, Scholars portal

Keyserlingk, Robert H. “‘Agents within the Gates’: The Search for Nazi Subversives in                     Canada during World War II.” Canadian Historical Review, vol. 66, no. 2, 1985, pp. 211-             239. ProQuest

Keyserlingk, Robert H. “The Canadian Government’s Attitude Towards Germans and                    German Canadians in World War Two.” Canadian ethnic studies= Études ethniques au              Canada, vol. 16, no. 1, 1984, pp. 16. ProQuest

Lee, Erika. “The ““Yellow Peril”” and Asian Exclusion in the Americas.” Pacific Historical                Review 76.4 (2007): 537-562. ProQuest

Levene, Mark, and Penny Roberts. The massacre in history. Vol. 1. Berghahn Books, 1999.

McAllister, Kirsten. “Photographs of a Japanese Canadian internment camp: mourning loss     and invoking a future 1.” Visual Studies, vol. 21, .no. 2, 2006, pp. 133-156. doi:                               10.1080/14725860600944989, Scholars Portal

Scott, Cord. “Written in red, white, and blue: A comparison of comic book propaganda               from World War II and September 11.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 40, no. 2, 2007,     pp.  325-343. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-5931.2007.00381.x, ProQuest

Smith, Gordon, C. (w). “The Young Commandos.” Commando Comics, no. 12, July 1944, pp       12-17. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special           Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

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.



Visual Propaganda in Commando Comics Issue 13

© Copyright 2017 Deanna Bucco, Ryerson University


When one thinks of comic books, what almost immediately comes to mind are children. Cheaply made, with storylines of superheroes and “funnies”, intellectual adults are rarely associated with such trivialities. However, if one were to analyze a comic book more closely, much can be revealed about the creators, readers, and society during the time of production. This information can be revealed not only from the narrative of the comics, but also from the visual styles and illustrations throughout a comic collection as a whole. When looking at Canada’s comic book collection, specifically those produced in the 1940s, it is apparent that comic books can also be seen as war memories. WWII was a turbulent time for Canada as well as the comic book industry, which ultimately led to the birth of the “First Age of Canadian Comics” after Canadian parliament declared the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) which restricted American comic books from being imported into Canada (Kocmarek 148-149). These Canadian Whites–named for being printed in mostly black and white–focused on Canadian superheroes and content. In Issue 13 of Bell Features’ Commando Comics (1944), one of the Canadian Whites, the main focus of each feature is the war against the Nazis and the Japanese. The celebrated “superheroes” are regular Canadian soldiers, rather than individuals with superpowers. Each feature is written and designed by various creators and the visual styles are all vastly different; however, their underlying themes appear to remain the same. Upon closer examination of the two features in Commando Comics Issue 13, “The Young Commandos” by Jerry Lazare and “Professor Punk” by Harry Brunt, it can be seen that different visual and illustrative styles are used to convey meaning to readers through the way the stories appear on the page. Although “The Young Commandos” is drawn in a more realistic visual style and “Professor Punk” is drawn in a humorous cartoon style, messages of propaganda can be deciphered from each feature both overtly, as well as through closer examination of the subtext revealed through the images.

Illustrative Elements Speak Louder Than Words

There are many visual styles and elements employed in the design of comic books that shape the meaning of the images that surround the narrative. Sometimes images are presented on their own without text, which provides a direct and bold statement to the reader. In comic books, the use of design elements such as page layout, panel shape and size, arrangement, and page placement contribute to the pacing of the narrative, which ultimately evokes tension and emotions through each scene (Jakaitis and Wurtz 211). For example, larger panels will draw a reader’s eyes quicker than smaller panels, oddly shaped panels will stand out as important, action that bleeds through the gutter from one panel to the next will create a feeling of fast paced anxiety or action that cannot be contained, and actions that are drawn out across multiple panels in moment to moment action sequences will prolong the tension of a scene. In reaction to war themed comics, these illustrative displays grow to be very meaningful. The manipulation of the combination of images and text imparts different value systems–here referring to political beliefs–and can create propaganda within the illustrative content both overtly and covertly (Jakaitis and Wurtz 130). This idea of comic book illustrative style as propaganda is evident in both “The Young Commandos” and “Professor Punk”.

The Film Noir Style and Canadian Attitudes in “The Young Commandos”

“The Young Commandos” (TYC) is a short, continuing feature that focuses on a group of young soldiers who work together to capture a Nazi spy who they then use to also trick and capture his Nazi leader (Lazare 14-19). This feature appears as the third sequence in the issue, and when compared to other features within the comic, it can be seen that TYC has a very distinct visual style.

Two page sequence of a chase scene from the Commando Comics feature "The Young Commandos"
Figure 1: Lazare, Jerry. Sequence from “The Young Commandos”. Commando Comics, No. 13, September 1944, p. 16-17. Bell Features Collection, RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

This six page feature is drawn in a realistic, Film Noir storyboard style and includes different scenes and angles that would typically be used in movies. If referring to Figure 1, some visual film techniques such as close ups of faces, chase sequences spanning multiple panels with different angles of a car, and medium shots of static action such as dialogue can be seen. The feature is drawn in a complex story layout in which the panels are all different sizes and arranged in changing layouts on each page, such as in Figure 1. Throughout the feature, the action from one frame will even bleed through the gutter (the space in between frames) and extend into the next frame. This can be seen in Figure 1 in both the fifth panel where the villain’s leg extends past the gutter back into the fourth panel, and in the seventh panel where one of the Young Commando’s arm extends across the gutter into the next panel. Here readers experience a sense of urgency in the action which is too grand to be contained in a single frame.

The Film Noir visual style is an important aspect to note in its use in TYC since it emerged as a prominent film genre in the 1940s at the same time Bell Features began to make the Canadian Whites (Conrad 1). Film Noir makes use of dark, negative space and plays with lighting to create interesting shadows that change the intensity and mood of each scene (Conrad 2-3). In Figure 1, we can see this technique of dark, negative space being employed, especially in the close-up panels as a way of heightening tension and the emotion of the character in the panel. Film Noir also deals heavily with themes of disorientation, alienation, pessimism, and a rejection of traditional ideas about morality (Conrad 7). These are the same attitudes that were commonly felt and broadcasted by the Canadian population during the Second World War. This is further highlighted in an article from The Globe and Mail on December 4, 1941, when B. A. Trestrail, president of the Canadian Radio Corporation, announced that 90% of Canadian attitudes toward the war were those of complete detachment and apathy (Globe and Mail 4). The article ends as a call to arms for Canadians to show more interest and exert more effort toward the war, a message that is also evident in TYC.

“The Young Commandos” as Propaganda

True to the Film Noir style, all of the frames in TYC contain a lot of black, negative space which creates drama within the images. We also see characters’ faces shadowed in different ways depending on the tone of the scene. The images themselves; however, are very heroic which is in conflict and a direct rejection of the typical film noir style. In Figure 1, for example, we see our Canadian heroes engaging in a chase scene and gallantly pursuing their enemy, which makes them come across as very bold and determined, rather than apathetic and disassociated. The contrast between the valiant action in the feature and the Film Noir style is subconsciously hinting at readers that they too can rise above the pessimistic and apathetic attitudes and fight to be more heroic and patriotic. These characters aim to instill patriotism and build support on the home front during a time of crisis as well as aim to inspire children to want to fight for their country (Scott 54). Since TYC urges patriotism and heroism it can be read as a piece of propaganda. Here, propaganda refers to anything that attempts to influence the public’s opinion, as well as attempts to affect later behaviour, including actions toward the war. The purpose is not exactly to properly educate the population on events, but rather to change or solidify attitudes, behaviours, and ideologies (Seidman 414). If TYC is aiming to change Canadian attitudes toward the war and encouraging Canadians to be more patriotic and involved in the war effort, then it is in fact propaganda, but can the same be said for “Professor Punk”?

Action to Action: The Illustrative Style of “Professor Punk”

Two page feature called "Professor Punk" from Commando Comics - a crazy professor fills bomb shells with termites
Figure 2: Brunt, Harry.“Professor Punk”. Commando Comics, No. 13, September 1944, p. 20-21. Bell Features Collection, RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

“Professor Punk” appears as the fourth feature in Issue 13, directly following TYC. We immediately see a drastic shift in visual styles. Rather than the realistic human facial features and film-like storyboard quality of the illustrative style in TYC, “Professor Punk” appears as a two-dimensional humorous cartoon. “Professor Punk” is a very short, two page feature that focuses on a crazy professor who is asked to create a new type of bomb for the war. He decides to fill bomb shells with termites instead of explosive material so the termites will eat Berlin to the ground rather than burn it (Brunt 20-21). Although this feature still focuses on the war, it is more comedic than TYC and has a much less serious tone. Also unlike TYC, all of the action in “Professor Punk” is contained within the panels without ever bleeding over the gutter into the next frame. As seen in Figure 2, the gutters in “Professor Punk” are much smaller than those in TYC which creates a feeling of less time passed between frames and less tension between actions. Figure 2 also displays the employment of the simple story layout technique through the ten panels that are all of the same shape and size, consisting of static, medium, or wide shots. The feature is free of action sequences that are prevalent in TYC. Each panel is simply drawn in a way that furthers the narrative in an action to action sequence, never lingering on or going back to any one action. In a visual style so different from that of Film Noir, can “Professor Punk” also be read as propaganda?

“Professor Punk” as Propaganda

The Canadian comic books that emerged during WWII were also used as a tool to enlighten younger or less educated readers about current and historical events (Scott 54). On the surface, this feature does not appear to be a piece of propaganda; however, once examined closer, elements of propaganda can be deciphered. While the feature is humorous and engaging, it also enlightens readers that there is a war going on and Berlin is one of the enemies. The lighter, less intense tone, as well as brighter images in comparison to TYC, makes the content easier for young readers to relate to since it is simplified. This can be seen in Figure 2 where the action of dropping bombs is contained in only one frame and the violent destruction that bombs usually cause is instead reduced to the less destructive image of termites eating away at Berlin. This drastically downplays the act of violent destruction. Oversimplification is a key factor for propaganda through the act of playing on the emotions of viewers and readers by presenting them with something visually appealing and easy to relate to or understand (Seidman 414). While “Professor Punk” is funny and engaging, it also contains serious images relating to the war, such as the subtle image of Hitler in panel one in Figure 2 (where his name is never actually stated) and the poster in Professor Punk’s office in panels three and ten urging readers to “Buy More Bonds” (Brunt 21-22). Subconsciously, readers are taking in this visual information and forming opinions of the war based on it; however, this form of propaganda can be useful. It is said that those who do not understand the past are doomed to repeat it. Comic books are an efficient way of disseminating a message to the relatively uninformed masses and the sooner history is instilled in the minds of children, even subconsciously, the better chance they have of correcting those wrongs in the future (Scott 16). Although the message in “Professor Punk” can also carry positive undertones, the feature can still be read as a propaganda piece.


While the Canadian Whites emerged as a response to the banning of American comic books, they were effectively able to provided young readers with entertainment as well as important information on the war through a medium that was easy to understand and relatable to younger readers. Through differing visual styles and the arrangement of images, both “The Young Commandos”and “Professor Punk” are effectively able to convey meaning to readers through the way the stories appear on the page. Although “The Young Commandos” is drawn in a more realistic visual style and “Professor Punk” is drawn in a humorous cartoon style, messages of propaganda are present in both features both overtly and covertly, ultimately suggesting that the Commando Comics were used as a way of influencing readers to be more patriotic and essentially want to fight to protect their country, just like their favourite heroes from The Canadian Whites.


Works Cited

Brunt, Harry. “Professor Punk.” Commando Comics, no. 13, September, 1944, p. 20-21. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Conard, Mark T., and Robert Porfirio. The Philosophy of Film Noir. Paperback ed., Lexington, UP of Kentucky, 2007.

The Globe and Mail. “WAR EFFORT, PARTY POLITICS ARE DENOUNCED: B. A. Trestrail Blasts Attitude of Canadian People as a Whole POINTS TO APATHY.” Globe and Mail [Toronto], 4 Dec. 1941. ProQuest Historical Newspapers,

Jakaitis, Jake, and James Wurtz. Crossing Boundaries in Graphic Narrative. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne De Littérature Comparée, vol. 43, no. 1, Mar. 2016, pp. 148-65. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/crc.2016.0008.

Lazare, Jerry. “The Young Commandos.” Commando Comics, no. 13, September, 1944, p. 14-19. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Scott, Cord A. Comics and Conflict. Naval Institute Press, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Seidman, Steven A. “Studying Election Campaign Posters and Propaganda: What Can We Learn?” International Journal of Instructional Media, vol. 35, no. 4, Fall 2008, pp. 413-26. Academic OneFile,


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