Category Archives: ENG810-022 Monique Tschofen

The New Children of 1940’s Comics

This post will focus on the second issue of the WOW Comics, printed in November 1941, part of the Canadian Whites Collection. In this issue three main stories are: Dart Daring and Perils at Sea , The Ring of Death and Whiz Wallace and the Kingdom of Awe. Out of these three two super hero stories that continue into the issues to come. Alongside the main stories there are interactive games and contests. For example, a drawing contest with the winning prize roller blades. This comic issue also holds, insight on the “Science of Wrestling” as well as war flags and fighter planes. On first glance, the comic seems to be a fun escape for children during the war, but the WOW Comics second issue can be seen as an instructional manual for both young boys and girls in the 1940’s.

Introduction of Children in Literature:
In the mid 18th and early 19th century, the Romantic period, the child came fully into its own as the object of increasing social concern and cultural investment; which in turn brought a new genre into writers’ attention, children’s literature. The previous belief was the Puritan belief, that all humans are born sinful as a consequence of mankind’s ‘Fall,’ which led to the notion of childhood to be a perilous period.

Construction of the Child:
From around the middle of the 18th century, many people in Britain began to think about childhood in new ways. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau is one of the architect’s whose work rejects the doctrine of Original Sin and maintains that children are innately innocent, only becoming corrupted through experience of the world in Émile, or On Education (1762).
Following Rousseau’s lead, romantic poets such as William Blake and William Wordsworth, childhood became close to God and a force for good. Both Blake and Wordsworth work with the suggestion that the “child-like state of innocence [is] morally and emotionally superior to the condition of adult experience,” (Benziman, 69). Childhood was now associated with nature, innocence, the unconscious, most instinctual being. In children’s literature, the idealized version of childhood became prominent and remained enormously influential throughout the 19th and into the 20th century. The child like state of innocence is viewed as higher ranking to a condition of adult experience,” (Reynolds). Add to that this child-like state is rather artistically productive.

Perpetual childhood:
However, not everyone saw childhood as a state to be hurried through in order to achieve adulthood. The 19th century saw the development of what is occasionally referred to as the “Cult of Childhood”, with adults delighted to celebrate childhood in texts and images. The connections with the Romantic ideal of childhood are clear, but many writers of the ‘Golden Age’ of children’s literature went further, even expressing a longing themselves to be children once more. But perpetual childhood is impossible, and there is a notable tendency in some of the best-known Victorian fantasies for child characters to die in this world in order to be reborn or to stay children forever elsewhere. The Cult of Childhood persisted into the 20th century, reaching its height in J M Barrie’s Peter Pan (who first appeared in a play of 1904), who famously refused to grow up (Reynolds).

Break in the Romantic Image:
Working-class children were sent to work at an early age with the beginning of the industrial revolution, as it was a common belief that children should contribute to carrying on the industries of their country. This notion was of equal importance as education, urging factory owners to use children to their advantages. For example, using children in coal mines, as they were small enough to fit in the crawl spaces as well as they did not know any better.

Brief Re-account :
On 1 September 1939, German forces invaded Poland, and the Second World War began. Donald Macdonald, then a boy in Winnipeg and later a federal Cabinet minister, remembered huddling around the radio in his grandparents’ living room, listening to the CBC reports of the Nazi invasion. “Even as a seven-year-old I understood that the world had just changed for the worse,” (Canadian Encyclopedia). The six-year-long war brought changes to the world and forever altered Canada. Then a nation of only 11 million people committed more than one million men and women to uniform, (Canada War Museum).

Changes in Children’s Lives:

New Responsibilities:
The adults started to disappear from children’s lives after the war started. Soon male teachers abandoned classrooms for service in the armed forces. “They went from men in civilian dress to uniformed heroes — and sometimes martyrs,” (Canadian Encyclopedia). While fathers and older siblings were away on duty, children were expected to help around the house. Young children were assigned new chores, anything from cooking to cleaning. Mothers entered the workforce in white or blue-collar jobs forcing older siblings to look after the younger ones. Later, young girls, sometimes around the ages of 10 or 12, were employed in positions such as “general housework” or baby sitters. These children were expected to do this as they balanced homework and other duties.
Schools were plastered with posters encouraging students to do their bit. They were taught to avoid careless talk that might aid the enemy and to be on the lookout for spies, specifically Russian. Teachers taught lessons about the war overseas and Canada’s contributions to beating the enemy.

Helping the War Effort
Victory Gardens were encouraged, at school or at home, anywhere a free patch of soil could be found. Children planted seeds and tended to their vegetables. “Every bunch of carrots or canning of jam was portrayed as a blow in battling the Nazis,” (Canadian Encyclopedia).
To further the war efforts recycling was also depicted as essential to the war effort. Paper and metal scraps were gathered in large salvage drives. Canadians were instructed to recycle and reuse. Nothing was to be wasted in the fight.
Babysitting money and allowances went towards purchasing war stamps. The stamps were sold in schools and stores; children purchased each for 25 cents. Sixteen stamps filled up a $4 card, which was sent to the federal government. In return, the child received a War Savings Certificate worth $5, to be cashed in after the war, (Canadian Encyclopedia).

Harsh Realities:Germans, Italians and Japanese
Not all Canadian children were allowed to participate in the war effort. Canadians of German or Italian descent were teased, taunted or assaulted by other children at school and home.The victims sometimes fought back, insisting they were as Canadian as anyone else, but most slunk away to the shadows, not anxious to draw any more attention to their heritage, or firm the stereotypes portrayed in political propaganda.

The war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945, and children were among the millions of Canadians who were swept up in the excitement. Most young people took pride in having done their bit, with their service marked by knitting socks, helping in the home or on the farm, having dirty fingernails from gardening, and collecting mountains of scrap metal for recycling (Canada War Museum).

Early Childhood Literature:
As a result of the Puritan belief much of the earliest children’s literature is concerned with saving children’s souls through instruction and by providing role models for their behaviour, (Reynolds). Children’s literature includes stories, books, magazines, and poems that are enjoyed by children. Modern children’s literature is classified in two ways: genre or the intended age of the reader. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries became known as the “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” as this period included the publication of many books acknowledged today as classics (Burke M. Eileen, 108). One of the engineer’s leading towards children’s literature is William Blake. His work in the Songs of Innocence and Experience illustrate and conceptualize the new image of the child that was formed in the romantic period. The content of these poems revolved around purity and the angelic child that falls into experience as they transition into adulthood. Blake’s work was printed in a two part series, the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience. This formatting created a divide in the content that was considered acceptable for children, and what happens after they live and experience. For example, the introduction to the Songs of Innocence illustrates the differences between the boy in the cloud and the piper who is tainted by his experience.

WOW Comics Literature:
As mentioned earlier the second issue of the WOW Comics can be seen a piece of literature that sets examples for children during the war time. With all the changes to their daily routine the children lacked the knowledge on how to accomplish what is expected of them. The ban on the importing of comics from the States allowed Canadian artists and writers to really gear the content towards the expectations of Canadian children in the 40s. The content of the Canadian Whites is specially geared towards the new image of the child surfacing during the war.

For example:

The Science of Wrestling: One side of the page is taken up with visuals of different wrestling holds, and how to successfully do them. On the other side of the page there is a detailed description of the holds, and how to perform the various holds if

Legault, E.T. (w). “The Science of Wrestling.” WOW Comics, no. 2, November, 1941, pp. 31. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

the images were not clear enough. This page is geared towards young boys, or men, training them so they feel confident when enlisting into the army. This page allowed the boys to feel as if they are part

of the movement and learning to fight is giving them a leg up in the fight. They now felt prepared to tackle whatever enemy came into Canada, or when they themselves were fortunate enough to fight overseas.

On the other hand, young girls were taught how to be submissive girls, calm and subdued.

Legault, E.T. (w). “Elaine Kenyon Cut-outs .” WOW Comics, no. 2, November, 1941, pp. 30. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Elaine Kenyon Cut-outs: On the page there is a female dressed in an undershirt with calve length boots, in red. And there are three dresses, 2 styles of hats and a pair of boots. A young child can cut them out and dress up the doll in various ways, and there will be more outfits in issues to come. Young females were basically told they do not need to learn to fight because the boys already know how, they just need to relax and let the men do the saving. Young girls were employed as babysitters and they were encouraged to garden because that is all they could possibly accomplish.

Super Hero Comic:

Dart Daring and Perils at Sea: Dart Daring, is a youthful, dare-devil, sword fighter and so forth, begins his story in this issue discovers a treasure at an old shipwreck. Dart faces many predators, the octopus, 2 sharks, Captain Ajabe Maruk, who captures Dart and punishes him. Lorraine rescues Dart. Savages take over the ship and Dart must help Ajabe and his crew. Dart and Lorraine jump over board find themselves lost at sea, waiting to be rescued by a passing ship. Dart is an average man, with the skills of an

Legault, E.T. (w). “Dart Daring and Perils at Sea.” WOW Comics, no. 2, November, 1941, pp. 10. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

experienced fighter. He takes on ever challenge thrown at him, whether it be wrestling sharks or seizing a ship all by himself. Dart is the example for what young boys should strive to be; the average man that can be a fighter and warrior. A heroic average man, ready to bravely tackle any enemy.





The New Construction of Childhood

According to the Comics

The content of the comics challenges the ideas of the ideal childhood introduced by Blake and other writers in the Romantic period. These comics present themselves as a binary to innocence and experience. The formatting of a comic book is considered equivalent to a picture book, but these comics tackle much greater political themes and questions. The child in the 1940’s was one of great responsibility and knowledge, as well as the duties of the home and contributing to the war. An advantage towards the war effort in whatever way possible.

Works Cited
Benziman, Galia. Narratives of Child Neglect in Romantic and Victorian Culture. United States Of America: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.

Blake, William. “Songs of Innocence Introduction.” Poetry Foundation. 14 Feb.2017 (referenced the poem)

Burke, Eileen M. Early childhood literature: for love of child and book. Boston, Allyn and Bacon, 1986.

“Canada and The Second World War .” Canada War Museum , Accessed 31 Mar. 2017.

Legault, E.T. (w). WOW Comics, no. 2, November, 1941, pp. 10. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Reynolds, Kimberly. “Perceptions of Childhood“, British Library. Accessed 15 Feb.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

Superheroes as a Spokesperson to Children through the Visual Indistinct illustration of Soldiers in the 13th Edition of the Triumph Comics

© Copyright 2017 Julia Cicchelli, Ryerson University


The Second World War was a global war that occurred from 1939-1945.  It was branded as the most widespread armed war in history and directly involved over 100 million people and over thirty countries, including the United States of America, Germany, and Canada (Encyclopedia of Espionage).  During this time, wartime legislation banned “foreign periodicals” (Loubert and Hirsh) from entering domestic countries and as a result the United States of America was no longer allowed to provide Canada with popular periodicals such as magazines and comics that Canadians relied on for entertainment (Martin and Sarfati).

The absences of these comics lead to the creation and the short lived success of the Canadian Whites.  The “whites” were a lineup of comics written, drawn and published by Canadians in the 1940s (Loubert and Hirsh).  These comics monopolized the superhero comic genre, which was a sensation during this time, and illustrated a diverse range of heroes that ranged from unworldly and magical, such as Nelvana of the Northern Lights, to more realistic heroes who were “everyday men “such as Ace Barton or the Black Avenger.  These comics also included Canadian advertisements promoting subscriptions to other comic issues created by the “whites” as well advertisements for toys about war that directly targeted children reading the comics.

There are numerous papers and articles that examine the relationship between war and its effects on children as well as articles and papers on children and their relationship to comics but I was not able to find any scholarly works that examined war related comics and their effects and relationship with the children who made up their target audience.  Therefore I want to use my paper to explore how these comics portrayed superheroes as “every day men” and left them visually indistinct so as to generate the widest possible range of kids to see themselves in their heroes.  I want to juxtapose this to the use of advertisements promoting toys about the war that targeted children.  I believe that these comics used superheroes as a hard hitting spokesperson to children in order to fulfill the need to recruit fresh soldiers for the war effort in addition to fulfilling the economic needs for profit and the entertainment needs of children.

The Changes to Everyday Life Caused By WW2:

The six year long war brought many changes to the Canadian lives and families impacted by the Second World War.  The majority of adult men present in a child’s life were recruited and posted across seas in order to serve in the armed forces, which left many women to enter the paid work force to sustain the economic needs of their family in addition to allowing them to contribute to the war efforts. The Canadian Historica Encyclopedia provides an explanation regarding the many Canadian families that dealt with shortages in sugar, meat, butter and gasoline which lead to rationing coupons being issued in order to provide a fair share to all (Cooke).

In addition, there were housing shortages in larger Canadian cities which forced working class families to house together with other families (Cooke).  Ian Cooke examines in his article “Children’s experiences and propaganda” how children were “bombarded with propaganda encouraging them to be on the lookout and avoid careless talk that could aid enemy spies hiding in their communities” (Cooke).  Schools focused their teachings on lessons about the “famous battles occurring overseas, war heroes, and warships and aircraft bombings that were devastating cities” (Cooke) in order make children aware of the global happenings as well as the threats that they were vulnerable to.

Basically, children were living in fear for their loved ones fighting across seas as well as their own safety.  In addition to this fear instilled into them, children were given increased responsibilities and roles as a result of the gaps left by their absent parents and siblings, leaving them to balance more chores, look after siblings, and taking on employment at ages as young as ten.

 The Role of the “Whites” for Entertainment:

The Canadian comics illustrated in the “Whites” were able to fulfill the entertainment needs of children in a time where entertainment was scarce in addition to being a beacon of hope in a time where children were feeling helpless and hopeless.

The comics were filled with stories of superheroes fighting against and defeating foreign enemies, who were illustrated as Nazi Germans and Japanese soldiers, in order to represent real enemies who were actually fighting against Canadian soldiers in the war.  Superhero stories followed heroes such as the Black Avenger and Ace Barton.  The Black Avenger was a British spy who, in this particular issue of the Triumph Comic that I am analyzing, was hired to rescue a fellow spy who was captured and being held in a Nazi camp.  Ace Barton on the other hand was an English R.A.F. pilot who was captured in this issue by Nazi soldiers and was being tortured by them in order to reveal where he hid some African diamonds that he was transporting to England.  Both the Black Avenger and Ace Barton are successful in escaping from the Nazis by over powering and out thinking them and successfully completing their task. These heroes are depicted as bold and adventurous soldiers who bravely fight against German Nazis in unrealistically glamorized battles that result in their continuous and therefore impending victory.

In a time where children were robbed of their childhood and forced into being responsible, working individuals, these comic heroes represented a way of escape in the sense that it allowed the child to enjoy childlike entertainment.  As Avrom Fleishman argues in his paper “The Genre of the Good Soldier” war related comics provide children with glamorized war stories and an image of “golden soldiers” (Fleishman) which allowed children to slip off into an imaginary world in which they did not have any responsibilities to uphold.  These responsibilities and any war related worries were put at ease by the image of these “golden soldiers” (Fleishman) who would protect them unfailingly from the foreign threats.

In addition to children needing a form of entertainment,   children were also feeling helpless and hopeless, buried under their constant fears for the safety of their loved ones as well as themselves.  By creating this image of a “golden soldier” (Fleishman) these comics were able to create an illusion that the war was not as bad as they believed it to be and it was something that Canadians were going to emerge victorious from because heroes like Ace Barton and the Black Avenger were fighting on Canada’s side.  Comics could be understood as a beacon of hope for these children who desperately needed something to hold on to.

“Every Day Men” as Heroes to Recruit New Soldiers to the War Force:

The two heroes that I mentioned previously, the Black Avenger and Ace Barton, were both depicted in the comic as a realistic, though glamorized representation of real life heroes.  Both heroes were soldiers who possessed no unworldly powers, instead they simply relied on their physical abilities and minds to successfully beat their enemies.  Both heroes are shown to be strong and rely on their muscles as well as war artillery to fight off threats in addition to their quick wit to think their way out of tough situations.  However neither hero was indestructible and both were as vulnerable to the physical threats of a gun or another man’s strength as any man would be.

Since both heroes possessed realistic abilities both relied heavily on their access to war weaponry, such as guns and planes in order to assist in their defeat of their enemy.  By giving these soldiers realistic abilities, children reading the comic could easily interpret the actions of their heroes as something plausible for them to recreate, which encourages their desire to become a soldier so that they too could become just like their heroes.

“Ace Barton”. Comic from Triumph Comic. 13 edition, 1943.

In addition to the heroes possessing realistic abilities, the comic illustrates both the Black Avenger and Ace Barton as visually indistinct as possible.  The Black Avenger wears a black mask over his entire face which leaves his identity a mystery while Ace Barton is drawn so simply in comparison to the detail given to the faces of the German Nazi soldiers, making him look compatible with any man.

By illustrating both heroes in such non distinct ways, the comic is able to mythologize these heroes as “everyday men” by generating the widest possible range of children who see their dads, their brothers and themselves in their heroes. Doing so again creates an illusion that children can easily become just like their heroes, which encourages their desire to embody the actions and position of their heroes by becoming a soldier.

Toys about War, Conditioning Children but also Profit for Economic Needs:

Machin and Leeuwen explain in their paper “Toys as Discourse: Children’s War Toys and the War on Terror” that war related toys became a popular discourse during WW2 because they “allowed children to enact with the discourses and values of war in play while also making a profit”.  Additionally, Machin and Leeuwen explain how Canada’s economy during the Second World War was not as disastrous as the First World War but any war leaves a country in economic debt and creates shortages and the need to ration.   Therefore selling these war related toys was able to allow toy companies to create a profit, keep people employed within the company which allowed them to be able to sustain their lives as well as their families.

Within the thirteenth issue of Triumph Comics, two advertisements were found immediately after the Black Avenger and the Ace Barton comic, advertisements selling toys about war.  The first advertisement shows what is called an “Identoplane Kit” which is a plane set made up of twenty four different war planes that children were encouraged to construct and play with.  The other advertisement was for the new “Commander” a wooden toy gun that made a real bang as to fully represent an actual gun.

“The New Super Commander.” Ad in Triumph Comics, 13th ed., The Canadian White, 1943, p. 39.

Both of these advertisements targeted children and promoted them purchasing and playing with these war related toys in order to become “young commanders”.  These two advertisements are the only of the eleven advertisements included in the comics that promote war related toys for children and are conveniently located directly after the stories of soldier heroes who are reliant on such tools in their adventures.  This placement led me to believe that these ads were knowingly placed here because toy companies understood that children would want to re-enact the actions of these heroes, who relied on guns and planes and children are led to believe that in order to become like these heroes they too need to use and become familiar and knowledgeable in such tools in order to properly and effectively embody their heroes.

Therefore I understood this as another form of conditioning children by making them aware of the tools that they will need to become familiar with in addition to making them play soldier as prep for becoming actual soldiers/ real life heroes like the Black Avenger and Ace Barton.


The Canadian Whites were an important addition to Canadian life during WW2, particularly for the children who read these comics.  These comics acted as a source of entertainment in a time where entertainment was scarce as well as a beacon of hope that allowed children to escape from the realities of the war.  The depiction of soldiers as heroes who claimed no unworldly superpowers in addition to their illustration as visually indistinct generated the widest possible range of children to see themselves in their heroes.  The comics used these heroes as spokespeople to children in order to encourage them at an early age to want to be active members in war, like their heroes.  Doing so fulfilled Canada’s need to recruit fresh soldiers to the war effort in addition to fulfilling the entertainment needs of children.

The juxtaposition between these comics and the advertisements promoting war related toys was essential not only in conditioning children to enact the discourses and values of war through play but also as a way of profit to support economic needs created by the war.  Therefore the overlapping of social and political needs for fresh soldiers for the war effort, the economic needs for profit and the entertainment needs of kids were all represented in these comics and through these “everyday” soldier heroes.



Work Cited

Armstrong, Martin. “Propaganda & Children : Always the First Target of Leaders.” Blog. Armstrong Economics. N.p., 3 May 2014. Web. Accessed March 6 2017.

Fleishman, Avrom. “The Genre of ‘the Good Soldier’: Ford’s Comic Mastery.” Studies in the Literary Imagination; Atlanta, Ga. 13.1 (1980): 12. Web. Accessed March 18 2017

Cooke, Ian. Children’s Experiences and Propaganda. British Library. Web. World War 1.

Cooke, Tim. “Canadian Children and the Second World War.” The Canadian Encyclopedia (2016): n. pag. Web. Accessed March 22 2017

Loubert, Patrick and Hirsh, Michawl. Superheroes to Call Our Own. CBC Radio Canada, 5 Oct. 1971. Web. Accessed March 2 2017

Machin, David, and Leeuwen, Theo Van. “Toys as Discourse: Children’s War Toys and the War on Terror.” Critical Discourse Studies 6.1 (2009): 51-63. Web. Accessed March 14 2017

Martin, Sandra and  Sarfati, Sonia. “Magazines.”The Canadian Encyclopedia (2012): n p.Web.

Ross, Sheryl Tuttle. “Propaganda and Art: A Philosophical Analysis”. Military Engagements. Disseration / Thesis. University of Winconsin, 1999. Web. Accessed March 28 201

Stern, J.P. “War and the Comic Muse: The Good Soldier Schweik and Catch-22.” Compatative Literature 20.3 (1968): 193. Web. Accessed March 28 2017

“World War II.” Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. n.p. Web. Accessed March 29 2017

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.



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.



Censorship: The Constriction of Artistic Choice in Issue #5 of WOW Comics

© Copyright 2017 Courtney MacKerricher, Ryerson University

Canadian Censorship Background

Censorship is a word most commonly associated with war. It is a word that has been fashioned to promote positively reinforced environments through negatively impacted situations. For decades, censorship has plagued the world to ensure that any truth that needs to be contained must be filtered in a way that serves to protect countries from themselves and those around them. Mark Bourrie describes Canada’s participation in censorship during World War II as “the toughest of those imposed by any Allied countries” (“Between Friends” 7). Canada’s position towards the usage of censorship was to warrant restrictions as a form of deterrence during times of civil unrest in order to “keep military and economic secrets out of enemy hands, and to prevent civilian morale from breaking down” (Bourrie, “The Fog of War” 10). These restrictions primarily pertained to forms of written expression, where laws such as Canada’s War Measures Act, The Comics Code Authority and other influential regulations served together to assure the public’s mind on issues relating to the war.

The Pressures of Persuading the Public

One area that suffered greatly from these constricting laws was the publication of comic books. Although Canada respected the rights of the media, there were scores of laws with loop holes that allowed the censorship system to be overruled by publishing companies, thus creating a sense of voice through the constriction. This active voice gave readers access to information that they were entitled to receive. There is no doubt that numerous comic book authors were driven by patriotism or a noble cause, such as Canada’s participation in the war, but there is however, proof that the pressure to illustrate the government’s dominant ideology of the war was detrimental to creation. This fact alone made it difficult for creators to illustrate the government’s limited view of the time. These creative limitations impacted the comic book industries immensely. One series in particular, the Canadian Whites collection by Bell Features, fell victim to Canada’s strict publication laws. While there was no set list for what needed to be censored in Canada, anything relating to graphic content such as violence in children’s literature had to be removed. The question remains, how does a comic book company write a story about a superhero with no violence?

Substandard superheroes

When it comes to most superhero stories, violence is inevitable; however, unlike your average superhero, Dart Daring and Whiz Wallace are strategically detailed characters created to illustrate ordinary individuals. In issue five of WOW Comics, both characters possess no super human abilities apart from conquering extraordinary tasks. With charismatic charm, a strong sense of determination and the ability to survive any ship wreckage, Dart Daring establishes himself as an adventurer of the seas. When it comes to Whiz Wallace’s attributes: unthinkable courage, sharp instincts and his undying love for a woman named Elaine, these characteristics shape him into an intriguing intergalactic being. Both characters share solid foundations of Canadian morals which emphasizes the morality of their stories, proving Bart Beaty’s point that “superheroes are…exemplars of nationalist ideologies” (428). Due to the presence of censorship, readers were brainwashed into believing that the decisions made by these superheroes are politically correct, when inadvertently, these comics books taught children that the death of Native Indians and other races alike was necessary to achieve peace.

A psychiatrist by the name of Fredric Wertham saw comic books as “one mass medium…which taught children that violence was a solution rather than a problem” (Duncan and Smith, 276). Wertham dedicated his life to preserving childhood innocence by protesting against comic books industries and other mass media corporations. His protests came to one conclusion: graphic violence was a flourishing source to influence negative behaviours in readers and it needed to be stopped.  Ultimately, his one number goal was to keep comic books out of the hands of children and into the flames of a fire; much like Germany’s Nazi book burning campaign introduced by the German Student Union. With sheer determination and several failed attempts to bring about any legislation against comic book companies, Wertham helped to create what he believed to be a solution to the comic book problem: The Comics Code Authority. This “self-censoring agency” worked efficiently and effectively to make sure that any comic books produced during the times of World War II and several decades after that, were “suitable only for children” (276). Although Wertham’s ideologies possess reasonable points, his protests to entirely ban comic books from children were too extreme for the public. Without the use of violence, comic books were challenged to narratively undertake opposing ideologies and conjure eye-popping stories.

Violation of the Superhero Code of Ethics

A panel of the emotional and physical destruction caused by the volcanic erruption
Figure 1. E.T. Legault. Panel from “Whiz Wallace and the Bat-Beasts of Aralee.” WOW Comics, No. 5, February 1942, p. 64. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In “the Bat-Beasts of Aralee”, Whiz’s story juxtapositions to allegorical transposition, by which “instead of conflict between capitalism and communism…war [erupts] between earthlings and alien invaders,” (Arnaudo, 120) in this case, the alien invaders take the form of bat creatures. Like most children’s fiction, the hero saves the girl and lives happily ever after; consequently, Whiz makes a political choice not to save the rest of the Tizani men who await their untimely demise. In Figure 1, Elaine is seen weeping for the lives lost to the volcanic eruption while Whiz comforts her by saying that the Tizani men“only met the fate they had wished upon [him and Elaine]” (E.T. Legault, “The Bat-Beasts of Aralee” 64). The rule that a superhero can never kill an individual under any circumstance or let a civilian die when they can be saved, was not yet formed back then as it is today. Without the installment of the “superhero code of ethics”, Whiz Wallace and Dart Daring must identity themselves as “rugged protagonists who weren’t…worried about the lives and deaths of others” (Arnaudo, 78). With this in mind, their characters created an image that fulfilled the anxieties Canada felt during the second World War.

The Integration of Comix Contents

Although Canadian land was never attacked during either World Wars, the bubbling anxieties citizens felt on the home front were overwhelming. Physical violence was a caution that the government did not wish to integrate into children’s everyday lives. One of the reasons the government chose to censor any information pertaining to violence in children’s literature was because they were afraid that children would “get the wrong idea” and become more aggressive to those around them. Any visual violence was removed from children’s literature after considerable backlash came from mothers who were worried that their sons would develop aggressive behaviours. Comix contents, otherwise referred to as underground adult comic books, are believed to have been subtly laced into Canadian comic books during World War II as a way to embed alternative beliefs of the time period into government approved works. These comics were banned due to the warning signs of aggressive readers sometimes obtained as a consequence of reading and seeing such graphic violence. One of the reasons why distributors banned visually graphic violence from comic books was to encourage children to intellectually process the war in a less explicit matter; consider war as a platform to peace (Duncan and Smith, 56).

Troubles in Publishing

After the War Exchange Conservation Act completely halted the importation of non-essential materials, primarily from the United States, new perspectives were able to arise through the rush to build a successful Canadian comic book industry. Unfortunately, the Golden Age of comics did not survive for very long in Canada due to technical difficulties such as of paper shortages, on top of the pressures of creating a censored voice and style that would keep readers wanting more. Bell Features quickly realized they made a mistake after their first issue was completely printed in colour. The labour-intense work, time and money that was saved by formulating iconic black and white cores was what kept Bell Features alive for several years. But even at that, creators and artists were unhappy. On a daily basis, they faced multiple creative constraints which led many readers to think less of comic books. Not only were there space limitations, there was a problem with reproduction technologies. Paper quality and production was poor, not to mention the page-by-page ink process (Duncan and Smith, 119). Because of this, the artistic style represented in these comic books suffered in terms of encapsulation, layout and overall composition, “the very manner in which an artist…has expressive power” (146). Which makes one wonder, if these issues were erased, could be presumable that the production of comic books in Canada would have continued to thrive even after the years of World War II, instead of reverting back to selling only American-made comics?

Physical and Visual Limitations of Censorship

With the overwhelming pressures creators faced to ensure that the views of the Canadian government where presented properly and promptly, publishing companies were kept under a watchful eye. Anyone who wrote, published, circulated, or possessed anything banned by the government was fined $5,000 and/or up to five years in prison (Bourrie, 21). These restrictive measures lead publishing companies to come up with clever ways to corporate their own ideologies into their work without the government knowing. Although most of Dart and Whiz’s battle wounds are visually disguised, in “the Bat-Beasts of Avalee,” Whiz’s cheek is subtly drawn to have an outlined wound. This the only time in the comic where one of Whiz’s several battle wounds appears. The rest of his wounds: claw marks, blooded fingers, ripped clothing and other lava burns are missing entirely from the drawings of his story.

Tactics Used to Avoid Censors

On page 49, Whiz makes his way up a volcano until he reaches the highest point of the summit, the last place he saw the bat creatures take Elaine. After a long struggle, he acquires several blooded fingers which are strategically placed outside of the image box, leaving the reader open to graphic interpretations. This is the one of the clever tactics comic book companies like Bell Features used in order to represent violence in a non-aggressive way, yet still demonstrating Whiz’s external and internal struggles in the process. Others tactics used in Whiz’s story include creating smaller images. By differentiating the size of his character when the narration refers to battle wounds “bleeding from many scratches” and clothes torn off of his body, readers cannot tell by Whiz’s small-drawn body that he obtains these marks.

Panel depicting Dart's fight against the Natives
Figure 2. E.T. Legault. Panel from “Dart Daring and Treacherous Trails.” WOW Comics, No. 5, February 1942, p. 25. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In “Dart Daring and Treacherous Trails,” Dart and his newly acquainted friend, Bob Huntley, find themselves at the core of a “savage” attack, fighting their way through a sea of tomahawks. In Figure 2, the artistic dimensions of the page demonstrate how Edmond Good’s articulately-drawn triangular-shaped image boxes mask the evidence of violence displayed on the page. At first glance, a reader more then likely will not recognize that Dart is shown stabbing a “savage” to death on page 25. In many cases, readers put most of their visual attention towards the narrative aspect of the story, the middle of the page or image. With the clever use of puffs of smoke from the guns that Dart and Bob use, it is unlikely a reader would notice this display of violence. This could be why it was permitted to be published and distributed to children in Canada. These acts against the censorship of violence could have been detrimental to Bell Features, but instead, it allowed their readers a window of opportunity to experience what the brutalities of the second World War were really like.


Similar Acts Against the Censorship of Freedom of Voice

Throughout the years of the second World War, Canada’s Federal government used censorship for self-interested purposes but this never stopped individuals from pursuing and publishing the truth. Much like E. T. Legault’s clever uses of visual camouflage as a way to integrate violence and controversy into his comics, a team at the Globe and Mail newspaper company were considered some of the country’s earliest wartime censorship critics. A columnist by the name of Judith Robinson, fought with Toronto censors regarding the assertion of her opinion in a column dating back to December of 1939. After initially being rejected, Robinson’s original, uncensored work made its way to the lead paragraph of her column that was published, printed and handed off to the streets the very next day (Copp, 105). This story goes to show that censorship demanded too much of a societal constraint for those working inside and out of publishing companies; the voices of Canadian citizens were not being heard. In “The Bat-Beasts of Avalee,” the character of Elaine represents the suppressed voices of Canadians when she sheds a tear for the unfortunate lives lost to a volcanic eruption. In contrast, Whiz’s character is the perfect representation of Canadian government morality. These clashes of voices demonstrate the frustration that Robinson, along with numerous other writers, felt during the time period. With an abundance of frustration, criticism towards the government’s priorities was top on a writer’s list.

Criticism on Canadian Censorship

On December 11th, 1939, a newspaper article titled Newspapers and the War by the Globe and Mail, made its national debut. This article wrote to confirm that criticism is a writer’s rite of passage, you can choose to withhold it, or splurge. Criticism was something Canadian newspapers faced on a daily basis during World War II. The most criticism was initially presented towards the Canadian government “due to the fact that the nation’s preparedness for the war [had] been unwisely explained and overemphasized”. At the time, there was quite a sense of disappointment with the government but also “room to hope”. With the country becoming further and further submerged into the horrors of the war, censorship of graphic content was one of the few ways in which the government could provide a measure of innocence to a world full of destruction. However, Wilfrid Eggleston, the man the Canadian government appointed as their Chief of Censoring even questioned himself as to whether censorship “was an effective way of keeping secrets and maintaining morale,” (Copp, 98). It’s just like how children eventually understand that Santa Claus isn’t real; one way or another, everyone learns the truth. There will always be a constant battle of whether society will think that they went too far to suppress information or not enough. Dart Daring and Whiz Wallace’s visually disguised battle wounds demonstrate that even with the pressures of censorship, the ideologies of Canadian citizens were cleverly and dynamically expressed during the time period of World War II.


Works Cited

  • Arnaudo, Marco, and Jamie Richards. Myth of the Superhero. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.
  • Beaty, Bart. “Fighting the Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero,” The American Review of Canadian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3 (Fall 2006), pp. 427-39. Pro Quest
  • Canadian Business and Current Affairs Database,
  • Bourrie, Mark. The Fog of War: Censorship of Canada’s Media in World War Two. Vancouver, Douglas & McIntyre, 2011.
  • — “Between friends: Censorship of Canada’s media in World War II.” University of Ottawa, 2009, pp. 1–448, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,
  • Copp, Terry, et al. Canada and the Second World War: Essays in Honour of Terry Copp.Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2012.
  • Duncan, Randy, et al. The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture. New York City, NY, The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2009.
  • Legault, E.T. (w) and Good, Edmond (a). “Thrilling Adventures of Dart Daring: Master Swordsman.” WOW Comics, no. 5, February, 1942, pp. 1-64. Bell Features Collection,Library and Archives Canada.
  • The Globe and Mail. “Newspapers and The War.” The Globe and Mail, 11 Dec. 1939,


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.

Comics for Creativity: Why Comics Should Have a Place in Art and Literary History


Many art historians have deemed comics to be amongst the lowest form of art or simply not art at all. However, by turning comics away from the world of high art, literature and academic study, there are many opportunities for learning and creativity that are missed. Through integrating a close reading of WOW Comics issue 3, into a history of why comics aren’t considered art, how comics have similar movements to art history, the hybrid nature of comics and Roy Lichtenstein’s use of comics for creativity, I will raise the question as to why comics aren’t considered art and what opportunities are missed as literary and artistic thinkers by discluding comics from our discourses and serious history.

Comics Aren’t Art – Critics and Art History

In Bart Beaty’s book “Comics versus Art”, Beaty raises a point about Clement Greenberg’s critical approach to comics. Greenberg is a famous modernist art critic and Beaty summarizes his critique of comics by saying that “comics as among the lowest forms of debases and industrialized pseudo-culture” (20). Beaty goes on to explain that similar to many art critics’ problems with new movements in art history, comics are being disregarded in the same way. Beaty highlights that critics see comics as a medium that does not evolve from any practices in art that came priory to it (20-21).

With this understanding of how comics have been perceived throughout art history, Beaty raises an argument towards the way people look at comics as destructive. Rather than seeing comics as literature or art, Beaty argues that comics should be understood as a hybrid art form (21). A hybrid art form, when concerning comics, is the working relationship of images and text that make up the whole of any comic (Witek 34). With understanding that hybrid art forms are created by the merging of multiple different inspirations, ideas and mediums, it makes them extremely hard to categories. It is important to enter the discussion of comics by keeping in mind their hybrid nature. Within the hybrid form that comics present themselves, it is also important to remember that, unlike other forms of high art or literature, comics are printed cheaply and by masses.

However, by keeping the nature of comics in mind their placement in the world of literature and art becomes extremely important. With the marrying of both text and images, comics form the delicate line between the world of visual and literary arts. By focusing on the ideas that are open for expression through the hybrid nature of comics, their less academic appearance becomes irrelevant. Diving into the hybrid nature of comics, the printing process and consumer quality that fills up most of WOW Comics and many other comics coming out of World War One, will become less important. While their value in history, their relationship between visual and literary qualities, and the overall wealth acquired from looking at comics as art will become apparent.

Art and History – World History and Movements Within Comics  

When looking at comics as art, it is important to document that most comics that are being created surrounding a war, WOW Comics included, are almost always focused on the war occurring. With this recurrence of war within comic, a connection can be made between the goals of many famous painters and writers that include war in their works of art. This framework of seeing comics like other works of art, as a way to document history and/or movements in a society, help us to understand their artistic and historic value.

In Sabin Roger’s book Comics, Comix, & Graphic Novels, there is an outline of the movements in comics that occurred to fill a new motif. Here Roger describes action comics and their newly found way of artistic expression: “the name of the game was bold, figurative art with strong colours. In terms of content, the emphasis was again on simplicity: the heroic derring-do found in the pulps was perfect” (57). This shows how a movement within a comic books changes how the artists met new demands in their medium. This happens in action and hero comics, like WOW Comics where there is a demanded to draw more attention onto the hero and their call to action. This shift in relation to motif and visual representation proves that, like many other movements in art history, artist within comics are looking at past ways of dealing with medium and remodeling it to fit the ideas they want to share.

This demand for comic book artists to shape their work to fit the story line of action heroes, is also a challenge that they faced when drawing comics for World War One. Sabin Roger explains that in Britain, the First World War created a new demand for artistic representation within comics. “Artistically speaking, the genre made new demands on comics (54). Invariably, the style would have to be ‘realistic’ in order to carry the story, and this required a new attention to detail”(57). What Rogers speaks to in this quote, is not only the adaptation the comic must undergo to match the subject matter, but the hybrid relationship that all comics carry. The hybrid relationship is the marriage of the realistic images needed to coincide within the new storyline of World War One.

Showing that by understanding the comics’ way of shaping the artists format to match the subject matter and working between the relationship of imagery and subject to convey a coherent message reveals that comics should be recognized in art history.This hybrid relationship of the marriage between a comics media and visual representation is shown

A three panel of Dart fighting with shipmates.
Figure 1. E.T. Legault. Panel from “Dart Daring.” WOW Comics, No. 3, December 1941, p. 9. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

in WOW Comics Issue 3. Shown in figure 1 on page 9 of “Dart Daring’s” action packed fight, the medium is being used to convey meaning. The viewer’s eyes automatically go to the middle panel, where the gutters are being used to draw tension onto to Dart’s relentless fight. This overt feeling of tension being placed on the main character is drawn into full force by the use of medium to convey a message.

The Hybrid – Scout McCloud and the Lines between Art and Comics

While understanding the complex hybrid nature of art, it is important to look into Scott McCloud’s rich understanding of the comic’s place within high art. McCloud explains that movements in art, like Modernism, Expressionism, Dada and Surrealism, made their way into being ‘art’ the same way comics did – by the balance of “appearance and meaning”. While comics have a hybrid balance of words and images, they take on the birth that many  famous works in art history have (144-149). In further relation to the language in art and comics, McCloud expands on the expressionist use of line in relation to comics. McCloud explains that late nineteenth century artists such as Much and Van Gogh, worked with line as a way to express deep meaning, meaning that can also be found in comics (122-125). Although the comics use of line might not be as vibrant as one of Van Gogh’s night skies, it does mean that comics lack expression within their use of line or colour. It might mean that the comic is expressing something more calm and simple.

Dart is draw in a page containing three triangle panels. In panel one, Dart sits shirtless on his boat staring into panel two. In panel two Dart holds onto his lover while staring at the viewer. In panel three Dart holds his lover while knelling before a latter leading to a ship.
Figure 2. E.T. Legault. Panel from “Dart Daring.” WOW Comics, No. 3, December 1941, p. 2. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

This use of line as expression can also be found in WOW Comics Issue 3, when “Dart Daring” is show in a three piece triangular panel in the first section of his spread. Seen in figure 2, this early introduction to Dart is important as it requires the viewer to see him as an important character in their first encounter. Line is used here, like the expressionist, to render tremendous meaning. In its most obvious way the three panels are broken up by harsh lines, placing Dart in an altarpiece of panels. In panel one the reader makes their way from the horizontal lined waves that are forced into corners, arriving at Dart creating a line with his  body, leaning towards the next panel. As he looks onto himself in panel two,  he guides the viewer’s eyes. While the last panel uses line to create literal distance and give Dart, the only rounded figure in the panel, a chance to break free from the daunting lines of the boat and the adventure that lies ahead.

By recognizing how comics use line in a subconscious way, it can become clear how they hold as much meaning in relation to the way famous artist use line.  Continuing with McCloud’s comparison of high art to comics, he explains that “the father of the modern comic in many ways is Rodolphe Topffer” (120),  revealing that his cartooning and use of panel explores a combination of pictures and words. This made him a contributor to the understanding of comics. According to McCloud, Topffer was a master and creator of a form that was “both and neither” text and image (122). All of these recurring ideas that flow between high art and comics should be taken into consideration when understanding that these two art forms function similarly and should be treated as such.

Pop Art – Roy Lichtenstein, High Art and Comics for Creativity

When you combine high art and comics, you get Roy Lichtenstein, “being one of the best known pop artists of the 1960’s to use comics and cartoons as source material for their work” (Greenville 228). In order to understand the comics place in high art and academia, it is vital to understand how Lichtenstein took hold of the medium for an artist message. By diving into Lichtenstein’s goal of using comics in his art, we can come to a conclusion on why we should learn from Lichtenstein and use comics for creativity.

In Bruce Greenville’s book KRAZY! Roy Lichtenstein’s rendering of the comic is presented in full force, by Greenville saying that “Lichtenstein’s genius lay(s) in his ability to grasp the most compelling elements of comic composition and bring them forward for scrutiny”(Greenville 228). This quote acknowledges Lichtenstein’s tribute to comics. He also used comics to his advantage by working with a strong understand of the new visual culture that was emerging at the time. He used a medium as a vessel to express his artistic message (288), as many great artist of the past have. This use of medium in relation to message within high art is an idea that takes place in comics as well. In Rublowsky’s book Pop Art, he highlights Lichtenstein’s interest in comics and their mechanical creator, the separation within the comics that comes from the lack of viewing the artist’s hand (1-2). Here, there is specific definition of what Lichtenstein found so intriguing about comics.  

Continuing with a greater understanding of what Roy Lichtenstein was trying to achieve by using comics as a medium, it becomes clear that we should be following in his footsteps and use comics for our own artistic and literary expression. In Michael Lobel’s book Image Duplicator, there is an explanation of how art historians disapproval of Lichtenstein’s work allows for a deeper insight into the academic use of comics. The explanation states, “I think it is fair to say that art history as a discipline has tended to view realist painting of any period as if they were nothing more than accurate transcriptions of reality outside themselves” (Lobel 14). Lobel expands by using an art historians critic of Liechtenstein to his advantage saying, “I want to treat Fried’s components in much the same way Lichtenstein treated printed images: I will appropriate and strategically reuse them for my own purpose” (Lobel 15). By combining Lichtenstein’s use of comics for an artistic message and Lobel’s tactical way of turning art historians critique of Liechtenstein to fit his project, it is clear that the same should be done with comics. By looking at comics as artistic expression or a vessel in which artists (like Lichtenstein) can be inspired, their space within art history and academic study allows for more opportunities of creativity and learning.   


The evidence that comics belong in academic and creative discourse is overwhelming. The risk in not including this hybrid art form that is comics into the world of art and literary history allows for current gaps to form in creativity and learning. By understanding a critical reading of WOW Comics issue 3, the historical view of comics as ‘false art’, how comics work within movements similar to art history, the hybrid art of comics and the inspiring way in which Roy Lichtenstein’s uses comics for creativity, academic and creative thinkers must be called to re-evaluate comics as valuable components of our past and future history.

Work Cited

Legault, E.T. “Dart Daring”. WOW Comics,Volume 1, No. 3, December 1941, p. 2-9. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.  

Beaty, Bart. Comics Versus Art . University of Toronto Press, 2012. Toronto, Canada.

Greenville, Bruce,  et al. KRAZY!: The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art. Vancouver Art Gallery,University of California Press, 2008. Vancouver, B.C.

Lobel, Michael. Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art. Yale University Press, 2002. New Haven.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: the Invisible Art. Harper Perennial 1994. 1st edition. New York, N.Y.

Rublowsky, John and Ken Heyman. Pop Art. Basic Books, 1965.  New York, N.Y.

Sabin, Roger. Comics, Comix, & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art. Phaidon Press Limited, 1996. London.

Witek, Joseph. Comic Books as History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar. University Press of Mississippi, 1989.

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.


The Humour of Joke Comics Issue 21

© Copyright 2017 Alexandra McAuley-Biasi, Ryerson University



The Canadian Whites Joke Comics issue 21 presents a selection of humour-centric comics that utilize different comedic themes that were popular in the 1940s to create entertainment for their targeted viewers that not only provided a break from the stress of the World War II lifestyle, but also connected them with a nostalgic comedy that many people of the time grew up with. Canadian comedy at the time developed very closely with the changing trends in North American popular culture, adapting the main themes of humour that were popular at the time (Wise). Joke Comics 21 encompasses varying comic story lines with different forms of humour, one particular recurring trend being the theme of stupidity as a main comedic source. This was a very prominent theme in so many different forms of comedy during the 1900s with the development of comedy films, and groups such as The Three Stooges. These varying joke comics take well known themes, such as stupidity, that were prominent in the popular comedy acts of the time and present them in a format that provides a break from the harshness of life during World War II.


Popular Comedy in the 1900s

The popularity of humour derived from stupidity was at a high point while Joke Comics 21 was released, especially with the advancements of comedy films that took place a few years prior. Comedic films had been introduced into society a few decades before the start of World War II, setting a base for comedy that adapted over the years with evolving comedic styles and groups. For example, groups such as The Three Stooges were at a peak in popularity during the war. Some of their most famous works were films created and released during World War II, including the films You Nazty Spy! and I’ll Never Heil Again. The Stooges’ main form of comedy, known as low comedy, was generated through the stupidity and the pain of others (Fink 46). Low comedy mainly focuses on physical humour rather than clever dialogue, utilizing the slapstick form of comedy, while also presenting the lower uneducated class as a comedic source by making the audiences laugh at the characters’ acts of overt stupidity (Fink 45-6). This low comedy, slapstick style violence present in many of The Stooges’ work constantly reflected the evident low intelligence of the characters, demonstrating a correlation between the film humour of the time and the humour presented in Joke Comics 21. For example, in the “Spike N’ Mike” comic in Joke Comics 21, the characters Spike and Mike are presented as extremely dumb and naive characters that accidentally thwart the evil Zootari’s plans to kill them continuously over the course of the comic. Their idiotic actions, fuelled by their evident stupidity, result in overtly physical slapstick style incidences (Saakel). “Spike N’ Mike,” as well as many of the other comics in Joke Comics 21, could be seen as low key adaptations of some of the most popular comedic elements at the time. This is done by taking what had already proven to be popular forms of comedy and presenting them in a format that was accessible for the targeted viewers. This mimicking of famous comedy films and groups like The Three Stooges could have acted as a way to draw in audiences while also providing a sense of comfort through familiar entertainment that was present before World War II began.


Slapstick Comedy

Slapstick is a form of comedy that physicalizes the idea of humour through stupidity, reproducing mental idiocy into a ridiculously physical aspect. Its creation opened up the target audience considering its physicality could reach people of any language and age. The origin of slapstick comedy is traced back to the Canadian-born American, Mack Sennett, who created the Keystone film company which grew into a major production company that created some of the most iconic comedy films of the early 1900s. Sennett represents a milestone in the comedy industry, introducing a completely new style of comedy, and exposing audiences to comedy icons such as Charlie Chaplin (Wise). Influencing much of the comedy that was present during World War II, his slapstick style was seen in not only the Joke Comics, but also in traveling comedy groups that were employed by the Canadian Army to visit army camps. The Army Show specifically, being written and produced by the Canadian comedy duo Wayne and Shuster, used a combination of different comedic styles including slapstick to bring entertainment to soldiers fighting for their country (Dougall). Wayne and Shuster’s Army Show started out as a radio show that quickly shifted into a traveling stage show, starting in Canada and eventually traveling through Europe. This transition was made because of the more personal connection live comedy creates between comedian and audience member. Proximity enhances the feeling that each audience member is in on the joke and more engaged with the comedy, also allowing the comedian to use live slapstick styles in a way that connects with the audience more than it would over film (Brodie 153). While Joke Comics 21 reverted back to a more separated connection between comedian and audience, its mix of illustrations and text allowed the slapstick style to be mimicked in a more accessible format.


Superiority Theory

One panel from "Private Stuff" depicting how the character is illustrated with his tongue sticking out
Ted Steef. Page from “Private Stuff.” Joke Comics. No. 21, August 1945, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, p. 5.

Superiority Theory is a humour theory that links closely to slapstick comedy, which is a big part of Joke Comics issue 21. Slapstick comedy is extremely prevalent in the comics, as many characters of the comics use overtly physical movements in a manner that make their actions seem ridiculous. Most of the time the purpose of slapstick comedy is to conjure humour from the misfortunes of others, turning violence into something ridiculous and, therefore, entertaining. However, there are many theories, including Superiority Theory, surrounding Slapstick comedy and why it is such a popular form of humour, especially during the early twentieth century. Violence is a big part of the Superiority Theory, suggesting that people feel better when they see that others are in worse situations than they are (Casper 583). This theory could be connected to why many of the comics in Joke Comics 21 represent characters in such a judgemental light. For example, the character of “Private Stuff” is frequently represented throughout the comic as unintelligent and lower class. This is done not only through his speech but also through the way he is illustrated with his tongue always sticking out and his eyes frequently looking off in different directions, as well as through the slapstick elements of his actions (Steef). This presentation of Private Stuff could be meant to make the readers feel superior to the character, allowing readers to derive pleasure from the contrast between Private Stuff and themselves. However, what is interesting about this portrayal of Private Stuff is that he is set up to be seen as a hero by the readers. He is a soldier who succeeds in protecting his military camp from Nazis who are plotting to blow it up. Even if the means by which he does protect it are slapstick and unorthodox, there is no doubt that he is meant to be a hero. This fact challenges the Superiority Theory because most children are meant to look up to the heroes of their comic, not laugh at their stupidity. It is possible that during the time of its publication this comic was meant to produce a hero figure that children do not look up to, but one that they believe they are better than. This comic functions in line with the Superiority Theory to the extent that it makes the reader feel better about themselves, but also conjures the idea that if Private Stuff can be a hero, anyone can. This would have been an important message to spread to children during World War II, acting as a confidence boost for readers by suggesting that they are just as capable of defeating their own enemies.



Relief Theory

Relief Theory is a humour theory that explores the idea that laughter releases nervous energy to lessen the viewer’s anxiety, which can be connected to the slapstick humour presented in Joke Comics 21 (Fink 50). The main aspect of slapstick comedy that contributes to its ability to produce laughter from its viewers is the presentation of a disconnect between violence and pain. The viewers find it funny because they know that the characters are not actually in pain. Slapstick characters are presented with an almost immunity to pain, and even if it seems they feel it at first the viewers know there will be no lasting effects (Casper 581). This suggests that it is not pain in general that creates laughter, but the absurdness of the absence of pain from violence. The viewers feel free to laugh at these absurd instances because they have no fear that the characters are actually in harm’s way (585). This disconnect between violence and its lasting effects could be an aspect of why the depiction of ridiculous slapstick violence was so popular during World War II. While there was obviously a large amount of very real violence in the world during the war, the illusion that violence produces laughter rather than pain might have functioned as a source of relief for readers. Relief Theory emphasizes the notion of what has been described as “laughable inauthenticity,” where the limits of human reality are pushed to such a ridiculous stage that the viewers are able to laugh at human kind in general (Casper 596). The relief of seeing a world where certain violent actions do not have consequences was probably very appealing during the time of the war, creating a context for viewers to find humour in not just the characters, but also themselves. The Relief Theory’s suggestion that the level of humour a viewer derives from comedic material has a connection to the viewer’s level of anxiety could also present an understanding why the slapstick humour of these comics was so appealing to stressed viewers at the time. This idea would have given children the context and material to disconnect themselves from the very real horror of life during wartime and let their anxiety out through laughter (Fink 50).


Ethnic Humour

One panel from "Jinx" depicting the strange disproportional illustrations of the character
Thomas. Page from “Jinx.” Joke Comics. No. 21, August 1945, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, p. 49.

While slapstick comedy is a representation of stupidity in a physical form, uneducated characters are also represented throughout the comics through their speech, actions and the way they are illustrated. One comic in particular in Joke Comics 21 attempts to utilize ethnic humour by representing the Inuit ethnicity in a generalized uneducated manner. Assigning an entire ethnic group a very universal quality, such as stupidity, as a way to judge and ridicule them in what is meant to be a humorous light is an aspect of ethnic humour that is constantly used in different comedic forms (Takovski 128). However, the fact that this trait assigned to the chosen ethic group is so universal and has no connection at all to said group, ends up creating a boundary between those who are making the jokes and those who the jokes are about. Rather than laughing with the targeted group, the viewers are laughing at them which connects to the previously discussed idea of Superiority Theory, used most often to make one culture seem superior to the other by targeting stereotypes associated with the culture (Takovski 132-3). For example, in the comic “Jinx” found in Joke Comics 21, the characters representing the Inuit culture are illustrated in a strangely disproportional way and their speech is written in a jagged fashion that implies their whole culture is uneducated and uncivilized. They are portrayed living in igloos and frequently around polar bears (Thomas). These stereotype based jokes mixed with the assignment of the universal quality of stupidity, which is the most common trait that is applied to different cultures in ethnic humour, creates a group of people that viewers can separate themselves from and look down on (Takovski 135). This could have been used to generate the desired humour, while also working as a confidence boost for the viewers as they feel themselves to be superior to those they are laughing at. Often the trait of stupidity in ethnic humour is assigned to a culture that seems unusual or uncivilized to the central populace, or to nearby ethnic groups who share land or the same cultural background (135). This could suggest that along with utilizing the functions of Superiority Theory, these comics were meant to use ethnic humour as a way of showing the evolution of the country, suggesting that the society of the time was much better and more civilized than those who the jokes are targeting. Although Joke Comics 21 uses ethnic humour in a racist way that demeans an entire culture by presenting it in a negatively untrue light, during the hard times of World War II this could have functioned as a way of providing a humorous and confidently superior feeling to the viewers.



Although the humour that is used in the comics of Joke Comics issue 21 seems rather outdated and unsatisfying to present society, at the time of its publication these comics were designed in a way that provided comfort to its audience. It uses well known comedic forms of the past, such as stupidity, to create a nostalgic comfort that worked to remind its readers of a time before World War II. It also engages with many different humour theories, suggesting that each comedic element of the comics were shaped in different ways to satisfy their targeted audience. While most of the comics present ideas of racism, disappointing jokes and unneeded violence, the readers of the time could have instead derived from the comics a much needed escape from wartime with appropriated feelings of confidence, nostalgia and relief.

Continue reading The Humour of Joke Comics Issue 21

Escapism, Childhood and World War Two in Canada in Joke Comics Issue 22

© Copyright 2017 Lisa Tower, Ryerson University

The Canadian Whites & Target Readers

When analyzing these comics, it is of importance to acknowledge who was actually reading them. In this case, Canadian children were the target audience. Children during World War II are often overlooked in the research of this time period; when conducting research and sifting through information, it is apparent that the search for testimonies of the Canadian childhood experience of this time period was unfruitful. To fill in the missing links of these lost narratives, the Canadian Whites comics will serve as a representative example of the childhood experience during World War II. This is evident from analyzing content of the Canadian Whites’ issue number 22, “Joke Comics” of October and November 1945, with a focus on “Fun Page by Young,” (Young 9); “Izzy Brite,” (Moyer 22-23); “Tangrams,” (Young 39); and “Young’s Whittle Craft,” (48-50).

The Comics

The “Joke Comics” sought to distract children form the harsh realities of the war by offering comic relief and activities within its pages. “Fun Page by Young” is an activity page within the issue that enlists the reader to participate in activities such as crafts or puzzles. Within this comic, there are four different activities such as a drawing exercise, a letter unscrambling activity, a puzzle involving mathematics, and a puzzle asking the reader to find girls’ names (Young 9). This specific activity page also features drawings of puppies, a woman’s face, and a clown. In the “Izzy Brite” comic, the reader is presented with a young boy and his grandfather, a distinct absence of a mother or father. “Izzy Brite” is one of the only comics within this issue that directly references the war. Izzy goes on to make a machine that pitches baseballs, with one baseball hitting his grandfather in the eye, all presumably in good fun (23).

A two panel spread of Izzy Brite by Hy Moyer. Izzy is talking to his grandfather about baseball players being "tired out old geezers."
Hy, Moyer. “Izzy Brite.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 22. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

The last selection from this comic being examined is “Young’s Whittle Craft” (Young 48-50). This craft asks its young readers to create a wooden dog, including the directions to cut out the dog with a saw. There is no mention of obtaining adult supervision. As well, it asks the children to whittle, sandpaper, and paint the wooden figure (49-50).

It is also interesting to note that within many of these comics and activity pages, there is no reference to a stable family life, nor one of nuclear origins. This is seen especially in “Young’s Whittle Craft,” as mentioned previously, the use of a saw is encouraged to complete the craft, yet no parental supervision is proposed. This is linked to events caused by the war. Many family members such as fathers, brothers, or uncles left their homes, disappearing from their young family members’ lives. The “Joke Comics,” rather than provide children with a predominantly masculinized image or dark tropes of life during the war, instead gives children comic relief in the forms of comics such as “Izzy Brite” and giving them time-consuming activities, such as “Fun Page by Young,” “Tangrams” and “Young’s Whittle Craft.” Very few historical narratives of this time period offer a glimpse into the daily lives of young children, nor the effects the war had on them within Canada during this time period. The Canadian Whites offers a glimpse into these lives, as the comics, under much critical analyses, portray a historical narrative all of its own: escaping the bitter realities of war-time life and its trials.

Childhood Psychology and War

The psychology of early childhood is extraordinary in regards to how, at a young age, individuals can employ a framework which guides their sense of worldview and experience, both to subconsciously protect and also give a sense of power over what they are experiencing (Sutherland 29). Sutherland points out in their article Growing Up: Childhood in English Canada that this mechanism is called a ‘script.’ These scripts are used in different circumstances, Sutherland mentions, be it situational or a personal objective. An example of this can be seen in how a family divides the chores and what roles each family member has. Scripts are therefore used to control memory and perception to help develop a process of understanding even the most traumatic circumstances, such as war. Sutherland interviewed many individuals who grew up during the war as young children. One Canadian woman they interviewed identified a memory of her father, who worked as a seaman during World War II, who had passed away, followed by her grandfather just a year later (22). This woman, as a young child, would have employed a specific script to cope with this trauma which was mentioned during the interview.

A materialized version of a script is seen within the “Joke Comics” analyzed here. The activity pages use puzzles, trivia, word searches, and fun images to promote an unbiased lens into a realm that children can become fixated or lost in, so as to employ a personal ‘script’ to cope with a sense of confusion to the challenges of the real world. These activities would be time consuming, considering the target age groups of these child readers. An example of this is seen with “Tangrams by Young,” (Young 39). The activity page states the following: “A piece of cardboard is the basis of this little party amusement. Any colour can be used, and to add more effect, any number of coloured cards are used” (39). The “Tangrams” page shows 4 ways the cardboard can be constructed, but allows a creative process of involving more shapes. Made with cheap materials, this project would have been available to any child, even during times of scarcity and ration, encouraging an art form that helps ignore the daily trials of war-era Canada.

The Effects of War on the Family

Service in the military took men from all walks of life away from their families; some were gone since the beginning of the war in 1939 and did not return until its completion (Sutherland 64). Due to the nature of child psychology, it was difficult for these young children to make much sense of the concepts of the external world. Even if they did understand, it would be hard for them to process these patterns of thought. Because of this structure, the family’s home was the centre of balance and sometimes the compass for which they found physical and mental consistency (64). Many times, the removal of the head of the family had devastating effects on the lives of those in the household (Durflinger 169). In many instances, once the war was complete, young children would have barely known or recognized their fathers, or perhaps not even had known them at all (228). This sense of stress and anxiety of both the environment of life during the war, but also the removal of many fathers, father figures, brothers, uncles and cousins would sufficiently cause a decrease in the income of a household and high spirits.

In relation to the physical environment of the home during World War II, Canada, although far removed from the conflict, was often fearful of enemy retaliation on home soil. An example of this is seen in Verdun, Quebec that Durflinger ruminates on: an earthquake had “rumbled through the Montreal area on September 5, 1944” (Durflinger 103); incidentally, a mother and her children were discovered in a residential neighbourhood “kneeling on the curbstone praying… at the same time, [they] were shrieking that enemy planes were bombing the city,” (103). Incidents like this were evident every now and then during this time; the stress, fear and anxiety of a troubling time period of housing shortages, food rationing and stamps, and family members suddenly removed from everyday life caused a heightened level of disdain for daily living. This feeling impacted children the most; due to their lack of complete awareness of the outside world, young children looked for forms of distraction that would lighten their spirits and offer a distraction from everyday life. Externally, as children continued on their daily lives, “gradually acquired some sense of the larger circumstances of the world which they lived,” (66). Despite this, these ideologies and experiences of war in Canada only informed what the background of life was on a daily basis.

The End of the Nuclear Family

“Izzy Brite,” upon analysis, begs to ask the question of where Izzy’s immediately family is. Only his grandfather is portrayed in this comic, although this is in reference to the specific issue of the “Joke Comics” issue 22. It appears that Izzy is living with his grandfather (or vice versa), as he speaks to his grandfather, who looks as if he is reading a baseball newspaper (Moyer 22). Izzy has enough time and a lack of supervision to create a device that throws a baseball at the hitter; his grandfather loves the idea and goes so far as to give Izzy a nickel for his hard work (22). The end of the comic shows both Izzy and his grandfather with a black eye due to the baseball machine (23). This comic is fascinating in the sense that it seeks to portray, albeit an obviously exaggerated, family dynamic or activity during the war. It is also fascinating due to the fact that it is one out of only a handful of comics that will directly mention the war and even allude to its effects. This is evident when Izzy says to his grandfather in the first panel, “Oh gramp! Is it true, that because of th’ war- A lot of big league baseball players are tired out old geezers” (22)? The font on ‘tired out’ is bold and emphasized.

This minimal reference can be alluded to the effects that PTSD had on its military overseas that was brought back home; Izzy is trying to make sense of why the baseball players do not want to play anymore. This would have resonated with many children. These young children would have asked why their family members who had served in the military were ‘acting’ differently, or why things were not the same as they used to be. It is interesting to also notice the war ended September 1945 (Hall). The Canadian Whites’ “Joke Comics” issue 22 was therefore printed after World War II was finished. These activity pages would provide children with an outlet to escape from the reality of having a stranger come home, having their family member home but acting differently, or having no one return home at all.

The lack of a nuclear, stable family structure or normal daily life can be linked to a lessened amount of parental supervision. In this aspect, “Young’s Whittle Craft” is an interesting product of its time. Young’s detailed instructions for how to make a “whittled dog” (Young 48) should have some warning of parental supervision implemented, considering the young target readership of these comics. However, there is a lack of warning of the dangers with the use of a coping saw, sandpaper or knife. This is seen on page 48, where the instructions ask to “saw out the rough model with a coping saw.”

A one page spread of Young's Whittle Craft; this page has instructions on how to whittle a dog figure.
Young, Robert. “Young’s Whittle Craft.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 48. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

This craft, compared to activity pages and comics “Fun Page by Young,” “Izzy Brite,” or “Tangrams by Young,” seem to target an older set of readers; however, this would not stop younger children from attempting this. It would be fascinating to analyze data that acknowledges the age groups of those who attempted this activity and who had helped them complete it, if there were any data sets involving this information in existence. But due to the lack of its existence and considering the target readership, many young children would have conducted this project on their own, a lack of supervision would have been apparent.

The Reality of the War and its Effects

Although children did not have a large understanding of the goings-on of the ‘real world,’ as Sutherland has noted, they did realize events that made the war real to them. An example of this can be seen in a report that Gwyn compiled of experiences that young children had during the war: “The events that made the war real for me was when [I] was 7; a friend’s brother drowned in the S.S. Caribou passenger ferry to Canada [which] was sunk by a U-Boat in the Cabot Strait…” (Gwyn). This incident created a real-life awareness that would have been hard to process for a young child. Children through time have been “used as visual metaphors and icons in major wars…” (Glassford). Due to their innocence and the vulnerability which they possess, children are attributed to the empathy of the disastrous effects which the war had on the average Canadian citizen. Gwyn writes in regards to the young children left on the home front were “too young… to have fought, but not yet old enough to have forgotten,” (Gwyn). Many of these children reading the “Joke Comics,” although creating scripts to help them acknowledge what their realities were, also could understand the effects the war had. This caused a sense of fear and anxiety, as well as a need to escape the bitter existence of life on the Canadian home front.


The “Joke Comics,” specifically issue 22, seeks to recognize the effects the war had, while also capitalizing on WECA. The creation of these light-hearted comics and time-consuming activity pages established a form of creativity and an outlet for children to become lost in, allowing the escapist mentality aforementioned to flourish. The obvious climate of fear, stress and anxiety during the war created a cocktail of emotions for young children to work through. By engaging with the “Joke Comics,” these children are able to divulge in an activity or get lost in a ‘funny’ comic that provides them with humour-centric relief, instead of using strong imagery and tropes of the war. “Izzy Brite,” “Tangrams,” Young’s Whittle Craft and “Fun Page by Young” all seek to provide a form of mental relief. In this aspect, this mode of escapism not only encouraged its readers to ignore the troubling effects the war had, but to also encourage learning, humour, and creativity; the comics, in this regard, would have had success in doing so.


Works Cited

  • Durflinger, Serge M. Fighting from Home: The Second World War in Verdun, Quebec. UBC Press, 2006.
  • Glassford, Sarah. “Practical Patriotism: How the Canadian Junior Red Cross and its Child Members Met the Challenge of the Second World War.” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, vol. 7, no. 2, Spring 2014, Accessed February 18, 2017.
  • Gwyn, Sandra. “Too Young to Fight: Memories of Our Youth During World War II.” The Globe and Mai, November 6, 1999, Accessed March 22, 2017.
  • Hall, Michelle. “By the Numbers: End of World War Two.” CNN Library, September 2, 2013. Accessed March 22, 2017.
  • Hy, Moyer. “Izzy Brite.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 22-23. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • 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. 145-65. Project Muse, Accessed February 18, 2017.
  • Sutherland, Neil. Growing Up: Childhood in English Canada from the Great War to the Age of Television. University of Toronto Press, 1997.
  • Young, Robert. “Fun Page by Young.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 9. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Young, Robert. “Tangrams.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 39. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Young, Robert. “Young’s Whittle Craft.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 48-50. 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,


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.