Category Archives: Commando comics

Commando Comic No.13: Representation of Women and Japanese as supporting characters.

@ Copyright 2017 Puebla Ponciano, Alicia, Ryerson University


In this exhibit I will examine the representation of women and Japanese figures separately through several of the stories in the entire thirteenth issue of Commando Comics (1942). The last story in the issue, “Invisible Commando,” has the only woman to take action and fight throughout the comic but was still only as an helper to the men. I will compare the representation of women through the story to the way women were treated within society at the same time to see what societal stereotypes there were for women and why they were used in the comic and what they were used to do.  I also relate this to the racist representation of the Japanese in the first story of the issue “Clift Steele” and compare the minorities in the comics to the way they were perceived in society. Studying these two portrayals of women and Japanese figures in reality in the 1940’s, will give insight to why the comics depicted them in ways that made them secondary to a white male hero. While going through the comic and studying the way these two figures are represented it rises the question of why the illustrators depict these groups in ways that suppress them. By targeting the white male demographic authors were able to market to the patriarchical ideology of society and capitalize on fear and machoism to encourage the white male to join the war and buy comics. They used women as tools that could support them and make it possible to leave the home front and manipulated the fear of the Japanese to create a hatred and encourage them to fight in the front lines. 

How women were depicted.

In the storyline for  “Invisible Commando” there is an interesting portrayal of women as the

L, Bachle. from “The Invisible Commando ”Commando Comics, No. 13, 1944, p. 45. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

only woman featured within the story was a woman who helped the Invisible Commando as she was able to throw a knife across a yard and hit the evil Japanese scientist. This is the only storyline to have a female actually make any productive actions or given any sort of power. By studying this storyline I have noticed that the women representation was powerful and great since she stopped the man trying to take the knowledge of what makes the invisible man invisible but overall she did not save the story, she did not save the day but rather was a helper for the Invisible Commando being able to save the day. She did not save the story but rather enabled the hero so he could save the day which shows the ideology about women being inferior that the illustrator is trying to represent. The portrayal of women in the comic showed that women mattered but not as much as men did.


Women on the home front.

By doing some more research I found that women on the home front where being used in a similar manner to the woman in the Invisible Commando story. Many women during the second world war were asked to leave their duties as a house wife and rather work on the home front making ammunition or taking the jobs that they could that would allow the men to leave their stations and join the fighting front in Europe. Once the war was close to an ending the government began to have a problem as women did better than expected on the field (Globe and Mail 1942) and many of them did not want to go back to work, as 91% of women were open to find employment after the war  (Stephen, 129). They were given the opportunity for more freedom and independence in the work field and many women did not want to give it up. This is relevant because the government had planned to put men back to work once they returned from the war. This shows the value of women in the eyes of the government and how they were expected to be accessories that could be used while the men where out in the field and placed back home once the war finished.

Hubert Rogers. Attack on All Fronts.1943.Canadian War Museum Archive. Public Domain

By analyzing propaganda distributed at the time audiences can see how women were portrayed as important enough to be valued but not as important as the male. Men were the protectors and women needed protecting but while they were away women were left to do the work on the home front in a time where there was no other option. This poster that encourages women to join the fight on the home front while visually suppressing them to the bottom of the ranks. This portrays the ideology that society had about women at the time and proves that they were looked at as secondary to men despite their efforts to contribute to the war.

Overall by analyzing the social stance of women at the time of the publication of the comic I have noticed that the characters are representations of the reality of women at the time. The creators where trying to replicate the way women were expected to be in a white mans ideology. At the time the government was not done trying to recruit for the war. This acts as a subtle hint to the white man demographic that was needed to convince the men that the women would be there to support them while they were needed to stop the real enemy, similar to the comic where the female was strong enough to help out but only as a supporting role.

The depiction of Japanese characters in the comic.

By studying the first story of the issue called “Clift Steele”, where the Japanese enemies

J, Darian. from “Clift Steele ”Commando Comics, No. 13, 1944, p. 5. two panels. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

were characterized in a racist manner and the “heroes” of the story used derogatory terms towards them. I noticed that although it made sense to create a negative connotation around the enemy the creators instead used the physical attributes of the Japanese to degrade which acts as an insult to not only the Japanese axis that the allies were actually fighting but to the Japanese -Canadians who where not involved in the war at all. In the comic the “heroes”  regard the Japanese as the “Yellow Boys” and “Nips” and this creates a physical mockery of the characters. I believe these were used in order to create a hatred of Japanese people in the mind of the readers . The illustrators also depict the Japanese characters in a manner that is negative as they have more curved spines and walk with a hunch that makes them look smaller and like less than the heroes to creates an image of an enemy.


Japanese-Canadians on the home front.

Upon more research into the reality of the Japanese Canadians there has been records of Japanese Canadians being forced to live in internment camps so they could not pose a threat to Canadians within Canada. Many and most of these people were Canadian citizens and many had never even been to Japan (McAllister, 137). The conditions in the internment camps were terrible and they were treated as less than human(McAllister, 143) as they were expected to leave behind their whole life because they were a threat based on their physical attributes. The government claimed that it was an act to keep the people safe but there is a possibility that it was because they wanted to maintain the idea of us versus them in order to encourage the radicalness that would get more people to join the war, if Japanese Canadians were joining the war the white male dominated community would act out of fear and hatred because of who they are supposed to be fighting and end up hurting or killing their own neighbours. At the time the white male liked fighting in one unit that all looked the same because they believed that they could trust each other so in order to keep this unity the government segregated the Japanese Canadians and claimed it was for protection.

Overall the Japanese -Canadians were depicted in a manner that created a negative connotation around their physical attributes which created a fear and hatred towards all being who shared those attributes. In order to create unity within the nation the government pushed out all those who could be seen as the enemy into internment camps to protect their “own” and make them believe they needed to be the heroes like in the storyline and fight off the “evil” Japanese. 


The ideology of the white male dominated society during the second world war

At the time of the second world war the world was not as open as it is today in 2018, society saw things in a much more slanted view and had a supreme ideology about the white man as they were the only ones with full rights. Women had barely just earned the right to vote and Japanese Canadians were being locked away. The ideology at the time was that the white men held all the possibility in the world and controlled all the decisions. They decided if there would be a war, who would be in that war and how they could help and luckily in the second world war the boundaries opened up a bit in regards to gender and race but the white man still held the most power in the world. This relates to the comic as during the war the targeted audience was the white male and in order to reach that demographic they follow their ideologies, like the degrading of the Japanese and the use of women in order to hit their market. If they can hit their market then they can make more money and encourage more of the white men to join the war as they were who was wanted to fight the axis .

How the comics creators used methods to pull on the ideology of the targeted demographic

By playing on the white males ideologies they were able to use their own techniques in order to appeal to the market and get them to read more. They capitalized on their fear of the Japanese to create an enemy that they could defeat in the comic and make them feel more secure. They also capitalized on their dependability on women to ensure the men that they could leave and the women would take care of the home front until they get back. They drew the Japanese specifically to look weaker then the “heroes” of the story intentionally to add to their egos and make them more confident in themselves and their capabilities . While they also drew the female in the “Invisible Commando” in a demeaning form as she was essentially wearing a bra and a mini skirt on a battle field, they did this to create intrigue with the character and make the market more comfortable with her character as she was beautiful and works well as assisting them with their needs.


Works Cited

Bachle, Leo. “The invisible Commando.” Commando Comics, no. 2, March, 1942, pp. 43-48. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada

Darian, Jon. “Clift Steele.” Commando Comics, no. 2, March, 1942, pp. 1-7. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada

Hallowell, Gerald. “Cartoonist.” The Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Oxford University press, 2004. rskey=xrnhlt&result=2

Hallowell, Gerald. “Wartime Internment.” The Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Oxford University press, 2004. rskey=QOBJag&result=1

“Huge Increase in Gun Output Here, Women Workers’ Skill Amaze M.P.’s.” Globe and Mail, 11 June 1942.

McAllister, Kirsten. “Photographs of a Japanese Canadian Internment Camp: Mourning Loss and Invoking a Future.” Visual Studies, vol. 21, no. 2, 2006, pp. 133–56.

Rogers, Hubert. Attack on All Fronts. 1943, fact/1019736/q=&page_num=1&item_num=0&media_irn=5399483&mode=artifact. Canadian War Museum.

Stephen, Jennifer A. “Balancing Equality for the Post-War Woman: Demobilising Canada’s Women Workers After World War Two.” Atlantis, vol. 32, no. 1, 2007, pp. 125–35.

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

Commando Comic No.19: Effects of Propaganda on Canadian Children

Dawn Erley

ENG 810-011

Prof. Tschofen

29 November 2017


In the comic Commando Comic No.19., propaganda against Japanese people is prevalent. The stories “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” and “The Young Commandos” use images that resemble Golem in reference to the Japanese, thus framing them as monstrous people. This propaganda instills a negative view of Japanese people in the minds of Canadian children, and is dangerous as it could lead to future racism.


Comic Context


Commando Comic No. 19 Title Page.

Moyer, Hy, et al. “Commando Comic No.19.” Commando Comic No.19, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1945, pp.1-56.


Commando Comic No.19 was created in 1945 during World War Two. (Moyer et al.) Previous to the war, Japan invaded Manchuria in 1932 and China itself in 1937. (Keery 11)When the war officially began, Japan attacked Hong Kong on December 8th 1941. (Keery 14) Following this attack, the 1,860 Canadians that were left surrendered. (Keery 17) These men were tortured, and as a result of malnutrition,“264 Canadian Prisoners of war died” by 1945. (Keery 17) American President Roosevelt was concerned about these events, so he created an embargo on oil sales to Japan in 1941, thus cutting down their oil supplies by 93% .(Keery 11) This embargo is what led to the “surprise aerial attack on the U.S naval base” on December 7th 1941, igniting war for the American people. (encyclopaedia brittanica) The attack on Pearl Harbour was initiated by Japanese Prime Minister Tōjō Hideki (encyclopaedia brittanica), and  “climaxed a decade of worsening relations between the United States and Japan” that had begun with the invasion of China in 1937 (encyclopaedia brittanica). 2,300 people died during this attack. The states were united and war was declared against the Japanese on December 8th 1941. (encyclopaedia brittanica) A few short years after Pearl Harbour which involved Canada, The United States, Commando Comic No. 19 was released.


Propagandistic Elements of “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator”


Throughout the comic “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” there are several propagandistic images and words aimed at the Japanese. For example, the three crewmen named “Gabby”, “Suds” and “Marty” all sit in a lifeboat following a plane versus submarine battle. (Moyer et al. 3) This fight leads the reader to believe they are soldiers. “Gabby” sees an island in the distance, “Marty” wonders if there may be ‘Japs’ on it and “Suds” says “they’ll not take me alive —- their cruelty to prisoners knows no bounds.” (Moyer et al. 3) This panel informs the reader that these men view Japanese people as being cruel without bounds as well as people who take prisoners. However, Canadians also took prisoners during World War Two, as noted by Jacques Dextraze, a Canadian soldier:

“…and we take some prisoners… When the man in charge of the prisoners comes to a bridge – he had made them run almost three miles – he says: ‘no, you lot blew up the bridges, you are going to swim.’ Well, you can well imagine that a man who has run three miles and then tries to swim… Most of them drowned.” (Dyer 236)


Moreover, the creators of this comic are being hypocritical, as soldiers from their own country have both taken prisoners and showed them unimaginable cruelty, so cruel that Dextrase noted “fifty bodies of drowned men” in this one instance. (Dyer 236)

“Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” follows “Gabby”, “Suds”, “Marty” and later on “Salty”. The reader associates themselves with these men – much like when an individual watches a film and puts themselves in the shoes of the main character, called typing-. Therefore, an impressionable child would take the crew’s views whilst reading this narrative. Upon further inspection of the characters names, which always appear in quotations in this story, some references seem apparent. The first character “Marty” could very easily be a reference to a man named Marty Robbins.


Marty Robbins

“Marty Robbins.” Discogs, Discogs, 2017,


“Robbins enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II,” he operated an LCM and when waves smashed it, “the crew was stranded on Bougainville Island”, an island that was occupied by the Japanese in 1942. (Diekman)  His situation can be compared to that of “Marty” and the crew, who are working on a ship and end up stranded on an island inhabited by the Japanese as well. It is not unreasonable to believe that this story’s creator based it on real world events that took place just before its release in 1944. Additionally, the course of Robbins life would have been widely broadcasted in Canada as he was a famous country singer. (Diekman) The inclusion of this names is critical as Robbins is considered a wartime hero, thus children would want to associate themselves with him and would be inclined to take on his position against the Japanese.

A few more examples of the propaganda in this comic are when “Salty” and the crew use a “sneak play” and refer to the Japanese as “dirty jungle fighters” . They follow the Japanese to their garrison and decide to take them out. “Salty” strangles a Japanese man from behind and says, “this is one of your own strangle holds ‘nippee’—– how does it feel?” (Moyer et al. 5) as he snaps the mans neck. This dialogue implies that the Japanese are guerilla fighters, and later on, as the soldiers walk back to the garrison, they refer to the Japanese as “dirty jungle fighters” (Moyer et al. 7), thus solidifying this implication. However, the Japanese are not the only people to use guerilla warfare. Serres Sadler of the Calgary Highlanders reflected on the atrociousness of battle, stating that “when you think back about some of the things you did, and they did to you, it was totally frightening.” (Dyer 242) Therefore, “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” references famous war heroes and bashes the Japanese for wartime techniques that both the American and Canadian army used during World War Two. This was done in an effort to brainwash children into viewing the Japanese as dirty and sneaky while simultaneously instilling a sense of Canadian nationalism.


Propagandistic Elements of “The Young Commandos”


“The Young Commandos” also contains propaganda. An example of this is the title page. It contains three Japanese soldiers -as noted by the circles on their helmets meant to represent the Japanese flag, the stereotypical slit eyes and buck teeth – punching a white male – as noted by his thick eyebrows, slicked hair and sharp jawline-. However, this symbolic image of the Japanese harming Canadian soldiers is not the disturbing element, it is the Japanese soldier in the background of the image with blacked out eyes, goblin ears and buck teeth. This representation of the Japanese as demonic and goblin-esque dehumanizes the Japanese and foreshadows the propaganda that is to be found on the pages following. (Moyer et al. 23)

Later on, the comic’s creators decided that in place of names for the Japanese characters they would simply insert an assortment of lines that resemble Japanese text without actually being such. (Moyer et al. 24) This is highly offensive to the Japanese as it pokes fun at their language. As the reader further progresses through the story, the white prisoners of the Japanese are brought up on a platform for a public execution, all the while the prisoners refer to the Japanese as ‘Japs’. (Moyer et al. 26)  A prominent detail in this segment of the story is when the executioner, a Japanese male, is shot in the eyeball. Here, in this triangular panel located directly in the centre of the page, is yet another image depicting the Japanese as Golem. The man’s eyes are angled with exaggerated pupils, his eyebrows are angled downwards in an evil fashion and his ears are elvish. (Moyer et al. 26) This repetition of the Japanese as goblins instills an association between the Japanese and monsters in the minds of children. Following this snapshot, Captain Reddy and some ‘guerillas’ -Japanese soldiers- come barging onto the scene of the execution, killing as they go. The Japanese stranglehold mentioned in the comic “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” is used against the enemy by a Japanese guerilla fighter. (Moyer et al. 27) The Japanese soldiers being attacked are once again presented similar to Golem as they are killed by their own people. They surrender, and the Japanese that helped the white soldiers are praised for “[keeping their] people’s fighting spirit alive.” (Moyer et al. 28) Perhaps this is a message to Japanese born children and young adults living in Canada to help with the war effort. It shows that in defeating the Japanese, despite the fact that the ‘guerillas’ were Japanese, they will be thanked and accepted.


Japanese Culture in Canada


The beginning of Japanese culture in Canada can be traced to the arrival of Manzo Nagano, who arrived in British Columbia in 1877. (Grypma 10) After a few years, “Japanese people of many backgrounds were immigrating to Canada.” (Grypma 11) Despite the discrimination they faced as noted by the “federal Parliament’s 1902 Royal Commission of Inquiry on Chinese and Japanese immigration into British Columbia” (Grypma 12 ), and the 1907 Vancouver Riot in which “white mobs rampaged the Chinese and Japanese quarters of the city, assaulting citizens” (Grypma 20-21), many Japanese men volunteered for World War One. They supported the war effort, thinking that their support would lead to “the public’s support of Chinese [and Japanese] Canadians” (Grypma 21). In World War Two, “the federal government had [still] maintained a fairly steadfast opposition to recruiting Asians” (Grypma 61). The British government had to essentially convince the Canadian government to allow for Asian soldiers, as they needed volunteers for the SOE spy mission in Asia. (Grypma 61)

British Columbia Internment Camps


Image of Japanese Canadian Children during Japanese Relocation

“Young Japanese Canadians Being Relocated in British Columbia, 1942.”

The Canadian Encyclopedia, 23 Feb. 2012,

The internment of  Japanese people in British Columbia began in 1942 when the Canadian Government “incarcerated over 15,000 Japanese Canadians in fifteen hastily built internment camps located in isolated mountain valleys throughout the interior of the province of British Columbia.” (McAllister) It began shortly after the news of Pearl Harbour came through. A fear of Japanese invasion in Canada ignited, and was kept up by the sensationalist press. (Marsh) However, the Japanese Canadians did not “constitute the slightest menace to national security” as noted by Major General Kenneth Stuart. (Marsh) The British Columbian politicians of the time turned the very presence of the Japanese into a scandal, speaking of them “in the way that the Nazis would have spoken about Jewish Germans”, said Canadian diplomat Escott Reid. (Marsh) Japanese Canadians suffered from from 1942 – 1949 because of the actions of those overseas.

British Columbian Internment Camps are best described in Takeo Ujo Nakano’s poem entitled, “Within the Barbed Wire Fence: A Japanese Mans Account of His Internment in Canada”:  

“Against such a thing as tears, resolved, when taking leave of home.Yet at that departure whistle, my eyes fill. Initial detention in the Livestock Building at the PNEgrounds in Vancouver; reek of manure, stench of livestock, and we are herded, milling – jumble of the battlefield. Leaving the CPR station in Vancouver for the interior; many passed this way, my countrymen.This train whistle they must have heard, and passed. Their feelings come to me. At the road camp to which Japanese Canadian men were sent, primeval forest! Feeling as though in violation, cutting down standing trees before watchful guards. Cutting firewood. And his decision two decades later to become a Canadian citizen. As final resting place, Canada is chosen. On citizenship paper, signing, hand trembles.” (Nakano)

This account highlights the pain the Japanese went through, and the struggle to decide to identify as Canadian afterwards. This internment lasted for a few years after the war ended, and Commando Comic No.19 was created during this time period. This comic may have helped to perpetrate the attack against the Japanese in Canada, and justify government actions in the minds of Canadian children, creating a dislike for the Japanese.

German Propaganda Posters in Comparison to Commando Comic No.19.


“Der Jude Kriegsanstifter Kriegsverlangerer.” MADMENART,

The images in these stories can be compared to German propaganda posters of the same time period. The main similarity that can be drawn between “Der Jude” and the images throughout these two stories is the presentation of the “other” as monstrous. For example, in Der Jude the Jewish population is shown as one large, looming, evil figure. The figure appears to be evil because it is much larger than the other, smaller people in the poster. The darkness of the poster in terms of colour also adds a shadowy dimension to the figures face, making it appear even more frightening. (MADMEN) This poster can be compared to the image of the Japanese man with blacked out eyes on the title page of “The Young Commandos”. His blacked out eyes, the use of exaggerated lines on his face, and his large teeth also frame him as monstrous. (Moyer et al. 23) Moreover, these stories and propaganda share much in common, therefore making it plausible that these stories are in fact propaganda.


Effects of Propaganda on Children


To understand the effects that Propaganda would have on a child, it is first crucial to understand the effects that communications have on the general public. What follows is a list of principles and effects of communications as noted by the research of Wilbur Schramm:

  1. Mass Communications are capable of causing learning to take place and of changing attitudes and opinions in their audiences, the extent of the learning and changes being limited by the related variables in the situation.
  2. The amount of factual information retained is highest immediately after the communication is received, and thereafter decreases in a curve of forgetting. As facts drop away, general conclusions emerge, and these conclusions ally themselves with new material which agrees with the individual’s original attitude toward the content. Thus the amount of opinion or attitude change may at times increase while the amount of factual retention is decreasing.
  3. The amount of learning from mass communications, when other variables are controlled, is proportional to the intellectual ability of the member of the audience. (Schramm 404-405)


These first three principles highlight the fact that mass communications can influence opinions on specific subject matter. Information is mostly retained right after the communication is received. Later on, the facts drop away and general conclusions are made about the communication, thereby changing the individual’s original attitude towards the material. Lastly, it states that varying levels of education produce varying results of learning from the communication, meaning that a child for instance may absorb more information than an intellectual adult. The next most important principles of the effects of mass communications are numbers six, eight and twelve:  

  1. The cumulative effects of mass communications are powerful. The communications blend into and form a large part of the individual’s environment, and contribute to the attitudes and opinions which remain as the facts are forgotten.
  2. Persons are more likely to learn from a communication if they like it, than if they do not.
  3. Repetition, especially repetition with variation, appears to contribute both to factual and to attitude learning. (In the latter case, it seems to serve as confirmation and as an indication of membership in a majority) (Schramm 405-406)


These three principles state that communications become part of the targets environment. If the individual likes the communication they will learn the intended messages, such as the fun, faced-paced nature of a comic which is meant to be enjoyable. Additionally, if repetition is included in the communication the individual will have a perceived sense of belonging to a majority. Therefore, the children reading these  stories  will take the information in them as the majority’s view, and be more inclined to believe what it is telling them.

In conclusion, the propaganda within the Commando Comic No.19 stories “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” and “The Young Commandos” had the power to convince Canadian children that the Japanese were monstrous people. Mass communications leave a prominent impact on people, and without the recognition that these stories were created to have an impact, children are left to vulnerably absorb their contents and take them as fact, thus making it okay for future racism against the Japanese people.  


Works Cited

“Der Jude Kriegsanstifter Kriegsverlangerer.” MADMENART,

Diekman, Diane. “Marty Robbins.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 19 July 2017,

Dyer, Gwynne. Canada in the Great Power Game 1914-2014. Vintage Canada, 2015.

Grypma, Sonya. “China Interrupted.” WLU Press – Transforming Ideas, Aug. 2012,

Keery, Paul, and Michael Wyatt. Canada at War: a Graphic History of World War Two. Douglas & McIntyre, 2012.

Marsh, James H. “Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears.” The Canadian Encyclopedia,

“Marty Robbins.” Discogs, Discogs, 2017,

Mcallister, Kirsten. “Photographs of a Japanese Canadian Internment Camp: Mourning Loss and Invoking a future1.” Visual Studies, vol. 21, no. 2, 2006, pp. 133–156., doi:10.1080/14725860600944989.

Moyer, Hy, et al. “Commando Comic No.19.” Commando Comic No.19, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1945, pp. 1–56.

Schramm, Wilbur. “The Effects of Mass Communications: A Review.” Review of Effects of Mass Communication by Carl I. Hovland & The Effects of Mass Media by Joseph T. Klapper. Journalism Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 397–406.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Pearl Harbor Attack.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 23 Feb. 2017,

Violette, Forrest E. La, et al. “Within the Barbed Wire Fence. A Japanese Man’s Account of His Internment in Canada.” Pacific Affairs, vol. 54, no. 2, 1981, p. 399., doi:10.2307/2757416.

“Young Japanese Canadians Being Relocated in British Columbia, 1942.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 23 Feb. 2012,


Commando Comics No. 21: The relation of Heroism and Villainy to the Damsel in Distress

© Vincent Maher 2017, Ryerson University


In Commando Comics No.21 ‘Doc Stearne’, written by Fred Kelly (44-50), its story introduces somes stakes that revolves around a select group of characters coming into conflicts with the antagonists, the Imperial Japanese Army, located in Northern Canada. The selected story arc of show how representations assigns the role of both the protagonists and antagonists. What then emerges are the constructions of what those representations show with regards to each character, which is why I would like to delve into how women are shown enhances the construction of heroism. The focus on seeing what is provided within the comic arc would be to take a look at the interactions of the characters in the comic, and take a look as to how they are positioned and drawn. The first step in delving into the representations featured in the story, ‘Doc Stearne’, there are representations that are solely focused on specific groups that limit itself with the division of how gender assigns the roles of the all the characters that exist within this respective story. Three major ones that can be identified within the story are the heroes, villains, and the captive damsel in distress. Each of these three play a role in the story that allows the plot to advance from beginning to end, since each side would continue to act upon their own goals in order for that story’s completion to be certain. Within the content provided in the slides of the comic’s pages, the characters all play their respective roles given by the artists for themes to emerge. Showcasing the Japanese in the comic depiction of a World War II scenario, alongside main protagonists delves into the notion of the comic leaning towards how the theme of heroism is enhanced. That focus on heroism seems to have been centered on the main protagonists in the story, the explorers, with respects to their own goals. “World War II had drastically changed the position of race in comics and, by implication, in America’s popular imagination.” (Lenthall 18.)

The story

For the summarization of the storyline that takes place within ‘Doc Stearne’, it begins and it sets the stage with the introduction of the protagonists and the antagonists. The antagonists, the Japanese, show themselves to set themselves against the main protagonists, by capturing one of the protagonists’ friends. The explorers are now setting themselves in their own goals by chasing after the Japanese that have taken their friend, Gloria. So as that short story begins to move and events continue to unfold, it’s a direct march for the explorers for them to infiltrate the Japanese hideout to save Gloria. To note, Gloria is the only existing female character that exists within the comic, but both the explorers and the Japanese are shown to have only consisted of male characters. There are further questions that are to be taken into account, to ask possibly on how significant these representations are with how the comic has been drawn. To ask these questions would mean to ponder further on why characters are placed in their respective roles, and why their respective roles have come together to interact with one another. ““Historian Bradford Wright has written, “Comic books are history.” As primary sources of popular culture, they have emerged from a specific context, reflecting the politics, prejudices’ and concerns of a particular historical moment. Comics have also shaped the outlook of America’s young people.” (Aiken 1).

Villains and Heroes

The explorers in the story are meant to be a placeholder in the comic’s presentation of to show what the stakes are for the characters. So one question is, how have these representations allowed the comic to display its features on what is villainized and what is praised as the heroic ones? And what other features besides the characters exist in the comic itself? So first things first, there comes the depictions of the drawings and depictions of the explorers. Since the explorers are pinning themselves willingly against the Japanese Kamikaze holdout, they have to be drawn a certain way since they are supposed to be a small band against an entire army that’s awaiting them. Throughout the story, the explorers are drawn as silhouettes, showing their movements as they are in constant motion, appearing rather tense and showing a bit of anger on their faces.

Commando Comics No. 21 “Doc Stearne” January 1946, Bell and Features Publishing, p.47

Since they are moving into a space which they aren’t welcome, they are forced to move into the Japanese hideout since they have had a deed that they had also considered unwelcoming, which came in the form of capturing the explorer’s companion, Gloria. So in return, they are retaliating with brute force, which the strategy that they use to retaliate via an explosion would result in the Japanese hideout going up in flames.

As for the Japanese soldiers that are featured within the comic themselves, they all appear to be tensed up as some of them are preparing to stand guard to defend their own territory. But in addition, since the story is taking place in Northern Canada, they would most likely be making attempts to maintain their location on foreign soil that they don’t belong in. One of the main incentives for them to stand their ground and guard their hideout is due to the fact that they have Gloria in their captivity. And as for Gloria herself, she is the only female character to be drawn into the comic’s story.

Commando Comics No. 21 “Doc Stearne” January 1946, Bell and Features Publishing, p.50

The story would not even begin to move anywhere, nor would it have revealed any of its threats, in this case the Japanese, without Gloria’s initial capture in the beginning of the comic’s story. So this is where ‘Doc Stearne’ and its characters are split up in terms of their roles. The explorers are supposed to represent the heroes fighting to free Gloria, while the Japanese are presented as the villains who are trying to keep Gloria from getting away, as she is shown restrained with her arms tied and lifted above her. This is where we can bring gender into question with regards to determining these roles.

How does Gender fit?

To bring gender into question with relation to this story is, how this comic has distinctively and uniquely presented its own story is how it has been fabricated to display its own messages and themes together in a compressed package. First off, the story is only six pages long, and the rescue mission is shown to be cut away into very quick segments of a single story. Potentially, this comic could have been written to an extent where the writers decide for them to write a fully fleshed out story, but they instead choose the faster path and give us six pages instead. The very interesting distinction that this comic has allowed us to get is how the main protagonists are more hidden behind silhouettes, and yet the antagonist are the ones that possess a face throughout. Also incorporating itself into the presentation of the comics is the results that comes with the ending results of the protagonists and antagonists, with regards to what’s left behind after the progression of the story continues. The actions that are taken by the characters, and who’s shown to have been affected, ultimately comes from the carnage of the environments around them. And keep in mind that these protagonists, though they were shown to display some competency towards wielding weapons, were only explorers and not a league of superheroes, or an elite band of soldiers.

“JAP BEAST AND HIS PLOT TO RAPE THE WORLD” Propaganda Image. Country Press, 1942.

They weren’t obligated to attack the Japanese, since they, as explorers, wouldn’t have wanted to have any sort of conflict with them.

Commando Comics No. 21 “Doc Stearne” January 1946, Bell and Features Publishing, p.45

But now that the Japanese have caused that disturbance to the explorers, it has now marked the two male groups against one another, while the one female character waits to see the end result of whose side she will stay with at the end of the story.

Historical relations and inspiration

So it is now time to connect the dots with the comic and bits and pieces of research to understand the significance of the comic’s featured imagery and its uniqueness of its own story telling format. This is to explore the significance of the previously listed images and drawings from this comic. Let’s start with the Japanese antagonists. Recall that in the story, they have been portrayed as the main driving force against the heroes, and they have been portrayed in a way that makes them look tense, standing guard in their respective positions as they were protecting their hideout. “This preoccupation mixed the unknowns of a complex language, an ‘alien’ race and an ‘exotic’ culture with the response from Europe and America to a rising Asian power and the re-ordering of the world of nineteenth-century empires.” (Everest-Philips 7). With this statement, it relates back to the narrative of the comic with Everest-Philips’ comments on the response of the Imperial Japanese Army and how they had been received previously during the time of the war. This could indicate towards the inspiration that Fred Kelly would have had to draw upon to create the material and drawings, depicting the Japanese in his comic and the reactions that the explorers had with their presence and actions. Furthermore, relating back to the protagonists of the story, the explorers, “Allegations of foreign subversion often play an important part for political leadership in promoting a sense of national unity, clarifying national values and providing a high moral sanction and sense of righteousness.” (Everest-Philips 21). The “righteousness”, the “clarification of national values”, “high moral sanction” connects towards the explorers while the “foreign subversion” is connected towards the drawings of the Japanese in the comic, as a presence being intrusive in attempts to dominate and assert their will and power. Despite the attempt in the comic to showcase the Japanese as dominant figures, they still remained to have been left for the heroes to show their own retaliation on sequences such as page 49 and 50 resulting in a giant fire as the aftermath of their response. Raiding the base to free Gloria paints them as the righteous characters who are fighting against the Japanese who are considered the antagonists of the story as a purging event for them to pay for their intrusion. This also ties in with the tragic event that had put an end to the Second World War: the Atomic bombs being dropped on Japan. “The most powerful symbols of Japan’s defeat were the atomic bombs. It was the sheer scale of the destructiveness of these bombs that anointed the Japanese for ever as victims of the war.” (Shimazu 10). “Due to the highly politicized nature of the atomic bombs as the symbol of extremities — both peace and war — memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become an internationalized memory of the war.” (10). Due to the fiery exit that the heroes are shown in the comic, as they are walking away with as the victors and with Gloria in their safety. The artists who have created and drawn this comic in 1946 would have had fresh bits and pieces with the fresh highlights of the end of the Second World War just occurring the previous year. In the crafting of this story, making those decisions to draw this story arc would have been influenced by that complete collapse of Japan’s Empire in 1945. The sense of victory and triumph could have been further celebrated with the releases of these comics, in a way, humiliating and tarnishing the image of the former empire, leaving the heroes to be shown as the righteous ones with freeing a character who could not fight for herself.


The chosen representations drawn and written specifically for this short story has been shown as a by-product with responses given an artistic treatment shown by comic artists wishing to capture a piece of the passing war. Depicting these characters in this related story has shown the types of characters that comic artists at the time would have been inspired to draw, and in the case of ‘Doc Stearne’, it has shown that inspiration being brought together into a tightly compressed package. In conclusion, ‘Doc Stearne’ in Commando Comics No. 21 has shown itself to reinforce those values of constructing the image of heroism through gender roles, while ultimately painting the image of a defeated enemy that has had their invasive tyranny come to an end thanks to the efforts of the depicted heroes fighting against that tyranny.

Work Cited 

Aiken, Katherine G. “Superhero History: Using Comic Books to Teach U.S. History.” OAH Magazine of History vol. 24 no. 2, April 2010 pp 41-47.

Everest-Philips, Max. “The Pre-War Fear of Japanese Espionage: Its Impact and Legacy.” Journal of Contemporary History. vol.42 no.2, April 2007, pp. 243-265.

Kelly, Fred. “Doc Stearne” Commando Comics No. 21. January, 1946. pp. 44-50. Bell Features  Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Lenthall, Bruce. “Outside the Panel – Race in Americaʼs Popular Imagination: Comic Strips before and After World War II.” Journal of American Studies. vol. 32 no.1, April 1998, pp. 39-61.

Shimazu, Naoko. “Popular Representations of the Past: The Case of Postwar Japan.” Journal of Contemporary History vol. 38, no. 1, January 2003 pp. 101-116.

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.