EDITORIAL INTRODUCTION TO THE CANADIAN WHITES: ACTIVE AND DIME COMICS
This exhibition, published by second-year students in Advanced English Research Methods at Ryerson University, curates monthly issues of Active Comics (1942-44) and Dime Comics (1942-46). These comics are part of a rare “Canadian Whites” collection held by Ryerson University Library Archives and Special Collections.
The Canadian Whites are important to the study of Canadian comic books, popular culture, and social history. They emerged after the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) limited the importation of American comics. As a result of this ban, enterprising Canadian publishers and artists began publishing their own comics for Canadian children, featuring Canadian superheroes and Canadian content. These comics became known as the “Canadian Whites” because, due to wartime restrictions, only their covers were printed in colour: the interior pages were black and white. This exhibition suggests that the “Canadian Whites” moniker may be understood metaphorically as well as materially. First, both Active and Dime Comics construct Canadian identity on an assumed white body. Second, these comics portray differences between Canadians and foreign others, men and women, and good and evil, in stark black-and-white binaries.
In addition to offering a lens through which to view Canadian values and beliefs during World War II, Active Comics and Dime Comics are part of local Toronto history. In 1941, the Canadian artist Adrian Dingle joined Toronto publisher Cy Bell to publish Active and Dime Comics at Bell Features. Active Comics featured all-Canadian heroes like Dixon of the Mounties and The Brain; Dime Comics introduced the iconic Johnny Canuck, created by the teen-aged Toronto artist from Danforth High School, Leo Bachle. These comic books contain much more than action-packed, sequential stories about the adventures of Canadian super heroes, however. Each monthly issue included a variety of other material: educational sections, advertisements, interactive opportunities, joke pages, and—crucially—information about the war front. In Active Comics, the “Active Jim” club encouraged children across Canada to get involved in the war effort in various ways—for example, collecting and recycling trash, or buying war stamps and bonds. In order to place these comics in the context of wartime propaganda, visual culture, and news reportage, the class examined posters, photographs, and ephemera at the Toronto Reference Library.
This exhibition explores the complex ways in which Active and Dime Comics shaped children’s knowledge of the war and constructed their notions of Canadian identity. While inculcating child readers with patriotic and nationalist values and ideologies, these comics also constructed negative ideas of racialized others, particularly those of Japanese and German origins. These comic books from the 1940s reveal a Canadian identity very different from our current self-image as a nation that celebrates diversity and inclusivity. Both visual and verbal representations present negative stereotypes of Asians, blacks, First Nations people, and women. In 2017, 150 years after Confederation, the Canadian Whites force us to confront the dark matter of Canada’s past, and to consider how that history might continue to inform actions, beliefs, and identities today. The Canadian Whites remind us of the power of ephemera, popular culture, and children’s literature to shape citizens, and they inspire us to intervene critically through analysis, exposure, and self-reflection.
The exhibition is arranged chronologically, by monthly issue within each comic book title. You can browse the title/author list below, or use the search bar (Q) to type in a key word. We hope you enjoy our exhibition on The Canadian Whites: Active and Dime Comics.
Members of the ENG810-011 W2017 class and Professor Lorraine Janzen Kooistra (April 2017)
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.
Thank you to the staff at Ryerson University Library and Archives, especially Val Lem and Alison Skyrme, and to the Centre for Digital Humanities, especially Reginald Beatty, for their support of this research.
Themes of the Representation of Violence and War through Canadian Identity and the Portrayal of the Axis Powers in Dime Comics Issue No. 22