© 2017 Kayla McKenzie, Ryerson University
Dog Fights and Ace Pilots: Dime Comics No. 17
The Second World War was a taxing period for both adults and children. Many sacrifices were made, included halting the import of none essential goods. The introduction of the War Exchange Conservation Act of December 1940 brought about such reforms. Children were hit quite hard, as they lost their Comic book heroes (Bell 30). It was a loss not only of a source of entertainment but a loss of their comic book friends. Canadian children also had to cope with the harsher realities of wartime. Prime among this was watching their family members go to war, with the possibility of not returning. But in true Canadian spirit, Canadian comic book publishers formed. These companies were; Maple Leaf Publishing, Educational Projects, Anglo America, and Bell Features (Pascoe). Bell Features introduced a great line up of all Canadian heroes that represented the ideologies of Canadian values and appearances. Their heroes included the likes of Rex Baxter, Nitro, and Johnny Canuck.
Rex Baxter, Nitro, Johnny Canuck and other various heroic figures featured, highlighted Canadian values and what a good Canadian looked like during that time. This was important as it provided a static visual representation of “nation and nationalism” in a time of great uncertainty and self-discovery for Canada (Edwardson 185). Though through retrospect, it is unfortunate that the representations of Canadian identity had a contingency of race. These iconic characters are among the roster of heroes that became known as “The Canadian Whites” a uniquely Canadian contribution to The Golden Age of Comics. The reign of The Canadian Whites on Canadian newsstands was regrettably very brief, as publishers ran into many problems after the war. In the period of 1945-1947, The Canadian Whites disappeared (Bell 49). Though the Canadian heroes were not around for a long time, they were a critical contribution to the morale of Canadian youth and the formation of Canadian identity for children during the war.
Relatively Realistic Super Heroes
The Canadian Whites are considerably different from current superheroes such as those from the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. For the most part, they lack “super powers” though many showed great physical strength (Pascoe). With the notable exceptions such as Adrian Dingle’s “Nelvana of the Northern Lights” and Vernon Miller’s “The Iron Man” few of the Canadian Whites were endowed with supernatural powers such as flight (Bell 43). In the world of comics, they were realistic superheroes, for the harsh realities of wartime.
In Dime Comics No. 17 (October 1944) Adrian Dingle’s story “Pepper Pot Captures a Spy”
clearly highlights the value of physical strength and raw patriotism to the Canadian superheroes. During a session of brutal one on one physical combat with a Nazi spy, Pepper Pot wins. He was equipped with only his exceptional strength and love of Canada. The comic states, “It was because he [en]visioned his beloved land of the Maple Leaf in the hands of the Nazis and all the horror which would subsequently follow that Pepper Pot went wild! Quick as lightning his legs came up and wrapped themselves in a scissor grip” (Dingle 28). Such imagery was essential for imparting to Canadian youth that all they needed was strength and a great love of Canada to serve their country.
Attracting Canadian Children in the 1940’s to the Airforce
In Dime Comics No. 17, there is an inescapable presence of airplanes. Three separate adventures are set almost entirely in the air, with many others featuring airplanes to various degrees. By order of appearance, the first story is “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret”. Rex Baxter and Gail speed through the sky in a stolen bomber to search for their friend Zoltan. The second story is “Scotty Macdonald”. Scotty and his pals O’Hara, and Tana are fleeing after setting a Japanese aerodrome on fire. The third story is “The Flying Fool”. Frank Kent channels his rage over the loss of his brother into an unauthorized vengeance mission.
Comics are categorized as children’s literature. The target audience is children, though “child” is a broad category as it spans from children who have just learned to read, all the way to young adults. The featuring of combat pilots in the comics may be viewed as a tool for recruitment. E.T. Legault’s “The Flying Fool”, is a prime example. Kent’s successful vengeance mission could easily inspire young Canadians. It is presented as “…the diary of Frank Kent, Dare-Devil Pilot Canadian Ace of the Skies” (Legault 36). The presentation of this story as a found journal adds an extra layer of realism.
The loss of a brother is a story line that would have hit home with many of the story’s readers, who have family members that are serving or who were lost in service to their country.
to join the in a combative manner or actively contribute to the war effort in other ways. Kent is the kind of hero that any able-bodied boy could realistically become. That is if they have the combination of the right skills, training, and equipment. If Kent’s story did not encourage young adults to join the war effort, it was at least able to offer them solace in a time of great loss.
Adrian Dingle’s “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” shows the theme of rescue. Soldiers did not only die in the war, but they faced the threat of becoming prisoners of war. Which was very dangerous, as it could lead to being tortured for Allies secrets or death. If the torture rendered results, it could put fellow servicemen in grave danger. Zoltan’s anguish is clearly depicted as he is shown collapsed on the floor with a bayonet pointed at him. The closure in the panel states “Zoltan’s thought-train with rex is broken, his morale is shattered! As if to mercifully screen him from the grim thoughts of his impending death, the Xalantan’s mind goes blank and he falls senseless to the floor of his cell.” (Dingle 4). This story acts to show children that there is hope of rescue for servicemen that have been captured by the enemy.
Al Cooper’s “Scotty Macdonald” repeats the theme of recusing with the addition of escape. Macdonald and his friend not only successfully steal a plane from a Japanese military aerodrome, but he manages to gun down the Japanese pilot that is following them. Macdonald is so confident that he utters lines such as “It’s a cinch they won’t attack us – we could fly circles around them” (Cooper 19) and “Righto! We’ll teach the beggars we’re not in the mood to play follow the leader”(Cooper 20). Macdonald’s success brings a glory to being aa pilots and will recruit children to the war effort.
“Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” and “Scotty Macdonald” both feature women. In “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret” Gail proves herself to be a capable pilot when Rex tells her to take over flying so he could use the “thought-machine” on board to try and contact Zoltan (Dingle 2). All goes well for Gail until the engines fail, and the plane crashes. Gail’s piloting contributes to the mission, as Rex would not have been able to fly the plane and locate Zoltan with the thought-machine by himself. In “Scotty Macdonald” Tana does not fly the plane, but she provides an active lookout. Though she is rather passive in this issue’s story, her presence is still important. Gail and Tana convey to Canadian youth that women are capable of stepping into important roles abroad and at home.
The Success of Real Canadian Pilots
In all the three adventures that are set almost entirely in the air, the pilots are successful on their missions or survive a crash landing only to continue their mission in the next issue. The outlandish success of the Bell Features Universe’s pilots initially seems to be merely a product of the hyper reality of the Comic book genre. However, there was a well-documented history of the accomplishments of Canadian pilots in the First World War. During the First World War, Canadian servicemen served as members of the British forces (English 5). Of the British Empire’s ten best pilots, five of them were from Canada (McCaffery 9). Of the Canadian pilots who fought in the First World War, Billy Bishop of Perry Sound Ontario was the most famous. (McCaffery 93). Bishop mastered the “deflection shot” which made up for his average pilot skills, his expert marksmanship was formed from during his childhood hunting in the woods (Pigott 48). This is an example of how the Canadian Landscape formed its heroes.
During World War Two, Canada was an independent country. This was crucial to the formation of Canadian identity, as the remarkable achievements of Canadian fighter pilots solely belong to Canada. Though Canada was still associated with Britain, who was also a member of the Allies during the war. It was a time for Canadian pilots to be known solely as Canadian pilots. This meant that there was an emergence of Canadian “Ace pilots”. The status of Ace pilot is a prestigious honor bestowed on only the most accomplished pilots. To gain such a prestigious statues pilots must have a minimum of five recorded aerial victories. (Tennyson 223)
Buck Mcnair was a was a top scoring Canadian pilot in the second world war. There are two notable instances that he survived extreme conditions. He survived the English channels frigid waters for several hours only to quickly returning to combat. When shot down a second time, he suffered severe burns and blurred vision this too did not prevent him from returning to combat (McCaffery 173). His tenacious courage makes the out allows the triumphs of the comic books superheroes plausible.
Russel Bannock was one of the most successful pilots that fought for the allies in the Second World War. Though as he was a night pilot, his kills directly saved lives as he shot down German bomber planes. In his field, he was without equal (Pigott 19). Pigott notes that from a time he flew a “Mosquitoes” aircraft model as an inimitable detail, as it was particularly fast and maneuverable aircraft (19). This is important to note as in Dime Comics No. 16 Scotty Macdonald is noted to fly that same plane model (Al Cooper 42. This again reinforces the similarities of the real Canadian pilots and their superhero counterparts.
Visual Saturation of the War Effort
The Canadian Whites comic may have been children’s most intimate exposure to Wartime propaganda. As the act of reading is a solitary activity, allowing the comics to form a private connection with children. But there were many posters that were viewed publicly for group consumption. The wartime posters further enforced the same notions. The “If the Cap Fits Wear It!” and the “Roll ‘em Out” posters present children with more practical but none the less indispensable contributes to the war effort. The Caps at the center of the poster are; a women’s head scarf, a farmer’s hat, and conductors hat. This indicates that the work of Canadians on the home front was vital to supporting those abroad. The second poster echoes this sentiment as it does not feature fighter pilots, but the workers that build the air crafts
The Canadian Whites filled the emptiness left in the heart of Canadian children during the war. They gave Canadian children a strong sense of Canadian identity and a mass culture to unity around, in time that Canada was emerging as an independent country on the global stage of the Second World War. However, it was imperfect in that it was not an inclusive identity for all Canadians. Race and gender were not equally included the adventures of the Canadian Whites. Yet it was a means of support, inspire, and entertainment for most Canadian Youth of the Second World War.
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.
Cooper, Al (w, a) “Scotty Macdonald” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 18-23. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf
Bell, John. Invaders from the North, edited by John Bell, Dundurn, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=611683.
Dingle, Adrian (w, a) “Pepper Pot Captures a Spy” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 24-28. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf
—. “Rex Baxter and Xalanta’s Secret.” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp. 1-7. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf
Edwardson, Ryan. “The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and the Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Superhero.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 37, no. 2, 2003, pp. 184-201, doi:10.1111/1540-5931.00063.
English, Allan Douglas. Cream of the Crop, MQUP, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=3331472.
Legault, E.t. (w, a) “The Flying Fool.” Dime Comics, no. 17, October, 1944, pp.36-39. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166579.pdf
McCaffery, Dan. Air Aces: The Lives and Times of Twelve Canadian Fighter Pilots. Lorimer, 1990. Scholars Portal Books, http://books1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/viewdoc.html?id=37765.
Pascoe, Will. Lost Heroes., 28 February 2014. McNabb Connolly, film. www.mcnabbconnolly.ca.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/RyersonGeneralListing/titles/LHI-LH.
Pigott, Peter. Flying Canucks, edited by Peter Pigott, Dundurn, 2012. Ebook , https://toronto.overdrive.com/media/1184391
Tennyson, Brian Douglas. Canada’s Great War, 1914-1918, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=1874264.