Tag Archives: Appropriation

Appropriation and Misrepresentation: Race Issues in WOW Comics, Issue no. 15 © Copyright 2017 Nura Mohamed, Ryerson University

Nura Mohamed

Dr. Monique Tschofen


29 November 2017

Appropriation and Misrepresentation: Race Issues in WOW Comics

Illustrations are used as a means to convey messages and information text cannot quite capture. Examining illustrations closely in WOW Comics issue no.15 reveal stereotypes and ideas imparted by the creators based on their opinions and the effect of their environments at the time of production. These comics were produced during WWII, a time where racial conflict ignited all around the world and negative stereotypes about ethnic minorities were widespread. Canada had different ethnic minorities fighting in the war efforts, including Indigenous, Black and Asian Canadians, therefore accurate representation of ethnic minorities in comics, or lack thereof is important to explore. The ways through which ethnic minorities are illustrated in this issue convey animalistic themes and messages of enmity. The illustrations also shed light on racial inequalities prevalent in Canada by always depicting white Canadian characters as heroes and characters of other ethnic backgrounds as villains.  In Marc Singer’s journal article “Black Skins” and White Masks: Comic Books and the Secret of Race”, he emphasises that racial stereotypes are understood through comics. He argues “Whether these stereotypes assume the form of unrealistic portrayals of racial minorities or an equally unrealistic invisibility, they often fulfill this double function of oppression and reaffirmation”, explaining how representation and erasure in illustrations found in comics matter in developing racial understanding. Despite the documented efforts of ethnic Canadians during WWII, literature created during that time often portrays them in a negative light or erases their efforts during the wartime. Analyzing my chosen comic’s illustrations will shed more light on the racial perceptions and stereotypes directed towards ethnic minorities in Canada during WWII.

Misrepresentation and Erasure in Statistics & Media:

Not only did ethnic Canadians face racial stereotypes similar to and worse than those illustrated in WOW Comics issue no.15, their efforts during wartime were misrepresented in government recordings. This inaccuracy assists in explaining the lack of diversity in the comics, as the documented reality did not support diversity, nor do the illustrations in the comics. The government documentation of ethnic Canadian participation in war efforts is directly contrasted by this comic’s lack of ethnic Canadian representation in recognizable military roles. Recorded facts clearly demonstrate participation, however inconsistencies in Canadian statistics make it difficult to gauge how misrepresenting and inaccurate the illustrations are. The Canadian government exemplifies statistical uncertainty through their use of language such as one about the Indigenous community that reports “At least 3,000 status (treaty) Indians – including 72 women – enlisted, as well as an unknown number of Inuit, Métis, and other Natives. The actual numbers were no doubt much higher” (WWII: Facts & Information). More exhaustive research reveals other ethnic groups contributed to Canadian wartime efforts, with records indicating that “‘Hundreds’ of blacks are said to have joined, as did 3,090 status Indians or 2.4 percent of males, a figure that does not include non-status or metis males. About six hundred Chinese-Canadians served, or  so  Chinese  cultural  groups  claim” (Granatsein 177). It is evident that despite poor record keeping, there is irrefutable proof of ethnic participation in WWII. While there are multiple comics in this issue depicting war scenes, no characters represent Canadians from ethnic backgrounds. All soldiers are Caucasian males in the comics, and these illustrations neglect representing ethnic Canadians efforts in WWII.   The comics serve as a representative example of how the documented realities of wartime efforts by ethnic Canadians were erased in mass media.

Indigenous “Savage” Representations in Illustrations:

The minimal representation ethnic minorities receive in the comics are characters that play the antagonist role of enemies, with animalistic illustrations. Regardless of ethnic Canadians efforts in establishing and strengthening Canada’s economy, communities, and war efforts, their role in Canada is diminished to that of an enemy. Indigenous depictions in the comic solidify this notion as Indigenous Canadians are represented as foreign savages because they did not fit the idea of what a Canadian would look like. Analyzing comic books reveal how the “savage” Indigenous character is a popular theme in North American popular culture. Richard King explains, “conventionally comic  books  confine  Native  Americans  within  ugly  images  and  partial  histories” (215), which is seen in WOW Comics through the way Indigenous Canadians are illustrated as well as the role these characters are assigned. “Jeff Waring” by Murray represents is a comic in this issue that represents this idea where Jeff Waring and his partner stumble onto land populated with an Indigenous community after getting lost on one of his frequent adventures. Despite Jeff and his partner entering Indigenous lands while armed, they are illustrated as victims and the Indigenous characters are illustrated as savages in an animalistic manner.

Example of the depiction of Native characters in WOW Comics. Found in WOW Comics, No. 15, Bell Features Publishing, Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946, RULA Archives & Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Jeff Waring struggles to fight an Indigenous character, who is illustrated looking similar to what can be described a hybrid between a human and an ape. Jeff is subdued by this character, and is illustrated looking meager and helpless. His partner is taken by two Indigenous characters that tower over her, twisting her arm behind her back. The illustrations emphasize the notion that Indigenous Canadians would always be seen as foreign savages and would be considered as enemies. These illustrations made during WWII are accurate representations of how the Indigenous community was being treated at that time, as well as how other Canadians viewed them. The Canadian government operated as a white institution when recruiting soldiers for the army, only enlisting Indigenous Canadians when there were labour shortages (Riseman 905). Despite blatant discrimination while enlisting and fighting the war, Indigenous Canadians fought bravely during WWII. However, they continued to be represented through negative racial stereotypes in the media that contrasted the reality of Canada, as seen by the illustrations in the issue of my comic. Racial stereotypes were demonstrated through the illustrations in the comics of Indigenous Canadians who were portrayed as savages. Minimal thought is given to the understanding that illustrations such as these serve as a reinforcement of racial stereotypes. King argues that creators never “consider the impacts of such images or sought the input or interpretations of indigenous peoples” (215), which proves these illustration only further cement racial ideologies in media such as the savage portrayal of Indigenous Canadians.

Racial Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriations in Illustrations:

Throughout the comics, there are references to different ethnic groups within Canada and around the world. The illustrations depict how Canadians would perceive these ethnic groups to look like and the text bubbles accompanying the illustrations reveal how Canadians think these ethnic groups would speak like. Understanding the importance these illustrations possess is crucial, as the illustrations convey racial perceptions that are understood by the mass population of Canada, which are the intended population for these comics. Race in comics isn’t only understood and conveyed through the colour of a character, but the statements, phrases, body language, and clothing depicted by these ethnic characters. These characteristics shed light on racial stereotypes, and research reinforces the idea that “representations not only motivate individual readers toward prejudice, but affect society as a whole by normalizing racist standards through repetition” (Singer 108). In the comic, “Whiz Wallace and The Desert Demon” by E.T Legault, an American soldier Whiz Wallace and his partner Elaine get lost in the dessert and encounter a band of horsemen. Immediately the horsemen capture Whiz and Elaine, and tie up Whiz by all four limbs to prepare to brutally murder him. Not only are the bands of horsemen referred to as “desert savages” and are quoted swearing by Allah, they are illustrated to fit the description with long facial hair and turbans. These illustrations convey an understanding held by the intended audience of the comics, Canadians, of how people from the Middle East would look like. “Whiz Wallace and The Desert Demon” also highlights cultural appropriation as racial stereotype in the comic’s illustration. Whiz’s partner Elaine is seen wearing what appears to be a scarf or turban when she is travelling through the dessert and dealing with the dessert men. However when she is caught by the Germans, Elaine no longer has a scarf on and is back looking like a regular American.

Cultural Appropriation in WOW Comics
Change in Elaine’s head covering, illustrating cultural appropriation. Found in WOW Comics, No. 15, Bell Features Publishing, Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946, RULA Archives & Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Elaine’s wardrobe change is an example of cultural appropriation rather than appreciation, as she wears clothing depending on whomever and wherever she is. Appropriation such as the one in this example are extremely offensive to ethnic groups, as it is seen as mockery towards the customs and culture of such groups. Illustrations are artwork that can be understood as offensive by ethnic groups, while not seen as offensive by the creators, and research demonstrates that “The knowledge that artworks are being produced by means  of  cultural  appropriation  may  be  offensive  even  to  people  who  do  not  experience  the works themselves” (Young 135). Cultural appropriation is offensive and racist, and illustrations such as the ones in this comic depict how Canadians internalize these appropriations as well as racial stereotypes.

In Conclusion:

The illustrations in Wow Comics issue no. 15 emphasize how racial stereotypes were enforced within the comics and understood by Canadians. The company that produced these comics, Bell, were extremely popular with Canadians and represented what it meant to be Canadian, as Library and Archives stresses “Bell’s line of comics was unabashedly Canadian” (Beyond the Funnies). Whether it was a war comic, a detective story or an advertisement selling arts and crafts for children, the content related to material Canadians would be able to relate to and understand. The illustrations convey the misrepresentation of statistics by the government through the lack of diversity present in military roles assigned to characters in the comic. There is also an erasure of certain ethnic groups such as Chinese and Black Canadians in the comics, despite documented assistance provided by Canadians from these ethnic groups in WWII on the home front as well as on the battle ground. The comics also assign ethnic characters the role of protagonists and further this portrayal by drawing them in animalistic and racist manner. The savage Indigenous character is a perception that has been ingrained within Canadian mass media, and continues to perpetrate racist ideologies.  Racist illustrations are conveyed through the way ethnic characters are illustrated and the demeanor through which they carry themselves. Furthermore, characters depict racial appropriation which is extremely offensive but is in line with the lack of representation and diversity within the characters in this comic. It is essential to recognize that the illustrations in these comics are a medium for understanding racial ideas prevalent in Canada during WWII. The illustrations assist in comprehending the contradicting documented realities of ethnic Canadian contributions to how they are represented in mass media. Research conducted in a journal article, “Comics—A Medium for Racism” firmly establishes this idea, noting that “Comics have failed to recognize the multiracial society, let alone join it and they consequently remain a medium for racism and an artifact of cultural imperialism” (Carrington and Geoff 14). The representations conveyed through illustrations such as the ones found in WOW Comics issue no.15 lack diversity and convey clear racial stereotypes which are unfortunately all too common in comics.




Work Cited:

ARCHIVED – History of Comic Books in English Canada – Beyond The Funnies. https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8000-e.html. Accessed 24 Nov. 2017.

Carrington, Bruce, and Geoff Short. “Comics—A Medium for Racism.” English in Education, vol. 18, no. 2, 1984, pp. 10–14. Scholars Portal Journals

Erik, Hillis. “WWII: Facts & Information – Canada at War.” Canada at War RSS, 4 July 2009, 20:33, www.canadaatwar.ca/content-7/world-war-ii/facts-and-information/.

Granatsein, Jack L. “Ethnic and Religious Enlistment in Canada During the Second World War.” Canadian Jewish Studies / Études juives canadiennes, vol. 21, 2013, pp. 174-180

Iseke, J. M., & Desmoulins, L. A.. “CRITICAL EVENTS: MÉTIS SERVICEWOMEN’S WWII STORIES WITH DOROTHY CHARTRAND.” The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, vol 33, no. 2, 2013, 29-54.

Kelley, Venita. “Negotiating Black Masculinity While Reading Comic Books.” Review of Communication, vol. 3, no. 3, 2003, pp. 192–99.

Patrias, Carmela. “Race, Employment Discrimination, and State Complicity in Wartime Canada, 1939-1945.” Labour / Le Travail, vol. 59, 2007, pp. 9–41.

Peppard, Anna F. “Canada’s Mutant Body: Nationalism and (Super) Multiculturalism in Alpha Flight vs. the X-Men.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, vol. 26, no. 2, May 2015, pp. 311–32.

Singer, Marc. “‘Black Skins’ and White Masks: Comic Books and the Secret of Race: Document View.” African American Review, vol. 36, no. 1, 2002, pp. 107.

Young, James O. “Profound Offense and Cultural Appropriation.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 63, no. 2, 2005, pp. 135–46. Scholars Portal Journals

WOW Comics, No. 15, Bell Features Publishing, Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946, RULA Archives & Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Disclaimer: 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.

Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia – Escapism and Appropriation

©2014, Katherine Galang

P rince Caspian: The Return to Narnia is a children’s fantasy novel written by Clive Staples Lewis (more commonly known as C.S. Lewis) and illustrated by Pauline Baynes. It takes place in 1941, during the Second World War. The first edition was published in London, England by Geoffrey Bles in 1951. The Ryerson Children’s Literature Archive’s copy, however, is the sixth edition, published by the same company in 1966. The critical approach I will be taking for this exhibit focuses on the theme of escapism in Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. Specifically, I shall address how Lewis uses fantasy literature to appropriate the Second World War for child readers, who would have both experienced the war and dealt with the aftereffects.

Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia 1951 book cover


Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia is a fictional novel written by C. S. Lewis. It is the sequel to the book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. A year has passed since the Pevensie siblings have returned to England after having ruled Narnia as Kings and Queens respectively. In Narnia, however, over a thousand years have passed since the children’s departure. A foreign people called the Telmarines have since invaded and have driven the Narnians into the wilderness; reducing them to nothing more than memories and myths.

Prince Caspian X, the titular character, is the rightful heir to the throne. His uncle, King Miraz, took sovereignty by assassinating Caspian’s father, Caspian IX, and kept Caspian X alive until his heir was born. Sensing the danger, Caspian flees the palace into the woods, where he calls for help through Susan’s magical horn. This summons the Pevensie children to Narnia. Together the former Kings, Queens, Narnians, Aslan himself, and all their allies fight to regain the throne and restore balance in Narnia.


A Brief History of the Second World War:

The Second World War was fought between the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allied powers (Britain, The Soviet Union, and the United States). This war was a continuation of the First World War, and occurred, in part, due to the heavy demands placed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles (Wright).

Adolf Hitler, who rose to power before the beginning of the Second World War, had a dream of the unification of Germany and the survival of the Aryan race whom he saw as superior. To ensure the survival of the Aryans, Hitler felt that certain actions were necessary. The primary objective was to occupy and populate Soviet territory. Hitler did this because he believed that more land would ensure the survival of the German population. This objective was called the Lebensraum (Lyons 47).

Second, for the Aryan race to survive, all other inferior “bloods” must be eliminated. These included the handicapped, homosexuals, political opponents, and, predominantly, the Jews (Lyons 47). Hitler’s anti-Semitic sentiments were an ideology that preexisted within European society since the First World War. As minorities, the Jews were blamed for the defeat of Germany. In the Holocaust, millions of Jews perished under the ideology that they were inferior and degenerate people.


British Children in the Second World War:

Prior to the Second World War, an evacuation program was set up in Britain that was planned as early as 1938 and put into motion in 1939. Those of first priority during the evacuation process where children ages 1-15, according to Carlson Jackson who studied the British Evacuation Program. Of that group, those ages 5-15 were classified as Category A, the easiest to evacuate, and accounted for about 20 percent of all evacuated children. These children were evacuated in mass groups through their schools. It is particularly important to note that those children are the ones who would have the greatest recollection of the ordeal, and the Pevensie children fall under this category. By doing this, Lewis allowed his readers to connect to his characters and face the same hardships as they did.


An Appropriation of the Second World War:

In chapter four of the novel, readers are introduced to Prince Caspian X and his evil uncle Miraz. Central to the book’s plot is Miraz’s hate of “Old Narnia”. Old Narnia is a reference to the time when Narnia was solely inhabited by talking beasts and mythical creatures. In the novel, the mere mention of anything relating to Old Narnia is dismissed by Miraz as “nonsense” and “for babies”. As Doctor Cornelius explains to Caspian:

Cornelius Caspian

All you have heard about old Narnia is true. It is not the land of Men. It is the country of Aslan, the country of the Waking Trees and Visible Naiads, of Fauns and Satyrs, of Dwarfs and Giants, of gods and the Centaurs, of Talking Beasts…It is you Telmarines who silenced the beasts…and are trying to cover up even the memory of them. The King does not allow them to be spoken of. (Lewis 49)

By eliminating those who posses knowledge of these people (such as the Old Nurse), Miraz makes these creatures nothing more than myth. Therefore, Miraz become an appropriation of Hitler and the Narnians an appropriation of the Jews. In this way, the mass death and destruction of a race is toned down for children who may not fully understand the situation, but should know of it in some form.


Caspian and the Child Evacuee: 

Caspian’s initial meeting with Nikabrik, Trufflehunter, and Trumpkin parallels the situation of British evacuees. Caspian, who was forced to flee for his life, crosses paths with three different individuals. Each represent the three different types of reception that British Children received from their host families. Trufflehunter, the badger, welcomes Caspian with open arms and represents the families who were kind and welcoming to the children they took in. Nikabrik is hostile towards Caspian and represents the families who felt the burden of having another mouth to feed. This interaction represents the children who experienced terrible conditions during their evacuations. Trumpkin, on the other hand, is somewhat indifferent towards Caspian. He represents those who took in children out of duty, but did nothing more than what was required of them. Lewis, aware of how children were greeted by their host families, understood that each situation was unique, but that each situation a child faced during their evacuation generally fell into one of these three categories.

Nikabrik, Trumpkin, and Trufflehunter saving Prince Caspian

By adding in these three characters and their ongoing conflict with accepting Caspian, Lewis identifies the hardships of fitting into another family and finding one’s place after being uprooted.  Lewis again appropriates the war and gives his child readers identifiable and relatable situations.


Narnia and Escapism:

Escapism is defined as looking for enjoyable things to divert or distract one from thinking about their realities (“Escapism”). In the 1940’s, many children felt lost and out of place. Lewis therefore used fantasy realism as an appropriate way of taking real situations and making them easier to understand, by making it appealing and less devastating for children.

In this novel, Caspian represents the children who were recently evacuated while the Pevensie children represent those already evacuated. For the Pevensie children, their return to Narnia represents the urge to retreat to a place of comfort, familiarity, and refuge. Narnia is a place where they have agency. In the real world, a child has no control over anything. They have no control over the war, where they are sent, who they will stay with, or those who they will live with. However, Narnia is a place where the child rules. It is the child that  has the power, not only to make decisions that affect their surroundings, but that affect them directly. 

At various points in the novel, Lewis mentions how Narnia changes people by giving and promoting agency. When Edmund  was battling Trumpkin, he gradually began to regain his swordsmanship and skill. Lewis wrote, “But the air of Narnia had been working upon him ever since they arrived on the island, and all his old battles came back to him, and his arms and fingers remembered their old skill. He was King Edmund once more” (Lewis 94). It is the land itself that changes Edmund and restores his former skill. The longer he stays, the more he becomes who he once was and wants to be. He changes from a child to a King.

Trumpkin losing his duel against Edmund

Edmund’s case is not the only one where Narnia promotes the childrens’ agencies. Peter becomes more like High King Peter when he challenges Miraz to single combat (155-56). His eloquently dictated letter shows that he wields his pen like a sword and is as powerful as any adult in this land, though he is merely a child.

In each of these instances, Lewis places the children in situations that allow them to enforce their own strength and power. The Pevensie children who have already grown up and became capable adults in this magical land, gain the ability to grasp that same agency upon their return. It is one’s agency that allows the children to escape their unhappy reality.

Above all, Narnia allows the children to understand the stakes of war. The war that they are fighting in Narnia is a reflection of the war being fought in the real world. As former Kings and Queens, the children realize that if they lose, the Narnians will not survive. This parallels the situation in Europe, for if the British and the Allies lose, the Jewish people will be eradicated.  However, while the Pevensies can do nothing about the situation in Europe, they have active roles in Narnia where they have the power to save the Narnians.


Lewis and Stories:

As Donald E. Glover states, stories are powerful because they are able to blur the lines between reality and fantasy (78-79). If anything can be said about Lewis, it is that he held a special place in his heart for his child readers. Hundreds of letters written in his own hand were sent to children in reply to their enthusiasm. For the Chronicles of Narnia series, which would be one of Lewis’ biggest successes especially with children, his reading provides a way for children to recall war time and evacuation, and make sense of it all. John Bremer states in his brief biography of Lewis, “The frightening incidents in the book are not so frightening that children cannot enjoy them…” (54). Lewis’ Prince Caspian provides a reading that both appropriates war and evacuation.  It creates a fantastical realm where children feel powerful and can deal with any situation they are put in.

For Lewis’ initial 1951 readers, Prince Caspian brings up painful emotions and memories. However, through  fantasy literature, Lewis creates a self identifiable and motivating story that helps children sort through feelings of helplessness and displacement. This particular copy of Prince Caspian was publish in 1966, twenty-one years after the end of the second world war. Why would Lewis’ Narnia series, and more specifically, Prince Caspian, remain such a popular book that it kept being reprinted? By this time, child evacuees would be in their twenties and thirties. These are adults who once read the book in the aftermath of the war, to escape their reality, and to make sense of why it happened and how to move forward. Perhaps, the continued success of this book is in its ability to continually appropriate the war for children. Parents, who experienced the war, might teach their children about what it was like to be evacuated by giving their children Prince Caspian. Through this, they share from generation to generation the hope and the strength that escaping to another realm gives.

As Ford states, good stories can make one think twice about a concrete idea (13).  The war was a bleak time; for children, feelings of abandonment and helplessness were common. Lewis gave his readers a place to explain why bad things happen, an escape to deal with those bad things, and hope that even the most helpless people can make big differences.

 Link to CLA Omeka site

Works Cited:

“Escapism.” Compact Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus.  3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Ford, Paul F. Companion to Narnia: A complete Guide to the Magical World of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005. Print.

Glover, Donald E. “The Chronicles of Narnia, 1950-1956: An Introduction .” C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006. Print.

Jackson, Carlton. Who Will take our Children?: The British Evacuation Program of World War II. Rev. Ed. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 2008. Print.

Lewis, C.S. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. Illustrated by Pauline Baynes. 1st ed. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1951. Print.

Lyons, Michael J. “The Road to War.” World War II A Short History. 5th ed. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.

Wright, Edmund. “World War II.” A Dictionary of World History. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Open WorldCat. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.