Tag Archives: Discrimination

Discrimination Against Minority Groups in Commando Comics No. 16

© Copyright 2018 Amber Saini, Ryerson University


After World War II, the media, specifically in the form of television and film, newspapers, and comics played a large role in contributing to Canadian society’s perception of minority races. Commando Comics, a war comic series, attempts to provide historically accurate information to readers on World War II from the perspective of Canadian soldiers. The sixteenth issue of Commando Comics (1945) contains negative representations of minority races and depicts the Canadian heroes and soldiers as superior. I will be analyzing the negative portrayal of Japanese individuals and touch on the representation of German individuals in Commando Comics by observing the impact of this representation on minority races and how this affected Canadian society’s treatment of them. Furthermore, I will analyze how the comic and other forms of Canadian media degraded other races to promote Canadians as superior. The sixteenth issue of Commando Comics “promotes nationalism” (Montgomery 19), as the Canadian heroes are not only presented as the “right side”, but minority races are degraded and portrayed as the “enemy”. The constant use of stereotypes in this comic, as well as other forms of media during and after the war, contributed to society’s negative and unjust outlook on individuals of Japanese descent.

Constant Use of Stereotypes

Fig. 1. ‘Illustrations of Japanese soldiers’. Thomson. From “Ace Bradley Again!” Commando Comics No. 16, March 1945, p. 18. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Commando Comics heavily discriminates and stereotypes Japanese and German individuals based on physical attributes and language. The comic’s use of stereotypes contributed to the unjust prejudice that the media already held against minority races. A pilot story in the issue, “Ace Bradley Again!”, contains problematic illustrations of Japanese soldiers. As seen in Fig. 1, the soldiers are drawn with slanted eyes and protruding teeth, which are stereotypes that were and still are made about individuals of Japanese descent. These stereotypes were heavily used in other anti-Japanese stories in the comic, as well as other forms of media at the time.

The sixteenth issue also uses stereotypes in terms of language. In “Wings Over the Atlantic”, the dialogue of the German soldier is written in broken English and the character is given a stereotypical accent; for example, “I vill be safe and den ha-ha-ha, ve vill see if dey vill catch him,” (Andre 27). In this dialogue, the “w” is replaced with a “v” and the “th” is replaced with a “d” to give the character a stereotypical German accent. There is also an issue with the way that the Japanese language is represented. In “Lank The Yank”, a soldier says “Have bombs ready yesss?” (Brunt 24). This was done deliberately, to make it seem like the character is speaking in broken English once again. Furthermore, the dialogue of the Japanese soldiers is written in Japanese characters. In Fig 2, the word “censored” is under the soldier’s dialogue, to show that the soldier is cursing. The Japanese letters and soldier’s broken English are used to create a language barrier between the Canadian and Japanese individuals, in an attempt from the Canadians to try and differentiate themselves from the Japanese soldiers. In addition to this, the comic gives the Japanese language a negative connotation, as each time the Japanese letters are used, the soldiers are supposed to be swearing or insulting the Canadian soldiers.

Fig. 2. ‘Use of Japanese language’. Harry Brunt. Panel from “Lank The Yank.” Commando Comics No. 16, March 1945, p. 25. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

During my research, I found that many of the characters in the Canadian Whites comics are given stereotypes; not only classics such as Johnny Canuck and Nelvana of the Northern Lights, but in Commando Comics as well. The Canadian characters are stereotyped, however, the stereotypes seem to be  positive and based off of well-known “Canadian stereotypes”, in contrast to the negative stereotypes that the comic uses for characters of minority races. The Canadian soldiers are given traits such as striving for peace and avoiding violence; for example, in “The Young Commandos”, a soldier says, “it only goes to show how brave the lads in our armed forces are,” (Lazare 15) to enforce the idea of the brave Canadian hero. However, the Japanese soldiers are given traits, such as being dangerous or violent and are portrayed as the antagonists. The use of stereotypes is a theme throughout Canadian comics and characters, however, there is a clear difference in how the stereotypes are used; this difference is clearly based off of race. The idea that the Canadian soldiers are brave and fighting for justice is constantly reinforced, as is that Japan is “the enemy”.

Discrimination and Use of Derogatory Words

As war topics and violent content “dominated the mass media” (Montgomery 20) during the war, Commando Comics also contains racial slurs and explicit violence against minority races, specifically Japanese individuals.

Throughout the entire issue, the Japanese soldiers are referred to as “nips” or “Japs”  by the Canadian soldiers, which are derogatory terms. In “Clift Steele and the Island of Floating Death”, Clift says, “those nips’ll blow us to bits in a minute!” (Dariam 6). In “Lank The Yank”, Lank refers to the soldiers as “these Jap jerks” (Brunt 25). These are just a few of the numerous times that racial slurs are used against Japanese soldiers in the comic. These terms are extremely offensive, as they are derogatory abbreviations being used as an insult and are a sign of disrespect.

Fig. 3. ‘Racial slur’. Thomson. Panel from “Ace Bradley Again!” Commando Comics No. 16, March 1945, p. 20. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In addition to racial slurs, the sixteenth issue of Commando Comics also discriminates against the Japanese soldiers in terms of skin colour. In “Ace Bradley Again!”, a soldier refers to the Japanese soldiers as “little yellow rats” (Thomson 20), which is extremely offensive. Furthermore, in “The Young Commandos”, Chuck, a Canadian soldier, does not want to fight and is called a coward by his fellow soldiers. His superior says, “You can’t turn yellow on me now!” (Lazare 13), which is a clear reference to skin colour once again. Moreover, the Canadian soldiers are using the phrase “turning yellow” (Lazare 13) to call Chuck a coward, which means they are referring to the Japanese soldiers as cowards.

Impact on Japanese Individuals

As a result of the unjust representation of Japanese individuals in the media and following World War II, Japanese families in British Columbia, many of which were Japanese Canadians, were forced into internment camps by the Canadian government. There was heavy racism expressed against Japanese individuals at the time, between 1942 and 1949, and they were unfairly denied of their rights. A substantial amount of Japanese families lost their homes and finances to the government, and were forced to move to the unpopulated areas of British Columbia. Although racism against Japanese individuals was mostly occurring in the west coast, it was present all throughout Canada. This racism was fuelled by World War II, as well as the news of the Pearl Harbour attack. The Japanese Canadians that tried to protest for their rights were sent to prisons. As a result of Canada’s actions towards the Japanese Canadians, the idea that individuals of Japanese descent were dangerous was promoted, therefore causing many people in society to be fearful and untrusting of them. Approximately forty years later, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau apologized for the unjustified treatment of Japanese individuals that occurred during the wartime period (Marsh 1), however, it truly could not compensate for the suffering that Japanese Canadians endured.

Fig. 4. ‘Internment camp’. James Marsh. Picture from “Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, February 2012. Library and Archives Canada.

An accurate representation of what Japanese Canadians experienced can be interpreted from Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan, which tells her story of being forced into an internment camp and being “separated from her family” (Davis 60). The most interesting aspect of this novel is that it depicts a side of Canada that many readers might not be accustomed to, as Canada is often known as a multicultural society that is accepting of everyone. This novel provides insight on what Canada was like during and after World War II and analyzes how the transition to a multicultural society has allowed individuals to be ignorant of the fact that racism still exists in Canada to this day.

Impact on Minority Races

During and after the war, the treatment of minority races was influenced by the way they were portrayed in the media. During this time, different forms of media, including comics, were promoting the idea that individuals of minority races were dangerous. This negatively impacted many aspects of their lives, such as employment opportunities and exclusion from jobs, and immigration restrictions. Many Canadians believed that minority groups were “undeserving” (Partias 10) of certain rights, such as voting. As there was constant “suspicion of foreigners” (Partias 15), many employers and workplaces’ racist views were accepted by those in higher power because society, as a whole, had an inaccurate outlook on minority groups. After the second war, many Canadians displayed uneasiness towards Japanese individuals, which resulted in unfair treatment and scrutiny. Although a vast majority of these individuals were Japanese Canadians, this factor was overlooked as the public was persuaded by the media’s representations, making them untrusting towards other races. The media played a large role in this as television, newspapers and comics constantly labelled Japan as the “enemy”. According to Partias’ observation, individuals of minority groups were only hired for jobs that were short of workers and that most Canadians avoided; in most cases, these jobs were low-paying and required hard labour.


The negative portrayal and representation of minority races in this comic as well as other forms of media were used to uplift Canadian heroes and promote the Canadian race as superior. In “Representations of War and Peace in High School History Textbooks”, Montgomery discusses his analysis on how Canadian textbooks promote nationalism and present the information in textbooks as fact and truth. Similar to Montgomery’s theory, the comic promotes Canadian soldiers as the right side who are “fighting for a better world” (Montgomery 20) and portrays Japanese individuals as the antagonists; the comic presents these ideas as if they are facts and the truth. This strategy that many forms of Canadian texts seem to use can shape the reader’s perspective of minority races and overall, Canada’s outlook on minority races.

Throughout the comic, there is clear prejudice against minority races, and these representations in the comic and other forms of media attempt to portray these races as inferior. Although individuals in society held their own misconceptions about individuals of other races, the media, Commando Comics included, also promoted these negative ideas about minority races. The sixteenth issue of Commando Comics not only heavily stereotypes Japanese individuals, but also degrades them in order to portray Canadians as superior.

Works Cited












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.