Tag Archives: Johnny Canuck

Cover of Wow Comics No. 8, part of the Canadian Whites collection.

The Everyman Hero in Canadian WWII Comics (Wow Comics No. 8)

© 2018 Kelley Doan, Ryerson University

When Canadians think about comic book heroes, most of us refer to characters that are American: they were created in America, they represent American ideas and ideals, and most of the stories are set in American cities or places that, if fictional, are easily recognized as intended to be American. However, while entertainment in Canada does tend to be overwhelmed by American influence, there was a golden age of Canadian comics during which artists and writers took advantage of a pause in access to American content to create Canadian heroes.

Cover of Wow Comics No. 8, part of the Canadian Whites collection.
Title: Wow Comics No. 8
Creator: Bell Features and Publishing Company
Source: http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166671.pdf

In examining Bell Features’ Wow Comics No. 8, I realized that something seemed different about the main characters. These Canadian comic book heroes, in contrast to their American counterparts, were without superhuman powers or superscientific weapons, and this was true of largely all Canadian comic book heroes of the time. For example, in Wow Comics No. 8, heroes Dart Daring, Jeff Waring, Crash Carson, and Whiz Wallace were all simple adventurers (Legault et al.). Most of them were everyman heroes – the average citizen with a passion to set things right and an exceptional dose of courage – with whom readers could identify rather than idolize. Two major contributing factors brought about this new class of comic book hero. Cultural differences in Canada were reflected in their character, particularly a differing notion of what is heroic. More relevant, though, is the impact of propaganda which was used to muster support for the Canadian war effort and was found in all forms of media at this time, including those directed at children. An exploration of the more prominent Canadian comic book heroes as purveyors of the message of unity and call for support sheds some light not only on the origin of future Canadian comic book heroes, but also indicates reasons – beyond a fraught publishing industry – that those later heroes struggled to find more than a niche audience.

Canadian Comics: The Origin Story

Comic books made their debut in the late 1920’s, rising from the popularity of the comic strip. Comic strips were meant solely for entertainment, unlike the already established political cartoon, and the comic book followed suit. There were a number of Canadian comic strips in print, but American artists and publishers had established a foothold in the genre early on, and Canadian comics found little success in syndication beyond our borders (Bell and Viau, “Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929-1940”). Even within Canada, publishers faced financial challenges, in part due to the popularity of the American comic books flooding the market thanks to a much stronger American publishing industry (Edwardson 184).

The Daisybelle comic strip by Gene Byrnes from The Funnies No. 2, 1936.
Title: “Daisybelle”
Creator: Gene Byrnes
Source: http://digitalcomicmuseum.com/index.php?dlid=5640
Copyright: Public Domain

As the popularity of comic strips, known as “the funnies”, increased, the adventure genre strips emerged. Among the first of these was Superman. While he is frequently said to be a Canadian creation – the National Film Board included him in one of their Heritage Minutes and he was part of a collection of stamps commemorating Canadian comic book heroes – the truth is that the connection is very minimal. Superman’s creator, Joe Shuster, was born and lived in Toronto until he was eight years old. He then moved to the United States where he created Superman, who fought for “Truth, justice, and the American way” (Beaty 428). Superman was more than an adventurer, though. He was the first of the superheroes, with powers beyond those of a human being. Children on both sides of the border saw the appeal immediately (Bell and Viau, “Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929-1940”s). Canada’s own Mordecai Richler was a fan, remarking that, “They were invulnerable, all-conquering, whereas we were puny, miserable, and defeated” (Richler 80). Whatever his heritage, Superman’s popularity paved the way for an ever-increasing roster of superheroes, including Batman, Arrow, and Flash Gordon.

Many superheroes got their start in comic strips, and comic books began as compilations of the strips; but publishers rather quickly noticed that comic books had a greater potential, one which included longer-form storytelling and experimenting with elements not possible in strips. Children embraced this new medium as much as they did the superheroes that filled the comic books’ pages, and a new sector of American publishing took off like a speeding bullet. Emphasis is on the American industry, because although there were thousands of fans and a large market in Canada, those Canadians who were part of the comic book boom generally had to move to America to work (Bell and Viau, “Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929-1940”).

A child at the Children's Colony, a school for refugee children in New York, N.Y. reading a Superman comic.
Title: New York, N.Y. Children’s Colony, a school for refugee children Creator: Marjory Collins Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:N.Y._Children%27s_Colony_04108v.jpg Copyright: Public Domain

As war approached, though, this would change drastically. On the heels of Canada’s declaration of war in 1939 came the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA), which restricted the importation of non-essential goods including comics. The embargo prompted the formation of Canada’s own publishing industry comprising a group of publishers and their works known later as The Canadian Whites, and provided an opportunity for Canadian artists to produce their own heroes (Bell and Viau, “Canadian Golden Age of Comics, 1941-1946”): heroes which better represented the Canadian audience; heroes who used Canadian cultural references; heroes who could relay messages to the audiences that felt so much more connected to them, a point which did not go unnoticed.


Propaganda in Comics: The Art of Persuasion

The word “propaganda” often conjures ideas of nefarious government deeds, but that is not always or even often the case. It is simply a form of communication with a cause at the heart of its agenda, and can be completely benign or even beneficial. Much like marketing, it is a form of persuasion, but propaganda is enhanced by ideology. As an integral part of a democracy (Batrasheva 8), it is not hard to understand why propaganda is used during war time, when it is of vital importance for governments to unite citizens in support of the war effort.

In 1942, the Wartime Information Board was created from the previous entity, the Bureau of Public Information, changing the mandate from simply providing war-related information to the public to using techniques of persuasion to manage Canadians’ perceptions of and feelings about the war (Young 190-91). Following on the Bureau of Public Information’s failure to rouse support in more traditional and grandiose ways, the Wartime Information Board created the idea of a “people’s war”. Canadians disliked American “brouhaha and victory parades”. They felt that patriotism was being forced upon them, but were inspired by the idea that neighbours together could fight the enemy and build a better society (Young 192-93). It was a young idea that needed a young method of relaying the message.

Among the messages necessary to impart to Canadians during World War II was the integral idea that the war effort, despite the tremendous impact on their lives, was important and good; among the motivations for that message was avoiding the need for conscription and a repeat of the 1917 crisis (English) which divided the nation because French Canada felt disconnected from the cause (“The Conscription Crisis”); in fact the Canadian government eventually avoided the need to send conscripts overseas until nearly the end of the war (Jones and Granatstein). While support had to be stirred in both the men who would go overseas to fight and the women who remained and took on the extra work of supplying the needs of the troops in addition to maintaining their families and communities, it was also important to address the children, whose fathers were suddenly absent and in many cases may never return.

Canadian WWII industrial propaganda poster
Title: Canadian WWII industrial propaganda poster
Creator: Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Company Limited
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Our_Answer_All-Out_Production,_Canada,_WWII_Propaganda_Poster.jpg
Copyright: Public Domain

Wartime propaganda is typically of the integration type, seeking to unify society to a common goal (Batrasheva 12). The transference technique, which connects the intended message to something the audience respects or reveres (Batrasheva 16), is especially useful with children as it emulates the parental role. To reach children, the most obvious choice was their current favourite: comic books. Since the favourite characters of the day were already adventure heroes, it was simple enough to send those characters off to war. Combining transference with the plain folks technique – a method aimed at connecting well known figures to activities that should be imitated (Batrasheva 18) – which appealed to both children and those who were on board with the “people’s war” ideal, one of the obvious methods of communication was through entertainment, particularly using popular figures who represented both the war effort’s message and connected with the average citizen. Comic books, with their young market, were an effective medium., particularly since the heroes in Canada’s World War II comics already differed from American heroes in one crucial way: they were not supermen, they were everymen.

Not All Heroes Are Super

The more well-known comic book heroes of the day were American, and the hero among these that best represented American nationalism and support for the war effort was Captain America, who first appeared in 1941. While Captain America began as an average citizen who passionately wanted to go to war and fight the Nazis, he was a sickly man who was not able to enlist. However, he was offered the chance to participate in a government experiment during which he received the Super-Soldier formula and was exposed to “vita-rays”, after which he had a perfect (though still human) body. His physical prowess was enhanced by a shield made of an impenetrable, indestructible, and fictional metal (“Captain America”).

While Captain America is written as a human, the level of perfection raises the character to a level unattainable in reality and carries a super-real shield thus elevating him to the level of superhero. Examining the real-life people that Americans celebrated as war heroes, I found many highly decorated people such as actor Audie Murphy, who at age 19 “manned a machine gun on a burning tank and made a desperate solo attack against German forces”, for which he won the Medal of Honor, and upon which he built his film career (Andrews). This type of hero reflects a preference for a hierarchy of supporting characters following one extraordinary leader, and supports ideals of patriotism and rarefied bravery, and the message that with the support of American citizens the government will send a hero to save the day.

Title: “Johnny Canuck”
Creator: Leo Baschle
Source: http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166581.pdf

On the other hand, Canada’s main wartime nationalistic comic book hero, Johnny Canuck – who first appeared in 1942, the same year as the Wartime Information Board – was the kind of hero that most Canadians could become. Many knew someone of similar ability, be it their family, friend, or neighbour. Johnny Canuck was an excellent athlete who regularly fought Hitler with his bare hands. Although he had no superhuman powers, weaponry, or armour (Beaty 430) he was designed to be “Canada’s answer to Nazi oppression” (Bachle et al. 1) In fact Leo Bachle was an adolescent when he created Johnny Canuck, drawing him in his own image and including friends and even his teachers in the stories. Johnny Canuck was truly an everyman hero (Plummer).

A photograph of Elsie MacGill during her CCF tenure.
Title: “Elsie MacGill during her CCF tenure.”
Creator: Elsie Gregory MacGill
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elsie_macgill.jpg
Copyright: Public Domain

Of course, Canada had some decorated heroes as well, but given our smaller more supporting role, the everyman hero better represented Canadian ideals and mirrored the real-life heroes they venerated, such as Elsie MacGill who led the Hawker Hurricane manufacturing project that supplied fighter planes to Allied Forces and became known as Queen of the Hurricanes, and Leo Major who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for liberating an entire city by himself, but did so by using his intelligence to trick the Germans rather than brute force (Ferreras).


While Canada and America were united by participation in World War II, their roles were very different. The messages relayed by propaganda to the citizenry were also dissimilar, but this is at least as much due to cultural differences, as Canadians generally saw their mostly supporting role as every bit as important as that of the American troops, not to mention that Canada was involved earlier (Young 190).

While later Canadian hero Captain Canuck – one of the few to emerge in the decades following the war – did have superpowers, he embodied many of the characteristics of Johnny Canuck, and is often confused for a later interpretation of the Canadian Whites hero (Edwardson 189-91). Canadian society had moved on, but Captain Canuck clung mostly to the everyman values that portrayed Canada as “a “peaceable kingdom”” (Edwardson 184), an idea created by the Wartime Information Board to connect to audiences. Later readers had no need for this type of character and, once again inundated with American escapist entertainment, spent their dollars in support of American superheroes.

Nevertheless, the Canadian Whites are an interesting and all too often overlooked part of our literary history. They represent the tenacity of Canadians in the face of war and in the pursuit of entertainment; our ability to band together to fight the enemy in hope of a better world; and our ability to come together and create a whole arts industry that represents Canadians more than it imitates American content, when given the space to do so.

Works Cited

Andrews, Evan. “Audie Murphy’s World War II Heroics, 70 Years Ago.” HISTORY.Com, http://www.history.com/news/audie-murphys-world-war-ii-heroics-70-years-ago. Accessed 10 Jan. 2018.

Bachle, Leo, et al. Johnny Canuck. Chapterhouse Publishing Incorporated, 2016.

Bachle, Leo. Johnny Canuck. 1945.

Batrasheva, Yeldana. Children and the Media: Propaganda Methods Aimed at Children during World War II. 2016, https://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=12&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjzrqeH2d_WAhWlx4MKHX3iBnkQFghNMAs&url=https%3A%2F%2Felearning.unyp.cz%2Fpluginfile.php%2F58141%2Fmod_data%2Fcontent%2F1862%2FBatrasheva%252C%2520Yeldana_510135_Senior%2520Project%2520Thesis.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0UPYbTLSCTXTppKgA-utKz.

Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, Oct. 2006, pp. 427–39.

Bell, John, and Michel Viau. “Canadian Golden Age of Comics, 1941-1946.” Collections Canada, https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8300-e.html. Accessed 7 Jan. 2018.

Bell, John, and Michel Viau. “Emergence of the Comic Book, 1929-1940.” Collections Canada, https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8200-e.html. Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

Byrnes, Gene. Daisybelle Comic on Page 32 of The Funnies. 1 Nov. 1936. http://digitalcomicmuseum.com/index.php?dlid=5640, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daisybelle_-_The_Funnies,_No._2_02.jpg.

“Captain America.” Marvel Directory, http://www.marveldirectory.com/individuals/c/captainamerica.htm.

Collins, Marjory. New York, N.Y. Children’s Colony, a School for Refugee Children. Oct. 1942. Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:N.Y._Children%27s_Colony_04108v.jpg.

Edwardson, Ryan. “The Many Lives of Captain Canuck: Nationalism, Culture, and the Creation of a Canadian Comic Book Superhero.” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 184–201.

English, John R. “Wartime Information Board.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/wartime-information-board/. Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

Ferreras, Jesse. “11 Canadian War Heroes We Can’t Forget On November 11.” HuffPost Canada, 9 Nov. 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/11/09/canadian-war-heroes-remembrance-day_n_8475820.html.

Jones, Richard, and J. L. Granatstein. “Conscription.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/conscription/. Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

Legault, E. T., et al., editors. Wow Comics: No. 8. Bell Features and Publishing Company, 1942.

MacGill, Elsie Gregory. Elsie MacGill during Her CCF Tenure. Apr. 1938. Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elsie_macgill.jpg.

Plummer, Kevin. “Historicist: Toronto’s Golden Age of Comic Books.” Torontoist, 20 Nov. 2010, https://torontoist.com/2010/11/historicist_torontos_golden_age_of_comic_books/.

Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Company Limited. Canadian WWII Industrial Propaganda Poster. 1940s. WWII propaganda poster (Immediate source: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/301459768779680901/), Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Our_Answer_All-Out_Production,_Canada,_WWII_Propaganda_Poster.jpg.

Richler, Mordecai. “The Great Comic Book Heroes.” Hunting Tigers Under Glass, McClelland and Stewart, 1968.

“The Conscription Crisis.” CBC Learning, http://www.cbc.ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP12CH2PA3LE.html.

Young, William R. “Mobilizing English Canada for War: The Bureau of Public Information, the Wartime Information Board and a View of the Nation During the Second World War.” The Second World War as a National Experience, HyperWar Foundation, https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/Canada/Natl_Exp/NatlExp-14.html.

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.

Canucks and Commies: Canadian Nationalism in Dime Comics No. 11

© Copyright 2017 Maggie Ly, Ryerson University

Edmond Good. Dime Comics. No. 11, October 1943. Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Russia occupied a strange space in the conscious of Canadians during World War II. Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, proved decisive for the course of the war, yet the USSR’s transition from foe to friend was not instantaneous. They found a reluctant ally in Canada, but fear of betrayal and hidden Communistic agendas persisted through the war. Public demand to disband the Communist Party of Canada grew and ‘Commies’ were likened to fascists and Nazi sympathizers (Caccia 162). As the manpower and potential of the Red Army was realized, the Canadian government began using propaganda in the form of posters and print, radio statements, and rallies (many of which were held in Toronto) to absolve the Soviet Union’s uneasy reputation and create support for the Eastern front (164). Among the variety of print medium in Canada, the comic emerged as a powerful form of propaganda and a site to build and break national identities.

Published two years after Barbarossa, “The Spirit of Russia” is a continuing series in 11th issue of Dime Comics (March 1943). The story was created, written, and illustrated by one of Bell Feature’s key artists, Leo Bachle. It follows Johnny Canuck’s adventure in Soviet Russia where he is saved from the grips of a German soldier by a Red Army sniper. The sniper takes Johnny to a Russian camp where Nick, a Soviet commander, gives Johnny the new Soviet fighter plane called The Spirit of Russia to fly to Cairo. He takes down several Lufftwafte fighters on the way there and commends the plane for its flying ability (Bachle 40-46).

The Canadian Whites and the Comic in the Context of War

Nick recognizes Johnny Canuck.
Leo Bachle. Panel from “The Spirit of Russia.” Dime Comics, No. 11, October, 1943, Bell Features, p. 42. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166574.pdf.

“The Spirit of Russia” belongs to a collection of comics called the Canadian Whites produced during Canada’s Golden Age of Comics from 1941 to 1946. The War Exchange Conservation Act of 1940 banned the import of luxury goods and enabled Canadian publishers to establish themselves without American competition (Bell). Canadian companies like Bell Features (formerly Commercial Signs of Canada), Maple Leaf, and Anglo-American published many titles including Dime Comics, Active Comics, Triumph, and Three Aces. When the ban was lifted, Canadian companies could not compete with American ones and in 1946, the Canadian Golden Age of Comics was over (Bell).

The propaganda value of the Canadian Whites come from the combination of circumstance and the literary features of comic books. The War Exchange Conservation Act meant that the Canadian Whites were created by Canadian artists and writers for an exclusively Canadian audience. Where America had Superman and Captain America, Canada filled with Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Johnny Canuck, and other Canadian national superheroes (Bell & Viau). For those few years, readers of comics had something special of their own. Insulated from the outside world, they experienced the ideas and meanings shared from one Canadian to another.

The comic is the medium for those Canadian narratives. Like other literary forms, they communicate through stories that allow us to find meaning in characters’ actions and words. Stories are powerful ways to communicate, and the comic transforms story-telling. Presented as an intertextual sequence of moments, a series of flashes before our eyes, they combine words and images to make content easily digestible to readers. This is especially important during times of war. War comics capture the “simplicity of human behaviour” (Hirsh & Loubert 139), a condition that makes us see evil as absolute evil and good as unconditionally good. In Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History, Fredrik Strömberg describes it as the way in which humans naturally see the world (9).

Most of the stories in the Canadian Whites can be considered simplistic in narrative deliverance, but they are often larger than life, reflecting the experience of a war that completely enveloped the lives of Canadians. They depict the captivating adventures of superheroes doing extraordinary things. These adventures occur in the equally terrifying and exciting setting of war where the heroes can defeat outlandish villains and real-life enemies like the Nazis. Thus, the simplistic and blatantly didactic quality of the comics resides within exciting narratives that appeal to readers because it helps them make sense of the war. In the same way that comics transformed story-telling, the war transformed the Canadian Whites into a medium with mass appeal to propagate nationalistic messages about Canada’s position in World War II.

Wartime Rhetoric: Propaganda in World War II

World War II Propaganda Poster
Albert Cloutier and Eric Aldwinckle. Notre Armée a besoin de Bons Canadiens. Acc. No. 1983-30-111. Library and Archives Canada Posters and Broadsides in Canada, www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/posters-broadsides/026023-7200-e.html.

“Just one of many forms of self-expression and communication available to us” (McCloud162), comics exist among other forms of propaganda in the Second World War. Canada’s Wartime Information Board (WIB) produced propaganda in various forms. It controlled the sharing of information to promote war efforts and increase public support and moral. The poster is perhaps the most like comics. It uses a combination of image and text and often propagate war narratives in oversimplified stereotypes of good and evil. Some propaganda posters illustrate images of brave and heroic Canadian soldiers likened to other figures with those ideal characteristics, such as the knight (Cloutier & Aldwinckle). The Wartime Information Board was also heavily involved in the media. Canadian war correspondents worked within guidelines established by the WIB and some “acted as official state propagandists” (Engler 162). Articles like “Churchill, King, Lapointe Confident that Dominion Will Supply Huge Demand” (Hamilton Spectator) and “Happy Commercial and Cultural Tie is Promised with Russia” (Saturday Night) were subject to censorship regulations. Beyond print propaganda, rallies, press conferences, films and radio worked to shape public opinion to suit the needs of the country. Their strategies of persuasion and dissemination are reflected in the Canadian Whites. Like comics, traditional forms of propaganda exploit words and images, using simplicity to counter the complex emotions of war.

Enemy or Ally?

World War II Propaganda Poster
Harry Mayerovitch (a), and Canada Wartime Information Board. Carter? Caron? Caplan? Canakos? Cantrowicz? Canadian! 1944. Acc. No. 1981-32-10R. Library and Archives Canada Posters and Broadsides in Canada, https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/posters-broadsides/026023-7200-e.html#cont.

At the surface of “The Spirit of Russia” is an effort to bolster the relationship between Canada and the USSR. Johnny Canuck is saved just in time by a skilled Soviet sniper. A Red Army captain whom Johnny affectionately greets with “Hey Nick…. you old walrus!” (Bachle 42) is depicted as an old friend of Johnny’s. The Spirit of Russia can handle the risky flying maneuvers that Johnny performs. The inclusion of the USSR into the narrative of a prominent superhero reflects Canada’s propaganda efforts to improve public perceptions of the Communist nation. In 1932, the Wartime Information Board admitted that it was hard to overcome negative impressions of Russia (Granatstein 79). Polls that year indicated that 47% of Canadians wanted to see Canadian-Soviet relations improve while only 25% did not (80). Propaganda efforts to improve Soviet reputation in Canada is well-documented. Rallies were documented in news articles like one titled “Toronto’s Homage Paid to Russia At Monster Rally” published by The Globe and Mail (1942). Many posters aimed to relieve tension among cultural and ethnic groups in Canada. The positive portrayal of Russians, their skill, and quality of their war resources reflect Canada’s effort to change public perceptions of a former foe.

German soldier recognizes Johnny Canuck.
Leo Bachle. Panel from “The Spirit of Russia.” Dime Comics, No. 11, October, 1943, Bell Features, p. 46. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166574.pdf.

Delving deeper into “The Spirit of Russia”, it is evident that Russians are consistently undermined. The Russian sniper who saves Johnny’s life occupies only two frames and disappears from the narrative altogether (Bachle 41). He remains unknown to Johnny, who wakes up singularly focused on delivering his message that will help the Russians. The Soviet Captain Nick’s authority and rank is devalued in his encounter with Johnny. Upon recognizing Johnny, he dismisses the nurse’s request to order Johnny to rest. He also admits that Johnny will be better flying without a convoy, suggesting that a Russian assistance will only hinder the Canadian superhero (42). Finally, The Spirit of Russia is undermined when the Germans recognize Johnny Canuck as its pilot. The trap they set for the Russian plane is thwarted when Johnny, a threat greater than the guns of the fighter, is recognized by the enemy (46). Combined with the depiction of Johnny Canuck as the ideal Canadian, these examples reveal a trend in the simple narrative of Canadian superiority over Russia.

Shades of Canadian Nationalism

The trend of the devalued Russian in “The Spirit of Russia” points to its Canadian nationalist subtext. However, the Soviet Union is not the only cultural scapegoat of a missing Canadian identity in World War II. German and Japanese portrayal is often used to characterize difference in comics. They are portrayed as pure evil, lacking intelligence, morals, and in many cases, good looks. From the same issue of Dime Comics, Scotty MacDonald’s fight with the Japanese reveal them to be just that (Cooper 48-56). They fit the black-and-white stereotypes used to effectively fuel propaganda, but Russia does not. Compared to the portrayal of definite enemies, the representation of Soviets defies binary portrayals of good and evil.  Tall and brave people who spoke English without an accent, they were also less than the Canadians they were allied with. If World War II’s pro-Russian propaganda had the same undertones as in “The Spirit of Russia”, it could account for why Canadians had such little faith in Canadian-Soviet Relations.

Photograph from Toronto Star
“Canada and USSR Friends in War and Peace.” Toronto Star 1945. Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive. Toronto Star License.

Where nationalist subtexts did little to increase public support for the USSR, it helped build a Canadian national identity. Canada was not considered a major power in the war and it was still not independent of Great Britain. Dittmer and Larsen note that a collective Canadian identity is often thought to originate from fear of Canadian inferiority (738). Canada was ready for a larger role on the world stage, and the USSR’s position after Barbarossa proved to be the perfect opportunity. It was a large, dominating nation with a uniting ideology that bound its constituent countries together. It was also in a place of limbo between good and evil. In “The Spirit of Russia”, the Soviet characters stick out because they reside in that grey space between the stereotypical, black-and-white depictions of good and evil. The story exploits the vulnerable position of the USSR, painting Russians in colours that are deceivingly non-Canadian. It propagates an underlying narrative that Russians are only good allies because Canadians are better people. “The Spirit of Russia” creates a complex portrayal of Russians who are not evil nor completely good, building Canadian identity through a covert act of exclusion.

Cultural Fallout

The rise and fall of Canada’s Golden Age of Comics parallels Russia’s positive relationship with Canada. Like the Canadian Golden Age of Comics, the relationship between Canada and the USSR was held together by the weak bonds of wartime necessity, and within those bonds, Canada found a course to promote nationalism and a unique national identity. In Dime Comic’s 11th issue, “The Spirit of Russia” (1943) reflects propaganda efforts to align the public interest with Canadian nationalist ideals. In narratives that move beyond demonizing the enemy and sanctifying a former foe, the portrayal of USSR Soviets reveal how difference is manufactured as colossal gaps of disparity and minute nuances of difference to build an exclusive Canadian identity.

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.

Works Cited

Bachle, Leo (w, a). “The Spirit of Russia.” Dime Comics, no. 11, October, 1943, pp. 40-46. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166574.pdf.

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Anthony Wilson-Smith, 8 Jul. 2015, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada/.

Bell, John and Michael Viau. “Canadian Golden Age of Comics, 1941-1946.” Beyond the Funnies: The History of Comics in Canada and Quebec. Library and Archives Canada, 31 Jan. 2015, www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8300-e.html.

Caccia, Ivana. Managing the Canadian Mosaic in Wartime: Shaping Citizenship Policy, 1939-1945, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.

Cooper, Al (w, a). “Scotty MacDonald.” Dime Comics, no. 11, October, 1943, pp. 48-56. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166574.pdf.

Dittmer, Jason and Soren Larsen. “Captain Canuck, Audience Response, and the Project of Canadian Nationalism.” Social and Cultural Geography, vol. 8, no. 5, Taylor & Francis Group, 2001. Scholars Portal Journals, resolver.scholarsportal.info/resolve/14649365/v08i0005/735_ccaratpocn.xml.

Engler, Yves. A Propaganda System: How the Canadian Government, Corporations, Media, and Academia Sell War and Exploitation, Fernwood Publishing/RED Publishing, 2016.

Granatstein. J.L. “Changing Alliances: Canada and the Soviet Union, 1938-1945.” Canada and the Soviet Experiment: Essays on Canadian Encounters with Russia and the Soviet Union, 1900-1991, edited by David Davies, Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc., 1987, 75-87.

Hirsh, Michael, and Patrick Loubert. The Great Canadian Comic Books, Peter Martin Associates, 1971.

“Russia Anxious, Eager to Make Lasting Peace.” Toronto Daily Star, 3 Jul. 1945. Canadian War Museum Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/intro_e.shtml.

Strömberg, Fredrik. Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History, Ilex, 2010.

“Toronto’s Homage Paid to Russia At Monster Rally.” The Globe and Mail. 23 Jun. 1942. Canada War Museum Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War, www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/intro_e.shtml.

The Active and Passive Woman in Dime Comics No. 2

© Copyright 2017 Shae Loeffelholz, Ryerson University

Comics were a growing art across North America in the mid-1900’s. Kids would save up their change

Leo Bachle. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada
Leo Bachle. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Cover. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

for that month’s issue and spend days reading then waiting for the next issue to come out. In September of 1939, the outbreak of World War II brought on many economical problems in relation to trading with the United States (Bell). The William Lyon


Mackenzie King government passed the War Exchange Conservation Act in 1940; this act prohibited nonessential goods to be imported into the country, including American comic books (Bell). This inspired Canadian writer’s and artist’s to produce their own comics dubbed the Canadian “whites” because of the black and white interior pages in 1941 (Bell). The second issue of Dime Comics was published in April 1942, featuring favourite Canadian heroes Rex Baxter, Johnny Canuck, and Scotty McDonald; true manly men with their confident attitude and muscular physique, all excellent role models for young boys to look up to. What does seem to be missing from this issue is the active presence of women, that is, women in roles where they are not the ones being saved or treated as a sidekick to her male counterpart.

Gail Abbott – the only named female in the comic –, a mysterious female spy, and a perky blonde all are portrayed, though not necessarily negatively, in ways that fail to show the strength that woman had at the time and their advancements in society.


The opening comic is “Rex Baxter and the Island of Doom”, also holding the largest feature on the cover, where Rex and his female companion, Gail are “captured” by Zoltan and his men. Rex’s first task is to rescue his damsel in distress from the strange men who abducted her while he was away. Upon confronting them and also being captured, Rex learns the men are completely harmless and help Rex defeat an enemy submarine.

Edmond Good. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Panel from rex Baxter. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada
Fig. 1. Edmond Good. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Panel from rex Baxter. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

Throughout the comic, it seems as though Gail is there by accident, spending her time grasping for Rex or standing in the background, ignored. The event that most contrasts her actions around Rex occurs in the top left panel on page 10 when h

e calls her his “friend”, while on the next page she is seen holding him for protection and he ignores her for the majority of the comic (Good 10-11). When it is decided that Rex must accompany Zoltan back to his home land, Rex tries to leave Gail on the deserted island before she begs to be taken along (Fig. 1).



Women have a very minimal role in this episode of “Johnny Canuck”, visually featured in four panels over 18 pages. The first time is in an underground spy ring where Johnny is flanked by two women, and a third sitting seductively on the ground talking to the captain. It is not until the final pages that we meet Etta in one of Hitler’s camps, ready to be sent to the guillotine. She is the most active female in this issue as she is the reason for Johnny escaping his near death. On his return to the spy ring, he finds out that she is also a spy and calls her “a raven-haired beauty”(Bachle 39).

The “Goofs and Gags” section features three comics, in one of which a petite blond is seen wandering through a battlefield setting and retreating to the arms of a soldier after being scared by the gunshots; he then takes her away because she is not meant to be there (Fig. 2).

O’Henly. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Goofs & Gags. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada
Fig. 2. O’Henly. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Goofs & Gags. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

Women in Comics

Women throughout popular fiction intended for male audiences are often placed in the damsel-in-distress trope, a beautiful woman found in a situation where she needs to be saved, and is most often wearing something revealing; a trope clearly seen in this issue of Dime Comics. In an journal article by Paige Braddock, she discusses the issues surrounding female characters within comics. Even in a modern setting, these problems are not old news as they are clearly featured in this issue of Dime Comics; “female characters should always have small feet, hands, and waists” and always good-looking (22). On each of the women, the only things that seem to be big about them is their bustline and their hair, adding to their sex appeal. Even active females within comic books such as superheroines stick to this mould even though they act like men (23).

One reason why women are passive within male dominant comics is because male characters often have more opportunity for action (22). Women are typically seen as

Leo Bachle. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Panel from Johnny Canuck. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada
Fig. 3. Leo Bachle. Dime Comics. No. 2, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada: Panel from Johnny Canuck. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

housewives and meant to stay within the home doing domestic activities. In Rex Baxter, his original plan is to leave Gail on the island – alone – while he goes with Zoltan to defeat the Axis Powers. Though the island is not necessarily the ideal “home” that a woman would be situated it, anything is better than going out and assisting in battle. The cover art


for this episode also shows Gail’s highly feminized figure; her large bust, and thin arms contrasted by her captor’s hands, as well as the colour red which is a striking colour associated with sexuality.

One of the more demeaning lines is actually spoken by a Minister to Johnny Canuck where he claims that Etta was captured because of her beauty which (Fig. 3), though it sounds like a compliment, would not be deemed as acceptable in modern times. Though she is known for her brains, Etta’s looks are what stand out to the male characters in the episode and she is the one that has to be saved – even though she had a knife with her in her cell proving her capable of attempting to escape.

On the Job

Though the comics discussed present women as weak and unhelpful, that was the opposite of their actual involvement in the war efforts. Since World War I women had been in the labour force due to many men leaving their jobs to go fight, creating jobs for women in both office and factory positions (Anderson). As the years went on, women gained more rights including the right to vote in all provinces by 1922 and the right to hold political office in 1919 (Anderson), and more women were attending university being roughly 25% of post secondary students (Thrift 2) It took years after the war had begun to form an official association of women in the military, and many notable women fought for the right for Canadian women to be involved, including Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, who became the commander-in-chief of the volunteer Auxiliary Territorial Service (Gossage 32).

On August 13th 1941, the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) was announced, providing jobs to women typically performed by men, and became an official part of the Canadian army by March of 1942 (Wood) – the month that the second issue of Dime Comics was being created. The reasons for enrolling in the CWAC are very interesting; 40% of women said they enlisted because they were patriotic and wanted to support their country and loved ones, wh

Canada. National Salvage Committee. Housewives! Wage war on Hitler. Broadside. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection Public Domain.
Fig. 4. Canada. National Salvage Committee. Housewives! Wage war on Hitler. Broadside. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection Public Domain.

ile others wanted bigger opportunities and excitement (Wood). The women in my comic, despite being held back by men, do want to get involved in some way and are very adamant about it; Gail persuades Rex to allow her to go with him to fight (Good 19), and Etta was actively involved in espionage before being captured (Bachle 39). Clearly it is not the case that women do not want to be involved because much of the female population of Canadian was involved in the war in some way, be it through factory, clerical, or medical jobs, or even donating what they could (Fig. 4). The image of the tag along that the women are meant to portray within the three comics is a restriction put on them by men within fiction; even in the real world, men were strongly opposed to women having more responsibility and the possibility that they would wear the same uniform (Gossage 40).


Meanwhile, women in Russia had already been allowed to join the army with notable fighter being Valerie Khomyakova, “the flying witch”, who was the first woman to take down an enemy aircraft at night before being killed in action (Gossage 47).

Mary Dover was a large figure in the CWAC, becoming Commanding Offic

er in 1942 and being a large inspiration to many of the women who had enlisted. She fought for the proper training of women and made sure they gained the public’s respect throughout the war, strongly advocating for their femininity; “if you talk to them as I have done so many times and listen to plans and hopes for the future, for ‘After the War’, you will find that


almost without exception, they are looking forward when this job is done … and turning their minds to homes of their own made safer for them and their children by the contribution made during the war years. That, to me, is REAL femininity” (Thrift 7).

Gail and Etta were trying to get involved only to be overshadowed by the male hero of the story; apparently, there cannot be more than one hero in a story, and men and women cannot share the spotlight.

Women in Popular Media

Though the women in this issue are highly sexualized for a children’s comic, using femininity to promote women’s involvement was not uncommon. In an essay by Michelle Denise Smith analyzing women in fiction and magazines during the war, she believes that Canadian popular culture helped to shape femininity in a time of patriotism (6). The most popular female image at the time was the idea of the home and domesticity, and according to Smith, the home was also equal to Canada as a whole (7). Promotional posters were also very popular, as seen in Figure 5, and often donning the CWAC slogan “We serve that men may fight” (Wood).

Canada. Dept. of Public Information. We’re in the army now. Broadside. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection Public Domain.
Fig. 5. Canada. Dept. of Public Information. We’re in the army now. Broadside. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection Public Domain.

More adult directed fiction published in magazines were more accepting of women’s active role in the war, often fictionalized stories promoted their involvement in any ways; “Lady Going West” by Jenethea York was publishing in Canadian Home Journal in June 1942 and is the main focus of Smith’s essay (14). The story follows a British woman who falls in love with a Canadian soldier and moves to Canada where she is faced with the friendly atmosphere that is Canada, and decides that she will do whatever she has to to stay with the soldier, further proving the nation-as-home image that Canada promoted. Smith also notes that main character, Theodora struggles to find her place in Canadian society because of her lack of education and experience in the real world, being form a rich family (19). This observation makes that of being an active woman in society and getting as much education as possible even more of an asset when it came to the war.

Dime Comics were not about promoting equality or catering to the young girls that might be reading along with the boys who these comics are clearly directed at. Each of the stories have to do with exceptional but very ordinary men who have no super powers but still save the day, and the girl, in the end. Boys have someone to look up to, whereas the girls are faced with female characters who are pushed to the back burner into passive roles.

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.

Works Cited

Anderson, Doris. “Status of Women.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/status-of-women/. Accessed 9 Apr. 2017.

Baddock, Paige. “Women in Comics.” Phi Kappa Phi Forum, vol. 84, no. 3, 2004, pp. 22-23. Research Library, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/235179647?accountid=13631

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada/. Accessed 9 Apr. 2017.

Gossage, Carolyn. Greatcoats and glamour boots: Canadian women at war, 1939-1945, revised edition. Dundurn Press, 2001. Scholars Portal Books, http://books1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/viewdoc.html?id=37268#tabview=tab1

Smith, Michelle Denise. ““Hello, Canada! It’s fine to have you here”: Canadian Nationhood, Women and Popular Fiction during the Second World War.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, vol. 4, no. 1, March 2009, pp. 5-22., DOI: https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1177/0021989408101648

Thrift, Gayle. ““This is our war, too”: Mary Dover, Commandant of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps” Alberta History, vol. 59, no. 3, 2011. Academic OneFile, http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=rpu_main&id=GALE|A264270504&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&authCount=1#

Wood, James. “Canadian Women’s Army Corps.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-womens-army-corps/.