Tag Archives: World War II

Cultural Anxiety, Women, and Triumph Comics no.21

© Lea Sansom 2017, Ryerson University


The role of women was changing drastically during and after World War II. As with any major cultural shift, this change in role was met with varied reactions from society at the time. There was major cultural anxiety surrounding the role of women as they went from homemakers and mothers, to working in factories and more. This cultural anxiety is evident in texts from the time, including in Triumph Comics no. 21. In this comic, there is no unifying message around the role of women. The female characters present in the various stories are represented as strong and capable heroes, or as weak damsels in distress. This is evident in the way they are drawn, as well as their actual role and importance in the narrative of the various stories. Taking these examples and the historical context into account, it is possible to see how the cultural anxiety surrounding the role of women at the time was present within this comic. Looking at the comics individually, it might seem that certain ideals were being promoted. When they are all taken into account together, given that they were published in the same issue, it presents a fairly conflicted idea of women and their role. This is similar to the cultural conflict taking place at the time surrounding the need for capable women and the desire to maintain traditional roles.

The Changing Role of Women in WWII

It is possible to see the changing role of women through primary sources of the time. The film Women are Warriors from 1942 outlines the many different ways in which women were involved in the war effort. This film places considerable focus on the domestic tasks of women during this time, such as caring for children and sewing clothing (1:30-2:00). However, it also shows shots of women training and marching like soldiers, and discusses the manual labour such as farming and even manning anti-aircraft guns (3:25). An article by Elinore Herrick from The New Leader discusses a newly implemented program of women working in shipyards. The author praises the success of the program, and the women participating. Of particular note is that the women are not allowed to wear makeup or jewellery for safety reasons, and must also wear fairly masculine safety gear. However, the author emphasizes that the women are experimenting with creams to protect their skin, and that they have a comfortable restroom with nice furniture. This attempt to emphasize the remaining femininity in a typically masculine job contributes to the idea of anxiety surrounding women’s roles.

World War II afforded women a larger role outside of the typical household management expected of them at the time. However, the expectation was that after the war, women would return to the role of housekeeper and restore the status quo (Smith and Wakewich, 58-59). According to Smith and Wakewich, the necessity of drawing women into the workforce had to be balanced with “concerns about women’s capacity for industrial labour and the general public’s anxiety about women’s expanded public role both as breadwinners and consumers” (60). The reliance on women both as a practical source of labour, and also as symbols of social stability created cultural anxiety (Hegarty, 113) and further necessitated a drawing of cultural boundaries between the proper woman who did her duty, and the woman who overturned societal norms. This defining of roles often intertwined with control of sexuality and created a divide of patriotic women and promiscuous women. The difference between them being their apparent acceptance or rejection of cultural norms and thereby the risk they posed to traditional ideals after the war was over (Hegarty, 115). Control and use of women’s bodies and sexuality during the war is a common theme that Smith and Wakewich, and Hegarty touch on. There was increasing pressure on women to occupy a more traditionally masculine position in order to aid the war effort and be seen as patriotic, but only so long as they did not disrupt cultural norms more than was necessary. This balancing act was adopted by the government in order to get the labour that they needed while alleviating cultural anxiety around morality (Smith and Wakewich, 61). It also had to be adopted by women, who could suffer the personal repercussions of being deemed immoral, as “‘promiscuous’ female sexuality became a prime target during wartime” (Hegarty, 115).

Powerful Characters

There are two notably powerful female characters in Triumph Comics no. 21. These are Nelvana of the Northern Lights, the titular character of her comic, and Sally Dunlop who is the protagonist of “Air Woman”. Both characters are shown in their comics to be smart and physically capable, and they come to the rescue of the male characters in their respective comics.

Fig. 1 Adrian Dingle, panel from “Nelvana of the Northern Lights” Triumph Comics. no.21, Aug/Sept 1944, Bell Features, p.2

Nelvana is significant in that her comic is the first to appear in this issue, and she is featured on the cover. Her comic was serialized as well, indicating that she was perhaps a popular character used to draw readers to buy the comic. This issue contains Chapter Three “The Lair of the Devil Fish” of the larger story “Nelvana of the Northern Lights and the Ice Beam”. From the beginning of this chapter, Nelvana is placed as the hero, with the recap of the previous chapter stating that Nelvana has just rescued one of the male characters, Silas, from a monster (Dingle, 1). From that point, Nelvana leads the police sergeant and Silas in investigating. In the image above (fig. 1), Nelvana’s physical strength is highlighted. She is shown in a powerful pose, even breaking out of the panel frame. She has dynamic lines around her, and faces front while the male characters have far less focus on them. Nelvana’s quick thinking also allows them to track the monster to the villains lair (Dingle, 3). Nelvana does present as typically feminine, she has long hair and wears a skirt, however her body is never seen as weak, and her physical appearance is not mentioned except in relation to her super powers. Based on Nelvana’s importance within the issue, she was clearly a successful character. With that in mind, the assumption can be made that readers at the time were receptive to such a powerful female character.

Sally Dunlop, of “Air Woman” is presented similarly to Nelvana. One important difference is that while Nelvana is very obviously a fictional character, “Air Woman” begins by situating the comic in its WWII context “The first Canadian Women’s Service, formed on July 2, 1940 was organized to release manpower for aircrew duties” (Lazare, 38). This adds weight to what takes place in this comic, as Sally Dunlop and the events of the comic are positioned as a more real-world situation. She is clearly meant to present an inspiring figure through her actions. Sally Dunlop represents an example of Hegarty’s “patriotic woman”. Like Nelvana, Sally Dunlop presents as typically feminine. In fact, she and Nelvana look quite similar. Again, like Nelvana, her body is never objectified. She is shown in action, running to save soldiers from a crashed plane, and then physically moving rubble in order to lift the soldiers to safety (Lazare, 40-41). She is even presented with a medal of honour “Distinguished Service in the Face of Danger” (Lazare, 41). Given the real-world context of this comic, Sally Dunlop being shown as smart and capable in the face of danger is very impactful.

While it is impossible to say what the intentions of the authors of these comics were, it is safe to assume they wanted their comics to sell. Therefore, the representation of both Nelvana and Sally Dunlop certainly indicates that strong and capable female characters were at least somewhat accepted and encouraged. Both comics do however maintain the physical appearance of femininity for the characters, similarly to Herrick’s article on female shipyard workers emphasizing the use of creams and typically feminine comforts. This indicates that while these comics do not balk at representing powerful women, there were still certain cultural expectations in place that they had to conform to.

Damsels in Distress

There are multiple examples of the damsel in distress within this comic. Gloria Gates from “Captain Wonder” and an unnamed character from “Tang” who is referred to mostly as “the girl” are two examples of this type of character. These two characters are shown being rescued by men, and never take much action of their own within the narrative. They are also both often depicted being held or restrained in some way.

Fig. 2. Ross Saakel, panel from “Captain Wonder” Triumph Comics. no.21, Aug/Sept 1944, Bell Features, p.20

The image to the left (fig 2) depicts Gloria Gates being kidnapped in “Captain Wonder”. She is being physically held by the male villain, and she makes no attempt to fight back, only being able to call for help. Her body is objectified here, with her skirt being pulled up slightly to reveal the top of her stocking, and her body positioned in a way to display her curves, even though she is being violently kidnapped. The male villain is what the eye is first drawn to in this frame, making Gloria even less important. Later in the comic, Gloria is shown tied up and with her shirt pulled down to expose her shoulder and the top of her breast. She remains tied up until Captain Wonder saves her, and even then her shirt remains pulled down in the last frame she is present in (Saakel, 24). The main purpose she serves in the narrative is to give Captain Wonder a reason to go and fight the villains. She is never shown in action, except for fleeing from the villains after being rescued, and her body is objectified throughout.

The unnamed “girl” from “Tang” serves much the same purpose as Gloria Gates. She is first shown tied up and gagged by the villains which the main characters are investigating, and she provides justification for the protagonists to fight the villains. After being rescued, the girl is shown being carried on horseback by the protagonists and providing them with one clue to find the rest of the villains (Kalbach, 14-15). In fact, this clue is only one of two sentences the girl speaks. It is also not a complete sentence, only a fragment description of one of the villains. The other sentence is simply confirming that the protagonists had reason to fight the villains. Like Gloria Gates, the girl serves mainly as a justification for the violence that the male protagonists commit.

Narratively, neither of these female characters are unique or vital. They could both be swapped with any number of reasons for the protagonists to leap into action and the narrative could be essentially the same. These characters both represent women who are entirely reliant on men. In the context of the time, this could be a statement on the role of women. It certainly indicates that as a society this view of women was not entirely unacceptable.


This comic offers insight into the effect that the changing role of women had on culture at the time. There is no unified stance on the role of women within this comic, just as the role of women was a tension point within the culture at the time. The characters presented have very different roles within their respective narratives, with varying importance. Similar techniques are used to show power or weakness in the female characters. In comparing these characters, it is possible to see how the patriotic woman was represented, as well as how women were represented as weaker and needing the support of men. Neither type of woman is represented as inherently bad, and so it is safe to assume that both were culturally present at the time. Overall, the varied representation of female characters within this comic is an interesting view into cultural ideals of the time.

Works Cited

  • Dingle, Adrian. “Nelvana of the Northern Lights and the Ice Beam. Chapter Three: Lair of the Devil Fish.” Triumph Comics, no 21, Aug/Sept 1944, pp. 1-7. Bell Features, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166652.pdf.
  • Hegarty, Marilyn E. “Patriot Or Prostitute?: Sexual Discourses, Print Media, and American Women during World War II.” Journal of Women’s History, vol. 10, no. 2, 1998, pp. 112-136
  • Herrick, Elinore M. The Myth of the American Glamour Girl: A Real Story of Women in War Industry: Millions in Factories Solving Manpower Crisis, Mrs. Herrick Says. vol. 26, New Leader Publishing Association, New York, N.Y, 1943.
  • Kelbach, René L. “Tang.” Triumph Comics, no 21, Aug/Sept 1944, pp. 10-16. Bell Features, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166652.pdf.
  • Lazare, Jerry. “Air Woman.” Triumph Comics, no 21, Aug/Sept 1944, pp. 38-41. Bell Features, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166652.pdf.
  • Saakel, Ross. “Captain Wonder.” Triumph Comics, no 21, Aug/Sept 1944, pp. 19-25. Bell Features, Library and Archives Canada, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166652.pdf.
  • Smith, Helen E., and Pamela Wakewich. “Regulating Body Boundaries and Health during the Second World War: Nationalist Discourse, Media Representations and the Experiences of Canadian Women War Workers.” Gender & History, vol. 24, no. 1, 2012, pp. 56-73.
  • Women Are Warriors. Directed by Jane Marsh. National Film Board, 1942.

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.


The Portrayal of Women in Active Comics no. 3

© Copyright 2017 Olivia D’Agostino, Ryerson University


This exhibit identifies the ways in which Women are portrayed to younger audiences in Active Comics Issue #3, April 1942. The portrayal of women present in the comic book that display women as helpless and weak do not match how women acted during World War II. Women played a major role in World War II, helping in munitions factories as well as keeping everything together on the home front. In the comic book, there are advertisements that are aimed towards boys and girls, this created the research question, why do the comic books display women as helpless and clueless when it comes to efforts in the war? After doing some research, it was evident that there is not much information on why women were perceived and illustrated this way. However, through analysis of the comic and seeing how women were portrayed, the display of women may have been depicted this way to help encourage men to enlist in the war by making it look glamorous.

Women in WWII

World War II caused political, ethnic, language, gender and class lines that changed the roles each person played during the war and these changes included women becoming a key role in war efforts (Morton, 989). As expressed in the article, Women and War, women have been involved in war efforts since the beginning of war time (Chenier, 1). They’ve been assets to the war in different fields including nursing, munitions factories, and by providing efforts at home that boosted war efforts (Chenier, 1). Women even took over male jobs during wartime which helped Canada during the war and helped advance women’s rights (Chenier, 1). Women even took on the role of training for the home defense which included outfitting themselves in uniforms and training themselves in riffle shooting and military drill (Chenier, 1). Eventually women also enlisted to help in the war which included the air force, army and navy (Chenier, 1). At first the women were only trained for clerical, administrative and support roles but eventually were trained as parachute riggers, laboratory assistants, and trained in electrical and mechanical trades (Chenier, 1). Eventually the Canadians Women’s Army Corps trained their women in the same way, starting them off as cooks, nurses and seamstresses but later began training them as drivers and mechanics (Chenier, 1). On the home front women also helped with code breaking and espionage (Chenier, 1). Women on the home front also ensured the economy did well by producing and conserving food, raising funds to finance hospitals, ambulances, hostels and aircraft, and even volunteered their services inside and outside the country (Chenier, 1).

In the article, The Nursing Sisters of Canada, they discuss how the Nursing Sisters became a major role in the second world war. The work the Nursing Sisters conducted is important to note because it shows how important women were and how they could be perceived as heroes as well. The Nursing Sisters were even sent into action performing first aid to wounded soldier wearing battle dress, steel helmets and backpacks (1). They worked under pressure, they were brave, intelligent and resourceful which are traits that all the male superheroes possess.


Canada Wartime Information Board. Women of Canada! Save and Serve. Broadside. Toronto Reference Library Baldwin Collection. Public Domain


There are even some war posters that are present in the Toronto Public Library that depicted the importance of women’s help in the war. One of the posters titled “Housewives! Wage war on Hitler” displays what the women did on the home front to support the war. Their job was to save and re-use items such as rubber, metal, paper, fats, bones, rags and glass to help salvage resources. Another poster with the title “We’re in the army now” was used for the same effect. To help support the idea of re-using items to save on resources.
One poster found in the Toronto Public Library states, “They (women) have done a great work for the Empire in encouraging the men to enlist.” This information proves that the government used women to encourage men to enlist in the war. Women being used as propaganda by the government proves it can also be true that women could have been used as propaganda in comic books to promote men into believing that enlisting in the war could make them more desirable. The stories that follow in the issues of Active Comics number three demonstrate how women were depicted as clueless and helpless in every story in the Canadian comic.

Active Comics Representation of Women

Leo Bachle. Panel from “The Brain and the Mummy Man.” Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 11. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada

Inside the issue of Active Comics number three, the first story is called The Brain and the Mummy Man (1). In this story, the authors make being the heroine look desirable to the young male audience. This story starts off with the Mummy Man asking his henchman to find a pretty girl to capture so that the heroine of the story, The Brain, must come to her rescue. “master say…catch purty girl…use as bait to trap brain!” (3). The illustration also displays the nameless women as helpless by showing her tied up to a chair. She is also displayed with a perfect figure and ripped clothing to make her look desirable and in need of rescuing (3). When The Brain rescues the woman, she stands helplessly at the back waiting for The Brain to do all the work, deliver justice to the villain, and then get her to safety (8-9). With the woman just standing in the background doing nothing, this makes her look weak, and at the mercy of all the men around her. Then to make being the heroine look even more desirable, at the end of the story, the pretty woman rewards The Brain for saving her with a kiss, meanwhile The Brain acts modest (11). Therefore, this teaches young male audience that, if they join the army they can become a hero just like The Brain, save the day by defeating villains as well as win over the pretty girl. However, this also leaves an impression on young female readers that they are not heroic and resourceful but should only be pretty and defenseless to attain the attention of a superhero.

Panel from "Active Jim". Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 14. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Panel from “Active Jim”. Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 14. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In the short excerpt that introduces Active Jim, they do introduce a woman, Joan Brian, as a working woman. However, she only assists Active Jim in sorting his mail and picking him up from the airport (12-14). Joan does not assist in any crime fighting, or even gathering information on villains, but is instead just an errand girl. This subconsciously sends the message to young female readers that they can not be superheroes who save the day, but only assistants who help the male hero. In the first frame, Joan is seen checking herself out in a compact mirror making sure her hair is perfect (12). Joan is also depicted as a beautiful woman with a perfect figure. This proves that all women associated with superheroes in comic books must be perfect looking. This also send the message to young female readers that they must be beautiful and helpless to keep male attention.

Al Cooper, Panel from "Capt. Red Thortan." <em>Active Comics,</em> No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 21. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Al Cooper, Panel from “Capt. Red Thortan.” Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 21. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The second story of the issue Active Comics number three, introduces the character Carole Powell who needs rescuing by Capt. Red Thortan. In the first image, Carole is seen on her knees, with the Capt. holding her head down and asking her to stay back (18). This depiction displays that Capt. is the dominant person in this situation. He is in charge and in control which shows us that he will do everything to save the day and all she must do is sit back. Later in the story Carole feints after watching Capt. wrestling the tiger. This shows the reader that Carole is weak and delicate. Carole can not handle the situation and can not handle the thought of the Capt. getting hurt (29-31). Once again, Joan is depicted as having a perfect body with a beautiful face (18). After being saved from the tiger, Carole rewards the Capt. with a kiss. Again, the superhero acts noble and suitable while acting coy (31). While Capt. is off fighting the Japanese, Carole gets lost from him again which proves that she is clueless and in need of constant guidance and assistance. This story proves that the males have the dominant helpful stereotypes while the females have the submissive defenseless stereotypes.

Theodore Steele. Panel from "Dixon of the Mounted." Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 46. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
Theodore Steele. Panel from “Dixon of the Mounted.” Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 46. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

The third story of the issue Action Comics number three is about Dixon of the Mounted. The synopsis of the story immediately reads that he must go find Ruth Barton, another female who has been captured by a villain in the Northern Yukon. Ruth, like the rest of the women, has the perfect body that is paired with a beautiful face. She is also wearing revealing clothing displayed by a dress that is ripped (42). Her disheveled appearance reinforces the idea that she needs to be saved. Throughout the story Ruth gets tied up to a post and is rendered useless (42). The helpful character stereotype even goes towards the dog in this story, who can untie Dixon who can then free Ruth (45). This story demonstrates to the reader that Ruth is clueless, non resourceful and helpless to the point where a dog does more to get them free.


M. Karn. Panel from "Thunderfist." Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 64. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.
M. Karn. Panel from “Thunderfist.” Active Comics, No. 3, April 1942, Commercial Signs of Canada, p. 64. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In the fourth and final story of the issue Action Comic number three, the woman they introduce is a reporter named Beverly. She is displayed as clueless because she cannot figure out that Randolph Steele is also Thunderfist. Thunderfist arrives at the location where the report is occurring, while talking to Beverly he realizes that he needs to help so he disappears to save the day. Once the situation is resolved he returns to Beverly who is worried and searching for him. Beverly never once puts the two facts together that Randolph could be Thunderfist. A woman who is supposed to report on odd things and come to realizations for the public could not put two simple facts together. This makes Beverly look unintelligent, while making Thunderfist look mysterious, intelligent and brave.


The Canadian White comic books were created with multiple genres as the focus, with war being one of them and which also ended up being the most prominent (Bell, 1). The Golden Age of comic books arose because of the ban on American Comic books during the war (Bell, 1). The production of Canadian comics started at first as a business opportunity to make a lot of money on a product that was desperately sought out by children of the time (Bell, 1). Using women as propaganda as a sort of prize to be won was not the focus for producing comic books. However, based on the depictions of these women and the number of times these stereotypes are depicted throughout the comic, it is evident that men would be more likely to join the war after seeing how the heroes fair with women. Women of this period participated and helped in the war in numerous ways that were beneficial to war efforts, therefore there is no logical reason, other than propaganda, as to why women would be depicted as clueless, unintelligent and useless. After analyzing all the information, it seems apparent that at the time of World War II, using women to get men to enlist in the war was more important than creating positive female ideals towards the younger female audience.

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.


Bachle, Leo. (w, a). “The Brain and the Mummy Man.” Active Comics, no. 3, April, 1942, pp. 1- 11. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166504.pdf

Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada/. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.
Canada, Veterans Affairs. “The Nursing Sisters of Canada.” Veterans Affairs Canada, 18 Nov. 2016, www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/those-who-served/women-and-war/nursing-sisters. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.

Chenier, Nancy Miller. “Women and War.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/women-and-war/. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.
Cooper, Al. (w, a). “Capt. Red Thortan” Active Comics, no. 3, April, 1942, pp. 17-30. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166504.pdf

Legault, E.T, (w.) and M. Karn (a). “Thunderfist.” Active Comics, no. 3, April, 1942, pp. 51-64. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166504.pdf

Morton, D., Granatstein, J. L., & Cafferky, S. (2004). Canada and the two world wars. International Journal, 59(4), 988-991. http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/220852809?accountid=13631

Steele, Theodore. (w, a). “Dixon of the Mounted.” Active Comics, no. 3, April, 1942, pp. 35-48. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166504.pdf

What It Means To Be A Canadian Hero in Active Comics no.10

© Copyright 2017 Brittany Fontes, Ryerson University

History of the Canadian Whites

The Canadian Whites were World War II-era comic books published and written in Canada that featured coloured front and back covers and a black and white interior. These comics came to be due to the War Exchange Conservation Act which restricted the importation of non-essential goods from the United States into Canada and this included comic books. There were four companies that came to be during this time period and took advantage of the demand for an emergence of Canadian heroes that would offer civilians comfort and hope. One of the most popular companies being Bell Features, the Canadian comic book scene grew and prospered during this time period giving Canadians a real image of what their heroes overseas looked and acted like. This industry was created as “…an entrepreneurial venture built from Canada’s war time economic situation and its political response to that situation…” (Kocmarek). This was the one chance for Canada’s comic book scene to be built and thrive.

In Active Comics no. 10 there are heroes of all kinds depicted in the 68 page, 10 cent comic including “Dixon of the Mounted”, “The Brain”, “Captain Red Thorton”, “Active Jim”, and “The Noodle”. These heroes are all diverse individuals in their own right but seem to have significant overlaps in terms of what makes them heroes in Canada.

“For a brief six-year window, and for the first time, we had comics that we could call our own. These Bell Features books, along with the other WECA books (from Anglo-American Publications, Maple Leaf Publishers, and Educational Projects) were as Canadian as comic books ever get, and they laid the foundation for any future comic book that wanted to earn the designation ‘Canadian'” (Kocmarek).

 Masculinity for a Canadian World War II Soldier

For young Canadian soldiers during World War II, masculinity was something that was both learned from their elders but also ever-changing in definition based on what the civilians of Canada needed them to be. Soldiers were often depicted in posters and wartime advertisements as well put together, tall and slim men with shiny boots and a stern face often with some sort of facial hair. The following photo suggests “…how war would reassert an officers masculine image and bearing” (Goodlet and Hayes).

An ideal officer, November 1939.
Figure 1, Geoffrey Hayes and Kirk Goodlet, Journal Of Canadian Studies, Project Muse

Young soldiers not only had to look the part to be considered masculine but they also had to act in an obedient, disciplined manner which was taught to them by their superiors. These men were taught to lead very simple lives with little to no entertainment and “Officers were permitted to have fun, but within bounds” (Goodlet and Hayes). Overall, the image of a masculine soldier who could be looked up to as a Canadian hero was stern, serious, well put together and well disciplined.

Canadian Superheroes

During World War II, Canadian solders were seen as “man-gods” (Beaty) which is how the idea of a Canadian Superhero came to be. All these heroes have one interesting thing in common: they have no superhuman power. Their job was to be “…exciting, but not overly exciting; active in the war, but not so active as to accomplish much of significance” (Beaty). All in all, the main goal was to give Canadians heroes that they felt they could connect to as people which is why they didn’t seem unreal and the ideas in each comic were not unimaginable in real life context. “Dixon of The Mounted” could be your neighbourhood police officer, while the brain could be the businessman who lives in your apartment building. Being a Canadian hero meant to be distinctly un-American while also being humble and able to fit into typical Canadian society.

In the first section “The Dynamic Adventures of Dixon of The Mounted” (Figure 2) (pp 1-9) we are shown a hero who is known for his patriotism and manly pride. Dixon’s super power is simple and functions perfectly with this story line: he is a Canadian Mounted Police trying to find out who is selling marijuana to “Indians and half breeds” (p1). He is pictured in typical mounted police uniform with a stern look on his face.

In the next comic titled “The Brain” (pp 10-18) our superhero is younger than the previously pictured Dixon and he is shown wearing “typical” superhero garments: a mask, tights, a cape and boots. The Brain is what one may picture when thinking of the word “superhero” and his purpose is completely different from that of Dixon. He is saving a “damsel in distress” from what looks like alien captors. Similar to Dixon, The Brain does not have any super-human powers. The Brain is simply strong, fast and masculine. He is an example of a stereotypical “macho-man”.

Next, we have the story of “Captain Red Thorton” (pp 26-34) whose superpower is once again being manly, patriotic and defeating a Canadian enemy of this time: the Japanese people. He is pictured with a muscular build, slicked back hair and nothing but a gun strapped to his hips as protection.

We then have “Active Jim” (pp 36-38) who is shown saving a young woman from another Canadian enemy: the Nazis. This story serves as encouragement for young men and woman to serve their army as it says “Like all you Canadian boys and girls, Jim has solemnly pledged his services to eventual allied victory…” (p26).

Lastly, we have “The Noodle” (pp 39-42) who is animated completely differently from the rest of our heroes as he resembles a baby. His mission is to save the world from “the jeeter-bug” and similar to our other heroes, he is saving a woman.

All these comics have a common enemy as to ensure that the Canadians enjoying the comics make an enemy of the Japanese people, Nazis, drug dealers and anyone who is not of “good moral standing”.

Figure 2, Rene Kulbach, Front Cover Active Comics no. 10, November 1943, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Establishing Canadian Indentity

Canadian Comics during World War II were so much more than a medium for entertainment. They were a connection to the outside world that Canadian people, children especially, had never had the chance to experience and “…a didactic vehicle, a means to popularize certain philosophical and religious ideals” (Bell).  During World War II, Canadian comics were the only option for comic book readers. “These comics were different from their American counterparts in their scope as well as their levels of violence and patriotism” (Reyns-Chikuma and de Vos).  Though Canadian heroes did not have superhuman powers per say, their powers were an uncanny sense of masculinity, patriotism, and religious morals. These comics were a mirror of everything a good Canadian citizen would be during the war and that one could be just as helpful and important on the Homefront as on the battlefield. Some ways Canadians on the Homefront helped out were victory gardens, or children collecting war stamps; young or old everyone did their part. “These comics solicited readers’ opinions about what was and should be inside them and offered up contests for those same readers to participate in with almost every issue” (Kocmarek).

The purpose of these comics were “…to produce exciting adventures designed to intstill patriotism in Canadian kids” and also to “…explore complex mystical beliefs and the nature of good and evil” (Bell).

These qualities are what separated Canadian Comics from the rest of the world and what made them so special. They were unapologetically Canadian and distinctly un-American.

The End of An Era

The Canadian Golden age of comics ended in 1945 and the superheroes that were so revered and popular became obsolete. These comics were the first to explore “the utilization of comics as a lens for reading history as well as contemplating the future of

Figure 3, Rene Kulbach, Back Cover Active Comics no. 10, November 1943, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

artistic interpretations of Canadian identity” (Reyns-Chikuma and de Vos). Unfortunately, “…the next generation of Canadian kids thrilled to the adventures of foreign heroes” (Bell). Thus, Superman, Spiderman and all the popular American comics reemerged.

Though many Canadian artists have been persistent in the Canadian Comic book scene in trying to ensure its success, other Canadian artists view superheroes in comics “…represent cultural immaturity” (Bell) and “…an artistic deadend” (Bell). It is possible that superheroes simply do not represent Canadian history and culture and that we need a comic medium that includes “…literature, autobiography, history, and other sources” (Bell). because “…Canadians are probably way too wary of the uncritical portrayal of unrestrained heroism and power for the superhero genre to ever become a mainstay of the country’s indigenous comic art” (Bell).

Though the intense popularity that Canadian Comics experienced  has ended, “…the dream of a national superhero is likely to persist as long as Canadians produce comic art” (Bell).


Works Cited

Beaty, Bart. “The Fighting Civil Servant: Making Sense of the Canadian Superhero.” American Review of Canadian Studies, vol 36, no. 3, October 2005, pp 427-439.Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database, 10.1080/02722010609481401

Bell, John. Invaders from the North. Dundurn, 2011.

Grace, John. “The Canadian Soldier and the Study of Current Affairs.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), vol. 20, no. 3, 1944, pp. 341–46.www.jstor.org/stable/3018560

Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and The Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell

Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée, vol. 43, no. 1, March 2016, pp. 145-65. Project Muse, https://doi.org/10.1353/crc.2016.0008

Kulbach, Rene, “Dixon of the Mounted.” Active Comics, no.10, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1945, pp. 1-8, Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada,  http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166511.pdf

Reyns-Chikuma, Chris and Gail de Vos. “Exploring Canadian Identities in Canadian Comics.” Canadian Review of Compartive Literature / Revue Candadienne de Littérature Comparée, vol. 43, no.1, March 2016, pp 5-22. Project Muse, https://doi.org/10.1353/crc.2016.0003


WOW Comics No. 6: A Window to Past Culture and Ideologies

© Copyright 2017 Kristian Saflor, Ryerson University

An Academic Analysis:

Comic books in Canada during the second World War served as forms of entertainment for children. With its use of illustrations, stories, and advertisements, Canadian comics managed to attract children into reading them as it provides them with content that serve entertaining and fun through the eyes of children. However, comics are more than just forms of entertainment, but rather they are historical artifacts. Bell Features’ comic WOW Comics No. 6 contains what would be considered entertaining for children at the time; superheroes, advertisements for toys, contests, and eye-popping illustrations, but examining the content and analyzing the way it resonates with its audience suggests what culture was like at the time the comic was produced.

This exhibit will explore comics as a form of media altogether and emphasize the role of comics as an expression of cultural views and ideologies as opposed to viewing comics simply as forms of entertainment. The research provided throughout this exhibit seeks to correlate culture and entertainment, and how both of these aspects serve to educate contemporary readers of the historical context of when such comics were produced to the public. This exhibit will answer the questions; what does WOW Comics No. 6 provide besides entertainment for contemporary readers? And why is it important to view WOW Comics No. 6 more than just entertainment?

Reputation and Underlying Significance of Comics:

Comics, as compared to literary books, textbooks, and even film, are generally regarded to be inferior forms of entertainment, or simply just disregarded altogether. Mark Berninger states that comics have been largely marginalized by critics and academics (4), thus suggesting that comics have little to no value for academic analysis and examination. This notion altogether indicates that comics, to a vast majority of scholars and critics, are generally looked down upon. It is difficult to determine which specific aspects of comic books hinder scholars and critics to examine the medium as academic research and it is tedious to come to an overall general conclusion. It is important to view comics more than just forms of entertainment. Berninger emphasizes that comics are an extension of ourselves and uniquely suited to describe the human experience (3). With this in mind, examining WOW Comics No. 6 requires one to reflect upon the context of which it was produced and created. To expand on the idea of the human experience and how it relates to comic books, comics are heavily influenced by the culture it stems from, in regards to WOW Comics No. 6, the stories and undoubtedly, the advertisements are strongly influenced by wartime during the 1940s.

A Window to the Past:

Context at the time of a comic’s development and production is crucial for understanding set ideologies and values. Casey Brienza argues that there is an urgent need to study the context of a comic at the time of its production (107). WOW Comics No. 6 presents shocking, and somewhat comical imagery towards the depiction of Adolf Hitler, racist stereotypes, and misogyny. To modern readers, these representations may be deemed appalling and deeply offensive in many ways, but that was not the case for Canadians at the time WOW Comics No. 6  was produced. The offensive depiction at the time was deemed normal and part of culture, it was a different time, and different views were established in Canada during the 1940s. Annessa Ann Babic emphasizes that comic books, much like movies and music, are created to sell, and that they are sold according to consumer demands and preferences (111). Drawing from this notion, WOW Comics No. 6’s content is derived from consumers’ wants and preferences at the time of production, Babic states that the public makes demands on what themes should be presented in comics, and how the pages of a comic book provide a glimpse of the culture of when the comic was produced (111).

With this in mind, analysis of comics requires acknowledgement of culture and ideologies, in this case, the content presented within WOW Comics No. 6 reflects the desires and expectations of the people living in that era. Culture and ideologies within a country changes over time, a comic book produced at a time where war played a huge impact globally gives modern readers a small fragment of what culture was like at the time.

Comics, Wartime, and the Everyday:

The material and content of WOW Comics No. 6 is evidently influenced by wartime as it is clearly represented in sections such as the contest titled “What Would You Do With Hitler and his Gang?”. With the second world war in full effect, WOW Comics No. 6 implemented themes of war and nationalism in both the comic’s stories and advertisements. Looking at comics as a historical artifact, the contents and themes presented within the comic evidently identifies itself with what was going on in Canadian society.

With stories such as “Dart Daring and the Horror in the Hills” by E.T. Legault, and advertisements within the comic such as toy airplane advertisements, the notion of war and wartime playing a huge impact on Canadian society managed to find its way in merchandise and entertainment. WOW Comics No. 6 serves as a window to society at the time of the second world war, or as Frank Bramlett defines it, as the everyday in that the comic portrays notions of war and conflict through its superhero narratives. Bramlett emphasizes the notion of the everyday and the quotidian as presented in comic books through its story and characters. As Bramlett states, comics illustrates the quotidian to a high degree, the representation of the everyday in comics become reflexive to the reader, supporting the everyday through use of characters, dialogue, settings and narratives (247).

The everyday as shown in Dart Daring and Whiz Wallace presents the reader with the story’s heroes in a state of conflict and some sort of call of duty. The concept of the everyday expressed though the characters in the comic links to the everyday life of readers at the time. The stories and narratives presented in both “Dart Daring and the Horror in the Hills” and “Whiz Wallace and Two Worlds at War” evidently reflect the issues people had to deal with during the war. The distinction between the heroes and villains presents a stark contrast between the two groups where the villains are dehumanized and stereotypically labelled as seen in “Dart Daring”.

Comics are not only forms of visual entertainment for children, but it captures worldviews and culture through its presentation of stories, narratives, and characters. The link between war and conflict in “Dart Daring and the Horror in the Hills” and war and conflict in the context of the everyday of the readers during wartime indicate that comics do indeed mirror and reflect culture and ideologies at the time of the comic’s production. Comics encapsulate the everyday of the readers through its depiction of plot development, characters and character visuals. Looking more closely at “Dart Daring and the Horror in the Hills”, the antagonistic group, which appears to be Natives, are identified as “savages” (Legault 6). The name in itself suggests stereotypical views towards their enemies much like propaganda posters presented to the public. The advertisements within WOW Comics No. 6 clearly mirror propaganda posters with its stereotypical, comical and antagonistic view towards Germany, Adolf Hitler, and the Japanese. Bramlett emphasizes that comics rely on the reader’s sense of the everyday; comics incorporate culture’s view of the everyday into its characters, story and narratives (258).

Figure 1. E.T. Legault. Panel from “Dart Daring.” WOW Comics, No. 6, March 1942, p. 6. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

In regards to history, WOW Comics No. 6 mirrors societal views and ideologies and provides contemporary readers a brief understanding of culture and ideologies at the time it was produced. For contemporary readers, WOW Comics No. 6 demonstrates the reality and everyday notions of a country influenced by war. It signifies the way war has affected communication and depiction of people towards its readers, and for us contemporary readers, it signifies a tiny piece of history and the culture and ideology that comes with it.

Propaganda as an Agent of Ideology:

WOW Comics No. 6 contains heavy implications of nationalism, and antagonism towards Canada’s enemies at the time. It presents an abundance of nationalistic views, and propaganda, whether it be presented in a subtle or obvious manner.“Dart Daring and the Horror in the Hills” depicts Daring’s enemies as stereotypical “Indians”, are represented as hostile and villainous, and are referred to as “savage” (Legault 3). Advertisements are of war-related merchandise or purchases such as war saving stamps, and a contest titled, “What Would You Do With Hitler and his Gang?”, which bluntly antagonizes and ridicules Hitler and the Japanese, which they are referred to as “dirty japs” (32). The notion of propaganda presented in WOW Comics No. 6 and how it is presented gives contemporary readers an understanding of how communication was handled during the 1940s in Canada.

Figure 2. “What Would You Do With Hitler And His Gang?” Contest. Panel from WOW Comics, No. 6, March 1942, p. 32-33. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

With propaganda popping up in every page of the comic, it is important to explore the psychology behind propaganda in order to understand why this certain era relied on it to speak to its viewers. Ryan Jenkins discusses the concept of propaganda and who it really benefits. According to Jenkins, propaganda serves beneficial solely for the propagandist rather than the people who view it (1). With communication in mind, examining WOW Comics No. 6 requires exploration of the propagandist, Jenkins claims that the propagandist fill their needs and wants only if it furthers their ideologies (10). Propaganda plays a huge role in Canadian culture at the time, propagandist forced specific outlooks towards Canada’s enemies at the time. The question that comes to mind is, what is the significance of this in regards to comics as an agent of historical context?

Propaganda is meant to forcefully deliver the perspective and ideologies of the propagandist, because WOW Comics No. 6 is littered with propaganda, readers can interpret the perspectives and motivations behind the propaganda presented within the comic; what the propagandist is trying to communicate and what does it say about Canadian culture in the 1940s. For readers, analyzing propaganda within the comic enables us to decipher cultural outlooks on specific groups of people and the notion of war, an example of this is the representation of children’s interaction. Going back to the “What Would You Do with Hitler and his Gang” section, it is extremely difficult to deny that the outlook on Canada’s enemies are represented as overly comical, but perhaps there is a deeper message in regards to how Canadians sought to communicate with their readers. For the most part, Bell Features comics was catered towards children, the activities and stories were meant to be read and engaged with by children at the time.

Because WOW Comics No. 6 was focused on this age group, the inclusion of war related themes and propaganda suggests that Canadian culture during the second world war sought to involve children with wartime efforts in a very blunt manner, which also suggests that Canadian culture at the time made no effort to keep war discreet towards children. The inclusion of propaganda in a comic book further supports the idea that comics are an agent of historical context, as the messages being conveyed give modern readers a sense of how a country communicated to its consumers, in this case, how Canada communicated to children during the war.

WOW Comics and the Truth of Ideology:

Comic books as a whole serve as much more than what it is originally perceived as. To an extent, comic books are miniature history textbooks encapsulating a piece of history held together with paperback covers and printing paper. The comic contains Canadian ideology from the past, and provides, as well as educates readers of what culture was like at the time of the comic’s production. Perhaps most importantly, WOW Comics No. 6 encapsulates needed accuracy of Canadian ideology in the 1940s.

History textbooks and secondary sources speaking of Canadian history and views can potentially be altered to create a false image of Canada; a fragmented outlook on Canada and Canadians during the struggles and influences of war. The essentiality of the comic is that it is clear and unedited. The content is all there and everything is intact in terms of thematic elements and messages given to the reader at the time. With the lack of editing and possible fragmentation of information, WOW Comics No. 6 signifies a piece of history that is accurate of Canadian ideology.

Works Cited

Babic, Annessa Ann. Comics as History, Comics as Literature: Roles of the Comic Book in Scholarship, Society, and Entertainment. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, December 2013, pp. 111-22. ProQuest site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/oculryerson/reader.action?docID=10823569

Bramlett, Frank. “The Role of Culture in Comics of the Quotidian.” Journal of Graphic Novels & Comics. December 2010, pp. 246-59. Schlars Portal Journals, journals1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/details/21504857/v06i0003/246_trocicotq.xml

Brienza, Casey. “Producing Comics Culture: A Sociological Approach to the Study of Comics.” Journal of Graphic Novels & Comics. December 2010, pp. 105-19. Scholars Portal Journals, journals2.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/details/21504857/v01i0002/105_pccasattsoc.xml

Berninger, Mark. Comics as a Nexus of Cultures. McFarland & Company, Inc. April 2014. ProQuest, ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/ryerson/reader.action?docID=1594826

Legault, E.T. and Henly, J.O. “Thrilling Adventures of Dart Daring Master Swordsman.” WOW Comics, no. 6, March, 1942. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166669.pdf

Jenkins, Ryan. “The Thin Line Between Propaganda and Persuasion.” Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2013. December 2013, pp. 1-61. ProQuest, search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1524023363?pq-origsite=summon

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.



The Humour of Joke Comics Issue 21

© Copyright 2017 Alexandra McAuley-Biasi, Ryerson University



The Canadian Whites Joke Comics issue 21 presents a selection of humour-centric comics that utilize different comedic themes that were popular in the 1940s to create entertainment for their targeted viewers that not only provided a break from the stress of the World War II lifestyle, but also connected them with a nostalgic comedy that many people of the time grew up with. Canadian comedy at the time developed very closely with the changing trends in North American popular culture, adapting the main themes of humour that were popular at the time (Wise). Joke Comics 21 encompasses varying comic story lines with different forms of humour, one particular recurring trend being the theme of stupidity as a main comedic source. This was a very prominent theme in so many different forms of comedy during the 1900s with the development of comedy films, and groups such as The Three Stooges. These varying joke comics take well known themes, such as stupidity, that were prominent in the popular comedy acts of the time and present them in a format that provides a break from the harshness of life during World War II.


Popular Comedy in the 1900s

The popularity of humour derived from stupidity was at a high point while Joke Comics 21 was released, especially with the advancements of comedy films that took place a few years prior. Comedic films had been introduced into society a few decades before the start of World War II, setting a base for comedy that adapted over the years with evolving comedic styles and groups. For example, groups such as The Three Stooges were at a peak in popularity during the war. Some of their most famous works were films created and released during World War II, including the films You Nazty Spy! and I’ll Never Heil Again. The Stooges’ main form of comedy, known as low comedy, was generated through the stupidity and the pain of others (Fink 46). Low comedy mainly focuses on physical humour rather than clever dialogue, utilizing the slapstick form of comedy, while also presenting the lower uneducated class as a comedic source by making the audiences laugh at the characters’ acts of overt stupidity (Fink 45-6). This low comedy, slapstick style violence present in many of The Stooges’ work constantly reflected the evident low intelligence of the characters, demonstrating a correlation between the film humour of the time and the humour presented in Joke Comics 21. For example, in the “Spike N’ Mike” comic in Joke Comics 21, the characters Spike and Mike are presented as extremely dumb and naive characters that accidentally thwart the evil Zootari’s plans to kill them continuously over the course of the comic. Their idiotic actions, fuelled by their evident stupidity, result in overtly physical slapstick style incidences (Saakel). “Spike N’ Mike,” as well as many of the other comics in Joke Comics 21, could be seen as low key adaptations of some of the most popular comedic elements at the time. This is done by taking what had already proven to be popular forms of comedy and presenting them in a format that was accessible for the targeted viewers. This mimicking of famous comedy films and groups like The Three Stooges could have acted as a way to draw in audiences while also providing a sense of comfort through familiar entertainment that was present before World War II began.


Slapstick Comedy

Slapstick is a form of comedy that physicalizes the idea of humour through stupidity, reproducing mental idiocy into a ridiculously physical aspect. Its creation opened up the target audience considering its physicality could reach people of any language and age. The origin of slapstick comedy is traced back to the Canadian-born American, Mack Sennett, who created the Keystone film company which grew into a major production company that created some of the most iconic comedy films of the early 1900s. Sennett represents a milestone in the comedy industry, introducing a completely new style of comedy, and exposing audiences to comedy icons such as Charlie Chaplin (Wise). Influencing much of the comedy that was present during World War II, his slapstick style was seen in not only the Joke Comics, but also in traveling comedy groups that were employed by the Canadian Army to visit army camps. The Army Show specifically, being written and produced by the Canadian comedy duo Wayne and Shuster, used a combination of different comedic styles including slapstick to bring entertainment to soldiers fighting for their country (Dougall). Wayne and Shuster’s Army Show started out as a radio show that quickly shifted into a traveling stage show, starting in Canada and eventually traveling through Europe. This transition was made because of the more personal connection live comedy creates between comedian and audience member. Proximity enhances the feeling that each audience member is in on the joke and more engaged with the comedy, also allowing the comedian to use live slapstick styles in a way that connects with the audience more than it would over film (Brodie 153). While Joke Comics 21 reverted back to a more separated connection between comedian and audience, its mix of illustrations and text allowed the slapstick style to be mimicked in a more accessible format.


Superiority Theory

One panel from "Private Stuff" depicting how the character is illustrated with his tongue sticking out
Ted Steef. Page from “Private Stuff.” Joke Comics. No. 21, August 1945, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, p. 5.

Superiority Theory is a humour theory that links closely to slapstick comedy, which is a big part of Joke Comics issue 21. Slapstick comedy is extremely prevalent in the comics, as many characters of the comics use overtly physical movements in a manner that make their actions seem ridiculous. Most of the time the purpose of slapstick comedy is to conjure humour from the misfortunes of others, turning violence into something ridiculous and, therefore, entertaining. However, there are many theories, including Superiority Theory, surrounding Slapstick comedy and why it is such a popular form of humour, especially during the early twentieth century. Violence is a big part of the Superiority Theory, suggesting that people feel better when they see that others are in worse situations than they are (Casper 583). This theory could be connected to why many of the comics in Joke Comics 21 represent characters in such a judgemental light. For example, the character of “Private Stuff” is frequently represented throughout the comic as unintelligent and lower class. This is done not only through his speech but also through the way he is illustrated with his tongue always sticking out and his eyes frequently looking off in different directions, as well as through the slapstick elements of his actions (Steef). This presentation of Private Stuff could be meant to make the readers feel superior to the character, allowing readers to derive pleasure from the contrast between Private Stuff and themselves. However, what is interesting about this portrayal of Private Stuff is that he is set up to be seen as a hero by the readers. He is a soldier who succeeds in protecting his military camp from Nazis who are plotting to blow it up. Even if the means by which he does protect it are slapstick and unorthodox, there is no doubt that he is meant to be a hero. This fact challenges the Superiority Theory because most children are meant to look up to the heroes of their comic, not laugh at their stupidity. It is possible that during the time of its publication this comic was meant to produce a hero figure that children do not look up to, but one that they believe they are better than. This comic functions in line with the Superiority Theory to the extent that it makes the reader feel better about themselves, but also conjures the idea that if Private Stuff can be a hero, anyone can. This would have been an important message to spread to children during World War II, acting as a confidence boost for readers by suggesting that they are just as capable of defeating their own enemies.



Relief Theory

Relief Theory is a humour theory that explores the idea that laughter releases nervous energy to lessen the viewer’s anxiety, which can be connected to the slapstick humour presented in Joke Comics 21 (Fink 50). The main aspect of slapstick comedy that contributes to its ability to produce laughter from its viewers is the presentation of a disconnect between violence and pain. The viewers find it funny because they know that the characters are not actually in pain. Slapstick characters are presented with an almost immunity to pain, and even if it seems they feel it at first the viewers know there will be no lasting effects (Casper 581). This suggests that it is not pain in general that creates laughter, but the absurdness of the absence of pain from violence. The viewers feel free to laugh at these absurd instances because they have no fear that the characters are actually in harm’s way (585). This disconnect between violence and its lasting effects could be an aspect of why the depiction of ridiculous slapstick violence was so popular during World War II. While there was obviously a large amount of very real violence in the world during the war, the illusion that violence produces laughter rather than pain might have functioned as a source of relief for readers. Relief Theory emphasizes the notion of what has been described as “laughable inauthenticity,” where the limits of human reality are pushed to such a ridiculous stage that the viewers are able to laugh at human kind in general (Casper 596). The relief of seeing a world where certain violent actions do not have consequences was probably very appealing during the time of the war, creating a context for viewers to find humour in not just the characters, but also themselves. The Relief Theory’s suggestion that the level of humour a viewer derives from comedic material has a connection to the viewer’s level of anxiety could also present an understanding why the slapstick humour of these comics was so appealing to stressed viewers at the time. This idea would have given children the context and material to disconnect themselves from the very real horror of life during wartime and let their anxiety out through laughter (Fink 50).


Ethnic Humour

One panel from "Jinx" depicting the strange disproportional illustrations of the character
Thomas. Page from “Jinx.” Joke Comics. No. 21, August 1945, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, p. 49.

While slapstick comedy is a representation of stupidity in a physical form, uneducated characters are also represented throughout the comics through their speech, actions and the way they are illustrated. One comic in particular in Joke Comics 21 attempts to utilize ethnic humour by representing the Inuit ethnicity in a generalized uneducated manner. Assigning an entire ethnic group a very universal quality, such as stupidity, as a way to judge and ridicule them in what is meant to be a humorous light is an aspect of ethnic humour that is constantly used in different comedic forms (Takovski 128). However, the fact that this trait assigned to the chosen ethic group is so universal and has no connection at all to said group, ends up creating a boundary between those who are making the jokes and those who the jokes are about. Rather than laughing with the targeted group, the viewers are laughing at them which connects to the previously discussed idea of Superiority Theory, used most often to make one culture seem superior to the other by targeting stereotypes associated with the culture (Takovski 132-3). For example, in the comic “Jinx” found in Joke Comics 21, the characters representing the Inuit culture are illustrated in a strangely disproportional way and their speech is written in a jagged fashion that implies their whole culture is uneducated and uncivilized. They are portrayed living in igloos and frequently around polar bears (Thomas). These stereotype based jokes mixed with the assignment of the universal quality of stupidity, which is the most common trait that is applied to different cultures in ethnic humour, creates a group of people that viewers can separate themselves from and look down on (Takovski 135). This could have been used to generate the desired humour, while also working as a confidence boost for the viewers as they feel themselves to be superior to those they are laughing at. Often the trait of stupidity in ethnic humour is assigned to a culture that seems unusual or uncivilized to the central populace, or to nearby ethnic groups who share land or the same cultural background (135). This could suggest that along with utilizing the functions of Superiority Theory, these comics were meant to use ethnic humour as a way of showing the evolution of the country, suggesting that the society of the time was much better and more civilized than those who the jokes are targeting. Although Joke Comics 21 uses ethnic humour in a racist way that demeans an entire culture by presenting it in a negatively untrue light, during the hard times of World War II this could have functioned as a way of providing a humorous and confidently superior feeling to the viewers.



Although the humour that is used in the comics of Joke Comics issue 21 seems rather outdated and unsatisfying to present society, at the time of its publication these comics were designed in a way that provided comfort to its audience. It uses well known comedic forms of the past, such as stupidity, to create a nostalgic comfort that worked to remind its readers of a time before World War II. It also engages with many different humour theories, suggesting that each comedic element of the comics were shaped in different ways to satisfy their targeted audience. While most of the comics present ideas of racism, disappointing jokes and unneeded violence, the readers of the time could have instead derived from the comics a much needed escape from wartime with appropriated feelings of confidence, nostalgia and relief.

Continue reading The Humour of Joke Comics Issue 21

Escapism, Childhood and World War Two in Canada in Joke Comics Issue 22

© Copyright 2017 Lisa Tower, Ryerson University

The Canadian Whites & Target Readers

When analyzing these comics, it is of importance to acknowledge who was actually reading them. In this case, Canadian children were the target audience. Children during World War II are often overlooked in the research of this time period; when conducting research and sifting through information, it is apparent that the search for testimonies of the Canadian childhood experience of this time period was unfruitful. To fill in the missing links of these lost narratives, the Canadian Whites comics will serve as a representative example of the childhood experience during World War II. This is evident from analyzing content of the Canadian Whites’ issue number 22, “Joke Comics” of October and November 1945, with a focus on “Fun Page by Young,” (Young 9); “Izzy Brite,” (Moyer 22-23); “Tangrams,” (Young 39); and “Young’s Whittle Craft,” (48-50).

The Comics

The “Joke Comics” sought to distract children form the harsh realities of the war by offering comic relief and activities within its pages. “Fun Page by Young” is an activity page within the issue that enlists the reader to participate in activities such as crafts or puzzles. Within this comic, there are four different activities such as a drawing exercise, a letter unscrambling activity, a puzzle involving mathematics, and a puzzle asking the reader to find girls’ names (Young 9). This specific activity page also features drawings of puppies, a woman’s face, and a clown. In the “Izzy Brite” comic, the reader is presented with a young boy and his grandfather, a distinct absence of a mother or father. “Izzy Brite” is one of the only comics within this issue that directly references the war. Izzy goes on to make a machine that pitches baseballs, with one baseball hitting his grandfather in the eye, all presumably in good fun (23).

A two panel spread of Izzy Brite by Hy Moyer. Izzy is talking to his grandfather about baseball players being "tired out old geezers."
Hy, Moyer. “Izzy Brite.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 22. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

The last selection from this comic being examined is “Young’s Whittle Craft” (Young 48-50). This craft asks its young readers to create a wooden dog, including the directions to cut out the dog with a saw. There is no mention of obtaining adult supervision. As well, it asks the children to whittle, sandpaper, and paint the wooden figure (49-50).

It is also interesting to note that within many of these comics and activity pages, there is no reference to a stable family life, nor one of nuclear origins. This is seen especially in “Young’s Whittle Craft,” as mentioned previously, the use of a saw is encouraged to complete the craft, yet no parental supervision is proposed. This is linked to events caused by the war. Many family members such as fathers, brothers, or uncles left their homes, disappearing from their young family members’ lives. The “Joke Comics,” rather than provide children with a predominantly masculinized image or dark tropes of life during the war, instead gives children comic relief in the forms of comics such as “Izzy Brite” and giving them time-consuming activities, such as “Fun Page by Young,” “Tangrams” and “Young’s Whittle Craft.” Very few historical narratives of this time period offer a glimpse into the daily lives of young children, nor the effects the war had on them within Canada during this time period. The Canadian Whites offers a glimpse into these lives, as the comics, under much critical analyses, portray a historical narrative all of its own: escaping the bitter realities of war-time life and its trials.

Childhood Psychology and War

The psychology of early childhood is extraordinary in regards to how, at a young age, individuals can employ a framework which guides their sense of worldview and experience, both to subconsciously protect and also give a sense of power over what they are experiencing (Sutherland 29). Sutherland points out in their article Growing Up: Childhood in English Canada that this mechanism is called a ‘script.’ These scripts are used in different circumstances, Sutherland mentions, be it situational or a personal objective. An example of this can be seen in how a family divides the chores and what roles each family member has. Scripts are therefore used to control memory and perception to help develop a process of understanding even the most traumatic circumstances, such as war. Sutherland interviewed many individuals who grew up during the war as young children. One Canadian woman they interviewed identified a memory of her father, who worked as a seaman during World War II, who had passed away, followed by her grandfather just a year later (22). This woman, as a young child, would have employed a specific script to cope with this trauma which was mentioned during the interview.

A materialized version of a script is seen within the “Joke Comics” analyzed here. The activity pages use puzzles, trivia, word searches, and fun images to promote an unbiased lens into a realm that children can become fixated or lost in, so as to employ a personal ‘script’ to cope with a sense of confusion to the challenges of the real world. These activities would be time consuming, considering the target age groups of these child readers. An example of this is seen with “Tangrams by Young,” (Young 39). The activity page states the following: “A piece of cardboard is the basis of this little party amusement. Any colour can be used, and to add more effect, any number of coloured cards are used” (39). The “Tangrams” page shows 4 ways the cardboard can be constructed, but allows a creative process of involving more shapes. Made with cheap materials, this project would have been available to any child, even during times of scarcity and ration, encouraging an art form that helps ignore the daily trials of war-era Canada.

The Effects of War on the Family

Service in the military took men from all walks of life away from their families; some were gone since the beginning of the war in 1939 and did not return until its completion (Sutherland 64). Due to the nature of child psychology, it was difficult for these young children to make much sense of the concepts of the external world. Even if they did understand, it would be hard for them to process these patterns of thought. Because of this structure, the family’s home was the centre of balance and sometimes the compass for which they found physical and mental consistency (64). Many times, the removal of the head of the family had devastating effects on the lives of those in the household (Durflinger 169). In many instances, once the war was complete, young children would have barely known or recognized their fathers, or perhaps not even had known them at all (228). This sense of stress and anxiety of both the environment of life during the war, but also the removal of many fathers, father figures, brothers, uncles and cousins would sufficiently cause a decrease in the income of a household and high spirits.

In relation to the physical environment of the home during World War II, Canada, although far removed from the conflict, was often fearful of enemy retaliation on home soil. An example of this is seen in Verdun, Quebec that Durflinger ruminates on: an earthquake had “rumbled through the Montreal area on September 5, 1944” (Durflinger 103); incidentally, a mother and her children were discovered in a residential neighbourhood “kneeling on the curbstone praying… at the same time, [they] were shrieking that enemy planes were bombing the city,” (103). Incidents like this were evident every now and then during this time; the stress, fear and anxiety of a troubling time period of housing shortages, food rationing and stamps, and family members suddenly removed from everyday life caused a heightened level of disdain for daily living. This feeling impacted children the most; due to their lack of complete awareness of the outside world, young children looked for forms of distraction that would lighten their spirits and offer a distraction from everyday life. Externally, as children continued on their daily lives, “gradually acquired some sense of the larger circumstances of the world which they lived,” (66). Despite this, these ideologies and experiences of war in Canada only informed what the background of life was on a daily basis.

The End of the Nuclear Family

“Izzy Brite,” upon analysis, begs to ask the question of where Izzy’s immediately family is. Only his grandfather is portrayed in this comic, although this is in reference to the specific issue of the “Joke Comics” issue 22. It appears that Izzy is living with his grandfather (or vice versa), as he speaks to his grandfather, who looks as if he is reading a baseball newspaper (Moyer 22). Izzy has enough time and a lack of supervision to create a device that throws a baseball at the hitter; his grandfather loves the idea and goes so far as to give Izzy a nickel for his hard work (22). The end of the comic shows both Izzy and his grandfather with a black eye due to the baseball machine (23). This comic is fascinating in the sense that it seeks to portray, albeit an obviously exaggerated, family dynamic or activity during the war. It is also fascinating due to the fact that it is one out of only a handful of comics that will directly mention the war and even allude to its effects. This is evident when Izzy says to his grandfather in the first panel, “Oh gramp! Is it true, that because of th’ war- A lot of big league baseball players are tired out old geezers” (22)? The font on ‘tired out’ is bold and emphasized.

This minimal reference can be alluded to the effects that PTSD had on its military overseas that was brought back home; Izzy is trying to make sense of why the baseball players do not want to play anymore. This would have resonated with many children. These young children would have asked why their family members who had served in the military were ‘acting’ differently, or why things were not the same as they used to be. It is interesting to also notice the war ended September 1945 (Hall). The Canadian Whites’ “Joke Comics” issue 22 was therefore printed after World War II was finished. These activity pages would provide children with an outlet to escape from the reality of having a stranger come home, having their family member home but acting differently, or having no one return home at all.

The lack of a nuclear, stable family structure or normal daily life can be linked to a lessened amount of parental supervision. In this aspect, “Young’s Whittle Craft” is an interesting product of its time. Young’s detailed instructions for how to make a “whittled dog” (Young 48) should have some warning of parental supervision implemented, considering the young target readership of these comics. However, there is a lack of warning of the dangers with the use of a coping saw, sandpaper or knife. This is seen on page 48, where the instructions ask to “saw out the rough model with a coping saw.”

A one page spread of Young's Whittle Craft; this page has instructions on how to whittle a dog figure.
Young, Robert. “Young’s Whittle Craft.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 48. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

This craft, compared to activity pages and comics “Fun Page by Young,” “Izzy Brite,” or “Tangrams by Young,” seem to target an older set of readers; however, this would not stop younger children from attempting this. It would be fascinating to analyze data that acknowledges the age groups of those who attempted this activity and who had helped them complete it, if there were any data sets involving this information in existence. But due to the lack of its existence and considering the target readership, many young children would have conducted this project on their own, a lack of supervision would have been apparent.

The Reality of the War and its Effects

Although children did not have a large understanding of the goings-on of the ‘real world,’ as Sutherland has noted, they did realize events that made the war real to them. An example of this can be seen in a report that Gwyn compiled of experiences that young children had during the war: “The events that made the war real for me was when [I] was 7; a friend’s brother drowned in the S.S. Caribou passenger ferry to Canada [which] was sunk by a U-Boat in the Cabot Strait…” (Gwyn). This incident created a real-life awareness that would have been hard to process for a young child. Children through time have been “used as visual metaphors and icons in major wars…” (Glassford). Due to their innocence and the vulnerability which they possess, children are attributed to the empathy of the disastrous effects which the war had on the average Canadian citizen. Gwyn writes in regards to the young children left on the home front were “too young… to have fought, but not yet old enough to have forgotten,” (Gwyn). Many of these children reading the “Joke Comics,” although creating scripts to help them acknowledge what their realities were, also could understand the effects the war had. This caused a sense of fear and anxiety, as well as a need to escape the bitter existence of life on the Canadian home front.


The “Joke Comics,” specifically issue 22, seeks to recognize the effects the war had, while also capitalizing on WECA. The creation of these light-hearted comics and time-consuming activity pages established a form of creativity and an outlet for children to become lost in, allowing the escapist mentality aforementioned to flourish. The obvious climate of fear, stress and anxiety during the war created a cocktail of emotions for young children to work through. By engaging with the “Joke Comics,” these children are able to divulge in an activity or get lost in a ‘funny’ comic that provides them with humour-centric relief, instead of using strong imagery and tropes of the war. “Izzy Brite,” “Tangrams,” Young’s Whittle Craft and “Fun Page by Young” all seek to provide a form of mental relief. In this aspect, this mode of escapism not only encouraged its readers to ignore the troubling effects the war had, but to also encourage learning, humour, and creativity; the comics, in this regard, would have had success in doing so.


Works Cited

  • Durflinger, Serge M. Fighting from Home: The Second World War in Verdun, Quebec. UBC Press, 2006.
  • Glassford, Sarah. “Practical Patriotism: How the Canadian Junior Red Cross and its Child Members Met the Challenge of the Second World War.” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, vol. 7, no. 2, Spring 2014, http://muse.jhu.edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/545838. Accessed February 18, 2017.
  • Gwyn, Sandra. “Too Young to Fight: Memories of Our Youth During World War II.” The Globe and Mai, November 6, 1999, http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/384377549?pq-origsite=summon. Accessed March 22, 2017.
  • Hall, Michelle. “By the Numbers: End of World War Two.” CNN Library, September 2, 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/02/world/btn-end-of-wwii/. Accessed March 22, 2017.
  • Hy, Moyer. “Izzy Brite.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 22-23. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and The Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée, vol. 43, no. 1, March 2016, pp. 145-65. Project Muse, https://doi.org/10.1353/crc.2016.0008. Accessed February 18, 2017.
  • Sutherland, Neil. Growing Up: Childhood in English Canada from the Great War to the Age of Television. University of Toronto Press, 1997.
  • Young, Robert. “Fun Page by Young.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 9. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Young, Robert. “Tangrams.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 39. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Young, Robert. “Young’s Whittle Craft.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 48-50. 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.

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.