It did not happen overnight. But towards the end of 1917 the style, tone, and content of James Fitzmaurice’s cartoons changed. Fitz began to offer up an increasing number of images that mildly questioned and most certainly mocked the hapless energies of middle-class Vancouverites to support the war effort. And the style of these cartoons changed as well. Gone were the single panel images in favour of multi-scene cartoons that presented four, five and sometimes six vignettes within a single frame. At first glance these are similar to the multi-panel ‘comics’ that had first appeared in eastern American newspapers in the 1890s and those that Vancouver readers waited anxiously for in their Saturday or Sunday newspaper supplements. However, Fitzmaurice’s multi-scene cartoons lacked the forward narrative/story structure that typified most multi-panel comics. Instead, his images presented several concurrent episodes under a common theme – these cartoons did not tell a story; they enlarged upon a single topic. The results were, and are, memorable.
Any historian of cartoons will admit that humour is a variable cultural product that changes over time. Because the nature of what is considered funny changes, cartoons from the early twentieth century are interesting, definitely revealing of social, political and cultural norms, but they are rarely funny to modern readers. However, Fitzmaurice’s multi-scene, slice-of-wartime-life cartoons are actually funny to read today. These are also the cartoons that gained Fitzmaurice a lasting reputation and respect by the community as a notable voice of humanity during the war. Fitz’s straight up propaganda cartoons were not particularly original, but these home front cartoons certainly were.
SOME OF THE WAR’S COMPENSATIONS
Canadian military historian Tim Cook has argued that Canadian soldiers, in fact all soldiers, used liberal doses of humour as a way to cope with the overwhelming difficulties of life on the western front. Humour was used to “battle boredom and ennui” and the “dehumanizing effects of the war.” Cook writes that the “jokes, satire, and all-encompassing irony were one method by which soldiers dealt with death, constructed new concepts of masculinity, and embraced anti-heroic sentiments; they are an indication of the wider, everyday practices and behaviours of men coping in their surroundings.”
Humour was an important coping tool for people on the home front as well. Their lives may not have been on the line every day, but the lives of their family members, friends, and co-workers were. The stresses of personal sacrifice and tragedy created conditions where light-heartedness was eagerly sought. Newspaper cartoonists like Fitzmaurice seemed to sense this collective desire for relief and began to produce cartoons that drew attention to the earnest absurdities of wartime life. One of the first of these, “Yes, We Do Hate to be Tagged by the Government” (Figure 1), appeared in the Province newspaper in late August 1917. This cartoon typified Fitz’s new multi-scene technique and introduced a mild note of discord that represented a retreat from the official messaging of this home front propaganda cartoons. Here we see five separate ‘Everymen’ stoically accepting a variety of inappropriate items in exchange for their donations on tag days. In the final vignette a disgruntled citizen angrily responds to the promised imposition of income tax, which we all remember was first brought in as a temporary wartime measure in the fall of 1917.
The suggestion here is that citizens would happily bear the burden of voluntary subscriptions to support the war, but reject the state’s efforts to do the same. “Well!!” complains the offended Everyman, “Of all the outrageous contemptible iniquituous [sic] legislation.” The Income Tax Act was a controversial increase in the power and reach of the state, and there was considerable debate over its pros and cons. However, Canadians by and large accepted the step as a part of the extraordinary circumstances of wartime. Fitz’s cartoon reflects that ambivalence by drawing attention to the real structural difference between voluntary behaviour and that required by law, yet also suggests the silliness of making such a distinction during a crisis.
Fitzmaurice followed up his look at the expansion of government with the cartoon “When the Government Controls Everything” (Figure 2) from January 1918. In four parallel vignettes Fitz imagines the comic outcomes if husbands had state regulatory powers over their wives and their everyday, middle class decisions. We get a glimpse in these images of ideal gender relations according to Fitz, a topic that is explored more deeply in the following chapter. Suffice to say here, Fitz and other male commentators saw male power and privilege in the middle class domestic context as a legality only; real lived authority was in the hands of women household heads who ruled over their meek and ineffective husbands with confidence. “My love,” states the first husband who is dwarfed by the size of his wife, “I am now an Inspector under the government. You will take all your orders from me. All!!!”
The reader would be hard-pressed to glean Fitz’s position on the growth of government authority from this cartoon – providing brow-beaten husbands with greater authority is one thing; sustaining that gender imbalance would be another. Regardless of Fitzmaurice’s patriarchal views, it is clear he thought the power of the state should stop at the front door of domestic households. To go further would be absurd – hence the humour.
Along with cartoons that questioned the growth of government, Fitzmaurice produced dozens of images on the challenges urban dwellers faced during the war. Food and fuel rationing began to make a significant pinch in the middle class budget by the fall of 1917, and Fitzmaurice made light of these difficulties through the lens of the domestic dinner. “Some of the War’s Compensations” (Figure 3), from February 1918, is one of the best of these. The four couples here all attempt to cope without needed ingredients for supper, and each does so according to the common middle-class gendered stereotypes of the day. Thankfully, food rationing provides each female homemaker a ready excuse for the culinary disaster in front of them. Even the classic husband’s lament of the dinner “mother use to make” has “lost its sting” under wartime conditions, Leo learns in the second vignette.
All of these characters appear willing to ‘make the best of it’ while maintaining a level of normalcy through the crisis. And that’s the social balancing act in all these home front cartoons. Fitz’s message is always a positive yet deeply conservative one that wartime crises might force often serious accommodations, but ultimately existing the social structures and institutions – including domestic dining practices – would endure.
WAR GARDEN REVELATIONS
As mentioned in the previous chapter, wartime food controls began in the summer of 1917 and the intense conservation campaign that followed urged Canadians to grow their own food to take domestic pressure off the food supply and release food for the men overseas. William Hanna, the federally-appointed Food Controller sent his “Seed Commissioner,” George Clark, across the country to appoint provincial committees to oversee food conservation and production initiatives in their jurisdictions. The British Columbia Food Control Committee was created in early September 1917 and included key provincial government officials, leaders of every important wartime voluntary organization in the province, and significantly the president of the recently-created University of British Columbia, Dr. Frank Wesbrook, who served as Committee chair. Wesbrook was joined by four of his faculty from UBC’s Agricultural College, including Dean of Agriculture and future UBC president Leonard Klinck. The university would play an important role in the direction of wartime food conservation and the encouragement of urban farming and stock-raising for the war effort. Conversely, the wartime need for an expansion of agricultural practices in the province did much to promote the relevance, survival, and eventual growth of the new university, especially the Agricultural College and Applied Sciences.
On behalf of the national Food Controller, the BC Food Control Committee became a clearing house for food conservation information and related propaganda. It distributed pamphlets on how to grow vegetables in backyard gardens and encouraged municipal councils to pass bylaws allowing vacant lots to be placed under community cultivation. Out of this the “War Garden” was born.
War Gardens, or Victory Gardens as they were later dubbed in both Canada and the United States, were not born in isolation after 1914. In the late 19th century rapid industrial and urban growth had led to public fears of a decline of traditional rural life. The rural environment was seen by American and Canadian reformers as a wellspring of healthy, wholesome and moral life; city life was anything but – in the words of one observer, growing up in the city “turned robust manly, self-reliant boyhood into a lot of flat-chested cigarette smokers with shaky nerves and doubtful vitality.” It was fears like these that helped fuel the growth of a myriad of reform causes, including organized community sport, the development of city parks, the playground movement, and physical education in schools. Concerns about the loss of rural experience and values also spawned the School Garden programs that popped up all over public schools in Canada and the United States before the war. Children, mostly at the elementary level, learned the principles of modern cultivation and much more. According to American archivist Constance Carter:
Educators expounded on the ways in which mathematics, language arts, geography, entomology, botany, landscaping, drawing, music, manual training, physical education, home economics, and nutrition could be incorporated into the school garden curriculum by linking them to garden tasks. For instance, in mathematics, students figured the size of garden plots; calculated the distance between rows for optimal plant growth; determined the number of seeds required; measured the depth of the soil for each seed type; computed the cost of seed, fertilizer, and garden implements; and calculated margins of profit and loss.
Whether or not any of these lofty educational goals were gained, at the very least School Gardens got children outside of the musty classroom and into the fresh air digging around in the soil. And for many Canadian and American patriots who believed their national identity was grounded in a rural, agricultural heritage, this was an ennobling experience. So the distance from the School Garden to the War Garden was quite short. J.W. Gibson, a devotee of the so-called country life movement and the Director of Elementary Agricultural Education in British Columbia, was an important voice on the BC Food Control Committee and he ensured that most School Gardens simply morphed into War Gardens after 1916.
Fitzmaurice anticipated the national War Garden campaign by several months with the cartoon “Grappling with the Food Situation” (Figure 4) from March 1917. In each scene an unsuspecting citizen is shamed by another for not considering growing food for the war effort.
What begins simply with a man being chastised for growing a geranium and not a potato slips quickly into absurdity with a condemnation of a man with a flower in his lapel taking up soil that “could have produced some nutritious vegetable capable of sustaining human life and so help advance the cause of the allies.” The madness of wartime obsession peaks with the shaming of a man’s flowered vest, followed by the suggestion that a woman plant useable crops on her merry-widow hat. It is in cartoons like these that we see Fitzmaurice’s ambivalence to communal shaming during the war: he agreed with the cause, but always pushed the argument to the point of the absurd as if to reveal its limits.
Once the local War Garden movement was in full swing by the early spring of 1918, Fitzmaurice produced cartoons on little else. “Approved by the Food Controller” (Figure 5) from February sets out some of his basic precepts. As we can see from this “Model War-Time Back-Yard Lot,” the farm is extensive and compact. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place – and properly labelled.
The defining comic juxtaposition in all these cartoons is the uncomfortable mixing of the earthy realities of agricultural life with the unavoidable tendencies of refined middle-class urbanity. Fitz suggests that one of those urban conceits is book-learned, scientific over-organization and the need to label everything. The result is ridiculous. We should note the more realistic neighbour feeding his food scraps to his pig….
Fitz followed up his model backyard farm with a “Scientific Method of Dealing with Garden Pests” (Figure 6) two weeks later.
While Canadian soldiers had become used to gas attacks on the western front, citizens on the home front were just preparing to launch their own chemical wars. Here we are introduced to the Everyman family and their neighbour meeting garden pests with what we will assume are liberal and lethal doses of chemical insecticide. The neighbour is gassing birds. The curious pest control inventions that grew out of this urban gardener’s mind are vaguely reminiscent of the then well-known ‘invention’ or ‘gadget’ cartoons of American Rube Goldberg. Goldberg had come to prominence before the war, first in San Francisco and then New York City, for clever cartoons that depicted outrageously complicated household machines performing simple tasks, such as pouring a cup of tea, closing the front door, or swatting a fly. Goldberg’s work was syndicated by 1915 and published throughout Canada and the United States. Fitz mimics a level of Goldbergian detail in this cartoon, along with a couple of truly corny jokes. We meet this particular Everyman family in many of Fitzmaurice’s backyard farming cartoons, as the cartoonist attempted to establish a returning episodic narrative around the comic home front experience. “Oh Father,” says the daughter, “Are you sure Horace has his gas mask on?” She is referring to their ‘Patriotic Pig’ Horace, who we shall meet later in this chapter.
The middle-class, Anglo, and male bias in his work is central to understanding the historical meanings of Fitzmaurice’s images, and these positions are never stronger than in his Everyman on the Home Front cartoons. Quite often Fitz took time to lampoon his social betters, Vancouver’s privileged social and economic elite, in drawings that demonstrated, at least in his mind, the distance between the upper class and his middle class Everyman. We see this in his War Garden cartoon “Next in Line” (Figure 7). Yes, we can see hired servants in the frame, but the names of the invited guests at Mrs. Le Jones’ “Weeding Party” say just as much about their social standing as anything else. The O’Browns, Smythes, and Van Smifs are all shown to be deeply engaged in home front activities, including of course weeding Mrs. Le Jones’ onion patch, but also “carrot hoeing on the Heights,” attending the vicar’s sermon on “The Potentiality of the Pea,” and perhaps participating in the O’Brown’s “Progressive Parsnip Pulling” the following day.
Vancouver’s elite society social calendar was full of wartime events, and these often included local lectures on food conservation. For instance, in the week previous to this cartoon, over four hundred local residents crammed into the UBC auditorium to hear a series of talks by provincial agricultural officials and UBC Agronomy faculty on topics as various as “Fungus Diseases and their Control” and “Practical Details of Potato Cultivation.” Fitzmaurice enjoyed parodying these local society events by juxtaposing their high tone and intellectualized language against the frankly concrete and earthy reality of something like gardening. To our eye today, the social distance between the Le Jones and the Everyman seems short; in Fitzmaurice’s mind it was much greater.
Before we meet Horace the Pig and Annie the Goat, one last War Garden cartoon is worth considering. “Lessons from the Retired Farmer” (Figure 8) from March 1918 nicely lampoons the new urban War Gardener as he struggles to master basic vegetable cultivation from a stereotypical “Retired Farmer.” If in the previous cartoon Fitz highlighted the distinction between the urban upper and middle class, here we see the even greater distinction he draws between Canada’s traditional rural, agricultural world and the country’s emergent urban, industrial future.
There is no doubt where Fitzmaurice’s respect and sympathy lies. Fitz was one of many commentators at this time who revered the value of the rural tradition and the benefits of living on – and off of – the land. And he lamented its possible decline in the face of urban and industrial growth. These fears would help define much of Canada’s political and cultural life in the next few decades, with the explosive growth of defensively-postured farm movements and political parties, as well as an entire generation of Canadian writers who romanticized the country’s rural past. Cartoons like this one reflected and reinforced notions around the concrete sensibility of rural life and artificiality, indeed frivolity, of living in cities. Manliness in particular, it was believed, had become warped in this movement from the farm to the city. The urban male, as characterized here, is physically inept, sorely lacking in common sense, and out-of-touch with the roots of his existence. In the “Freshman Vegetable Identification Course” at the bottom of the frame, the subordinate Everyman on his knees asks, “Am I right in designating this growth as a spinach Professor?” to which the Retired Farmer bluntly replies, “You can tell a carrot from an onion coz they look different.” Again, the juxtaposition between urban life and the realities of farming are at the comic heart of Fitzmaurice’s War Garden cartoons, but they tell us about much more than gardening.
HORACE AND ANNIE
Sometime early in 1918 Fitzmaurice and his family acquired a pig. His name was Horace. Before the end of April that year the family also bought a goat. Her name was Annie. Both animals were kept in the yard of the Fitzmaurice’s South Vancouver home as part of the Food Controller’s initiative for Canadian families to keep a “Patriotic Pig” or a “Get-the-Kaiser’s Goat.” The pressure to become an urban stock-raiser was intense. In his address to the Livestock Breeders’ Association, ex-Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan G.W. Brown declared that “Pigs are worth more than Shells!” “The day has arrived,” Brown continued, “when every man who is not in the trenches is an out-and-out slacker if he is not a producer! Are you going to send a boy to the front and not send a pig to feed him?” Local newspapers filled up with supporting articles that explained the basics of animal husbandry and care for livestock to the uninitiated. For those without the space to keep a pig or cow, the Vancouver Sun ran the weekly feature “All About Poultry And Pet Stock” (alongside paid advertising for incubator and chicken feed suppliers, of course). Local wartime volunteer organizations sponsored public presentations by agricultural experts on “scientific stock-raising,” such as UBC Animal Husbandry professor J.A. McLean’s talk on how to purchase dairy cows and hogs, or BC Livestock Commissioner W.T. McDonald’s lecture on “Bovine Tuberculosis in Relation to Public Health.”
Horace and Annie Fitzmaurice, urbanites that they were, became favourites of the family, especially James’s two young daughters who treated the two animals as pets. The contradictions between pig as pork and pig as pet formed the comic heart of over forty Horace and Annie cartoons in the last six months of the war. These images represent some of the finest work the Vancouver artist produced during the war.
Fitz first explored the humour potential of wartime urban stock-raising in his December 1917 cartoon, “When Society Goes in for Raising Patriotic Pigs” (Figure 9). Employing his well-worn juxtaposition of placing the profane in the lap of luxury, Fitz introduces us to a variety of pampered pigs, included “Fifi” who with little comment has replaced the toy poodle in the comfortable lives of its owners, “Clarence” who prefers the company of a traffic policeman to his owner, and “Horace” who is being pushed in a perambulator by the family’s hired nursemaid. Above it all is the public notice by Controller Hanna, “Keep A Pig And Help Win The War!”
About a month later Fitz published “Some Aspects of the Pig Situation” (Figure 10), which might have coincided with the Fitzmaurice family’s purchase of their own Horace and the beginnings of what would be a steep and public learning curve in “mastering the pig.”
Advising readers on the “intensive feeding of the pig” with Port wine and eggnog, British Columbia Liberal MLA “Honest” John Oliver is featured in the first vignette. Oliver was a prosperous farmer and community leader from Delta who would soon become a long-standing Premier after the sudden death of Premier Harlan Brewster in March 1918. When Fitz published this cartoon in January 1918, Oliver held two key cabinet posts, Agriculture and Railways, and was Brewster’s most important government minister. Oliver embraced his farming background, choosing to dress as the rustic and speak the language of the common man. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography explains Oliver’s appeal when he ascended the Premiership:
British Columbians seemed comforted by their new, plain-spoken Premier, whose personal habits were largely unaffected by the trappings of office. Oliver continued to wear the same old-fashioned tweed suits and heavy boots that had become his trademarks…. He portrayed himself as a man of the people, distrustful of experts and wholly lacking in pretense. This populist style of politics would be his strength and it had great appeal in a province that had grown apprehensive about its future.
Fitzmaurice joined Oliver in building the Premier’s hayseed persona, producing dozens of “Honest John” cartoons in the years following the war. This cartoon was merely one of many that featured the farmer-Premier.
There exists a wealth of Horace the Patriotic Pig cartoons from which to choose, but two stand out in particular for their black humour. The first is “When it Comes to Killing the Family Pig” (Figure 11) from February 1918. Most urban stock-raising families during the war eventually faced the uncomfortable reality that their pet Horace was actually meat on the hoof. Fitzmaurice uncovers the humour in what must have been a difficult decision to kill and butcher the pig. As in most of these cartoons, the comic tension is pulled from the ambivalence of family members as they weigh the horrors of loss against the joys of dinner. “I don’t think Horace is as tender as Peter was,” notes the Father at the dinner table. “May I help you to a little more?” he asks his distraught wife. “How can you be so brutal Harold!” she reacts in tears. “Yes, I will have a small slice please….”
The second Horace cartoon, “Casting Bread on the Waters” (Figure 12), raises wartime sacrifice and the inevitable circle of life to biblical pretensions. The title refers to the lesson on patience and faith from Ecclesiastes 11:1 to “cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” (King James Bible). This verse asks people to have faith that their good works will ultimately come back to benefit them. In the cartoon the Everyman dutifully follows the public principles of wartime food conservation, acts of personal sacrifice that Horace is eager to support! In the end, however, our patient Everyman chooses to “convert my live pig into pork” and the rest is understood. “Casting Bread on the Waters” was one of a very small number of Fitzmaurice cartoons that used a progressive narrative structure, where each frame built on the previous to tell a story with a beginning and an end. To accentuate this approach Fitz used visible frames for each part. But a review of his subsequent work after the war suggests Fitzmaurice was not drawn to the sequential comic style, preferring instead to develop his ideas and humour through separate and parallel vignettes.
The Fitzmaurice’s wartime goat, Annie, presented a different set of comic possibilities than Horace the Patriotic Pig. In the cartoon “Goats – Pro and Con” (Figure 13), from April 1918, we are introduced to the eccentricities of the backyard goat. Unlike Horace, who seldom strayed from his pen, Annie the goat “never stays put. It can’t be done.” The Everyman’s polite neighbour asks, “Would you please remove your goat from my chimney Mr Smiff?” Fitzmaurice also made great humour out of the endless dietary choices goats pursued, as evidenced by the final vignette showing an Annie eating newly-washed clothes off the line.
The wartime purpose of keeping a goat was to provide milk for families on the home front. Unlike Horace, Annie was not being prepared for the butcher, although local experts spoke on several occasions in the spring and summer of 1918 about raising goats for meat. For the most part, Fitz focuses on the eclectic eating habits and wandering spirit of the goat. In “Some More About Goats” (Figure 14) we learn the dangers of allowing goats inside your house, the proper (and inedible) materials needed to tether your goat, the comparative ease of milking your goat, and the remote possibilities of using your goat as a draft animal.
It should be noted that Fitzmaurice liberally-employed all the time-tested stereotypes – some call them myths – about keeping goats. For one, Annie is always shown eating everything in sight, whether it be clothing, leather shoes, rope, or the oft-mentioned tin can. This is, apparently, totally wrong. Like all ruminants, goats explore the world them with their prehensile upper lip and tongue, nibbling here and there to determine the nature of things. Modern scholarship on goats emphasize the wide variety of breeds and behaviours, but all agree that goats are in fact very picky eaters, and when left to their own devices are more selective browsers than most other livestock. But there is no humour in that.
Another myth Fitzmaurice relies on is that goats smell bad. Uncastrated males, or Bucks, do emit a powerful odour, exclusively during the fall rutting season – needless to say, obliging female goats do not find the smell of bucks objectionable at all. Females like Annie and castrated males, or Wethers, do not give off a bad smell.
A third feature of goats that Fitzmaurice makes great fun with is their wandering spirit. This is no myth. Goat handlers over the centuries have learned that goats are healthiest, happiest, and most productive when allowed free mobility. They are also supreme escape artists because of their great strength and, in most breeds, their amazing climbing ability. In most traditional societies that domesticate goats, pasturing the animals through most of the year is the norm and feralling (escaping into the wild) is a common concern. Tethering goats, as illustrated in Fitzmaurice’s “Some More About Goats,” is never recommended; instead, goat stables require secure fences at least five feet high.
We meet the wandering spirit of goats head on in Fitz’s delightful cartoon “Fulfilling Expectations” (Figure 15). In each frame the suburban goat fulfills our expectations for being exactly where it is not wanted. Fitz builds a tender humour out of what are mostly minor and predictable annoyances. That said, there is a brilliant escalating rhythm to this cartoon that begins with a repetition of self-blame about forgotten open doors and windows, moving to more serious destruction, and finally to violent threats between two angry goat-keeping neighbours.
There is very little about the war contained in this cartoon, and that is significant. By the summer of 1918 when this cartoon appeared, Fitzmaurice appears to have grown tired of the war. And who could blame him? The toll of producing a steady stream of wartime propaganda cartoons in the face of continual crisis likely matched a measurable war fatigue amongst British Columbians generally. “Fulfilling Expectations,” and in fact all of Fitz’s Horace and Annie cartoons, carried a yearning for normalcy – the desire for a time when bickering with your neighbour without concern for the men overseas was not a morally reprehensible offense.
So, Horace and Annie might have arrived to the Fitzmaurice’s as needed reinforcements for the war on the home front, but they quickly became part of the family. In the last six months of the war Fitz was regularly invited to appear in public to speak and perform so-called “Chalk Talks,” where the artist on stage would tell wartime stories that followed his cartoon drawings. At all of these talks he would bring Horace and Annie with him as props. These performance cemented Fitzmaurice’s reputation as a key figure on the Vancouver home front during the war. Although the historical record is quiet on the eventual demise of Horace and Annie, by the end of the war the two were still going strong, grizzled veterans of the wartime speakers’ circuit.