World War 2, Japanese internment & comics
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You touch on this with your story about Morrie, but I think there's one other facet to this tale worth mentioning that is near and dear to my heart:


Life in the camps was tedious. Comics, books, and magazines certainly helped to alleviate that tedium, but more important was that the internees organized themselves to make the best of life in the camps. One of the most notable efforts was the organization of a series of art schools in the camps that served to teach the internees art. It is quite likely that Morrie was inspired to become a comic artist because of his experience in a camp art school.


[Of course, I'm not asserting that every Japanese-American artist learned art in the camps. Japenese-American artists like Bob Fujitani and Fred Kida, formally trained at NY art schools, were not interred because they lived East of the Mississippi.]


The man who was probably most responsible for getting those art schools going was Prof. Chiura Obata of the Art Department of the University of California at Berkeley (whose art I collect). His is a fascinating story which intersects with the history of comic books in the U.S.


Chiura Obata had arrived in San Francisco in 1903 at the age of 18 as an impoverished Japanese immigrant with little English in a society that was notably hostile to Asians. Yet his profound artistic talents and strong work ethic catapulted him from work as a domestic serveant, to an early job as a news artist for a Japanese language newspaper, to graphic design work for advertisers and magazines, to set design work for the San Francisco Opera, and finally, in the 1930s to prominence in the fine art community of the Bay Area.


One of his friends was Henry Kiyama, who created what is probably the first autobiographical graphic novel in a traditional comic book layout and style in 1931 (sorry Eisner): the Four Immigrants Manga. Obata did a frontspiece for the graphic novel, and was likely the inspiration for one of the characters.



(Four Immigrants Manga)


Obata's talents earned him great respect and many other friendships, including with Berkeley fine art Professors like Worth Ryder. It was with Ryder that Obata sojourned to Yosemite in a 1927 trip that would inspire his greatest work - paintings and color woodblocks which are now regarded as masterworks of American art.



(Woodblock print)


As a result of his Yosemite works, U.C. Berkeley extended Obata a professorship in 1932 -- despite his lack of formal academic training or complete proficiency of English.


On the eve of WWII, Time Magazine celebrated Obata in a 1938 article stating:


>>>The imperfections of Japanese military strategy have made more news lately than the perfections of Japanese art. But one day a fortnight ago a demonstration of brush drawing by a 53-year-old Japanese artist drew the unprecedented number of 1,900 visitors to the old Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Calif., and his atmospheric, formalized landscapes, on view last week, made critics remember him as one of the most accomplished artists in the West.<<<


But, as the Time Magazine article evidences, Chiura Obata's life was lived in the shadow of international events. Four years after Time Magazine celebrated his genius, Prof. Obata and most of his family would be interred, his house seized, his wife's cherished bonzai garden destroyed, and his art preserved only by the intervention of the Chancelor of the U.C. system who took it in for safe keeping.


Embrace of both East and West, of creating divides between communities, was a recurring theme in Obata's life. He founded the East-West Art Society in the 1920s. Baseball had been introduced to Japan in 1872 by an American schoolteacher and its popularity boomed. Young boys like Obata learned the sport and carried their passion for the game with them when they immigrated to America. For Obata, founding an Issei baseball team in his first year in America was a way to embrace both the Japanese immigrant community and his new country.




He became one of Berkeley's most popular Professors in the 1930s. He tirelessly promoted traditional Japanese Sumi-e brush work to Americans, while consistently incorporating Western techniques and sensibilities into his own artwork.


Which is why the events of WWII must have been especially tragic for Obata. For in WWII the sense of community that Obata worked to foster was ruptured. We can only guess at the psychic toll that the gathering war hinted at by the Time article took on Obata from the contrast between Obata's beautiful Yosemite woodblocks a painting he made of his family huddled against a swirling "Landslide" in 1941.





The landslide struck with Pearl Harbor and the 1942 internment of the citizens of Japanese origin west of the Mississippi. In Obata's case, internment first at Tanforan Race Track in South San Francisco, and later in Topaz, Utah. But it wasn't just internment, it was the seizure of real and personal property. Obata's family lost their house. His wife's garden destroyed, a tragic loss for a woman who was a master of Ikebana.


But, even facing internment, Obata did not lose his sense of community, and his community did not lose its dedication to Obata. Obata's life's work of art was saved through the personal intervention of the Chancellor of the U.C. system, Robert Sproul, who personally sheltered Obata's art in the Chancellor's residence, and who vocally spoke out against the Japanese internment.


Life at Tanforan was hard, as Obata's wife Haruko recalled:


>>>When we arrived at Tanforan it was raining; it was so sad and depressing. The roadway was all mud, thick mud, and our shoes would get stuck in the mud when you walked outside. They gave us a horse stable the size of our dining room with a divided door where the horse put his head out--that was our sleeping quarters. There were two twin beds made of wood, bunk beds, and another bed on the opposite wall. It was supposed to be a couch but it was made of wood too. There was nothing else, nothing. That one time I cried so much. That was the only time I cried; it was awful.<<<


But, Obata did not become bitter. He did not give in or give up or lose his sense of community. Instead, he organized and became director of the "Tanforan Art School." Immediately after arriving at Tanforan, he and his newly recruited staff worked together to open the school as soon as possible. Obata recalled:


>>>The storm had started the night before, and on the morning after it was still raging furiously, and I was somewhat discouraged over the terrible gloomy weather....Such scenes gave me fear and anxiety. I wondered if any students would be coming at all.


As I passed the old Tavern and came to the narrow path between Mess Hall #7, I looked over toward the art building and saw three tiny girls standing on the doorsteps of our art building. I ran to open the door. I noticed their little rubber boots and raincoats were drenched. In the mess hall art building there is an enormous cooking stove but no heating facility....I ran out and went to a friend who lives in a stall nearby and asked for a couple of towels and wiped their cold heads and hands to warm them up. I asked the youngest girl (six years old), "Do you like to learn to paint?" With smiles and sparkling eyes she responded, "Sure I do!"<<<




And in this effort, Obata received support from his freinds outside the camps who donated much needed art supplies. Friends outside the camp also helped Obata place his oldest son Gyo, into university at St. Louis where he would be able to avoid internment and continue his studies (and ultimately found HOK Architecture -- designers of the best baseball parks in America). Obata also correspondenced with many outside the camps, and, executed commissions from Camp guards and workers. In fact, Eleanor Roosevelt commissioned a painting from Obata while he was interred at Topaz, Utah.


Obata also used his art to document, in stark terms, with simple beauty and clarity of vision, his internment experience. He kept a journal of his experiences with both text and ink drawings. These drawings, some of which can be seen on the web at are reproduced in bulk, with Obata's journal entries in the book Topaz Moon by Obata's grandaughter Kimi Kodani Hill. A must read.




Obata's journal entries reveal much about the hardships he and his family encountered. Where Obata had seen his family menaced by a landslide prior to WWII, he now saw his family menaced by a Dust Storm:


>>>The window is sealed with 'gum paper.' Everything from the bed to the desk has been randomly covered with any and all available newspaper. Yet, the smoky dust comes pouring through the cracks of the chimney, floor, and ceiling. Due to this hellish, burning smoke, one in desperation looks for the direction of the wind. When the window is even slightly open, this crazy wind with its ferocity wears out the women to exhaustion. They take pains to sweep the floor, change buckets of water a number of times only to mop again. Finally they are now about to take a moment's rest and gaze upon the floor.<<<




Still, Obata's sense of community caused him to remain dedicated to this country, his community, and after the war he resumed his position at Berkeley, becoming even more prominent, and in the 1950s became a good will ambassador between the U.S. and Japan. I do his life and art a disservice by the brevity of my exposition, but I think there are lessons to be learned. And even more lessons to be learned by those who read "Topaz Moon" and "Obata's Yosemite."


Too many lessons to list. But, for me, perhaps the most important is that history is made up of people not faceless forces, and perhaps the best lessons are learned from the histories of people not politicians. From Obata, the lessons to be learned are about community, the American dream in its most positive light, a dark time in our history, lack of resentment, and beauty -- both artistically and in terms of his spirit.


Sorry for the sermon.


I'll edit this post to add pictures later.






Edited by sfcityduck
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omg, another amazing post.

Who ARE you people?! (jpepx78 and sfcityduck)

I cannot thank you enough for writing so poignantly and with such tremendous research, hard work and understanding behind your posts and work.

Truly inspiring.



BTW, one of my former colleagues at work (she is now retired) also was at Manzanar as a child. But let me tell you - even if I did not have that personal connection to your topic, I would still be loving what you have shared with all of us. Thank you ever so much.

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This is nothing short than AWESOME.

I have to save it, print it and read it as it progresses. (thumbs u


Between this and the GA Flash thread it‘s a wealth of opportunities to delve into those times, precisely the reason for which I started hanging on there!


Italian-americans internment camps? It‘s the first time I hear about those. But again I am still mostly ignorant in historical matters… :(

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It is a great thread and the original posts are awesome. So awesome, in fact, that the OP actually referenced and linked to the comic story I just posted. I guess I never clicked through his link when I read the earlier posts. Still, I think the story deserves to be set forth in full. I'd really like to know the artist and writer.


I'd also love to see all the original links to the images in the original posts on this thread restored. Jpep? Are you out there?

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That is a very interesting story – thanks for pointing it out! (It eluded me, as when I looked at FF I was mostly considering the Unknown Soldier stories).

There are a lot of interesting WW2 stories in "minor" publishers titles: I would also love to know which are the best stories from DC and Timely books – I mean in terms of originality.

Not being in the public domain, and not having any hardcover, I haven’t been able to read any. :)


Four Favorites is definitely a very interesting title… I must add #9 to my list.

In #8, however, there is a pretty disturbing Unknown Soldier story involving Japanese villains and "freaks".

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I just closed a deal for a very cool comic I've wanted for a long time and it turns out the copy I have purchased has interment camp markings! Weird coincidence. I'll post about it once the shipment gets to me.

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Fascinating Capt. Courageous story, and a thread well worthy of revival.


A belated response to Vaillant's comment two years ago, the Italians at Tule Lake were not Italian-American internees, but Italian soldiers held as Prisoners of War.


German and Italian residents in the U.S. who were not yet citizens were automatically classified as "enemy aliens", and a few thousand were detained over the course of the war, but only a very small percentage of the total, as compared to both residents and U.S. citizens of Japanese descent on the West Coast, where most were interned. Ironically, only a small percentage of ethnic Japanese in Hawaii were held in detention, even though it was the first place Japan attacked. As a third of the territory's population, it would have been too disruptive to intern all the Japanese there.

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These things are always great and interesting, as they show how history is always more complex than what it seems when one thinks it has a "clear cut" grasp on the facts.


In southern Italy, for example, when the nazist racial laws were applied, a lot of hebrew people not only were not prosecuted but they also held leading positions they occupied previously. Italy was really a country esperiencing a quite unique situation during fascism and under the war, but well… aside from the fact I am Italian I believe this happened a lot of times before as well.

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The original posts had broken photo links since the image bandwidth was exceeded due to my poor image hosting choice. Hopefully these pictures will stay up longer in this updated post. I want to thank Robot Man, tabcom and sfcityduck for permission to use their pictures and sfcityduck for his encouragement and suggestions.



When looking at vintage photographs containing comics, it is interesting to look for historical connections. I felt I had to include some historical background on World War 2 Japanese internment so that these pictures are viewed with their historical context in mind. Any additional information on the Okajima pedigree would be appreciated.


1. Executive Order 9066 and Relocation


My initial attention was drawn to the comics in this widely distributed photo of “four young evacuees from Sacramento California read comic books at the Tule Lake relocation center in Newell California in July 1, 1942”. Probing deeper into the background of this photo, revealed a sad and compelling chapter in American history of the severe abridgement of the civil rights of ethnic Japanese of whom the majority were American citizens. Without the description, one might not have known of the circumstances that these young Japanese Americans were living behind barbed wire and guard towers in an internment camp in America during World War 2. Comics were cheap entertainment that provided relief and escape from their current situation.




The boy on the left is reading Marvel Mystery 34 that contains the stories “Exposed! The Jap Invaders” & “Dr. Watson Makes Monkeys Out of the Japs”. Photo by Francis Stewart.


In 1940 Americans were concerned about being drawn into a war due to the expanding military actions of Germany and Japan. A 1940 Life magazine article describes the concern and uneasiness felt by white Californians about the Japanese American presence in the state. Japanese Americans were portrayed favorably in the article as hard-working and assimilated well into American culture.[1] They were successful and loyal Americans despite prejudice but a year later their lives would be changed.



Japanese American boys reading Ace comics #43 among Japanese magazines in Little Tokyo Los Angeles 1940.



In an ominous sign of things to come, men read about the freezing of Japanese assets in America in retaliation for the Japanese occupation of French Indo-China in Los Angeles on July 26, 1941. Britain and the Dutch East Indies also froze assets. As a result, Japan lost access to three-fourths of its overseas trade and 88 percent of imported oil. Japan only had enough oil to last 3 years and half of it went to war and consumption was at a frenzied pace.[2] Note the pulp magazines at the upper right.


For many Americans, December 7th is remembered as “a day that will live in infamy” for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 but February 19th is a National Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans marking the day President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in 1942 which authorized the War Department to declare areas of the United States as military areas “from which any or all persons may be excluded.”[3] This order authorized and facilitated the evacuation of over 110000 people of Japanese descent living in the western United States to internment camps. After declaration of war with Japan, the American government was concerned with potential espionage and sabotage by the Japanese. Many government officials such as commander of the U.S. Army’s Western Defense Command (WDC) Lieutenant General John L. Dewitt, California Attorney General Earl Warren, Colonel Karl Bendetsen of the General Staff, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Secretary of the Navy Colonel Frank Knox and Secretary of State Cordell Hull believed there was no easy way to distinguish between loyal and disloyal Japanese and that all Japanese American citizens and resident aliens had their allegiance to Japan. First generation Japanese immigrants (Issei) and Japanese Americans who were educated or lived in Japan (Kibei) were believed to be the most disloyal. These officials believed the Japanese in America were a national security threat so everyone with Japanese ancestry living along the west coast in the exclusion area was forced to evacuate to 10 main relocation camps in the western states.[4] People who were as little as one-sixteenth Japanese could be placed in internment camps. About two-thirds of the Japanese evacuees were American citizens and about 40000 were under the age of twenty. In 1941 there were 127000 people of Japanese descent in America with 93000 in California and 19000 in Oregon and Washington.[5]




Although Executive Order 9066 did not name any nationality or ethnic group, Americans of German and Italian ancestry were also targeted by these restrictions and over 11000 persons of German descent and 250 persons of Italian descent were in internment camps.[6][7] Families were given a few weeks and in some cases only 48 hours to dispose of their belongings, settle their personal affairs and pack for relocation. Careers, property and businesses were sacrificed and families were limited to what they could carry into the camps. Internees were first sent to assembly centers to wait for facilities to be built at the main camps before relocating again. Most Americans at the time had little opposition to the Japanese relocation aside from the Japanese themselves, a few church groups and civil liberty organizations.


The government made this film to explain the Japanese relocation in 1942. The narrator Milton Eisenhower was the initial director for the War Relocation Agency (WRA) which was under the control of the U.S. Army’s Western Defense Command. He said the Japanese happily volunteered to be relocated and willingly sacrificed their property and businesses for the war effort. In reality, those that disobeyed the evacuation order were arrested and jailed. Eisenhower resigned in June 1942 and was replaced by Dillion S. Myer.



Notable photographers such as Ansel Adams, Dorthea Lange and Russell Lee were hired to document the relocation and life in the camps. It is believed that the photographs were used mainly as propaganda to show Americans and other countries the internees were fairly treated and as propaganda for not giving the enemy extra incentive to mistreat any American prisoners of war. All photos were reviewed by censors and many show smiling internees and camp life in a positive light. Only a few of Dorthea Lange’s 800 plus photographs of the Japanese American relocation and internment were used during the war. Her photos were so critical of the Army and the treatment of the Japanese Americans that the bulk of her photos were impounded during the war, filed away in the National Archives and were not seen by the public until recently in 2006.[8] All of Lange’s internment photos can be seen here.




Photographers document the evacuation of the Japanese in San Francisco on April 6 1942. You can almost sense the anguish reflected in the faces of the family and notice one boy is holding a copy of Looney Tunes 7. Photo by Dorthea Lange.




Boys read comics while waiting for the evacuation bus in Centerville CA on May 9, 1942. Photo by Dorthea Lange.



Photo titled “Tagged for Evacuation, Salinas CA May 1942” taken by Russell Lee.

This boy is eating a candy bar with his comics; Pep 28 and the June 1942 issue of True Sports Picture Stories. All evacuees were tagged and numbered for identification.



Magazines and comics were donated for the internees to pass the time on the relocation train on October 2 1943. Photo by Charles Mace.



In a closeup at the lower right is an Action and a Donald Duck comic.



Reading True Comics #12 while waiting to be evacuated in 1942.



Boys read discarded magazines at the Fresno CA assembly center in 1942.



1 Life magazine Oct. 14, 1940 p.75-82


3 Executive Order 9066:

4 Weglyn, Michi Nishiura, Years of Infamy, Univ. of Washington Press, 1996, p. 27-75

5 Ibid., p. 36

6 German American Internee Coalition:

7 Italian American Internment:

8 Gordon, Linda & Okihiro, Gary, Impounded, W.W. Norton & Co., 2006, p. 5-39



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2. Comics in the Internment Camps


The internees faced harsh living conditions in the hastily constructed and substandard housing in the assembly centers and internment camps. Families were usually kept together but Japanese considered disloyal were separated from their families and sent to the Tule Lake camp.




The Tule Lake camp was in a remote location in northern California as seen in this picture taken of the internment camp in 1942 or 1943. In this maximum-security “segregation” camp for disloyal Japanese, about 18000 internees were housed and guarded by a full battalion of campaign-equipped troops. In stark contrast with the cheerful newsstand picture, Tule Lake internees faced oppressive conditions with substandard housing, sanitation, health care, food shortages, limited job opportunities, repeated questioning about their loyalty and camp administration indifference to harassment and violence by loyal and disloyal factions. Internees held meetings to demand better conditions but were met with indifference by camp administration which led to protests and riots. This in turn resulted in arrests, nighttime raids, beatings and incarceration in the stockade for internee camp leaders and anyone who was suspected of causing trouble. People were locked up for long periods without any formal charges. [9]



Shown here is one type of barracks for family use. These were formerly the stalls for race horses. Each family was assigned to two small rooms, the inner one with no outside door nor window. The center was in operation about six weeks when this photo was taken and 8,000 evacuees were assembled here at the Tanforan assembly center in San Bruno California. Photo taken by Dorthea Lange on 6/16/42.


Despite the harsh conditions of the camps, the internees established a relatively self sufficient community with farms, businesses, schools and hospitals. All of the camps had their own newspaper or newsletter.



While evacuees operate a mimeograph machine at an assembly center newspaper office, a boy reads a coverless copy of Our Gang 1.


A wide variety of goods was available but the camps were subjected to the same rationing restrictions as the rest of the country. Ninety percent of the employable internees had jobs and they earned $12 to $19 per month depending on their skills. In comparison, the starting salary of a serviceman was $21 per month. [10]


Comics were extremely popular reading material and they were available in the camp libraries too. According to internee letters at one camp, comics were so popular that they were removed by the librarians since they believed comics were detrimental to the reading of books.


According to the camp newsletter, the Tule Lake newsstand was remodelled and enlarged in January 1943 with comics dominating the bookcases. Two bookcases were stacked with about a hundred different titles of comics from Action to Zip and with 15 different titles of pulps. Life magazine was the most in demand title. [11]



The Tule Lake newsstand on March 29 1944. Photo by Carl Mydans. Terry-toons #18 and Jolly Jingles #12 (Hitler cover) on the left top shelf.



A newsstand in Nyssa Oregon in July 1942. Photo by Russell Lee.



A magazine stand in Amache Colorado on 12/10/42. Comics and pulps along the wall and behind the counter. Photo by Tom Parker.



Another shot of the same magazine counter in Amache where you can see comics on the top shelf. Photo by Tom Parker.


War Heroes 3, Rangers 9, Fight 23, Sparky Watts 2, Jungle 37 and Large Feature 12 Private Buck


To partially understand how most Japanese coped with and endured internment, they had an attitude ingrained into them of “gaman”, a Zen Buddhist ethos, which means “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity”. Japanese cultural values place great importance in wa, or group harmony so that the common greater good is more important than the individual needs. Many believed that following government orders for relocation or enlisting in the military would prove their loyalty to America and the internment would be for a short time.


Many of the internees created works of art to brighten their drab surroundings, relieve boredom or take their minds off their situation. Some of the internees who had formal art training taught art classes. A prominent internee was Chiura Obata, a successful artist and an art professor at UC Berkeley who was instrumental in organizing an art school for many internees at the Tanforan assembly center and the Topaz camp in Utah. Here are a few of his documentary drawings of relocation and internment.

I will defer to sfcityduck for more detailed information on Obata.



Japanese Americans reporting for relocation at a church in Berkeley CA 4/30/42



Tanforan assembly center CA 1942


Some of these artists had extensive careers in animation and a few of these artists contributed to camp newspapers. [12][13] Chris Ishii (1919-2001) was a cartoonist for the Disney Studios before internment at the Granada camp in Colorado. One of the more popular features in the camp newspaper that he created was Li'l Neebo (Little Nisei Boy), a cartoon character who was a Japanese American boy interned at the camps and the comic strip provided some comic relief and was an outlet for expressing some of the frustrations of camp life.



Chris Ishii drawing Li'l Neebo with editor Eddie Shimano looking on.



Li'l Neebo introduction



Ishii being fingerprinted for Army enlistment in December 1942.


When Ishii volunteered for the the Army in 1943, the Li'l Neebo strip was continued by Tom Okamoto, another Disney animator and later by Jack Ito. Ishii and Okamoto also taught fine art classes at the Granada camp. Ishii served in the Military Intelligence Service as an illustrator for the Office of War Information. After the war, he studied art in Paris, settled in New York and worked at UPA Studios on many cartoons such as Madeline, Gerald McBoing Boing and Mr. Magoo. He later formed his own production company with partners, became a freelance artist and contributed the animated sequence in the movie Annie Hall.


Iwao Takamoto (1925-2007) was interned at Manzanar and worked as a Disney animator and character designer on titles such as Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmations and The Fox and the Hound. He left Disney in 1961 for Hanna-Barbera Productions and was responsible for the original design of Scooby-Doo, the Jetsons' dog Astro and Penelope Pitstop. [14]



Iwao Takamoto 6/2/45 photo by Charles Mace


George Akimoto (1922-2010), interned at Rohwer Arkansas, created Li'l Dan'l, a stereotypical Japanese American boy who wore a coonskin cap and other Arkansas “boonie” accoutrements. In 1943 Akimoto created a one-year anniversary comic strip booklet “Li'l Dan'l: One Year in a Relocation Center” to show the humor and trivial things that happened in camp. Akimoto became a successful commercial artist and is best known for his aviation art and movie poster work. [15]



George Akimoto 1942



Li'l Dan'l comic booklet



In his blog Gary Ono, a former internee at the Amache Colorado internment camp, re-examines some of his photos from the camp to determine where they were taken. In one photo he is holding a comic book and pictured with his brother, grandmother and a family friend. [16]



Gary Ono holding a comic in Amache Colorado in 1943.



In a closeup he is holding Target comics #38.



This is the Manzanar newsstand in the community store on 2/12/43. To the left of the female cashier’s head are copies of Fight and Rangers comics. Photo by Francis Stewart.



This is the general store in Manzanar California in April 1944. This photo was taken by Toyo Miyatake, a famous professional photographer from Los Angeles, who was interned at the Manzanar camp. Internees were prohibited from having cameras in the camps but Miyatake smuggled in a lens and shutter and had a box camera built in camp. He wanted to document what the camps were really like. He took many photos in secret but eventually was discovered and was allowed to take pictures by a sympathetic camp director with the stipulation that he would be followed by a Caucasian escort who would snap the shutter. The escorts got tired of following him around and he was free to take any pictures within the camp. [17]

Can you recognize the comics at the side wall?



Wonder 1, Fight 32, World’s Finest 13, Marvel Mystery 55, Green Hornet 18, Suspense 3, Leading 10, Supersnipe 15




Reading comics (Boy 5 & Top-Notch Laugh 29) at the recreation center in Manzanar 7/1/42. Photo by Dorthea Lange.



Reading Boy comics #5 in Manzanar 7/1/42. Photo by Dorthea Lange.



Orphan reading comics in Manzanar 7/1/42. Photo by Dorthea Lange.


Sfcityduck has written here about his acquisition of an original copy of one of the earliest graphic novels, The Four Immigrants Manga by Henry Kiyama. Only several hundred copies of the book were printed in 1931. The book is about the experiences of four Japanese in early 20th century America.





Writing in the book show the owner's name and assembly center address and the owner cared enough about the book to take it into and out of the internment camp.

It is amazing that the book survived confiscation and destruction.

Since none of the FBI agents at the time read Japanese, during their searches of Japanese homes they confiscated documents and books with Japanese writing on suspicion of harmful intelligence information.



FBI search of Japanese home.


Many Japanese afraid of suspicion, destroyed documents and books with Japanese writing and even mundane items such as store inventory records, recipes or meeting notes of social clubs. It is amazing the book survived all these years. Because there are few accounts of the Japanese experience in pre-WW2 America, the book is historically significant for an account of those times.



A new book titled “The Train to Crystal City” by Jan Jarboe Russell describes the hidden story of the Crystal City Texas internment camp that imprisoned mainly German, Japanese and Italian immigrants and citizens who were deemed threats to national security under the Alien Enemy Control Unit program under the Department of Justice. The camp was different in that it held entire families as hostages for exchanges of American prisoners of war such as businessmen or diplomats. The book is focused on the stories of two American-born teenage girls, one German and one Japanese American, whose families were exchanged to Germany and Japan. Communications by hostages were heavily censored and notably comic books were confiscated because it was believed they could be used for passing secret messages. The camp was in operation from 1942 to 1948. [18][19]



9 Weglyn, Michi Nishiura, Years of Infamy, Univ. of Washington Press, 1996, p.156-216

10 NBC network speech by Dillion Myer, 7/15/43

11 Daily Tulean Dispatch, 1/16/43

12 Japanese American Animation Artists of the Golden Age

13 Japanese American Animation Artists of the Golden Age

14 Takamoto interview:

15 Akimoto film posters

16 Gary Ono’s blog:

17 Gordon, Linda, Dorthea Lange A Life Beyond Limits, W.W. Norton & Co., 2009, p. 498 & Densho Encyclopedia





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[font:Book Antiqua]3. The Okajima Comics Pedigree


High quality original-owner books from the gold and silver ages are highly prized by comic collectors. The Okajima Pedigree comes from a young female collector from central California who was in an internment camp and accumulated a wide variety of comics from the prime golden age years from 1943 to 1953. The comics were left untouched until they were found at the family home in 1995 and the books were split among 3 buyers in an estate sale. Alan Bahr, owner of Heroes Comics in California, got 415 books. The Okajima books were carefully wrapped in newspaper when they were found and many are notable for their high quality and white pages. Documentation found among the books indicated the books were owned by a young female named Okajima. The books from this pedigree can be recognized by an arrival date on the front cover, a purchase date stamped or written on the back cover or the name Okajima written on the front cover on pre-1945 books. [20]


From a search of the Japanese internment records in the National Archives, surprisingly there are only 6 people with the Okajima name out of thousands of internees. Four of them are from Fresno county in California and are presumably from the same family. Only one of these names is of a young woman, Fumiko Okajima, who was born in America in 1921 and worked on a fruit farm. George (Yasuo) Okajima was born in 1925 and was her brother, Takano Okajima born in 1904 in Japan was the widowed mother and Yoshi Okajima was another widow (grandmother?) who was born in 1885 in Japan. The first three Okajimas were interned at the Gila River camp in Arizona and Yoshi was interned at the Colorado River camp in Arizona. [21] The Gila River camp was in operation from July 20 1942 to November 10 1945.


From the departure and arrival info in the 1945 Gila News-Courier camp newspaper, George left the camp on August 1 1945 and entered the Army on August 16 1945. There was no report on the mother or sister so they must have left camp after the last issue of the paper on September 28 1945. Takano was interviewed in 1980 for the Japanese American Oral History collection at Fresno State and describes her life and family in America and the tough times she had running a farm as a single mother and her time in the camps. [22]


Ron Murry, a dealer who had most of the Okajima books pass through his hands, talks about the pedigree in one episode of The Incurable Collector. [23]



Murry says comics were shipped to Okajima while she was in the camp and this raises many questions about the collection. Where were these books purchased? Why did she collect and save so many comics? Did she share them with someone else like a relative or friend? What other books are in the collection? It is highly possible she had a job in the internment camp to be able to afford that many comics. In some cases multiple books were bought in the same month based on the arrival dates seen on some books. Some examples of books from the Okajima predigree owned by board members can be seen here and here. It is surprising the books were saved by the family and probably had some sentimental value to the brother or sister otherwise they could have been given away, tossed or burned for fuel. The original owner of the books must have really cared about the books she accumulated in the camp since it took great effort to keep the books in excellent condition and to transport so many books out of the internment camp.



The Gila River camp in Arizona 1945.


When board member Robot Man posted this copy of True Sport Picture Stories I found the name written on the cover to be very interesting. In the WW2 internment records, a Tomoyuki Tanaka born in 1932 from Santa Barbara was interned at the Gila River Arizona camp in 1942. The Gila River camp was closed on November 16, 1945. Tanaka would have been 14 years old and out of the camps when he owned that comic in 1946. Coincidentally Tomoyuki Tanaka (1910-1997) is also the name of the film producer who created the Godzilla series in 1954.




20 Okajima pedigree certificate, Heroes Comics


22 Okajima interview:

23 The complete video aired on A&E in 2001 can be seen here:



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4. Internment Camps in the Comics


Although comics were considered disposable ephemera, they can reflect the current social atmosphere of their time period. The Superman comic strip published by the McClure syndicate, debuted on January 16, 1939. [24] It was very popular and by 1941 it was featured in 230 newspapers with a combined circulation of 25 million readers. As Superman became more popular, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster set up a studio in Cleveland Ohio and hired a staff of artists to assist Shuster to handle all the Superman material the publishers wanted. [25] In July 1943 Siegel was drafted into the army.


The Superman strip was popular and influential such that fictional stories with real life events could have many implications causing ramifications that could affect many lives. In the episode “The Sneer Strikes!” written by Whitney Ellsworth and Al Schwartz and published from June 28, 1943 to August 21, 1943, Clark and Lois investigate conditions inside a Japanese internment camp. While in camp, Clark using his X-ray vision detects a group of evil Japanese planning an escape and intending to take Lois and the Army officer hostage. [26]





The Office of War Information (OWI), a government agency for controlling the content and imagery of war messages, was horrified by the advance strips it received, noting the narrative “was about disloyal Japanese, with only a passing mention of loyal Japanese”. The OWI had no censorship powers however and the McClure syndicate declined their request to retract the entire episode. The narrative also drew protests from the public, who criticized the strip for “inciting race hatred” and implying that “the Army was lax enough to allow concealed weapons” into the camps. [27] Phileo Nash, an OWI media analyst, was concerned that the story's suggestion that the camps were hotbeds for disloyal or subversive activity could implicate negligent security by the administration. This would increase public pressure for more stringent measures against the internees and hamper efforts for humane treatment and assimilation back into the country. The timing of the Superman story was inopportune since newspapers carried lurid stories of alleged Japanese spy rings in America. The Army was also concerned that if as a result of anti-Japanese American agitation there were violence against the internees, American prisoners would be negatively treated by the Japanese military. [28]


Imagine how some of the Japanese American internees might have felt seeing their ancestry negatively portrayed and being lumped in with the enemy Japanese in newspapers, magazines, comics and movies while they were in the camps. Internees were deeply concerned about how they were being portrayed in the media. After seeing this Superman strip, Reverend Royden Susu-Mago from the Gila River camp wrote on June 30 to WRA director Dillion S. Myer complaining about the negative portrayal and negative implications of Japanese American internees and enclosed clippings of the strip. Susu-Mago received a reply from Myer a month later. Myer wrote that he had spoken to the syndicate about Susu-Mago’s concerns and the syndicate expressed regret about the damage that had been done and said the artists and writers had no malicious intent. The syndicate asked the WRA to supply examples of Japanese American loyalty for material to include in other cartoon strips controlled by the syndicate. [29][30]


The storyline for this episode ends with Superman in the final panel acknowledging the loyalty of Japanese Americans in the camps and armed forces and differentiating them from the enemy Japanese. [31] This reminder message may have been a conciliatory gesture to the OWI and to other critics. There would be no more war related storylines for the rest of the war.




In an unusual instance, Japanese Americans in internment camps are seen in a sympathetic light in a story from Four Favorites #9 in 1943. Captain Courageous fights Japanese saboteurs while a Japanese American boy from an internment camp looks for his dog. The story takes a very simplistic view that being a good American means following the government’s orders unconditionally and knowing American popular culture like baseball.


In tabcom's Flash Comics Journal thread, Flash Comics #32 contains an interesting story with the Whip character where a Japanese American patriot exposes a Nazi spy but gets mistaken for a Japanese spy by the FBI. The timing of the story is interesting because the book would have been on sale in May or June 1942 at a time when almost all Japanese would have been in the camps.

The full story is here.

photo d01b3124-f562-4ecc-a8cb-1ca103af9254_zps311b0462.jpg




24 Archive of Superman newspaper strips:

25 Kobler, John, Up, Up and Awa-a-a-y!, Saturday Evening Post, 6/21/41

26 San Francisco Chronicle, 6/28-6/29/43

27 Darowski, Joseph ed.,The Ages of Superman: Essays on the Man of Steel in Changing Times, McFarland & Co., 2012, p. 8-9

28 Chang, Gordon, "Superman is about to visit the relocation centers& the Limits of Wartime Liberalism, Amerasia Journal, 19:1 1993 37-60

29 Gila News-Courier, 7/31/43

30 Gila News-Courier, 8/24/43

31 San Francisco Chronicle, 8/21/43



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