Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Exploring the Japanese American War Experience Through Comics, Part 2

In the previous part of this entry, the history of the Japanese American internment experience was viewed through an external lens. Political cartoonists and the super hero strips of the day all showcased how the Japanese were not to be trusted. But what of the view from inside the barbed wire fence?

While the majority of America felt that all Japanese living in America must have been imperial spies, the reality of the situation was that most were children born on American soil. These children spoke only English, had never set foot on Japanese soil, and had little idea why they were being targeted and forced to be removed from their homes.

In Granada, Colorado, one of many a handful of relocation centers was established hold all people of Japanese decent through the duration of the war. The language of the executive orders uprooting the families was meant to be all-inclusive of those who could be associated with the Axis Powers. However, German and Italian families never faced the same types of blatant discrimination leading to forced exclusion from the rest of America.

However, the imprisoned Japanese tried to make the best of what they could during this time. Schools were established, gardens were planted, and people tried to carry on a "normal life" in very abnormal conditions. Part of normal daily life was getting the news from a newspaper. Published weekly, the Granada Pioneer, provided record of all the going-ons of the camp; births, deaths, bake-sale announcements, declarations from the government regarding their status in the interment camps, were all written up as part of the public record. And of course no reasonable newspaper can be complete without a comics section.

Pretty much weekly, until the Grenada Relocation Center, also known as Amache, closed in 1945 Lil' Neebo ran as the sole comic strip in this stark paper. The creator Chris Ishii prior to the internment worked for Walt Disney. As seen in this single clipping of his work, more of which can be found at the Amache Digital Collections Project which is a collaborative project of the Auraria Library and Colorado Historical Society, his art is very representative of the 40s era Disney work. While I am not certain if this is the case, it is highly likely that Mr. Ishii crossed paths with another famous Japanese American cartoonist, Iwao Takamoto, both during his time working for Disney and during the more unfortunate times interned at Amache. Mr. Takamoto, who I had the pleasure of meeting a few years before he passed away is most well known for creating Scooby-Doo.

Lil' Neebo, as I will present in future essays, presents a comic, yet bitter, view of the internment through the eyes of a prepubescent boy. If curios about the name "Neebo" it's a semi-slang term for "Nisei Boy," Nisei being the literal term for second generation Japanese Americans. In many of the of the strips, Neebo is left stranded as a victim of circumstance, not quite savvy enough to be angry but also not quite scarred to be resentful. If anything, the strips represent a good representation of the confusion of the camps.

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