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Thursday, June 10, 2021 

New graphic novel chronicles Japanese Americans who opposed WW2 era internment

Crosscut has an article about a new graphic novel titled "We Hereby Refuse", discussing Japanese Americans who were against internment over concerns they could assist Germany's National Socialists during WW2:
It’s only been in the past few decades that writers and filmmakers have begun to build a body of literature documenting the forcible eviction and incarceration of some 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans by their own government during World War II.

John Okada’s Seattle-set novel No-No Boy, which was published in 1957 and nearly faded into obscurity before being revived decades later by the University of Washington Press, is a notable exception. And while the number of novels addressing Japanese internment is only increasing, true stories of refusal and rebellion are vital to the historic record and contemporary awareness.

That’s why the Wing Luke Museum assembled a team of two writers and two artists to create a book-length nonfiction comic about Japanese American resistance to the internment.

The writers — Seattle author and filmmaker Frank Abe and Tacoma author and historian Tamiko Nimura — had met before, but they’d never worked together. The artists, Ross Ishikawa and Matt Sasaki, had two completely different styles; Ishikawa was known for warm, cartoony realism while Sasaki tended toward strikingly expressionistic, nearly abstract, illustrations.

They were given a deadline of one year to work together to create a nearly 200-page, full-color comic that combined deep historical research and compelling narrative storytelling. Within that tight time frame, it felt like an impossible task. Partly because, well, it was impossible.

Now, four years later, Seattle publisher Chin Music Press has released We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration. It’s well worth the wait.
Is it? Because the article itself looks built on unfortunate partisan politics (and is cartoony art really compatible with the topic?), as indicated near the end:
While We Hereby Refuse honors the past and contributes to the small-but-growing body of work around the wartime internment of Japanese Americans, it has a lot to say about the 21st century, too.

At a time when anti-Asian violence is spiking around the country, when too many Americans are perfectly fine with the idea of caging immigrants with no regard for their rights, and when Black Americans fear for their lives during traffic stops, these stories still speak to the American experience. We tried as hard as we could to forget our past, but we should have known that the past isn’t done with us yet.
Look how they're building on fearmongering and moral panics. It's reprehensible how they make it sound like non-Black police are still non-stop antagonizing Black motorists no matter how petty the issue, while overlooking that Dante Wright happens to be a crook. It's also additionally reprehensible how they ignore and obscure that a lot of the criminals who've been attacking Asians were Black, and this was even the case a decade ago. Tragically, political correctness plays a role in the coverage of these articles, and there's every chance We Hereby Refuse is politically motivated as well. I'm sure the subject has validity, but the way they're approaching it here simply isn't. Besides, no matter how unfair Roosevelt was to Japanese Americans at the time, we can't overlook that Japan itself committed atrocities during WW2, even if they've since improved morally.

Maybe one of the most vital queries is whether the graphic novel unambiguously addresses the topic of Roosevelt's own racism, and that he was a Democrat. If the GN doesn't get into those issues, what's the whole point of producing it in the first place? I know Planned Parenthood's finally admitted founder Margaret Sanger was a racist, but who knows if future leftist biographers, let alone leftist graphic novelists, will ever bring that up in discussion seriously? In which case, how can we expect them to deliver on historical issues like WW2 convincingly?

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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