© Copyright 2017 Francesca Jamshidy Student, Ryerson University
Japanese Representation in World War II Comics
This digital exhibit intends to analyze the historical conflicts between Canada and Japan During World War II, specifically when it came to the media. The rivalry between Japan and Canada is not discussed often when it comes to World War II, but in this exhibit, I want to shine light on how the unflattering portrayal of Japanese characters in “In the Human Rocket” in the series The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, is connected to the historical context of the conflict between Japan and Canada during World War II. The tension between Canada and Japan is depicted through Easson’s writing style, the way setting is represented in panels surrounding Japanese people and the Japanese characters physical appearance.
Writing Style in World War II Comics
The introduction to the comic is free of tension. There is a quick introduction to all the characters. This is done in order to familiarize new readers with the who is going to be in the story and what their relationship is to one another, from main characters to supporting characters. Unfortunately, after reading through the comic, it is apparent that there is one character which is excluded from the introduction, and that character is Japanese. Not only is this character not introduced, but he is also referred to as “Tokyo Joe” (13), once he is a named, or noted, character. By being referred to as Tokyo Joe, it is made apparent that his character is being “othered” as this distinction separates him from the other generic Canadian characters. In the 1940’s “younger children were preoccupied with many projects” however, “there was a fear that teenagers might be corrupted by the lack of supervision during the war” (Stranger Ross, et at.). By slipping casual racism into remarks that teenagers read, the creators of these comics were exploiting the impressionable minds of teenagers. This implied that it was okay to grow up believing and repeating racist remarks. An example of this is on page 13 when the only Japanese character is referred to as the “Stooges of Japan”, which was another form of calling him stupid. During the Second World War “Canadian policies emerged from the war… [exemplifying] long- standing racism” (Stranger-Ross, et al.), which later reflected upon not only comics but other forms of media as well. Within Easson’s work, it is evident that racism is encouraged. Tokyo Joe is only given the chance to speak once during the entire comic and the one time he speaks he is grammatically incorrect. Rather than saying “It’s not so easy my friend” instead he says “No so easy, my friend” (13), insinuating that Tokyo Joe is the only character with an accent or an inability to speak without grammatical errors. These details used to write the comic are ultimately meant to show the difference between Japan and Canada. What many Canadians didn’t know according to the article “Government Propaganda Machine Is Now in High Gear” (1940), is that during the time period that the comic issue was made there was pressed censorship. People carefully looked through work from articles to books and continued to do that during the war, in order to make sure nothing was written to comfort the enemy. This showed how controlled the media was during this time period. This also included comics, with this information it now makes sense as to why the only Japanese character was portrayed unfairly by Manny Easson. Japan was considered the enemy that the Canadian Government wanted to scare.
When reading a comic, a character’s physical appearance stands out right away, what many do not realize is that the background and setting of an image can subconsciously manipulate and infer/alter things into a certain perspective. When looking at “In the Human Rocket”, and analyzing the background setting within images, there is an automatic and clear switch between the backgrounds of characters depending on where they are from. Since this essay is examining the relationship between Japan and Canada, the first thing that was automatically analyzed was the background setting behind the only character that was not Canadian. When looking at the background setting of the only character not from Canada within the comic it is quite evident that his ethnicity is overly expressed through his surrounding in order to alienate him from every other character in the comic. Looking at the picture on the
left (Figure 1) taken from Manny Easson comic “In the Human Rocket” in the series The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don (13), right away one can see that “Tokyo Joe” has a picture of a sun symbolizing the Japanese flag and a dragon on his table cloth, both details placed in the background automatically let readers know that he is from Japan and not like the other character. On the same page in the 4th panel Easson zooms into Tokyo Joe with only the sun beams from the image behind him
showing, nothing more, as if to infer the only attribute and supporting information to him is his ethnicity, leaving readers with only two things, he is the villain in this comic and he is Japanese. What aids this theory that background, and settings are purposely placed and drawn in images in order to support the negative portrayal and alienation of Japanese people in this time period, is that it is an on-going trend, the portrayal in this comic is not an isolated incident, it happened throughout many forms of media. Below on the left there is a propaganda poster found on “Canadian Propaganda Posters” Mystery in History, published online in 2014 this website had posters from Canada during the second World War. Automatically when comparing the comic to this poster (Figure 2)
it is glaring to note that they were created by different artists yet they both have the same things in common, the sun rays signifying that this person is of Japanese descent and a negative portrayal of the character/person of Japanese descent. This was clearly not a coincidence but rather a tool to ensure Canadians feared Japanese people. This fear turned into a hatred because during the Second World War since Japanese people were considered the enemy “22,000 Japanese Canadians were uprooted from their homes, separated from their families, and sent away to camps” (Government Apologizes, 1988). Sadly, these people were being punished for simply being of Japanese descent although they were Canadian citizens, and many were even born and raised in Canada that was still not enough. When comparing this to Manny Easson’s illustrations, attention can quickly be brought to the only other image drawn of Tokyo Joe (Figure 3). In this image Tokyo Joe is behind bars (35). He could have been placed in any setting, perhaps at the police station or an interrogation room but instead he is last seen in jail. His imprisonment is a direct correlation to Japanese Canadians being sent to camps because that was a form of their own torture and jail. This is relevant because the jail setting showed a negative portrayal of the only Japanese character within the comic. By having the last image of Tokyo Joe being behind bars it is also arguably a comforting image as he is seen as less of a threat, providing a sense of closure to the previously established impressionable minds, since the enemy is depicted to be “contained”. This ultimately proves through background and setting, Japanese people were being targeted in many forms of media, this comic included, due to the tension between Canada and Japan during World War II.
Unfortunately, things did not simply end with settings and backgrounds but rather got worse when it came to physical characteristics of Japanese people. When looking at “In the Human Rocket” the physical appearance of Tokyo Joe in comparison to everyone else is significantly different, not just in terms of historically accurate physical differences. According to the “Canadian Propaganda Posters,” Mystery in History (2014), stereo-types were exaggerated in the propaganda posters and in the media when it came to Japanese people.
This exaggeration can be seen from teeth to eyes, even their ears were made fun of. In the poster above (Figure 4) published by “Canadian Propaganda Posters” (2014), the man shown is by far the most terrifying thing at first sight. When analyzing he does not look anything like a human but instead he is portrayed as an animal. He has sharp pointy fangs, small eyes that need glasses, extremely pointy ears and claws. In addition, once again this poster shows the man has a hat with sun ray beams in order to let everyone who sees this poster know that the terrifying man within this image is Japanese. When analyzing the Tokyo Joe in the comic, differences were noted in comparison to other characters. Examples of this are that out of the two villains in the comic Tokyo Joe is dressed in all black signifying darkness just like all the other portrayals of Japanese people. His mouth if looked at closely can be seen in an upside-down position rather than smiling. If given the chance to smile it could have shown a different outlook on him because people tend to be more appealing and inviting when they smile. But due to his constant frowning Easson was solely able to create a negative atmosphere for his character. Just like the poster he isn’t given a specific age but with the over exaggerated wrinkles one could assume he is prehistoric, lastly, he is the only character in the entire comic given glasses, supporting the stereotype of an inability to see. These physical characteristics are not only disgusting and incorrect, they are also a deliberate way to show that the portrayal of the Japanese culture and beauty is not celebrated but rather mocked.
Conclusion the “So What”
In conclusion, this exhibit intended to analyze how the unflattering portrayal of Japanese characters in “In the Human Rocket” in the series The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, was due to the tension between Canada and Japan during World War II. The war and the comic connected to one another because they were created during the same time period. It was also intended to analyze how the tension was deep rooted and how due to the negative portrayal of Japanese people, Canada’s fear had quickly turned into prejudice and anger, leading to the horrible events that occurred and affected many Japanese-Canadians. This was shown by many artists in many forms of media during the 1940’s, including Manny Easson’s work. Through his writing style, the way he drew the settings around those of Japanese descent and the overall illustration of Japanese characters, with specific detailing to their physical appearances, his work as well as many others proved my theory that the comic was used in combinations with other media platforms intending to encourage a prejudice against people of Japanese descent. It is also quite evident after analyzing different media forms that Japanese people were villainized whether through animalistic representations to being made the enemy which needed to be put behind bars to ensure a feeling of safety during the hard times when Canada was at war.
“Canadian Propaganda Posters.” Mystery In History, June 2014, mysteryinhistory.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/canadian-propaganda-posters/.
Cook, Tim. “Canadian Children and The Second World War.” Historica Canada, December 2016, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-children-and-wwii/.
Easson, M. “In the Human Rocket.” The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don, no. 17, April, 1945, pp.1-35. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
“Governments Propaganda Machine Is Now in High Gear.” The Toronto Telegram, Canadian War Museum, July 1940, http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/newspapers/information_e.shtml
Stranger-Ross, Jordan., & Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective. “Suspect Properties: The Vancouver Origins of the Forced Sale of Japanese-Canadian-owned Property, WWII.” Journal of Planning History, vol. 15, no. 4, February 2016, pp. 271-89. https://doi- org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1177%2F1538513215627837
“Tokio Kid”, “Canadian Propaganda Posters.” Mystery In History, June 2014, mysteryinhistory.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/canadian-propaganda-posters/.
“This Is the Enemy”, “Canadian Propaganda Posters.” Mystery In History, June 2014, mysteryinhistory.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/canadian-propaganda-posters/.
“1988: Government Apologizes to Japanese Canadians – CBC Archives.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, March 2017, www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/1988-government-apologizes-to- japanese-canadians.
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.