After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, comic books happily indulged in characterizing the hated Japanese as yellow-skinned, buck-toothed, murderous fanatics. Who could blame the creators, considering their nation's leaders had consigned the Japanese populations of the States and Canada into internment camps - and at a time when both the USA and Canada had fairly liberal governments, mind you! Racist Japanese caricatures are surely the most common racial stereotypes in comics of the 40s - certainly much moreso than the "big-lipped Negro" character.
I've been cleaning up a few entries at the Grand Comics Database, using the Digital Comics Museum as my guide. After happily tidying up a number of issues of Captain Marvel Adventures (Captain Marvel being one of my favourite 40s heroes), I turned to the series Captain Marvel, Jr.
I should explain that in the 40s, Captain Marvel, Jr. was (ostensibly) the more grounded of the two heroes. Beyond their shared fantastic powers and frequently out-of-this-world adversaries, Captain Marvel was rendered by the cartoonish (and wonderful) C.C. Beck, while Captain Marvel, Jr. was drawn by the more photorealistic Mac Raboy (Raboy would often draw CM Jr. when he guest-starred in Beck's stories, maintaining that visual divide between the two). Captain Marvel, Jr.'s adventures often pit him against social problems of the day; after all, in his identity as Freddy Freeman, he was an impoverished crippled newsboy.
Let's tally up this wartime racist paranoia:
- Japanese men could be passing themselves off as Chinese! Remain vigilant around Asians!
- Which points again to the need of internment camps - if you give a Jap a chance, he'll try to destroy America single-handedly!
- When we are rendered vulnerable by illness and placed under the power of people from other races they will attempt to bring us to their level! Maintain segregated hospitals!
- Hatred of America is literally found in the blood of all Japanese!
- Further, good patriotic Americans - even military officers - will turn against all their principles if found to be Japanese!
- Also the usual business of banana-yellow skin, "Banzai!" and a strange fascination with the Mikado.
The next time you're inclined to comment on how racist a contemporary comic book is, do bear in mind it wasn't so long ago that things were much, much worse.