Graphic novel documents acts of resistance

WE HEREBY REFUSE: JAPANESE AMERICAN RESISTANCE TO WARTIME INCARCERATION

By Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura, illustrated by Ross Ishikawa 

and Matt Sasaki (Seattle: Chin Music Press/

Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, 

2021, 160 pp., $19.95, paperback)

The graphic novel, “We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration,” focuses on the real life experiences of Jim Akutsu, a Minidoka War Relocation Authority camp draft resister; Mitsuye Endo, a Topaz (Central Utah) WRA inmate who challenged the incarceration through a habeas corpus petition; and Hiroshi Kashiwagi, a Tule Lake War Relocation Authority/Segregation Center no-no and renunciant. 

The stories of Akutsu and Endo are straightforward. Akutsu refused to serve in the United States military as long as he and his family were imprisoned in a U.S. concentration camp. 

Endo successfully fought her imprisonment all the way to the Supreme Court.

Kashiwagi’s story is a little more complex since the Tule Lake story is complicated, and this graphic novel packed in a lot into this section. Perhaps the story might have been easier to tell had it been told through the eyes of a Kibei. 

As a graphic novel, the drawings are wonderfully done. Ross Ishikawa illustrated the segments that included color; Matt Sasaki, the black-and–white sections. 

Ishikawa’s characters are drawn in a style reminiscent of that era, and the color palette is muted and drab, which is exactly how the mood should feel. He even included a cameo appearance of John Okada, a nod to another of Frank Abe’s books, which was about the author of “No-No Boy.” Okada modeled the main character of “No-No Boy,” Ichiro, after Akutsu’s experiences, but made up all the psychological head trip that Ichiro goes through. In this graphic novel, readers will be introduced to the real Akutsu. 

Sasaki uses simple but strong lines and any splashes of color lend power to that scene. Some may recognize Sasaki’s drawings of a well-known archival photo of a young man standing in front of barracks. His drawings definitely captured the intensity and tension of Tule Lake. 

One minor problem with the Tule Lake segment is the chosen font. For one, the words could be printed a bit larger and some of the letterings such as the “d” is distorted to the point that it could be distracting. 

It’s obvious writers Abe and Tamiko Nimura did a lot of research since they were able to parse each story down to the basics without losing the important points. 

Those unfamiliar with archival documents may find some of the narrative and dialogue outlandish, but Abe and Nimura utilized actual memos, letters and governmental documents to tell the different stories. 

For example, not only did Mike Masaoka, the National Japanese American Citizens League field executive, offer up the Nisei men to go on suicide battalions, but he also suggested that camp inmates be branded, similar to what the Nazis did to the Jews. 

There is also a scene where Masaoka is talking with a government official and volunteers to “name names.” Unclassified FBI documents have since confirmed that many JACL leaders had been government informants, as had some artists and a few others. 

The graphic novel also highlights some of the racist denouncements spewed out by elected officials, and what is included is just the tip of the iceberg. 

It is also refreshing to see strong Issei women recognized in the book. Until now, few books have highlighted the fighting spirit of the Issei women. The only other book that comes to mind is Cherstin M. Lyons’ book, “Prisons and patriots : Japanese American wartime citizenship, civil disobedience, and historical memory,” where she recognized the Topaz Issei women, while in this book, it is the Minidoka women in Idaho.

Overall, this graphic novel is a great introduction, not only to the different World War II resistance stories, but also to what occurred inside the camps. It is worth the read.

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