Graphic Novel Review: They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, with art by Harmony Becker
Posted on October 17, 2019 at 10:15 am by Gene Ambaum
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott. Art by Harmony Becker. Top Shelf, 2019. 208pp.
Takei’s memoir about being interned with his family as a young boy, during World War II, and its aftermath, opens with him and his brother being awoken by their parents and told to get dressed. Soldiers enforcing Executive Order 9066 have arrived to take them away. It’s upsetting and powerful. Flash forward to Takei’s TED talk in Kyoto in 2014, and then the story of his parents and his own birth, Japan’s unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor and the US reaction to it — a history lesson that includes includes “Lock up the Japs” as a popular political position. Most of the rest of the book tells the story of the Takei family’s forced relocations and incarceration beginning in Spring 1942 at Santa Anita Racetrack, Camp Rohwer in Arkansas, and Camp Tule Lake in northern California. The details about crowding and conditions are pitch perfect alongside with some funny moments of Takei and his siblings being kids and misbehaving and playing even in those difficult circumstances. I think kids will find these bits very readable, while I found myself identifying with his parents who were trying to do the best for their kids despite where they were. After WWII, they return to Los Angeles, and are forced to rebuild their lives while living on skid row. As Takei begins attending school he sees that racism against Japanese Americans continues (he has to deal with it in his classroom), and he comes to understand that the camps he lived in were like jail. A quick 30 pages at the end brings Takei’s story up to date as he begins acting and supporting civil rights, the government apology to Japanese Americans for their internment, and recent court cases that affect immigrants and those traveling to the US.
Worth noting: The art is black and white with digital textures, and the panel layouts are fairly simple. Along with the young Takei looking out from the cover, these work together to make this a book almost anyone will enjoy, though kids will take more of an interest in the pages about Takei’s incarceration as a young boy.