They Called Us Enemy
by George Takei
Top Shelf Productions / IDW Publishing / Penguin Random House
Back in the great patriotic second World War, we hated a lot of people, but the Japanese were the real boogie man. Germans were despised as well, but there were a lot fewer Japanese than Germans, so they lacked the political clout to defend themselves for their own government. George Takei was just old enough to recall the journey his family made at the point of a gun from Los Angeles to rural Arkansas. His family lost nearly everything: home, business, savings, and their rights to be a citizen in their own country. Mr. Takei survived and went on to fame and fortune in television, most famously as Commander Sulu in the original 1968 Star Trek. Here we follow his journey of survival and success in the form of a 200-page graphic novel illustrated by Harmony Becker.
The story is a quick read, but a long thought process. Like all good war stories, it’s filled with illustrations of the people and their situations in LA and the two internment camps the Takei family lived in. First the family was rounded up and stripped of their home and business. Then they were marched at gun point to a train with no way to contact friends or other internees. The train took 4 days to get to Arkansas and the Japanese interns had to pull down black-out shades whenever they passed through a town. In the Arkansas camp, Takei’s father became a camp leader, and he taught his inquisitive son the political problems and how to handle them along with an even more important lesson of remaining proud and fair no, matter how unfair life became. The art work is simple but effective, relying on some of the less flashy tricks Manga use for storytelling. We follow the family through WW2, and then Takei talks about becoming an actor and getting some very good jobs right out of the gate. After Star Trek type cast him, he was able to work the sequels, and now he’s an éminence grise of both science fiction and racial tolerance. This is a great book, easy to read but difficult to tolerate.