One thinks of a pedigree as a sanctioned stamp of good breeding. Thoroughbred racehorses. Edwardian landed gentry. But comic books? These aren’t just any comics but specimens from the Golden Age of American comics, 1938-1956, including some purchased in a U.S. concentration camp. A comic book pedigree is the rare designation applied to a collection of vintage material gathered by a single collector at the time of publishing. There are currently 61 pedigrees widely recognized in the comic book world. The Bette Okajima Pedigree is one of them.
This pedigree is something of a legend. One theory has it that the collector was a 10-year-old girl at the Manzanar concentration camp in the California high desert. Another speculates that the Okajima signature on the covers was actually by the hand of Bette’s brother. Would a girl collect war comics? Would any Japanese American, regardless of gender, avidly consume images that included viciously caricatured depictions of Asians?
The World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans must have been tremendously dislocating. Your country of birth is at war, but has rejected you, declared you a martial threat and imprisoned you. American pop culture is in your social DNA. One of the few lifelines you have to this culture as a young person in a concentration camp is the steady stream of comic books available in the camp store. The Okajima Pedigree grew out of this fractured living situation.
The 50 Objects project director, Nancy Ukai, with the help of comic book expert Jeff Tom, has researched and written about the Okajima Pedigree. This story, intended to be published on our website next week, (see link to our site in our bio) will help bring legend into the realm of legacy. Stay tuned to this account for more Okajima posts to come.
Instagram design and caption by David Izu. Research by Nancy Ukai.
Many thanks to 50 Objects, Nancy Ukai, and the NPS. I am most pleased to be a small part of this amazing story.