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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Jackie Robinson Comic Book From Japan

Because I was doing two baseball coaching courses on Saturday, I thought I would do a search for what is Japan’s rarest comic books.

Yeah, I know the two don’t have anything in common, except for the fact that it’s something I’m interested in.

I could not find any information on what is considered Japan’s rarest comic book, except that the country may actually have started comic book production back in the 1700s.

During my search, I found the above comic book… a Japanese version of a 1950 Jackie Robinson  Fawcett Comics (a division of Fawcett Publications) comic book originally produced in English for American audiences… I’m not sure, but I doubt it made its way to Canada.

Jackie Robinson is considered to be a pioneer in MLB (Major League Baseball) in North America, becoming the first Black ball player to play in the league since owners conspired together to keep out Blacks from the Major Leagues back in the 1800s.

It was pure and simple racism.

There was never any written rule that prohibited teams from employing a Black ball player in the MLB, but for 60 years - until 1947 - the unwritten rule was followed.

I’m not going to detail all of the hardships Robinson endured on his way to breaking (again) the MLB color barrier, suffice to say that he broke it first in the minor leagues, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers Triple A International League affiliate team the Montreal Royals back in 1946, where he was warmly received by the local community.

There are plenty of books, films and documentaries out there that do a decent enough job of describing what things were like for him.

By the way… in 1936… at the Berlin Olympics… we all know that Jesse Owens—a Black athlete, helped humiliate Germany’s Chancellor, der Fuehrer, Adolph Hitler—when he won the 100 meter race.

Jesse Owens also took the Olympic Gold in the 200 meter race, but what’s not as well known is the fact that Jackie Robinson’s older brother Mack (Matthew Mackenzie) Robinson took home the Silver Medal in that race.

Mack Robinson ran the 200 meters in 21.1 seconds, while Jesse Ownes set a world record at the rime running it in 20.7 seconds.

It’s a less known result because no Germans were involved in the final: After Owens and Robinson, Timus Osendarp of the Netherlands captured the Bronze, with Pail Hanni of Switzerland, Lee Orr of Canada and Will van Beveren of the Netherlands following in that order.
This panel is from the Jackie Robinson comic book. Note that the time of 20.7 seconds is the same, but it is for 220 yards, not 200 meters as run in the Olympics.
Back to Jackie Robinson.

As a successful Black athlete for the MLB Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson paved the way for a whole slew of other great Black ball players to play in the MLB.

The negative side effect, however, is that the Black baseball players were being plucked from the Negro leagues - leagues which also included Latinos, which caused their eventual demise.

The Negro American League officially closed down after 1951…

Jackie Robinson was popular - as evidenced by the fact that Fawcett (the same comic book company that brought us Captain Marvel - that SHAZAM! guy known as the Big Red Cheese to those of us nerds in the know0 chose to put out a comic book on him. In fact, they put out six issue during 1950!

Because of Captain Marvel’s “passing resemblance” to Superman, National Periodicals (aka DC Comics) sued Fawcett comics for copyright infringement.

I had long thought that DC Comics had won the lawsuit, which is why the company stopped producing Captain Marvel material—we’re talking about a character that had in the 1940s actually outsold Superman!

However, by 1941, the case was dismissed when it was learned that National Periodicals had failed to secure a copyright on Superman for his appearances in the national newspaper strip.

In an appeal, it was 1951 when it was found that Captain Marvel was a copyright infringement of National Periodical’s Superman.

Now, I did know this - but didn’t put two and two together - but by the time the 1950s had begun, superhero comic books were on the major decline… even National Periodicals was close to halting production of Superman and Batman! Which is why Fawcett closed its doors on all its superhero books in 1953.
Reverse of the Japanese version of the Jackie Robinson comic book (above) maintained the same "autograph" message as the American one. Too bad, I would have enjoyed seeing it written in kanji, hiragana and katakana.
Fawcett allowed the copyright on the Captain Marvel name to run out… and it was grabbed by Marvel Comics, who created a cosmic character called Captain Marvel… whom we may see soon in one of these upcoming movies (one of my favorite characters).

DC Comics (the former National Periodicals) bought the rights to the old Fawcett superhero characters in the 1970s, but could not use the Captain Marvel as the titular character, instead having to call the books SHAZAM! with the subhead: The ORIGINAL Captain Marvel under it.

But I digress… the point is… we were talking about a 1951… when Fawcett was getting close to shutting its doors - it still thought it could make money by selling the popular English Jackie Robinson comic book as a translated version to Japan.

The Jackie Robinson comic book was printed in June 1950 and was distributed as an insert (furoku) within an issue of Chugakusei no Tomo (Middle School Friend) magazine.

The Japanese version is identical to the American version in that it has 32 pages and the same artwork—BUT the book opens in the traditional Japanese manner on the left (rather than the right)…

Hey  - at least Fawcett did a decent job with the reverse artwork... if they siomply flipped the film negative around for the photo cover shot, that Brooklyn "B" on the cap would have been backwards. 

It shows they were thinking.... 

This Japanese version appears to be a very rare comic book—not as many made for the Japanese market—and few surviving the 60+ years.

I don't know who did the original artwork or did the Japanese translation, but the English version was written by sportswriter Charles Dexter.
This year—2017—is the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson re-breaking the color barrier in the MLB.

You can read the ENGLISH version of the comic book by clicking HERE to
go to the website.

Andrew Joseph 


  1. Wow! I am really surprised that I forgot all about that, and I learned about him a long time ago when I was in elementary school.

    1. Hey buddy - at least you learned about him once. We don't get to hear about such stories in Canada - at least not when I grew up... but with the Internet... kids hear about a lot of interesting things. Thanks for reading!!!