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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Collecting Comic Books In An Internment Camp

People often ask me why I collected comics and even why I still enjoy them.

It's simple enough really.

It was pure escapism. It still is... 15 minutes at a time.

I have a 30,000+ collection of comics books. Everyone says "sell it!" in order to make money, not realizing how stupid they (the people) are.

Number one: selling a collection like mine is not easy. It's not like I have the golden geese of Detective #27 (first Batman) or Action Comics #1 (first Superman). I'm not old enough to have bought those books when they first came out, and I'm not rich enough or lucky enough to have got my hands on those books.

What I have, are 30,000 ways for me to escape into a fantasy world most people on the planet will never experience.

They give me joy. They make me think. They are the reason I am a writer. They are why I am who I am.

People don't get that.

It's not about being picked on and wishing I was Batman.

I've never dressed up as a superhero... never worn a cape for Halloween. Hells, I never thought about being a writer or writing comic books. I sure as heck could never draw.

To me, it was like a soap opera... a monthly chance to peek into the lives of Peter Parker and Mary Jane... or Mar-Vell and his battle against cancer... or the love affair between Abby and Swamp Thing, daredevil and Elektra... or the pure adventure and comedy of pantless Donald Duck and his rich Uncle Scrooge. 

Number two: People don't seem to want 30,000+ comic books when you are trying to sell them.

Number three: Selling 30,000+ comic books on E-Bay is a long, drawn-out premise, and to be honest, I don't have the time to do that. Besides... people just want the few really good ones you have at a price they consider a bargain.

Number four: I never bought comic books because I was going to sell them in the future to get rich. I bought them because I liked to read... I read over 50 Hardy Boy books, 100s of Big Little Books, the daily newspaper, magazines, books and books and books... and never was truly interested in the stuff schools were trying to make me read. But I read them.

Right now, I'm reading the latest issue of The Hockey News magazine, a I Am Canada scholastic history book on the lost Franklin Expedition and several issue of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.

I'm working on these daily Japanese blogs, and doing research on an aviation blog, writing for work... and coaching baseball many nights a week.

I have the freedom to do what I want, while being responsible for the upbringing of my own son and dozens of other youth.

And then I came across a website - sent my way by my friend Vinnie, whom I know through this blog... a guy far more interesting than myself in my opinion... about a young girl who collected comic books during WWII... which sort of puts things into even better perspective for myself.

I don't know who the young girl was... but I do know that she was an American girl of Japanese descent.

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor back in December of 1941 and the United States of America entered the war, its racist government decided it would be a great idea to round up all peoples of Japanese descent living in the US, and take them away from their homes, jobs and towns... and essentially imprison them in Internment Camps scattered around the country.

Placed in what was essentially a prison, and denied the essential freedoms guaranteed by its Constitution, these Americans of Japanese descent were treated as though they were the enemy.

So... faced with the harsh reality of being imprisoned in an Internment Camp, this one American girl escaped her day-to-day world by entering the world of comic books.

I don't know how she got them, or how she kept them in such fine shape, but gather a fine collection of comic books published between 1942-45 she did.

Know as the Okajima Collection - because I suppose her last name was Okajima - her collection of comic books one day became one of the top collections of comic books ever collected.

The books are renowned for their page whiteness - perhaps due to the fact that she lived in California...

The books were read, collected and stored away... eventually forgotten by her, her family... until she passed away and the books were sold at an estate sale, purchased by three individual collectors, who sold the books piecemeal.

The young girl carefully signed her family name "Okajima" in pencil on the cover of every comic she owned... which is how one can now identify the books' pedigree.

Now... the young girl's collection is interesting for two reasons:

1) It provided her with an avenue of escapism while in the internment camp;
2) I wonder how she got her hands on these books in the first place;
3) She didn't appear to share her collection with any other boys or girls who were in the internment camp.

We know of the latter, because if she did, the books would have been folded or dogeared and there wouldn't have been such a complete collection of books.

So, along with who Okajima really was, and discovering what the comic books really meant to her, and how she got the books - traded with soldiers, maybe? - I am left wondering WHY she didn't share her treasures with other kids who could have used a momentary escape from the prison system that was the United States for Japanese nationals.

As a personal aside... when I called a dealer to discuss selling my collection... I felt like I had stabbed myself in my very soul... I felt... lost.

Andrew Joseph

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