Magazine article History Today

Banzai! Cartoons of the Great East Asia War: Mark Bryant Looks at the Cartoons Published in Imperial Japan during the Second World War

Magazine article History Today

Banzai! Cartoons of the Great East Asia War: Mark Bryant Looks at the Cartoons Published in Imperial Japan during the Second World War

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In Britain we are accustomed to seeing the Second World War through the eyes of the victorious Allies, especially the English-speaking ones such as Britain, Australia and the USA. This also applies to political cartoons and caricature, with drawings by artists ranging from David Low, Vicky (Victor Weisz), Leslie Illingworth, Philip Zec and Sidney Strube to Arthur Szyk, Bill Mauldin, Vaughn Shoemaker, Daniel Fitzpatrick and H.B. ('Mick') Armstrong. However, it should not be forgotten that the Axis powers had their own share of talent and notable among these were the Japanese, for whom the conflict was known as the Great East Asia War. Though the modern art of manga comic books and anime films is very much a postwar phenomenon, many of their early exponents drew their inspiration from wartime political cartoonists such as Saseo Ono, Etsuri Kato, Yukio Sugiura and others. But one artist whose name stands out above the rest, and who has even had an entire museum devoted to his work, is Hidezo Kondo (1908-79).

Hidezo Kondo was born in Koshoku, Nagano Prefecture, eighty miles northwest of Tokyo, on February 15th, 1908, the son of a haberdasher. At the age of fifteen he went to Tokyo and began work as a salesman in a department store. He also began to study art under the illustrator Ippei Okamoto and in the late 1920s began to contribute drawings to Tokyo Puck, the first Japanese magazine devoted to political and humorous cartoons. (Originally founded in 1905 by Rakuten Kitazawa, it was then edited by Kenichiro Shimada and had captions in Chinese, Japanese and English.) By 1929 Kondo was also drawing for Manga Man (closed down by the Japanese government in 1931) and in 1932 he and seventeen other young artists formed the independent and non-political Shin Mangaha Shudan (New School Cartoonists' Group), specialising in simple joke (or, as they were known in Japan, nansensu or 'nonsense') cartoons. Then in 1933 Kondo began to contribute to the Yomiuri Shimbun--one of Japan's leading daily papers with a circulation of more than a million copies--a relationship that lasted until his death more than forty years later.

In the summer of 1940 the 'New Order' for Asia began in Japan--reflecting those imposed by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in Europe. Under its ruling all of Japan's cartoonists' organizations--including the New School Cartoonists' Group--were merged into the government-approved Shin Nihon Mangaka Kyokai (New Japan Cartoonists' Association). Soon afterwards Kondo was asked to edit a new monthly satirical cartoon magazine--called simply Manga (Cartoon)--which would publish the group's work with the support of the official Propaganda Bureau. As well as editing and writing articles for the magazine, Kondo himself drew many double-page centre-spread cartoons and most of the colour covers, including the one for the very first issue, October 1940. This featured the Axis foreign ministers Ribbentrop, Matsuoka and Ciano raising their glasses in a toast to celebrate the recent signing of the Tripartite Pact against the Allies. The cover also carried the strapline: 'A New National Magazine for the New Order'.

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When Japan entered the Second World War in December 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Kondo's work became increasingly aggressive towards the Allied leaders, especially Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek of China (with which Japan had been at war since 1937). One notable example from 1943 depicted Roosevelt as a gruesome, green-faced, Dracula-fanged monster, while another had Roosevelt and Churchill in tears. …

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