Magazine article America in WWII

Tokio Kid Say

Magazine article America in WWII

Tokio Kid Say

Article excerpt

A former Disney artist created the buck-toothed Tokio Kid. But this was no cartoon for kids. And what he said were fighting words.

The Tokio Kid was in America's war factories, and he had a message for the workers. Fangs and buck teeth protruded from his hungry, drooling mouth, framed by a wispy mustache. Squinty eyes peered through thick, outsize spectacles, on a pointy head topped by a military cap showing Japan's rising sun. One hand clenched a swastikaemblazoned sack and a bloody dagger. The other picked up cast-off rivets in clawed fingers. The diabolical figure's message was one of gratitude: "Tokio Kid Say--Soooo happy please--to saboteurs who wasting rivets. Thank you."

Of course, the cartoon's real message was a call for US war workers to work harder, avoid waste, and thereby help beat the Axis powers. Tokio Kid was part of wartime America's all-out scramble to arm, equip, and feed the fighting men of the United States and its allies in the battle against Axis oppression. And his tactics seemed to work.

Birth of a Poster Icon

Scarcely six months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II, Time magazine took note of a cultural phenomenon. "Little Japs are infiltrating U.S. factories, beaming and slavering with wicked satisfaction but doing no good to Japan," the June 15, 1942, issue revealed. "They are all versions of one 8c the same little Jap, Douglas Aircraft Co's gargoyle-like cartoon character." That cartoon character was Tokio Kid.

Created by Douglas Aircraft artists Jack Campbell and Harry Bailey, Tokio Kid appeared on motivational posters wherever Americans worked to make weapons and supplies for victory in the war. Campbell, who was solely responsible for the cartoon by the time the article appeared in Time, had a history of lending his artistic talent to the military, having served in the 40th Engineering Camouflage Division during World War I. He had worked for Walt Disney Productions before moving to Douglas.

No one ever suggested that Tokio Kid resembled a real person. Realism wasn't Campbell's intention. The kid was a deliberate caricature designed, as Time put it, to help "reduce tool breakage and waste" at Douglas Aircraft. "No other wartime industrial poster has caught on like the Kid," said Time. Douglas officials claimed, "The Kid is responsible for a reduced ratio of waste and for redoubled suggestions from employees," behaviors crucial to keeping war production on target.

Tokio Kid quickly took on a life of his own, showing up on posters far beyond the walls of Douglas factories. The company distributed copies of two Tokio Kid posters to 7,000 of its suppliers. Other companies soon sought out posters for use in their own factories, including Vultee Aircraft, Diamond Tool, Chrysler, Remington Rand, Westinghouse, Western Electric, and Carnegie-Illinois Steel.

Even Uncle Sam partnered with Tokio Kid. The federal War Production Board assisted in expanding the poster campaign across the nation's industrial sector. The US Treasury Department recruited the kid to sell war bonds, and the Office of War Information (OWI) came calling, too. In 1944, Don Black, manager of the Douglas Aircraft News Bureau, received a request for posters from Jacques DunLany, the chief of the OWI's Division of Poster Clearance and Allocation. DunLany sent a letter thanking Black for the posters, noting, "Various people to whom I have shown these have evinced considerable interest in them."

Tokio Kid's Moment

Fighting World War II on America's industrial, agricultural, and financial fronts demanded creativity and resolve as vigorous as that on the battlefields. The goal was to produce abundant equipment, weapons, food, and supplies for the nation's soldiers, sailors, marines, and aviators. Civilians--from high government officials and corporate executives down to the men and women on the factory floor--met this challenge, surpassing expectations and giving rise to an array of revolutionary innovations. …

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