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This is the eightieth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous seventy-nine. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Milton Caniff produced a comic book for the US Army titled “How to Spot a Jap.”
Milton Caniff is one of the most popular comic strip creators of all time, mostly due to the huge success of his comic strip, Terry and the Pirates, which he worked on from 1934-1946.
After he left Terry, Caniff was one of the very few comic strip creators to create a SECOND successful comic strip, this time wholly owned by Caniff himself, Steve Canyon, which he would work on for the next four decades, until his death in 1988.
While working on Terry, though, in 1942, Caniff (who always had a strong connection to the military throughout his career, even doing a second comic strip for the military only during World War II) produced a comic book insert on the behalf of the United States Army that would accompany troops bound for the Pacific Theater. The insert was part of a larger book that was titled “Pocket Guide to China,” and Caniff’s 11 page insert was devoted to “educating” the troops on the differences between the Chinese (the “good guys”) and the Japanese (the “bad guys”).
The insert had the unfortunate title: How to Spot a Jap.
Noted comic historian Ethan Persoff provides the scans of the comic I am using.
The book starred Terry and his friends as they explained to the reader the differences between the Chinese and the Japanese, and the lessons are fairly grim, in retrospect.
Here is an example (you can visit Persoff’s site to see a full version of the comic):
Not exactly our finest hour, in terms of cultural sensitivity, but certainly not one we can pin on Caniff, especially when Life Magazine, the previous year, was running articles like the following (click article to enlarge):
The inserts were removed from the pocket guides a few years later.
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