Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends ‘They Called Us Enemy’, out now from Top Shelf Productions and IDW Publishing.

Cover to ‘They Called Us Enemy’. Art: Harmony Becker/Top Shelf Productions/IDW Publishing

by Arpad Okay. They Called Us Enemy is a story of devotion and growth. An atrocity as lived by a boy. The shadows cast on the life of a man. But mostly, it is family and strength. Framed in the political climate of its time and ours and delicately illustrated. It’s heartfelt, important, and real.

One America, the classic model, is a room full of faceless white men committing crimes against humanity. One America is the American Dream of the modern world, a land where life and liberty are recognized as human rights, carried into this world not by bureaucrats but by communities. They Called Us Enemy, and George Takei himself, is the American dream triumphant.

With a suitcase and his family. Still young enough to believe in Santa Claus. Over the years and miles, George was to wind up in one of the largest and most volatile internment camps in the country. It was a life of monotony, isolation, and discomfort, where dignity and freedom find themselves at odds.

They Called Us Enemy is a serious book about the dangers of power and the strength of devotion. The story Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott have written is filled with the real suffering Japanese and Japanese Americans underwent (and musings on its reflection in contemporary acts of American oppression). Yet it’s shot through with joy, with love, a little solemn reverence. Takei is an optimist and it makes the pages cry life even when we are lost.

He was one of hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans to have their lives halted, reduced overnight to what they could carry. Everything else was taken by the state and sold. Past liquidated. Placed by soldiers on a train, in the stables at a racetrack, at a camp behind three lines of barbed wire and guarded by tanks. In a single room for five, on a block with hundreds, in a camp of thousands.

Something happens and now every single person of a targeted culture has to worry: what does this mean for my family? There is life in They Called Us Enemy, hope and romance, and it is embodied by Daddy and Mama. Their devotion makes them heroes of the story and of the times. America took everything and locked them up. The way out, to prove loyalty, was to enlist in the fight against Japan. The wear the uniform of those who put you in prison. In Takei’s family, the devotion was to George, Henry, and Nancy Reiko. That made for a hard road to a truly great life.

Harmony Becker brings all this across with open, versatile, monochrome artwork. The detailed world where genuine facial expressions are still given top priority warrants comparison to Carla Speed McNeil. The work of Keiji Nakazawa also reminds me of Becker, who can express gravitas through almost childish cartoonishness, and a little touch of Go Nagai on the shading. They Called Us Enemy feels strongly like a manga but reads as the highbrow OGN it is.

The perspective is fashioned by a filmmaker’s eye. During moments of intensity and anxiety, the view spins around the story on invisible lines. When the quiet comes, it comes with a steady visual beat. I was particularly struck by Becker’s beautiful use of many, many kinds of toner dots and patterns to shade the book. Her already lyrical, broad line art is made even more gestural without compromising clarity. It is a rich, intellectually complex vision where the truth is paramount.

Takei tells us surviving fascism takes strength. Smile, smolder, burn your spirit bright as your resolve. He came out of the camps resolved to combine the two great strengths of his youth that got him through: The love he got his family and the conviction that every human being is worth defending. His grace behind the fence was art. His life became using art to touch people’s hearts, to speak to them of truth, of dignity and family, to push them to dream.

Top Shelf Productions / IDW Publishing / $19.99

Written by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott.

Illustrated by Harmony Becker.

Lettered by Gilberto Lazcano.

Edited by Leigh Walton.

Below is a 3-page preview of ‘They Called Us Enemy’, courtesy of Top Shelf Productions and IDW Publishing:

More Required Reading…

Wroten zeroes in on the struggle for and with maturity in ‘Cannonball’

Hanawalt’s ‘Coyote Doggirl’ is joyously absurd and rich as rustic cooking

‘Mirror: The Nest’ concludes a sprawling epic of violence and passion and ascension

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