The Artist Talks New WWII Graphic Novel, Tokyo Rose
We are taught history in school which gives us snippets from different time periods, but the teacher rarely has time to go into all the details and nuances of those moments in history.
“I’ve focused on the story in the past. Many of my historical graphic novels range from Florida pioneers to Holocaust survivors. One was historical fiction and the other was more part of the story. It is comprehensive and to the letter documentation that is largely based on factual research.
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“Tokyo Rose – Zero Hour” follows the true story of a Japanese American woman named Iva Toguri D’Aquino. D’Aquino, referred to in the graphic novel as simply Iva Toguri, was born and raised in California. Shortly before the United States became involved in World War II, she traveled to Japan to visit a relative. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she got stuck there and had to find work. This led her to work for Radio Tokyo where she became one of many women commonly referred to as Tokyo Rose, English-speaking radio presenters used as a propaganda tool.
Andre Frattino said he was always drawn to World War II history because of his grandfather’s involvement. “My grandfather was in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked. He then fought as a 1st Division Marine in Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Midway, and then he became an artist afterwards.
Growing up with her grandfather’s stories also meant watching a lot of WWII movies where sometimes you’d hear an actress recreate a Tokyo Rose radio show. “A lot of times in those movies, that was the only time you heard the enemy.”
As an adult, Frattino began to re-examine parts of World War II history. “In the history of the United States, we have a certain expectation of what we think of all those wars and what they looked like… I think WWII has so many nuances that we’re not taught in schools.”
“With ‘Tokyo Rose’ you can see behind the veil what Japanese life was like, what the expectations were, what they were trying to do in a way that we are not often told.”
Finding the true story of Iva Toguri D’Aquino proved to be a bit difficult. “There wasn’t a lot of material on Toguri. We had to rely a lot on finding independent publications, research papers, reviewing old documentation from earlier war documents, but a lot of it came from from having to find the story of Tokyo Rose more than the story of Iva Toguri. In many of these documentations, she was a footnote. She was not the only Tokyo Rose.
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Frattino was able to track down some books written about D’Aquino’s ordeal during the war and afterward when she was trying to return home. As he started working on “Tokyo Rose – Zero Hour”, he wanted to show who she was as a person, not just a cog in a propaganda machine.
“History glosses over the smaller names, but just because they’re smaller or less well-known doesn’t mean they’re any less important than the big names we know.”
Frattino said he was lucky to have such a great team to help tell this story. He and illustrator Kate Kasenow had been friends since he moved to Savannah in 2005. The two met in a class at Savannah College of Art and Design. “I was amazed by her art style. It was so unlike anything I had seen done. Kate has her own style which is very delicate and whimsical and also detailed and grounded.
“I think she brings the right amount of delicacy and impact that I think epitomizes Iva Toguri.”
Comics veteran Janice Chiang came on board as a letterer after Tuttle Publishing intervened. “The Kickstarter that raised the funds [to pay] Kate didn’t allocate the funds to me for Janice. It took Tuttle Publishing. They provided the balance we needed to get Janice on board.
For Frattino, it was a dream come true. Having Chiang on their team also meant having someone with experience fighting for Asian American rights. Chiang wrote about her experience as a Chinese-American in the foreword to “Tokyo Rose – Zero Hour”.
Even though they were born in different times and faced different issues, Chiang writes that she sees many similarities in their life journeys and hopes this graphic novel will create mutual understanding.
“Tokyo Rose – Zero Hour” was released on Tuesday. You can find copies at local bookstores and comic book stores in Savannah, but you also have the option of having your copy signed.
On Friday, the Book Lady Bookstore will host a free chat and book signing event with Frattino and Kasenow from 7-8 p.m.
The next day, Frattino and Kasenow will be at Neighborhood Comics, 1205 Bull Street, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for another meeting and signing. There will also be a book signing at Nerdheim, 106 East Broughton Street, from 3-5 p.m.