Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Obscurity of the Day: Little Jap It
In the formative years of newspaper comics, when every stereotype in the racist book was gleefully being used on comics pages, Asian-Americans didn't get a lot of that treatment. When they did appear, of course, they were stereotyped just as shockingly, if not more so, than other groups. However, I think that in the eastern part of the country, where most comic strips were produced, their presence was not nearly as pronounced compared to other races and nationalities, and so the cartoonists didn't think to make them a target very often.
Asians were less visible because they generally preferred to form their own separate and insular communities, or felt unsafe doing otherwise, in those days. They were known as Chinatowns, and the typical whitebread folks only saw them when they visited to enjoy a chow mein dinner or buy some fireworks.
Here, though, is an example of a strip with an Asian star. The gag here is mainly that the kid's name is 'It' -- a gag based on the idea that Asians have really weird-sounding names. The gag is thin, but reasonably well-executed by John F. Hart, who did the strip for just a handful of episodes that appeared in the Philadelphia North American from March 20 to April 24 1904. As far as I can determine, though, 'It' is not a conventional Japanese name, though I suppose that's nitpicking.
Hart was primarily a puzzle feature maker for the North American, but occasionally jumped onto the regular comics pages. He's got a great style, I think, and it would have been great to see more of him there.
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!
The name "It" isn't so much a poor grasp of what oriental-sounding names might be, but rather the "It" of kid games like Tag; when you're "It", you're the one that gets chased.
The only reason this one appeared at that time must be because of the Russo-Japanese war, which the newspapers reveled in for months."Port Arthur" must have been the most talked about place on Earth in 1904.