Saturday, March 19, 2011

Portrait: Jack Matsuoka

Last week I photographed Jack Matsuoka at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. I briefly met Jack last October at the grand opening of the JAMsj where he was signing copies of his book Poston Camp II: Block 211. Jack was a professional newspaper cartoonist and caricaturist. His book is a wonderful retelling of his memories of living in the Poston internment camp, and told through his great illustrations. Although I have very little skill at drawing and painting, I've always enjoyed the process of drawing and reading editorial cartoons in the newspapers, so I knew that some day I would have to photograph Jack's portrait.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

Jack was a teenager when Executive Order 9066 forced his family to leave their home in Watsonville, CA and report to the Salinas Assembly Center. Like most of the Japanese-Americans from the Watsonville area, his family was eventually interned in the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona, where he began creating the illustrations that would eventually lead to his book. After WWII, Jack attended art school, then got drafted into the U.S. Army. Since he had some familiarity with the Japanese language, he was sent to language school, then stationed back in Japan where he worked in intelligence. After his stint the Army, Jack lived in Japan and worked for various major newspapers as a cartoonist. I was surprised to learn that Jack spent many years as a sports cartoonist for Japan Times and various Japanese sports magazines. Apparently sports cartooning was very popular in Japan. He also published his first books of cartoons Rice-Paddy Daddy. He is a member of the National Cartoonist Society.

After I had time to record some audio interviews with Jack, I asked him to autograph my copy of his book. In addition to his autograph, he also draw the following caricature of me photographing him.

(Caricature by Jack Matsuoka)

After we finished taking photographs, Jack told me more about his memories of internment and his how he became a cartoonist. He remembers when the Japanese-American students had to leave school after the beginning of the war, and he remembers the Watsonville school teachers telling them that they will be back in a few months (LISTEN). His family had to sell off their property, and his mom had to abandon the mid-wife clinic that she was working on building in Watsonville (LISTEN). His family was first sent to the Salinas Assembly Center, which was actually the Salinas County Fairgrounds. He told me about the latrines, and how his family were considered "city folk" (LISTEN). After the long train journey to the Poston War Relocation Center (LISTEN), he said there were many sports programs for the children (LISTEN). He also remembers how the children would collect live rattlesnakes and keep them in cages next to the barracks (LISTEN). One time he was coming down with a fever, so one of the older Japanese ladies took a live carp, slit its throat and told Jack to drink it's blood. Jack quickly recovered from the fever, but for the next year his doctor told him there was something strange about his blood (LISTEN).

Jack's career as a cartoonist took him from Poston, Arizona, to Japan, and back to the United States. Soon after he began attending the Cleveland School of Fine Arts, he was immediately drafted into the Army, where he ended up in the M.I.S., and was then assigned to Japan (LISTEN). While in Japan he was the only bi-lingual cartoonist for some major newspapers, where he specialized in sports cartooning (LISTEN).

For more information about Jack's career, I also found the following interesting articles:

You can also read the TRANSCRIPT of the above interviews. 

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