A Morrie Kuramoto Anecdote

By | Wednesday, April 22, 2020 Leave a Comment
Marvel Bullpen circa late 1940s
I've relayed this story before, but given the harassment many Asians and Asian-Americans seem to be facing these days, I think it's worth repeating. Mamoru “Morrie” Kuramoto worked at Timely Comics as a letterer and production artist until 1957. He returned to the publisher (now called Marvel Comics) in the late 1960s where he continued until his death in 1985. I'm liberally swiping the rest of today's post (and this accompanying image) from Marvel Comics: The Untold Story Facebook page...

Rick Parker recalled: "'December 7th, 1941....a date that will live in infamy...' ...I remember that every December 7th, we would mercilessly tease the one Japanese co-worker we had in the Marvel Bullpen, a fellow by the name of Morrie Kuramoto. Cartoonist Marie Severin would annually do a hilarious cartoon of Morrie engaged in some type of war-like situation and we'd all gather 'round his desk when she presented the cartoon to him and we'd all have a good laugh... everyone, that is, except Morrie, who managed a tight-lipped smile or took a long drag on the Chesterfield King that hung permanently from his lips, making him look like some character in a B movie. One year, though, when Marie had him piloting a plane and dropping bombs on the Empire State Building, he just couldn't take it anymore. That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. This time instead of bombs exploding, or peals of laughter bursting forth from the assembled multitude, it was Morrie who exploded. He really let us have it. We learned a lot that day. We learned that following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, as a young man, Morrie and his parents and sister were rounded up by the U.S. government and locked up in a prison camp in Arizona. We learned that his family's house and property were confiscated. And this was all done to protect them from possible repercussions to the attack on Pearl Harbor -- or in case they were thinking of sabotage. Morrie was born in the U.S.A. He was an American citizen. Morrie did manage to escape from the camp by serving honorably with the United States Military in WWII. We learned that there is often more to that co-worker sitting quietly in the corner doing his job, than we thought. We also learned that freedom is not something we can take for granted, even in America. Morrie had a heart attack and died on the subway on his way to work one morning. I heard it said that his old black raincoat hung in the closet in the back of the Marvel Bullpen for many years after he died. I wonder if the person who eventually took it out and disposed of it realized to what kind of person it had belonged."

For some additional context on how Japanese-Americans were treated in the period shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, please check out They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott. The book is very moving and provides a first-hand account of Takei's time in a US-run concentration camp for people of Japanese descent, regardless of their citizenship status.
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