The Real-Life Heroes at SDCC And The Real Reason For Sgt. Rock – The Lost Battalion
As we’re all terribly aware, Comic Con International completely sold out of all its passes online weeks before opening to a record-breaking 125,000 attendees. Man, that sure is a long way from the first Comic-Con in 1970 that gathered about 140 attendees. I hate to state the obvious, but it’s my first column since the show and wanted to throw my two cents in, plus it leads into my article…This year, amid the previews, non-stop parade of costumed characters and the never ending fawning of “stars,” Comic-Con entertained some very special attendees -- the real-life Heroes of World War II.
Three extraordinary men of the US Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team quietly made their presence at the show -- Medal of Honor recipient George “Joe” Sakato (E Company), David Katagiri (F Company) and Jim Yamashita (I Company).The 442nd was made of Japanese American soldiers, who were heinously labeled “4C -- Enemy Alien” by their country in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attacks. Every one of the “Nisei” volunteered to fight for another’s freedom in Europe and Asia while their families, under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, were stripped of their homes and businesses and incarcerated behind barbed wire in “internment camps.” Their attending the Con was possible due to the essential assistance of the Japanese American Living Legacy’s Susan Uyemura and Leslie Sakato (daughter of Mr. Sakato). Through my contact with another 442nd veteran, Terry Shima, I was able to get in touch with Ms. Uyemura and told them that I was is in the process of writing and drawing “Sgt. Rock – The Lost Battalion” for DC Comics. I explained to her that it was dedicated to the 275 trapped men of the 141st Infantry Regiment who fought off a German Army ten times their size and the 442nd soldiers sent on the suicide mission to rescue them. Well, thankfully, Ms. Uyemura loved the idea of a comic book based on the battle of the Lost Battalion, and introduced me to several veterans. Well, flash forward a month or two later and hot damn for the life of me I still couldn’t believe that Mr. Sakato and Mr. Yamashita were standing in my booth at this year’s SDCC. They cheerfully talked to and signed autographs for several stunned comic fans (as no one knew they were coming) who got a chance to meet these heroes. I got a real kick out of seeing The Philadelphia Daily News’ Jerome Maida’s jaw drop upon noticing the Medal of Honor around Mr. Sakato’s neck – I can understand – who wouldn’t be awestruck that a true MOH recipient was an attendee at Comic-Con? These incredible men, along Susan, Leslie and the Hon. Bryan Yagi, joined me, my wife Deborah, Jerome, JC Vaughn and Scoops! Michael Solof (who took the photographs) at Tabule restaurant for an unforgettable dinner afterwards. Judge Yagi, an avid Comic-Con alumnus himself, commented that this was truly a special experience citing, he felt like a “little kid” around these men. Yagi’s uncle, the late Tom Yagi, was a medic assigned to the second platoon of L Company, 442nd RCT. For Judge Yagi, Comic-Con was a chance to combine his two passions: comic books and his new found admiration of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. I have to thank Dan DiDio and Paul Levitz for taking the chance on me to bring back Rock as I wouldn’t have met any of these wonderful people. But the event was made extra special as my college buddy, USMC Captain Paul Krumenacker, having just returned from his 3rd Tour of Duty in Iraq joined us. It was really interesting to see these men, separated by generations and lifestyles joined by a common bond that so few can ever share. They have seen the worst of humanity up close and personal and have all placed their lives on the line for their brothers. It was truly a joy to watch them interact. The owners and staff at Tabule really went out of their way for all four of these heroes as they offered on-the-house drinks and desserts to match the excellent food, service and atmosphere. To be befriended by these brave and amazingly humble warriors of yesterday and today is an honor for me that no words can express. Many of the patrons (apparently some big-wig guests of the con) also paid their respects and that just added to an incredible evening of food and drink -- we had so much fun that we ended up closing down the place! Mr. Yamashita probably said it best as to why the vets kept on going all through the night, “When I got home from the war, I not only had one life to live, but three or four lives for my friends who never made it back.”
It must be noted that despite fighting not only the enemy, but also malicious prejudice from their own countrymen, the 100th/442nd remains the most decorated single unit in US military history, with 680 paying the ultimate sacrifice while another 67 remaining missing to this day. I will cover this unit and their legacy in full detail in an upcoming “Tour of Duty.”Jimmy also told me that he had “never experienced anything similar to Comic-Con and felt this was a great opportunity to expose a new and different group of people to the 442nd history.” It is in Jimmy’s words (yes, I can call him “Jimmy,” now!) that the real reasons for producing Sgt. Rock lie. The evening before, my wife Deborah and I had a wonderful (and quiet!) dinner with Sgt. Rock editor Michael Marts. We discussed all things Rock, The Haunted Tank, Johnny Cloud” and war comics in general, but kept going back to those classic books’ true inspiration… the soldiers themselves. It was at this dinner that we came to the conclusion that this series isn’t just about action, or Tiger Tanks, or Thunderbolts, or snipers, artillery and asshole generals – though there’s plenty of that and then some… But rather, The Lost Battalion is about something much bigger than any battle -- it is about the men who unfortunately got the call to fight them. For almost a year now, I have been diligently researching the American (and German) soldier of World War 2. I have traveled to France, twice – in October, to the beaches and towns of Normandy, and then in March to the unforgiving forests of the Vosges Mountains, near the German border to walk the actual fields of battle. These hallowed grounds, now silent, still whispers of ghosts. Even more so than the American cemeteries nearby – I don’t know if I’m coming off as a complete loon, but I swear, you can just feel the energy, and dare I say, the pain. I must admit that though Mike, Deb and I all agreed that this book must be about the men, I already knew it. It was these men, now in their 80s and 90s whom I was writing the issues for, as I want everyone to know what feats they did and what sacrifices they endured for us. So I made it my mission to meet and befriend as many veterans, their families and other historians as possible. I’ve had the privilege to literally live with French historians Hervé Claudon and Gerome Villain when I went to the Vosges and am determined to portray history as accurately as possible with this book – while making it entertaining as well. HFH “Tour of Duty” will run every Tuesday in Newsarama starting next week. We will cover and interview various people associated with the project. From veterans to artists and historians, we will walk you through the process of bringing Sgt. Rock back in a way that not only honors the men whom he is based on, but his creators as well. All of us on “Team Rock” hope to educate the public on the experiences of “the greatest generation” and I truly feel in my heart that this comic book series can serve as a bridge that spans generations, and brings attention to a true story of heroism, humanity and sacrifice. Heck, I think I’ve convinced Jimmy that it can, as he hopes to bring in 30 442nd veterans to next year’s Con. Man, I would love comic fans to experience what I have and meet these giants who fought and defeated the forces of racism and tyranny -- both at home and abroad! Sgt. Rock – The Lost Battalion will debut November 2008 and I am psyched! I’m well on my way to completing the artwork for issue #2 and am planning to attend Diamond’s Retailer summit in Las Vegas September 8th and 9th to present artwork and talk up the project. I also hope to bring along some very special friends with me. Mr. Shima and several members of the 442nd RCT will also be special guests at this year’s Baltimore Comic Con (September 27th and 28th). I’d like to thank, Mike Marts, Tabule Restaurant, and DC Comics for a great week in San Diego. I also got a chance to hang out with Stan Lee! More SDCC notes… Dave Stevens My wife instructed me to leave the booth so she can finish setting up the tables for Preview Night, (I guess I can be a pain sometimes) so I decided to take a walk down towards the older area of the con (this has been our 15th year exhibiting) and reflect on “the good ole’ days.” I walked the aisles of the “A” hall and realized there wasn’t going to be a Bulldog Studios booth this year (was there?). Last year, Dave Stevens’ booth was there, but I believe because of his health, only tended it for a few hours on one of the days and I missed him. Though his very professional booth was sometimes lost in the shadows of the mega-movie/gaming/toy company monstrocites splayed throughout the area, it always stood head a shoulders above them. Dave’s passing has left a huge void in our industry and one we’ll never recover from. So this year’s “class act of the con” award must go to Grafitti Design’s Bob and Gina Chapman, who’s annual, Sunday night “Dead Dog” party was dedicated Dave, his work and his memory. Thanks Bob and Gina and we all miss you Dave. Michael Turner What else can I say about the untimely passing of my friend Mike Turner? Thankfully, much has been written and said already, and I wrote a thing or two myself online. But it still hurts to think of it and how unfair life can be to take from us such a wonderfully, generous soul. For both these men have been taken from us much too early, and the world is not better for it. “Just What We’re Fighting For” subject of the week Though I believe she’s been showcased in “Hellion For Hire” once before, I had to feature the very beautiful Megan Fox – who I’m now friends with -- okay, that’s a lie, but at this year’s San Diego, I was signing away and happened to look up to see Megan’s stunning blue eyes looking at my Shi lithographs. She then looked at me and smiled, before the two gorillas escorting her moved her on while a gaggle of fan boys followed. Though I’ll probably forget the episode, I know for her it was a very, very, special “shared moment” between us. The Comic-Con staff was really terrific, but if I had one gripe it would be for them to restructure the opening of the floor and panel schedule by allowing those with mobile disabilities to enter first. Many who utilize wheelchairs, crutches or walkers unfortunately found themselves out in the cold against the rampaging multitude of Orc-like attendees racing, pushing and killing anyone in their path on their quest to get that freebee or a glimpse of Jennifer Connelly. Combat Cover of the Month! Storming Paradise #2 by Butch Guice. Written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by the incomparable Mr. Guice and Eduardo Barreto, this brilliant “what if” tale of World War II and Operation Olympus explores the idea of failed atomic bombs and storming of Japan! Issue #2 is on the stands now from Wildstorm and I have to say it’s my favorite comic out there now! This series not only delivers stellar artwork, writing and characterization, but is also gets into the mindset of the “other side” – the Japanese desperately trying to save their culture from annihilation. Great, GREAT BOOK! Well, I must get back to the drawing board and I will see you all next week as Hellion For Hire – Tour of Duty returns with “Covering Rock!” Nous Restons Ici!