Today the term "Oriental" conjures up a colonialist Victorian past where everything south of Gibraltar and west of Trieste was considered the exotic East, filled with mysterious religions, strange food, and teeming millions of inscrutable Asians who were either a threat to be feared or a market to be exploited, or both. After a hundred years and a few world wars we in the West began to soften our Orientialist views, thanks to cultural imports like neon-lit, dragon-infested Chinese restaurants, the whole colorful and possibly bogus Trader Vic/Tiki Bar fad, and Bruce Lee as "Kato" on the "Green Hornet" TV show. "Oriental" now meant charming, kitschy fashions, cheap ethnic food, and martial arts films in which highly trained men and women, using only their bare hands, can make some of the worst movies in the world. I think that's a Dave Barry joke I just stole. Anyway, "oriental" became a cultural signifier in comic books as well, as we'll see here!
You can almost hear that "Oriental riff" music cue playing in the background as Betty and Veronica show off their "oriental-type swim suits." We are a long way from modern-era Jughead comics in which Jughead proudly attends meetings of his local anime club, aren't we?
Those "oriental bathing caps" will come in handy when Archie and Reggie are drafted, sent to Vietnam, and told to infiltrate that VC bunker while on a clandestine "search and destroy" mission deep in Lao Cai province. Meanwhile Midge is bringing the only two menu items the writer could read off the take-out menu thumbtacked to the wall of his studio.
Meanwhile, always two steps ahead, Jughead drops a TRUTH BOMB about the Asian origin of ceramics and the cultural cross-pollination that exists and has existed for millenia between East and West, while apparently drinking soda in a coffee cup, dispensed from a coffee urn. That Jughead. But Archie comics weren't the only comics to take a hard look at the East and its potential impact on our comics starring teenagers in bathing outfits. No sir.
Bob Powell was a long way from being a teenager when he drew Henry Brewster comics, but he knew enough to keep 'em on the beach. Also he knew to tell the letterer to "use that Chinese restaurant font", the one we still see used today in defiance of all wisdom and common sense.
Let's see... short... loud floral print shirt... buzz cut... speech dialogue in "Chinese restaurant font"... annoying... it must be Asian Man 1966!
Speaking his pidgin English, this Korean prankster named after a Japanese dish - surely the writers were commenting on the complex cultural and political history of Japan and Korea? No? - this Korean prankster will surely be a white teen's burden for Henry Brewster.
Look out for those Orientals, kids, they will give you crabs. That's why your medical officer wants all of you to visit the prophylactic stations after your visits to town. That's an order, private.
Hey, looks like our teenage friends, while annoyed at their new Asian chum, aren't ready to let George The Bully harrass him, and here we see a touching scene of the beginnings of friendship between East and West, derailed completely by talk of the "dink race." Sure, okay, this might have been before "dink" was an ethnic slur. Maybe.
Henry and Soo Kee crew together on the big sailboat race, and Henry's not happy about it, but as we learn time and time again when dealing with the impenetrable mysteries of the East, usually the Asian character has a trick up his or her brightly printed sleeve.
Hey, I bet you thought we were going to get through this story without anybody making up their own fake "Oriental" alphabet, didn't you? I know I did. Oyes hello.
Striking from behind, the cunning hand of the Asian delivers secret attacks using all the sinister martial-arts wisdom of the ancient East! Also a paper clip.
Cheaters never win, of course, and it's back to beach blanket bingo for Henry and his chums, their frugging and watsusiing given extra energy by the stirring victory. Also probably some beer, but we won't discuss that in a Code-approved comic book.
And we end with Soo Kee Yaki living out his lifelong dream of being tied up by two busty Western bikini teens. Wait, what?
But practical jokes and complex bondage scenarios aren't the only things we expect from Asia. No, we also expect bare-handed fistic wizardry as the mystic martial arts of the Orient slowly reveal themselves to our astonished Western eyes. Can the human hand really be used as a knife? And can we ourselves learn these secret ninja death touch techniques? Sure we can.
This "Yubiwaza" ad enthralled and dazzled comic book readers throughout the 1960s, right as karate, judo, and other disciplines were starting to take root in the West. But "Yubiwaza" must be one of the best, because after all, the Yubiwaza Master survives the mean streets of New York City!
This right here is proof that those cheesy "looking for a pretty Japanese wife who can paralyze a 200 pound attacker with just a finger" t-shirts really do work!
Research has shown that the true author of "Yubiwaza" martial arts finger techniques was, in fact, pretty Japanese wife Yoshie Imanami, seen here demonstrating her devastating and possibly totally useless self defense skills in these images from the actual "Yubiwaza" book, provided by forum user "CapnMunchh" of Virginia.
As the years flew by we realized that perhaps the term "Oriental" was a hoary cliche, a holdover from an age of imperialism and exploitation that reduced half the globe and countless different cultures, peoples, and languages to nothing more than a tacky typeface, a conical hat, and a sugary plate of rice, indifferently breaded chicken and unidentified overcooked vegetables. And yet even through the 1970s and a new global pop-culture landscape where East and West met to sell each other outer space movies, "Oriental" still lived on.
Here we see Luke Skywalker, star of Star Wars, being drawn by Japanese manga master Go "Devilman" Nagai (okay, not gonna lie, might be some Ken Ishikawa in there) in a series of sketches produced for Marvel Comics' house magazine FOOM - a triple threat of bajillion dollar properties that today would cause nerd heads to explode around the world, yet at the time was merely a tossed-off page filler wasting ink in the last issue of a dying industry publication.
Today Hollywood banks on opening movies in China, Japanese anime films get Oscar nominations, and teens think nothing of festooning their iPhone cases with cutesy Korean cartoon animals while chowing down on Bahn Mi at the mall. Have we buried exotic Asian Orientalism once and for all? Or are there always deeper mysteries waiting for us in the East? One thing's for sure. If it involves food, cartoons, or people hitting each other in the face, Americans will be all over it.
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