Assistant Professor Laura Lee received an Association for Asian Studies Northeast Asia Council Japan Studies Grant to conduct research on early Japanese comic books, known as akahon manga, at the University of Maryland’s Gordon W. Prange Collection. The Gordon W. Prange Collection is the most comprehensive archive in the world of print publications issued in Japan during the first four years of the Allied Occupation, 1945-1949. Originally file copies of the Civil Censorship Detachment (CCD), an operating unit of Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP), the materials in the Collection are an invaluable source of cultural history and an origin point for postwar popular culture, filling a gap in the documentation of a pivotal period in Japanese history.
The Collection comprises nearly everything published in Japan during this period, including magazines, newspapers, photographs, posters, and ephemera. Among its holdings, the Collection houses the world’s largest collection of akahon manga. The production of postwar akahon coincided almost precisely with the Occupation. As a result, the akahon examples that are preserved at the Prange Collection are representative of akahon produced (and consumed) during the height of akahon’s popularity. Close analysis of akahon maintained in the Prange Collection thus provides a rare glimpse into a crucial strand of Japanese visual culture that has been largely lost to manga history and, more broadly, Japanese cultural history. As such, Dr. Lee’s research in this archive dovetails with the increased, widespread interest shown in the history of popular cultural forms. It is critical for understanding the roots of manga (and, later, anime), which is the most significant Japanese popular form of the past half-century, as well as an increasingly important global form of culture.