Jack Matsuoka

Jack Matsuoka (1925-2013) was a Nisei cartoonist whose drawings of camp life have helped educate the public about the Japanese American internment experience.

Community activist Edison Uno wrote, “Behind the comic laughter of each cartoon is a genuine story of Americans living under adverse conditions, without guilt, attempting to survive by living each day as best they knew how. Between the laughter and the sadness of these cartoons … you will be exposed and educated to a whole new segment of history … a terrible mistake of a kind that must never recur.”

Born on Nov. 6, 1925, Matsuoka grew up in Watsonville. Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, his father — like many Issei community leaders — was picked up by the FBI. Matsuoka spent his late teen years behind barbed wire, first at the Salinas Assembly Center and then Poston.

He later relocated to Ohio, where he spent one semester at the Cleveland School of Fine Arts before being drafted into the Army. After serving as an interpreter for the Army’s Military Intelligence Service in occupied Japan, he attended Hartnell College in Salinas and then transferred to Keio University and later Sophia University, both in Tokyo.

Upon returning to the U.S. and working for Marubeni, an import-export business, he drew cartoons on the side for the Cal Bears and The Berkeley Gazette. In 1969, he took the big step of becoming a freelance cartoonist. “With cartooning as my whole source of income, it was difficult, but I managed to get by,” he recalled.

In addition to doing PR work for a bank and doing exhibitions and demonstrations at Obon festivals throughout the state, he was the editorial cartoonist for The Pacifica Tribune (1974-2000) and worked for the San Francisco Examiner, San Mateo Times and San Jose Mercury News, then became a regular cartoonist for The Hokubei Mainichi in San Francisco. Being bilingual, he did illustrations for both the English and Japanese sections of the newspaper.

Read more about Jack Matsuoka at "The Rafu Shimpo"