Saturday, May 28, 2022

Today in Comics History, May 28: Happy birthday, Morrie Kuramoto!

Born on this date in 1921: Mamoru "Morrie" Kuramoto, production artist and letterer at Timely and Marvel Comics.

from (left) Mighty Marvel Calendar 1980 (Marvel, 1979), and
Marvel Age #29 (Marvel, September 1985), text by Jim Salicrup, pencils and inks by Ron Zalme

Morrie "sleeping at his desk" was a running gag for the Bullpen. Here's a reference to it in an Assistant Editor's Month comic:

from Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man (1976 series) #86 (January 1984), script by Bill Mantlo, pencils and inks by by Al Milgrom, colors by Bob Sharen, letters b Joe Rosen

But Morrie appeared in person in Marvel Comics as well. Here, he joins the Bullpen gang checking out the washed-ashore Sub-Mariner:

from Sub-Mariner (1968 series) #19 (November 1969), script by Roy Thomas, pencils and colors by Marie Severin, inks by Johnny Craig, letters by Artie Simek

And the down-but-not out Iron Man — geez, izzat all the Bullpen did, gape at their fallen heroes?

from Iron Man #85 (April 1976), co-plot by Len Wein, co-plot and script by Roger Slifer, breakdowns by Herb Trimpe, finishes by Kim Seong Hwan, colors by Marie Severin, letters by Gaspar Saladino

Some of you checking out the alt-text on the iamges so far may be puzzled at some of the references of Morrie's treatment by his colleagues. This is a shameful revelation about the Marvel Bullpen: many of the Bullpen's consistent teasng of Morrie as "being responsible" for World War II and the Pearl Harbor attack because of his Japanese nationality. Sean Howe's excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story relates these incidents in a story told by Bullpenner Rick Parker:

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. 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-lippped 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 USA. 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."

Morrie’s self-caricature, and some photos:

from 1. What If...? (1977 series) #34 (Marvel, August 1982), script by Rick Parker, pencils and inks by Morrie Kuramoto,
2. FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #7 (November 1969),
3. FOOM #2 (Marvel, May 1973), and
FOOM #7 (Marvel, September 1974)

Miss you, Morrie, and a very happy birthday to you.

from Marvel Comics cover-dated September 1985

from 1975 Mighty Marvel Convention Program Book (Marvel, 1975), photo by Michele Wolfman