Hero or Traitor? Andre Frattino introduces “Tokyo Rose” to a new generation in his graphic novel (Interview)

Earlier in March, writer Andre Frattino launched a Kickstarter campaign for Tokyo Rose: Zero Hour, an all-new one-shot graphic novel written by Frattino and featuring illustrations by Kate Kasenow. We got a chance to have a quick back and forth with Frattino, who was gracious enough to respond to our questions on the Tokyo Rose campaign. As always, the answers below are represented “as written.”

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The Splintering (TS): Your story is based on the true story of Iva “Tokyo Rose” Toguri, so is it fair to say that the book is non-fiction, or are you taking liberties with the historical account?

Andre Frattino (Andre): What I love about history is that it’s usually stranger than fiction. With Iva Toguri’s story, there is absolutely no exception. Iva’s life was riddled with trials and tribulations, and so the need to exaggerate was seldom needed. I took some liberties to help the story in ways I could not research, but for the most part the story was already there.

TS: What inspired you to put together a book about Iva Toguri? What about her story did you find most compelling?

Andre: Iva’s clear sense of self. She is never confused by who or what she is, and her convictions are both her strengths and her weakness. She was a woman smack dab in the middle of a war, and she survived it the best way she could.

TS: How many man-hours would you say went into researching the story of Tokyo Rose? Did you find many first-hand accounts in her biographies?

Andre: Honestly, it was hard to find a ton of unique information on Iva. Many of articles on Tokyo Rose all told the same cliff notes, but there were three books that I used primarily, “They Called Her Tokyo Rose” by Rex Gunn, “Tokyo Rose: Orphan of the Pacific” by Masayo Duus and “Tokyo Rose: An American Patriot” by Frederick P. Close. Each book contributed unique facts that I used to develop my version of events. 

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TS: Based on the sample pages posted on the Tokyo Rose Kickstarter page, it’s pretty clear that you’ve chosen to look at Toguri’s life after World War II, not just during the war itself. How would you characterize the scope of your book? How much of your story is courtroom drama vs. wartime drama?

Andre: It’s much more aligned with following Iva as the drama unfolds. So it can’t be neatly tucked into either genre. We follow Iva through the events from before, during and after her experience. We follow her right to the end. 

TS: While Tokyo Rose: Zero Hour looks to be primarily a historical drama, how else would you describe the tone of the book? Are there any action/war scenes? Is it comedic in any way?

Andre: I’d like to say it’s very “slice-of-life” albeit the life of a woman who survived a war and was tried for treason. There’s some light-hearted scenes, a couple of action scenes peppered in here and there, and a LOT of drama. I’d say there’s a little something for everyone in it.

TS: History books are a bit of a rarity on comic book/graphic novel shelves. Do you have a favorite historical comic or graphic novel? …Besides Maus. Everyone says Maus.

Andre: Haha! Damnit, I was all ready to say “Maus”! It’s tricky to pick an exact favorite, because if I’m a fan of anything it’s historical-focused graphic novels. I can’t get enough of them. If  I had to pick one in particular, I’d say it would be Chris Schweizer’s Crogan Adventure series. Both his style and attention to historical detail is something I very much admire! 


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TS: Veteran comic book writer Chuck Dixon is on record saying that comics took a hard turn towards superheroes several decades ago, and that the industry would be healthier today if it had not largely abandoned other genres. Do you agree?

Andre: Did he really say that? Wow! I didn’t know that. I’d have to give a “soft yes”. While I don’t think superheroes are solely toxic, I can agree that I think from a creative and social standpoint we’d be more balanced as an industry today if other genres had an equal place. But, I do think we’re evolving back towards equality in genres. We see more comics and graphic novels featuring more diverse stories, characters and ideas everyday. 

TS: What about comics as a medium do you think is well-suited to telling Iva Toguri’s story? On the flip side, do you think that comics are limited in certain ways?

Andre: We’re existing in a time where graphic novels are becoming more socially and educationally acceptable in teaching our children. They’re reading material with a visual aid and students of all ages can’t get enough of it. I think Iva’s story is well suited because it’s a piece of history told about a woman with a unique and diverse point of view, an unsung hero who doesn’t deserve to have her story forgotten. It should be told in a format that the next generation will understand.  

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TS: You’ve decided to launch Tokyo Rose: Zero Hour on Kickstarter instead of Indiegogo. What drove that decision? If the project is successfully funded on Kickstarter, are you considering a follow-up campaign on Indiegogo for those who prefer to support Indiegogo as a platform?

Andre: We succeeded in our first Kickstarter, Simon Says: Nazi Hunters, which will now be coming out through Image in September. To me, it was an easy platform to connect to and manage. I also appreciated the fact that it was “all-or-nothing”. Within Indiegogo, you could keep the money that you earned…but if I couldn’t deliver at a lower funding goal, what right did I have to that money? I wouldn’t have wanted to create it half-baked. I never considered there may be an audience that is totally Indiegogo or Kickstarter…it may be worth considering a victory lap with Indiegogo. We’ll see. 

TS: How would you describe your working relationship with your artist Kate Kasenow?

Andre: I have known Kate Kasenow for nearly 15 years. We both attended Savannah College of Art and Design where we majored in Sequential Art. From the first time I saw her art style, I was a fan. Her whimsical, delicate style of line art was just so expressive and really told a story in such an elegant and engaging way. I knew I’d have to work with her in the future. When Tokyo Rose was in early concept stages, Kate was my first and only choice. I’m lucky to be collaborating with her.

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TS: Given that Tokyo Rose: Zero Hour is unlikely to have a sequel (Spoilers! Japan loses), are there any follow-up projects in the works?

Andre: Several actually. My wife wants me to slow down and take breaths between…but that’s not likely to happen. I can’t share too many details, but there’s at least two pots simmering on the stove, waiting for me to free up the front fryer. 

TS: So, what do you think? Was Tokyo Rose a traitor or a hero?

Andre: That’s more of a spoiler than the last question! To answer this let’s you know how I portray her in the story, and the question of whether she was a hero or a traitor is a big part of this story’s appeal. 

TS: A year from now, how would you describe success for the Tokyo Rose project?

Andre: Fully published in bookstores and required reading for grade school students wanting to learn more about how the Japanese Americans were perceived during and after the war. It’s still largely glossed over in history books compared to the Holocaust and the military history of the time.

TS: What would you do with the power of the Beyonder?

Andre: I’d go back in time and re-cast Anthony Ingruber as the lead in Star Wars: A Solo Story. Sorry, Alden, but we’re living in a split from the prime universe where Ingruber was meant to be the title scoundrel! 

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We would like to once again thank Andre Frattino for taking the time to answer our questions and to have some fun with us. You can also visit the Tokyo Rose: Zero Hour Kickstarter page here.

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