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Koji Steven Sakai’s 422

Koji Steven Sakai’s 422

Not only is Koji Steven Sakai the CEO of CHOPSO, he is an author of several novels and graphic novels. Based on one of World War II’s most compelling and important stories, 422 is his latest published graphic novel about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the U.S. Army’s Japanese American segregated fighting regiment. The 442nd would become the most decorated unit of the War, and the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in American history. The graphic novel is currently available on Amazon.com.

I know 442 has been your subject of passion for years. How did you decide to turn that story into a graphic novel?

KS: I was approached by this online graphic novel company named Stela. They asked me to pitch a bunch of projects to turn into a comic. So, I came up with a bunch of things… like a zombie story, a few superhero stories, and finally a story about the brave Japanese American World War II soldiers who fought despite their families being in internment camps. To my surprise, they chose the one about the Japanese Americans.

How is the story of 442 important to you personally and also to the history of America?

KS: I didn’t have any immediate family that fought in the 442. But I did have family who were wrongly incarcerated during the war simply because they looked like the enemy. My dad and his family were sent to various “camps” and I have spent much of my adulthood researching exactly what’s happened. The reason the 442 story is so important is because these brave men fought—risking their lives—so my family’s loyalty and that of the whole community would never be questioned again. 

KS: I didn’t have any immediate family that fought in the 442. But I did have family who were wrongly incarcerated during the war simply because they looked like the enemy. My dad and his family were sent to various “camps” and I have spent much of my adulthood researching exactly what’s happened. The reason the 442 story is so important is because these brave men fought—risking their lives—so my family’s loyalty and that of the whole community would never be questioned again. 

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the experience of 442 soldiers, what would it be?

KS: The lesson to be learned from the 442 is what happens when we let our fears and prejudices get the best of us. They proved that loyalty isn’t about race, ethnicity, or religion. We, as a country, seem to need to be constantly reminded of this.

What is the collaboration process like with writer Phinneas Kiyomura and graphic artist Rob Sato?

KS: Phinny and I were already working on a screenplay, so it made sense that we worked together on the graphic novel. 

I knew Rob because he’d been in some shows at the Japanese American National Museum and I was always a huge huge fan of his work. So I was pleasantly surprised when the publisher hired him. But it turned out that not only was he talented but he had a personal stake in the story—his grandfather was part of the 442.

Are you going to find other ways to tell the 422 story beyond this graphic novel?

KS: The plan was always to make a movie or a TV show about them. We’re continuing to pursue that, despite the challenges of trying to tell a war movie about people of color.

While you’re known as a screenwriter, you have also worked on a couple of graphic novels. What do you like about the medium of the graphic novel?

KS: Graphic novels are fun because they allow me to have more control of what the audience actually sees. The best way I can explain the difference between a writer working on a movie and a graphic novel is that the graphic novel writer is more like a hybrid director and writer. So, I have to direct the artist in what the shot will be and what it looks like—which is something you don’t do in screenwriting.

Graphic novels are fun because they allow me to have more control of what the audience actually sees. The best way I can explain the difference between a writer working on a movie and a graphic novel is that the graphic novel writer is more like a hybrid director and writer. So, I have to direct the artist in what the shot will be and what it looks like—which is something you don’t do in screenwriting.

Can you tell us about your upcoming graphic novel Santa vs. Zombies?

KS: Santa Vs. Zombies is about a burned-out Santa who hates his life. But has to rediscover the Christmas spirit during a zombie apocalypse. This graphic novel combines my two loves, Christmas and zombies. We are also in the process of making a movie of it. Stay tuned for more info! 

What is the future project that you’re most excited about? 

I have a novel that’s coming out very shortly called Zombie Run. It’s something that I’ve been working on for a while with one of my writing partners Dwayne Perkins. It’s about a world where the zombies won the apocalypse and after all the humans were dead, they went back to work and their lives. Now, ten years later, there are only a few humans left in the world and they have to pretend to be zombies to survive.

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