Behind the Covers: “Citizen 13660”

Miné Okubo’s Citizen 13660 is the newest book in our Classics of Asian American Literature series. First published in 1946, it was acquired by UW Press in 1983 and has been a perennial bestseller ever since. In addition to a new introduction by Christine Hong, the book underwent a radical redesign, which UW Press senior designer Thomas Eykemans walks us through here.

Miné Okubo was one of over one hundred thousand people of Japanese descent—nearly two-thirds of whom were American citizens—who were forced into “protective custody” shortly after Pearl Harbor. Citizen 13660, a graphic memoir of Okubo’s life in relocation centers in California and Utah, illuminates her experience with poignant illustrations and witty, candid text. Reissuing the book created an irresistible opportunity to rethink the cover design and presentation of the illustrations of one of our most beloved and misunderstood publications.

Citizen 13660

Top left: First edition hardcover jacket, 6 x 9″, 1946.
Top center: First edition hardcover cloth, 6 x 9″, 1946.
Top right: First UW Press paperback edition, 6 x 9″, 1983.
Middle left: New UW Press paperback reissue, 6 x 9″, 2014.
Middle center: New UW Press hardcover special edition, 8 x 8″, 2014.
Middle right: Special edition titlepage spread.
Bottom left: Original edition spread.
Bottom right: Special edition spread.

The original 1946 jacket, lettered and illustrated by Okubo herself, was both classic and practical. However, it gave absolutely no clue as to the content of the book. The 1983 paperback did little to remedy this, simply appropriating the beautiful, but misleading, case stamp from the original cloth edition. The two new editions feature details of actual illustrations from the interior, while preserving the unique and memorable deco typography of the earlier title design.

Okubo’s original illustrations are in the collection of the Japanese American National Museum. Each drawing is approximately 15 x 10″, vastly bigger than the 5 x 4″ reproductions in the paperback. The new hardcover special edition is a comfortable 8 x 8″ and showcases the artwork at half its original size — much closer to how it was intended to be viewed. With a soft matte lamination, casewrap cover, black endsheets, and red headbands, Okubo’s important and stunning work has finally found a worthy home.