Life can indeed be ironic–grave and tragically ironic. Three years ago this month, June 15th, 2018, the family of John Noland made the heavy-hearted decision to disconnect John from life support. In his own small way (as we all are) John was a hero of sorts, most notably for me within the world of Charlie Chan.
John was well known in Hawaii as a radio and television personality and sportscaster. Together with retired Honolulu Police Officer Eddie Croom and Artist Kanila Tripp, he reintroduced real-life Hawaiian legend Detective Chang Apana in the comic strip Chinatown Cop, in Midweek Magazine’s February 4th, 2014 edition. In an interview, John said this about the strip:
“I thought the first thing I would like to do is a graphic serial because there has never been a local hero serialized here,” says Noland, who starts a new show on 1500AM in February. “We have got Gecko Man, Pineapple Man, and I was, like, there have got to be better heroes than that — Duke Kahanamoku, Kamehameha I. There are so many great profiles to be done here.”Midweek Magazine, February 4, 2014, by Chad Pata
The storyline for the comic strip went like this. The great-grandson of Honolulu Detective Chang Apana is commissioned to the Honolulu Police Force, and like his famous ancestor he’s assigned to the Chinatown division. He’s Leery as he is working alone, but armed with his great-grandfathers journal (left him by his mother) he uses it as a guide book to fight crime. The comic strips ran weekly with the story alternating back and forth between Detective Chang Apana’s day (1890s) to great-grandson’s present day episodes. A total of 20-weekly comic strips ran February 4 to June 18, 2014–then the funding ran out.
In 2016, I communicated with John about his comic strip and that’s when I learned about the funding issue. He was looking for ways to raise funds and continue the strip. John was very enthusiastic about his venture and we talked about gofundme.com accounts and such. He also had dreams of carrying his idea further, possibly a television series, speak easy or restaurant where the legend of Chang Apana could live on! But John was never to get that opportunity and that is where the sad irony comes in.
On June 9th, 2018, John was attacked in Chinatown, once dubbed “Hell’s Half Acre,” the very location his feature Chinatown Cop took place. He was found unresponsive on the sidewalk of Maunakea Street the victim of a fight. Later, area video would show him in an altercations with a homeless man; his head hitting the concrete sidewalk rendering him unconscious. He never recovered. His assailant with several prior convictions and outstanding warrants was tried and convicted of manslaughter. John was 60 years old at the time. Obituary: John Noland.
I wish I’d gotten to know John better. I hope one day someone will pick up the torch he lit to reintroduce Detective Chang Apana and his exploits. John had the right idea: not only was Apana the spark for Author Earl Derr Biggers’ world renown fictional Detective Charlie Chan, he was a highly respected police officer and local hero in Hawaiian lore. The only police officer ever authorized to carry a bullwhip instead of a gun, he was fierce and once arrested 40 people armed with only that whip! Often in the news he was voted one of the City of Honolulu’s Top 100 influential people and upon his death given a funeral procession reserved for Hawaiian royalty.
Here are the chronicles–all 20 episodes–of John’s Chinatown Cop (click each picture to enlarge, they read from bottom up.) To John Noland we say one last “Aloha’oe.” And for bringing this legend to the forefront, even for a short while, we echo those all so familiar words of his fictional counterpart Detective Charlie Chan, “Thank you so much.”
“Death is the black camel that kneels unbid at every gate.”Charlie Chan, The Black Camel (1929), Chapter 4