Always Goodbye by Ray Hecht. 88 pages. TWG Press, 2019, paperback, $5.99.
With great insight and humor, Ray Hecht shares his life with the reader in his autobiographical graphic novel, Always Goodbye. This is an ambitious work as Hecht takes stock of his whole life thus far. Hecht sums up his life, year by year, and he’s up to the challenge. He’s definitely an interesting subject: an artist, filmmaker, journalist, and author. What he’s doing here is giving the reader a window into what he’s done all his life: traveling, observing, and creating art. Like the results of a conversation between good friends, this graphic novel provides many gifts.
The theme of the book is found in the title. While traveling can be enlightening and full of adventure, it often comes at a price. And, of course, all travel is not completely voluntary. A lot of the nuts and bolts of travel are not glamorous and bring in a whole lot of issues including the trauma of displacement.
No doubt, Ray Hecht is doing exciting work with comics, both as a creator as well as an instructor. And he certainly has a wonderful track record of prose novels, including South China Morning Blues and The Ghost of Lotus Mountain Brothel. Hecht is an artist down to his bones and I definitely relate to that. Hecht has harnessed a creative drive that’s led to compelling work. Anyone interested in the inner life of an artist will get a lot out of his latest book. If you enjoy a hearty work of autobiography, this will appeal to you. Hecht’s comics have got enough of that quirk factor that earns him a place within that fine tradition of auto-bio comics that includes such luminaries as John Porcellino, Tom Hart, and Lynda Barry.
Always Goodbye is published by TWG Press and available right here.
THE ELECTRIC STATE, a graphic novel by Simon Stålenhag, soon to be a major motion picture.
China is the new Hollywood. Who knew? Big studio director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger) left Hollywood in favor of China years ago. Indeed, China is the world’s fastest-growing movie market. That said, China is poised to deliver its own blockbuster. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, much depends upon the Russo Brothers. Never heard of them? Well, you’ve definitely heard of the movies they’ve directed for Marvel. You know, some of the ones starring Captain America and the whole merry crew of Avengers. They are currently completing the next installment, “Avengers: Infinity War,” due for release on April 27, 2018.
Abra, Odessa Young, Hari Nef and Suki Waterhouse appear in Assassination Nation by Sam Levinson, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2018 Sundance Film festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
The Russo brothers have recently joined with Agbo, a production company backed by China’s largest private film company, Huayi Brothers Media Corp. The goal is for Agbo to make its own superhero movies and/or related blockbuster movies. However, just because you could bankroll a successful superhero movie doesn’t mean you have the golden touch. There’s a whole graveyard of clunker superhero movies backed by buckets of money. But Agbo has cherry picked from the best. They also have the writers from the next Avengers movie working on projects. And there have been some very interesting developments.
Directors Joe Russo, left, and brother Anthony Russo at a press event last year at Durham Cathedral in England, a location for their forthcoming ‘Avengers: Infinity War,’ slated for release in April. PHOTO: MIRRORPIX/COURTESY EVERETT COLLECTION
The most exciting project is an adaptation of “The Electric State,” a science-fiction graphic novel the brothers see as having franchise potential, directed by Andy Muschietti, best known for last year’s “It.”
Another exciting prospect, in conjunction with the new independent distributor Neon, is a $10 million buy for distribution rights to “Assassination Nation,” a teen-girl revenge thriller that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
So, China is the New Hollywood? Well, not exactly but definitely on the right track.
“American Born Chinese” is my favorite non-superhero graphic novel. I’m genuinely surprised that it hasn’t received a movie or TV adaptation yet. I first read it as part of a school assignment in my Freshman Reading class. After reading, we were supposed to make a cereal box based on the book. American Born Chinese is a 2006 graphic novel created by cartoonist Gene Luen Yang. Yang drew from his own past experiences as a Chinese boy living in America as well as Chinese fables he grew up with. In 2007, it won the Michael L. Printz Award. The book is separated into three seemingly unconnected tales.
The first story is about the fabled Monkey King. A character I would later find out is part of a well-known Chinese folklore tale called, “Journey to the West.” This story takes place in Heaven, where Gods, Goddesses, Demons, and Spirits reign supreme. The Monkey King is a powerful, if not stubborn ruler of the Flower Mountain who nobody in Heaven takes seriously, because of his lack of shoes. Despite his mastery of four major heavenly disciplines. In order to prove himself, he orders all his monkey subjects to wear shoes and he meditates. He also learns four major disciplines of invulnerability and bodily form. Of course all this power goes to his head and the creator of the universe has to teach him a valuable lesson. What I like most about this story is how cool it is. Chinese folklore is actually very fascinating. Seeing a monkey flying on a cloud is just as funny as it is awesome.
The second story is about the titular “American Born Chinese” boy, Jin Wang. A Chinese kid who loves Transformers. His experiences include moving to America with his family, trying to fit in, and befriending the only Asian kids in class. This story starts when Jin Wang is a child and ends when he’s a teenager. As any other teenager would, Jin falls for one of the girls in his class. An American girl that Jin becomes desperate to talk to. He even goes so far as to perm his hair to look more American. Eventually his friend convinces him to ask her out and he goes on a date with her. Even when everything seems to be going well, it doesn’t end up lasting very long. Unfortunately, underlying racism keeps Jin from continuing the relationship. What I like most about this story is how relatable it is for anybody who’s ever been a new kid or the only minority in your class. I’m also a big fan of teen drama, so I found Jin’s high school experience to be very interesting.
The third story is about average all American teenager Danny. He’s embarrassed because his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee is coming over for one of his annual visits. Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotypes. Literally every stereotype is represented here. He has a round face, a queue hairstyle, a servant outfit, literal yellow skin, buck teeth, squinty line eyes, he speaks in thick broken English, he’s academic, he makes funny’s, he eats cats, his travel bags are Chinese take-out boxes, he sings karaoke, he knows Kung Fu, the list goes on. His behavior is so embarrassing that Danny has to change schools every time he visits. What I like most about this story is how absurd it is. It’s done in a sitcom style with a laugh track and everything. The title of this story is actually “Everybody Ruvs Chin-Kee.” This is also the story where everything is revealed and the whole graphic novel is tied together.
Overall, “American Born Chinese” is a cool, relatable, and hilarious graphic novel. The art style is clean and simple in a Chinese art sort of way, with rounded curves and edges. Each story feels like a love letter to Chinese culture. A culture that I’ve come to love ever since I’ve read this story. If nobody adapts “American Born Chinese,” I would be shocked. I’m not Chinese, but I might even try to adapt it myself. The only question is, is whether it more suited for a movie or a TV show. Either way, “American Born Chinese” is a clever graphic novel that anyone will enjoy.
Volume 2 in Jing Liu’s Understanding China Through Comics series.
Jing Liu brings to life the history of China in his series, Understanding China Through Comics. With Donald Trump’s focus on China, with no signs of letting up, it is a perfect time to gain a better understanding of a very misunderstood country. It was a pleasure to review the first volume in this series. You can read that here. For this second volume, Liu proceeds where he left off and focuses on the periods of division and unification in Imperial China. The full title is, “Division to Unification in Imperial China (vol. 2): The Three Kingdoms to the Tang Dynasty (220–907),” published by Stone Bridge Press. But don’t let the long title intimidate you. This is a highly accessible work tailored to fast learning while also very entertaining.
There is much to marvel over with Liu’s book. As a cartoonist myself, I fully appreciate the balancing act that Liu had to negotiate in order to have the facts make sense in a comics format. It is often believed that the only path for a work in comics or a graphic novel is brevity. You should only insert a limited number of words in those word balloons and text boxes, so the rule goes. However, that all depends. Liu presents everything in a very clean and visually appealing style and has managed to up his word count as needed.
Dividing up territory.
The story of China is one of many regions vying for control and Liu is up to the task of showing us all the machinations. With great clarity, Liu reveals all the moving parts involved and reintroduces key facts as the story unfolds. Liu employs a number of time-saving devices, primarily he makes good use of all his digital options: fonts, pre-made borders for his panels, word balloons, and such. And, in an uncanny way, his art style compliments this more compact approach. It is a relatively spare style but not without a beauty and flourish running throughout in the spirit of manga. He’s managed to hold back enough in order to mix well with the flow of characters and events. You will not only learn about battles and wars, you will learn about the evolution of Chinese culture and spirituality. For instance, Liu provides a wonderful comparison and contrast to the Tao and Buddhist belief systems.
The excess of The One Percent.
Liu presents us with cycles of history, the rise and fall of dynasties. And we come to see the patterns and how they relate to current history. We see the perpetual struggle between the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak. But we never tire of such a narrative. First, dynasties prospered. Then they grew corrupt. Finally, they fell and gave way to other dynasties. Liu shows us both the good, the bad, and the in-between. One example that sticks with me falls squarely in the bad column: there was a time when wealthy aristocrats thought nothing of commissioning miles and miles of screens made of silk just so they could pass through them and greet each other. Now, there’s some One Percent decadence for you!
“Division to Unification in Imperial China” is a 166-page book, published by Stone Bridge Press. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Stone Bridge Press right here.
Here is a clear and concise survey of Chinese history and culture that is sure to please. “Foundations of Chinese Civilization, Volume I” covers the Yellow Emperor to the Han Dynasty (2697 BCE – 220 CE). It is by Jing Liu, an artist and entrepreneur from Beijing, China, and published by Stone Bridge Press.
The Great Wall of China
This 168-page trade paperback will prove to be one of the most handy primers you have come across. Adopting a comic book format, the art here is spare and to the point. The neat and orderly presentation of facts will truly win you over.
Confucius’s Roadmap to Life
And it’s not just tidy facts we have here. There’s heart too. Jing Liu has thoughtfully condensed various concepts and ideas while striving to briefly articulate what is compelling about them. I love how Liu gradually builds up his presentation on Chinese philosophy. Dating back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 256 BCE), the elites developed schools of thought. This led to six major schools, leaders emerged, such as Confucius (551 – 479 BCE). And a civilization continued to flourish.
Reading “Foundations of Chinese Civilization” by Jing Liu
“Foundations of Chinese Civilization: The Yellow Emperor to the Han Dynasty (2697 BCE – 220 CE)” is the first book in the five-volume Understanding China Through Comics series. For more details, visit Stone Bridge Press.
Faith Erin Hicks is one determined and dedicated cartoonist. She has created a remarkable output of work which includes the graphic novel, “Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong,” with Prudence Shen, which began as a webcomic later to be published by First Second as a graphic novel. And “The Adventures of Superhero Girl,” also a webcomic turned into a graphic novel, published by Dark Horse Comics.
A lot of Faith’s work began as webcomics. In fact, that is how it all began. She just drew, and drew, and drew, and posted her work. In this interview, I chat with Faith about her work in webcomics and we also focus in on her current title, “The Nameless City,” just published by First Second Books.
There is more to this story so be on the lookout for “The Stone Heart.” I hope you enjoy this conversation which took place today at Emerald City Comicon.
“The Sunderland Volume One: Schism” is the first in an epic trilogy of graphic novels set in a dystopian world. It will be followed by “Solitude” and “Thermidor.” This is quite an ambitious work and I salute, artist Jon Renzella and writer Eric Weiss, the talent behind this 450-page book of black and white woodcuts and text.
From the introduction:
Society is fractured. Life for most is a desperate struggle. Natural Resources are scarce and the discovery of a miracle source of new, clean energy only serves to deepen the cracks. As the planet reaches breaking point, the sudden appearance of two mysterious pillars…
It’s a very intense and vivid world that Renzella and Weiss have created. If you enjoy comics with a social commentary bite to them, then this is something you’ll want to check out. The creators of this book live and work in Taiwan and so it is interesting to keep that in mind as a subtext.
The Green movement is in disarray. The average citizen doesn’t stand a chance. And the Petrolol corporation just keeps chugging along. The narrative can be rather dense at times and so can the artwork, but it grows on you. This is a byzantine journey crowded with numerous characters confronting chaotic and enigmatic challenges. There is no hero. There is no clear resolution in sight. The story just is. But out of that jungle we find numerous graceful and poetic moments.
“Schism: The Sunderland, Volume One” is published by Lei Press and printed in Taiwan. It is available through Jon Renzella’s website. You can find it right here.
It is an honor and a privilege to interview Gene Yang, known for “American Born Chinese” and “Boxers & Saints.” And now he and Sonny Liew offer you “The Shadow Hero.” With all the unpacking, literally and figuratively since Comic-Con, I finally share with you this interview. You really can’t say enough about Gene Yang. He has opened up a great path for others to dare to follow. Yeah, he’s that big of a deal.
“The Shadow Hero” revels in Chinese culture and so much more, addressing universal issues like the dynamics of family. In the case of this fabulous story, we have a most fabulous mother who leads the way. When Hua, middle-aged and disillusioned, finds herself rescued by an actual fly-thru-the-air superhero, she finds a new lease on life. And that lease depends upon her turning her teenaged son, Hank, into a superhero if it’s the last thing she ever does. This is how Gene Yang’s new graphic novel, “The Shadow Hero,” opens up. For this story, Yang writes and hands over the drawing to Sonny Liew.
The first thing to know about the Monkey King is that he is not exactly a hero. He is and he isn’t. He’s not exactly likable either. Basically, he represents just about everything you should not do if you were in a position of power. And he is quite literally willing to do anything to keep himself amused and one step ahead of any authority that would dare stop him. How did this Monkey King become such a stinker? Well, that’s quite a story. In fact, it’s pretty involved, part of a set of stories, based upon a work from 16th century China, Wu Cheng’en’s “Journey to the West.” Thanks to JR Comics, these stories can now be shared as high-quality comics with a Western audience.