Tag Archives: Gene Luen Yang

Comics Review: American Born Chinese

“American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang

Guest column by Master Mix Movies

“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.


Filed under China, Comics, Gene Yang, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Guest Column

Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” Book Hits #1 on New York Times Best Sellers List


Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Rift, Part 1,” the Nickelodeon and Dark Horse graphic novel, hits #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

This marks the 5th time that Dark Horse Avatar Graphic Novels claim the top spot. A key thing to note for devoted comics followers: this book is written and drawn by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru.

Details follow:

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Comics Grinder’s Guide to Graphic Novels 2013

Black Paths by David B, published by SelfMadeHero

Here is Comics Grinder’s Guide to Graphic Novels for 2013. Don’t know much about graphic novels? Well, don’t you worry about that. This is the place to be. I love comics. If you were to cut me, I’d bleed ink. I know what it’s like when people claim to not understand comics in general or even my own work. You then approach someone else, and the difference can be like night and day. That panel above comes from a graphic novel that really stuck with me by one of the greats, David B. What makes him great? Just take a close look at the above couple. He’s truly developed the heart and soul of a first-rate cartoonist with such a distinctive style at work creating a beautiful world. That’s nothing to sneeze at. That’s why his “Black Paths” had to be included in this list.

This was a banner year any way you look at it! Where to begin? Well, I began the process by whittling down to a top ten list of titles. Then I went back and focused on more books that would make the list more useful. Considering all of the books that hit my radar, I considered categories that they might be filed under: historical, political, offbeat, personal, and so on. Of course, some titles may fall under more than one category or might elude easy classification. Categories are open to interpretation. “Personal,” for instance can just refer to a life’s journey, not necessarily autobiographical.

I first stuck with books that fell well within the definition of a graphic novel: works in the comics medium that tell an extended story using sequential panels. I wanted to have the focus on work that truly added up to a cohesive whole. And then I considered work that wasn’t totally a graphic novel, per se. And that brought in a few more books that were collections of work.

On the whole, what I look for in what I review during the year is a compelling vision from one independent creator or an exceptionally strong team of writer and artist. Anyway, what I intended to do with creating this list is to give a good sense of the general thinking about contemporary graphic novels and a decent sampling for 2013. You’ve got an overview of 20 titles from 2013 that I had the pleasure to review. You can’t go wrong.


From "Jerusalem"

From “Jerusalem”

1. – Jerusalem (First Second) – by Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi. This is historic fiction that truly engages you in a rolling narrative about family and nation. Review here.

2. – March: Book One (Top Shelf Productions) – by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. The American Civil Rights Movement comes to life in this first book in a trilogy. Review here.

3. – The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation (Harper Collins) – by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell. A beautiful keepsake and most enlightening book on the Gettysburg Address. Review here.

4. – Boxers & Saints (First Second) – by Gene Luen Yang. If you want to better understand China, take a look at the Boxer Rebellion. Yang’s narrative is exhilarating. He knows how to tap into myth, strip away sentimentality, maintain an exciting pace, and gain insight. Review here.

5. – Black Paths (SelfMadeHero) – by David B. This is a very different window into history. This is a quirky love story set in the netherworld after World War I. We follow the strange activities of a little mouse of a nation state that roared under the leadership of an eccentric poet. Review here.


From "RASL"

From “RASL”

6. – RASL (Cartoon Books) – by Jeff Smith. Leave it to the creator of “Bone” to create one of the most satisfying graphic novels of the year. Here you have elements of mystery, mysticism, and science fiction in support of a most unusual love story. Review here.

7. – Strange Attractors (Archaia Entertainment) – by Charles Soule and Greg Scott. Soule marveled over the fact that, within a year after the tragic events of 9/11, New York City was back on its feet and functioning while, years after Katrina, New Orleans continued to struggle. What was so special about NYC? Review here.

8. – Fran (Fantagraphics Books) – by Jim Woodring. If you want a graphic novel you can become hypnotized by, then look no further than Jim Woodring’s latest masterpiece. Review here.

9. – Complex: Ways of Life, Volume 1 (Alterna Comics) – by Michael Malkin, Kay, and Dekara. The cover to the first volume of “Complex” grabs your attention and makes you want to see more. It’s a dude screaming holding a crystal ball of a dude screaming ad infinitum. Intriguing, no? Review here.

10. – The Encyclopedia of Early Earth (Little, Brown & Co.) – by Isabel Greenberg. What Isabel Greenberg does with her debut graphic novel, “The Encyclopedia of Early Earth,” is tap into the joy and spirit of storytelling. She does this with a good-hearted determination and a well-reasoned integrity. Review here.


From "Failure"

From “Failure”

11. – The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story (Dark Horse Comics) – by Vivek J. Tiwary and Andrew Robinson. Essential reading for any Beatles fan, and who isn’t, right? You will go on quite a magical mystery tour as you see how the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, turned a ragtag band from Liverpool into the most famous band in the world. Review here.

12. – Look Straight Ahead (Cuckoo’s Nest Press) – by Elaine M. Will. This one I really like. LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD brings to mind Nate Powell’s SWALLOW ME WHOLE. It has its own distinctive style and voice with that same quality that Nate brings to the game. Review here.

13. – Pompeii (PictureBox) – by Frank Santoro. Santoro maintains the spontaneity of sketchbook drawings in a well orchestrated narrative. This is a story about learning how to see the world as it really is and perhaps gaining solace from how it may have been. Review here.

14. – Battling Boy (First Second) – by Paul Pope. It’s up to Battling Boy to help save Acropolis, a city under siege by all kinds of monsters. If you’re sensing that this is a way cool superhero story, one with a fresh new energy we could all use more of, then you’d be right. Review here.

15. – The Lengths (Soaring Penguin Press) – by Howard Hardiman. Howard Hardiman has written and drawn a graphic novel about a youth out of control and in conflict. It is a very rough story about a rough subject that Hardiman navigates quite well. Review here.


“Foucault’s Pendulum” adaptation by Julia Gfrörer from "The Graphic Canon, Volume 3"

“Foucault’s Pendulum” adaptation by Julia Gfrörer from “The Graphic Canon, Volume 3”

16. – Beta-testing the Apocalypse (Fantagraphics Books) – by Tom Kaczynski. “Beta Testing The Apocalypse” brings together, thanks to Fantagraphics Books, an impressive collection of social satire with a distinctive voice. Review here.

17. – The Minimum Security Chronicles: Resistance to Ecocide (Seven Stories Press) – by Stephanie McMillan. For everyone who questions capitalism, this is a good place to start. Review here.

18. – Failure (Alternative Comics) – by Karl Stevens. This collection shows growth but it’s consistent growth. There isn’t a weak page in the whole lot. It’s more an evolving viewpoint: the angry young artist keeps pushing and pushing until he gets what he wants, a reaction; afterward, he finds he’s pushed his way into new terrain and he finds himself breaking new ground. Review here.

19. – Delusional: The Graphic and Sequential Work of Farel Dalrymple (AdHouse Books) – by Farel Dalrymple. This is such a keeper. You too will believe in all sorts of urban legends and myths once you’ve entered the world of comics genius Farel Dalrymple. Review here.

20. – The Graphic Canon, Volume 3 (Seven Stories Press) – Edited by Russ Kick. A veritable cornucopia of literary comics. Review here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Review: BOXERS & SAINTS by Gene Luen Yang, published by First Second


Like a lightning strike, Gene Luen Yang’s new graphic novel, “Boxers & Saints,” is charged with energy. It is pure comics in the sense that it is immersive, dynamic, and holds you with a powerfully consistent pace. Much in the way that Jeff Smith’s comics command the page, you enter a very animated and colorful world when you read the work of Gene Luen Yang. And speaking of colors, Lark Pien provides a palette with an artist’s sensitivity. This is a most remarkable hero’s journey that, at once, is familiar and quite different and specific.

This is a story about China being thrown into the modern age with all its bloody consequences. It is told in two volumes. The first volume is the main story focusing on the Boxer Rebellion as seen from the vantage point of a rebel leader, Little Bao. The second volume is a look at those Chinese citizens who accepted the Christian faith as seen from the vantage point of an average young woman with grand aspirations, Vibiana. You can place both books facing up and you have half a portrait of Bao and half a portrait of Vibiana that together provide a full picture to a complex story. These two characters never get to know each other. Their lives only briefly touch. The reader gets to see how they connect in a profound way.


“Boxers & Saints” takes graphic novels to a new level. It’s that good. While we hear endless theorizing on the potential of the comics medium and what has yet to be surveyed in this new art frontier, here we have a work that is grounded in the best comics tradition of precision and consistency and, as a bonus, seems to effortlessly break new ground. You have two stories, of different scope yet equal in their impact. They can be read separately but, together, prove to be a powerful whole. This is something of a first: two volumes, one ostensibly the main story at 325 pages; and the second volume that fills in some essential gaps as a parallel story. And, at 170 pages, it carries a similar impact as the first volume. I have not seen anything quite like this before. Maybe you have. But at such an exceptional level? No, I don’t think so.

The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) is the focus here. And while this is also a story of self-discovery, it is very much a valuable, and highly accessible, history lesson. Take a look at the Boxer Rebellion and you get a deeper sense of the heart and soul of China and where it’s coming from today. If not for this event, the superpowers of that time, on a path to take over China, would have had no motivation to pause and control their urge to plunder. Considering such a volatile topic, Yang manages to immerse himself in the subject and pluck out gems of wisdom.

A French political cartoon depicting China as a pie about to be carved up by Queen Victoria (Britain), Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany), Tsar Nicholas II (Russia), Marianne (France) and a samurai (Japan), while a Chinese mandarin helplessly looks on. (Wikipedia)

A French political cartoon depicting China as a pie about to be carved up by Queen Victoria (Britain), Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany), Tsar Nicholas II (Russia), Marianne (France) and a samurai (Japan), while a Chinese mandarin helplessly looks on. (Wikipedia)

The way Yang sees it, there’s something to be said for the Boxer rebels mirroring today’s geek culture. The Boxer youth learned about the Chinese gods through opera, which was the pop culture of the day. That is precisely what we see our main character, Little Bao, wrapped up in. He loves opera! He can’t read or write and is essentially ignorant, like all his peers in the village he lives in. However, he has a window into culture and the rest of the world. It is through regular viewing of these popular street performances that he learns about Chinese gods, much in the same way that comic books provide a window into the world of myth. And it is this passion that leads Little Bao to want to be like his heroes, similar to the passion demonstrated by today’s cosplay.


It’s that deep love of Chinese gods that gives Little Bao his sense of identity and the inner strength to fight for his country as a Boxer rebel leader against the “foreign devils” with their various interests and agendas. Christian indoctrination is the key point of conflict.


But things are never that simple. Once you’ve seen one imperialist, you’ve seen them all, but Yang asks the reader to consider another point of view. While any Chinese citizen who embraces the Westerner’s Christianity is looked upon by the Boxers as nothing but disloyal to the people’s cause, we read the story of one Chinese girl’s Christian faith in volume two. With as much sincerity as Little Bao, the girl only known as Four Girl finds her place in life. It’s not with her abusive family. It’s among the Christians. She joins the faith and becomes Vibiana.

There’s a fleeting moment early in volume one when Little Bao sees this girl and instantly senses some connection. He spots her while she is making a devilish grimace of her face. He has no idea what it all means and concludes that he is destined to see her again. It is one of many perfectly timed moments in this book. What Yang does to briefly connect these two precious lives coming from opposite ends is magical and powerful. Together, Little Bao and Vibiana provide us with a whole story, a face to China, and a window for the reader.

Below is a quick video recap:

“Boxers & Saints” is a two volume set published by First Second which you can visit here. And also be sure to visit Gene Luen Yang at his website here.

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Filed under China, Comics, First Second, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Young Adult