Tag Archives: Gene Luen Yang

A Mistake in The Shadow Hero

Gene Luen Yang, who most recently won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in young adult literature for his graphic novels Boxers and Saints, discusses a mistake he made in his latest novel, The Shadow Hero.

By Gene Luen Yang




Gene Luen Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade. He has since written and drawn a number of titles, including the comics series Avatar: The Last Airbender. American Born Chinese, his first graphic novel from First Second, was a National Book Award finalist, as well as the winner of the Printz Award and an Eisner Award. He also won the LA Times Book Prize for Boxers & Saints. Yang lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On Illustrating Asian Characters

The illustrator of The Shadow Hero, the new graphic novel about an Asian American superhero written by Gene Luen Yang, writes about representing Asians in comics.

By Sonny Liew

yang-liew-theshadowhero“Ching Chong!”

It took me a second to realise he was shouting at me. This complete stranger, white, male, red-faced, and very likely inebriated. In his teens or possibly early 20s, sitting in the back seat of a car with his head sticking out the window, just on his way with his friends somewhere in Rhode Island.

I’d lived most of my life in Singapore, with its population made up of 70% ethnic Chinese. You could make sub-divisions, of course — Hokkiens, Cantonese, Hakkas, Teochews and so on … but that for the most part would be quibbling. The Chinese as a whole dominate the social, economic and political landscape here, despite fairly serious gestures towards multiculturalism. And being part of a majority shapes the way you think about race — or more accurately, not think about it at all. There’s much less need for introspection when every other face on the streets feels familiar; when you’re living in an environment where your race is hardly ever a barrier to entry or a source of discomfort.

The years I spent studying and living in the UK and US took some adjustments. Sure, my real problem with skin was fitting comfortably inside my own, still caught up in the awkward adolescent years of not-quite-fitting-in. But beyond that, there was still this brave new world, a minority all of a sudden, all those years of listening to the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen, and reading the Beano, Dandy, and 2000AD somehow not quite anywhere near helping me fit in.

You became acutely aware of race as a means of identification, the way others looked at you, and the way you saw yourself.

Those were also the years when I started taking drawing comics seriously, and fed by this newfound awareness/paranoia, it soon became apparent how little representation there was of Asian characters in the comics mainstream. Or any other medium, really. Outside of martial arts exponents and fetishized women, they felt near invisible. And what was more — it was clear how much of a non-issue this was for non-Asians. It was simply how things were, a sort of casual, institutionalized racism that you didn’t really have to think about. The white faces felt familiar, after all.

So when it came time to draw my first comic for DC Vertigo (“My Faith in Frankie”), about a deity named Jeriven whose sole worshipper is a young white female, I convinced Mike Carey and Shelly Bond that we should make Jeriven Asian. It was to be my own small battle in favour of diversity in comics. Of course the script was already written, and Mike had his own ideas for the story, so aside from a visual representation of ethnicity, it wasn’t ever really an issue explored in the comic.

Illustrator Sonny Liew

Having returned to Singapore since those days aboard, other divisions have come to the fore: rich-poor, citizen-immigrant, liberal-conservative etc. But in drawing comics, I still wrestle with visual ways of depicting Asians. Ways of avoiding caricature without losing recognisability. The size and slant of character’s eyes, the shape of their noses, it’s always something that needs thinking about. Sometimes  it was an issue that never came up (“Sense and Sensibility,” “Wonderland”), other times it was something of paramount importance (“Re-gifters,” “The Shadow Hero”).

Maybe there’ll come a day when all divisions are dissolved, when we’re human beings first and everything else second. In the meanwhile, we’ll fight for our own corners, as we’ve always had.

Sonny Liew is a Malaysian-born comic artist and illustrator based in Singapore. He is best known for his work on Vertigo’s My Faith in Frankie together with Mike Carey and Marc Hempel, and Marvel’s adaptation of Sense and SensibilityThe Shadow Hero, a graphic novel written by Gene Luen Yang, is his most recent work.

The Shadow Hero, written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Sonny Liew, is available July 15th from First Second Books. We’re thrilled to share two sneek peek pages with our DiYA readers below!

liew-panel1 liew-panel2



10 Asian Pacific American YA Authors to Know

Swati Avasthi

Melissa de la Cruz

Andrew Fukuda

Jenny Han

Malinda Lo

  • Author of Adaptation and Inheritance, William C. Morris Award finalist for Ash, and co-founder of Diversity in YA
  • malindalo.com | @malindalo | Tumblr

Ellen Oh

Cindy Pon

  • Author of Silver Phoenix, Fury of the Phoenix, the forthcoming Serpentine (Month9Books, 2015), and co-founder of Diversity in YA
  • cindypon.com | @cindypon | Tumblr

Padma Venkatraman

  • Author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novels A Time to Dance, Climbing the Stairs, and Island’s End
  • padmasbooks.com

Gene Luen Yang

  • Author of the National Book Award finalist and LA Times Book Prize winner Boxers and Saints, the Printz Award-winning and National Book Award finalist American Born Chinese, and co-author of Dark Horse Comics’ Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • geneyang.com | @geneluenyang

Laurence Yep

  • Author of dozens of books for children and young adults including the Gold Mountain Chronicles, winner of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, and two-time Newbery Honor winner
  • Wikipedia page

New Releases – September 2013

Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi, illustrated by Craig Phillips (Knopf)

“Avasthi (Split) delivers a superb novel about grief, friendship, and mental illness, mixing in graphic-novel elements and themes from Hindu mythology.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Rumor Central: You Don’t Know Me Like That #2 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley (KTeen Dafina)

Book Description: Gossip show “Rumor Central” has gone beyond Miami to national syndication. So now’s the time for Maya Morgan to really make her brand blow up. But her brand starts to blow up in her face when a super-fan takes over her online life, trashing her reputation, and putting her gossip future at risk. Now Maya will need every down-and-dirty move–and a little help from her frenemies–to manage this disaster and save everything she’s dished so hard to get…

Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac (Tu Books)

“This near-future dystopia starring an Apache female superhero has the soul of a graphic novel, if not the art. … A good bet for fans of superhero fiction and graphic novels and readers in search of superpowered female warriors.” — Kirkus

Romeo and Juliet adapted and illustrated by Gareth Hinds, based on the play by William Shakespeare (Candlewick)

Book Description: “Gareth Hinds’s stylish graphic adaptation of the Bard’s romantic tragedy offers modern touches — including a diverse cast that underscores the story’s universality.”

The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer (Atheneum)

“This highly anticipated sequel to Farmer’s National Book Award–winning The House of the Scorpion (2002) begins soon after the funeral of the drug lord El Patrón and the murder of nearly everyone who attended the event. Fourteen-year-old Matt, the dead drug lord’s clone, was originally created to provide spare parts for El Patrón, but is now the Lord of Opium…. Once again, Farmer’s near-future world offers an electric blend of horrors and beauty. Lyrically written and filled with well-rounded, sometimes thorny characters, this superb novel is well worth the wait.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Dead Ends by Erin Jade Lange (Bloomsbury)

“Lange (Butter) explores the friendship that forms between a rage-filled 16-year-old named Dane and his new neighbor, Billy D., who has Down syndrome. Although Dane is a bully, he draws the line at picking on the disabled (“Standards, y’know?”), and when he’s offered a chance to avoid suspension by helping Billy out, he accepts it reluctantly.” — Publishers Weekly

Inheritance by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown)

“As in the first book, dialogue rings true, and the characters are appealing. … The alien and political machinations provide menace, a brisk page-turning plot and lots of fun.” — Kirkus

Invasion by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic)

“D-Day, June 6, 1944, is the setting for Myers’ powerful prequel to Fallen Angels (1988) and Sunrise over Fallujah (2008). … An action-packed novel that will help young readers understand the brutality of war.” — Kirkus

More Than This by Patrick Ness (Candlewick)

“This haunting and consistently surprising novel raises deep questions about what it means to be alive, but it doesn’t try to console readers with easy or pat answers. As the story opens, teenage Seth is experiencing his own death in painful detail. … As he tries to survive in and make sense of his strange yet familiar surroundings, he is plagued by intense flashbacks of his life before he died: his guilt over the tragedy that befell his little brother, his burgeoning romance with another boy in his small town, and the events that led to his (dubious) death.” — School Library Journal

Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices edited by Mitali Perkins(Candlewick)

“Ten writers and artists, including Varian Johnson, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Francisco X. Stork, offer brief works of fiction and nonfiction “about the between-cultures life.” As Perkins notes, “Humor has the power to break down barriers and draw us together across borders,” and the stories within bear that out, though few qualify as laugh-out-loud funny. Most offer a subtler, uncomfortable brand of situational humor.” — Publishers Weekly

Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House)

Book Description: In this second book in the Lynburn Legacy, the sorcerous roots of Sorry-in-the-Vale have been exposed. No one in the town is safe, and a decision must be made: pay the sorcerers’ blood sacrifice, or fight. Will the townspeople (magical and not) become “owned” by the sorcerers who believe it is their right to rule? If Kami Glass has anything to say about it, evil will not win.

Takedown by Allison van Diepen (Simon Pulse)

“Multidimensional characters convincingly play on the sympathies of readers in this realistic and suspenseful urban drama. … A smart and believably gritty tale of the streets with genuine heart.” — Kirkus

Asher’s Fault by Elizabeth Wheeler (Bold Strokes Books):

“A study of how sad and treacherous it can be for an LGBTQ teen—or any teen—to achieve self-acceptance. The rhythm of the text often falls into short phrasing, making it read the way photographers might digest their surroundings: in rapid-fire observations of the tiniest details. A book of subtlety that … could make a world of difference to LGBTQ teens grappling with identity.” — Kirkus

The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White (HarperTeen)

“Sixteen-year-old Isadora talks a bit like a spoiled California teen, but she doesn’t actually become one until her mother sends her to San Diego to keep her safe. Until that point, Isadora lives in an ancient temple complex in the Egyptian desert—this is because her mother is the goddess Isis, and her father is Osiris. … White (Mind Games) uses her technical prowess with narrative forms to break up the story, and she brings an irreverent sense of humor to Egyptian myth.” — Publishers Weekly

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (First Second)

“With a superbly executed “diptych” of graphic novels, Yang (American Born Chinese) employs parallel storylines to represent two opposing Chinese experiences during the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the 20th century. … Yang’s artwork and storytelling are sober and accessible, and his character-driven approach brings compassion to a complex historical clash.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review