Tag Archives: graphic narrative

Last Day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

It is the last day of the 2016 APA Heritage Month — but it will not be the last time I write about media representation of Asian Americans or about the importance of respect, integrity, diligence, compassion, empathy, knowledge, open-mindedness, inclusion, and collaboration in regards to improving accurate and nuanced representations.

Smoke_and_Shadow_hardcoverToday, I want play an upbeat note and share my adoration to the wonderful Avatar: The Last Airbender series penned by Gene Luen Yang. Currently there are four completed stories, each told in three paperback volumes and also collected in a library binding oversize single volume.  They are: The Promise, The Search, The Rift, and Smoke and Shadow.  Of course, for fans of the Nickelodeon TV show like me, these stories are like lush oases in the parched void left by the ending of the original series.  We get to see Aang and his gang grow up a bit, deal with more complex issues, and find out answers to some questions left unresolved by the show!

avatarthepromiseHowever, I have also observed many young readers encounter these as stand alone series and thoroughly enjoy the adventures, character relationships, humor, and the conflicts.  This is a series that could easily err on the side of “appropriation” because it definitely mimicked the Japanese anime style and the several nations’ customs and philosophies or even “national traits” are loosely and (one might argue) stereotypically based on certain Asian cultures — another potentially incendiary aspect of the show.

avatar___the_search_hard_cover_by_antomori-d6pbo7vInstead, it is accepted and even embraced as appreciation and celebration by viewers from all racial backgrounds, including many Asian Americans — one of the super fans is Gene Luen Yang.

Many factors contributed to why the show worked in building and not destroying positive representations: characters are deftly portrayed as individuals, whether they’re from a specific culture or not, the show creators are always careful when cultural details are represented — all Chinese characters and sentences are correctly written out and composed, and the relationships between characters and nations are complex and nuanced.  Not to mention the artistic rendering of the images and the exciting plot progression through the 61 episodes!

The_Rift_hardcoverThe book series written (not illustrated) by Gene Yang, published by Dark Horse, are equally, if not more, complex, thrilling, and satisfying! Please read them, share them with people in your life, young or not so young, and celebrate everything that works well in these volumes!

For those interested, there are some great questions and answers about the creation of the TV show and the outcry against the casting of the 2009 life action movie based on the show at racebending.com.

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Here by Richard McGuire

hereHere by Richard McGuire

I really love the premise: taking one fixed spot on earth, examining the many years of lives (from prehistoric to contemporary) and living by visually presenting the slices in time: one might see a Native American couple making love and a modern American, white family squabbling on the same or adjacent or consecutive pages, all “cut up” and scrambled, seemingly not following rhyme or reason.  But, of course, there are certain patterns and events clustered by the nature of the happening (holiday celebrations, fighting, loss, new births, etc.)  However, aside from admiring the beautiful and pristine, almost too clinical, artwork and having some moments of revelation (finding out on what ground the current house was built, for example,) I was left not all that impressed or emotionally affected which I definitely was hoping for!

 

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The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman

absolutesandman1Artwork by Dave McKean, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, and more.

I decided to use a large cover image here because this hardcover, full-color, glossy heavy pages tome absolutely deserves this “in your face” treatment.

I read the first twenty installments (24 pages each) of Gaiman’s game changing graphic novel series (from 1989 to 1991) in sequence and absolutely loved every page and moment of it! Dark, haunting, gruesome, poetic, enigmatic and yet lucid all at the same time, wrapped in such a handsome package.

Even if so much within is extremely disturbing, Gaiman’s stories and the art and layout design make reading this volume a blissful experience.

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Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Search by Gene Luen Yang

avatarsearch1avatarsearch2Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Search by Gene Luen Yang (Vols 1-3)
Artwork by Gurihiru
Lettering by Michael Heisler

avatarsearch3My gosh, Gene Yang really is a super fan of the show and the Avatar universe because he totally understands what the fans want. He gives us a satisfying storyline, complete with a cohesive theme of sibling and parent-child relationships, to a long unsolved mystery from the 2005-2008 TV show of one of the beloved characters.  (What am I saying, ALL the main characters are beloved!  The show was that amazing.)  And he gives us new magical beings and great world elements: the Mother of Faces is such a cool creation. Her backstory, tied with Zuko’s mom’s personal history, fits into the Avatar universe seamlessly!

Mother of Faces

Whenever I watch the show, I am always impressed by how well the show creators did their homework.  Every time Chinese writing appears on screen, it is accurate, legible, and usually in perfect and artistic calligraphic form. Dark Horse (the publisher for the GN extensions) did the same: the letter that Zuko’s mom wrote and that we get to read on the background art is in the formal, literary style befitting the imagined time period (China/Asia a few hundred years ago?)  And now I am reading the third extended story: Avatar, the Last Airbender: The Rift.  It’s all about Toph Beifong (my personal favorite character in the show…) and will apparently bridge her story from the 2005 show to the recent Legend of Korra.  Two more volumes to go and another post to follow.

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Marvels by Brian Selznick

marvelsThe Marvels by Brian Selznick

In this third installment of a loosely connected (by form, by theme, and by narrative progression) literary trilogy, following the previous two marvelous titles: The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick once again pours his artist’s soul and a writer’s heart into the tome and brings readers a moving tale. Much like the other two picture-novels, The Marvels features instant and fast friendship among two young characters, a cross-generational relationship that grows from suspicion and uneasiness to faithful loyalty, and the deep and palpable connection a person can have with history.

I had a grand time looking through the pictures and reading the story and was unbelievably moved (to a whole lot of tears) as the truth of the story of the Marvels family was revealed. And also by the fact that Brian’s portrayal of the gay characters is without additional fanfare: subtle and yet you can’t misinterpret.

I imagine the book an instant hit with all my students when it’s published on September 15! Can’t wait to hear their reactions!

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Chew (Series) by John Layman & Rob Guillory

Taster's Choice (Chew, Vol. 1)

Chew by John Layman, artwork by Rob Guillory

Not for the faint of heart or queasy of tummy. There are laugh-out-loud scenes and almost-puke-my-guts-out scenes. Definitely cannot read this and have a meal at the same time.

Since 2009, the series creative duo, Layman & Guillory, have brought us 50 installments and 10 collective volumes (August 2015) of this bizarre tale of a Chinese American FDA detective Tony Chu with a superhuman ability: Tony can bite into any once living organism and have vivid “recollection” of the scenes in that living organism’s life, including the circumstances surrounding its death.  So, when he arrived on a murder scene, he is required to take a bite out of the corpse…   But, wait, others also have strange abilities like, a food critic able to write reviews that make the readers actually “taste” the meal (including the terrible ones), a chocolate sculptor who can recreate any landmark in 100% accurate details, etc.

And then you have the U.S. Government’s top secret weapon, Poyo, a rooster with nuclear weapon power, other political conspiracies involving NASA and the aliens they deal with, and enough family and love drama to satisfy any soap opera aficionado. Yup.  A crazy smorgasbord of gross but hilarious scenarios.  I absolutely adore this series and can’t wait to read the rest of the collected volumes (planned 12, by mid-2016.)

One of the main reasons that I love Chew is my fondness of Guillory’s artistic style.  And now I think of it, the series definitely fits #weneeddiversebooks movement very well — for older teens.

Meet the artist, Rob Guillory:

robguilloryphoto

And Meet Tony Chu:

meettonyAnd see some of the unusual scenes for yourself:

chewspecial chewcovers chewweirdwedding

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

funhomeby Alison  Bechdel

I savored every page, every sentence, every word of this graphic-narrative memoir. Still didn’t pay enough attention to the details of each panel and will hopefully go back to the book one day to closely examine all the illustrations as well. The tenderness and unflinching truth=telling of Bechdel’s own painful life events touch me deeply. A sense of vicarious catharsis presented itself every time I opened the book in the past few days. I want to “study” this literary masterpiece in an English class so badly — to engrave every overt and covert meaning onto my mind!

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