Writing Themselves In

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jeff Yang, "Asian Pop" columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and one of the editors of Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology (New Press, 2009), Asian Americans are well represented among the writers, artists and readers of contemporary comics, now they have a place among the superheroes.

Download a PDF preview of Yang's book


Jeff Yang

Comments [22]

Richard from San Francisco

In short, manga seems to fuse the "best of both worlds" together, being easy to relate to characters and/or culture, but still leaving out "Asian-Americans" as the character is for the most part unknown and the culture unique. It definitely has influenced the trends though.

Apr. 24 2009 07:30 AM
Richard from San Francisco

Regarding manga, Japanese comics, the characters are drawn with looks that are more commonly associated with Caucasian features, Japanese specific image or other ethnic group by "Asian-Americans", not the least bit even resembling "Asian" as they are portrayed in the U.S., besides hairstyles and names that is. Also, the stories are mostly Japanese centric, which is easy to understand, but otherwise about some other fantasy world based on German, French, Italian, Latin, or otherwise European theme. "Americans" are a curiosity or rival usually, and "Asian-Americans" are hardly, if not never presented.

Apr. 24 2009 07:11 AM
Roy from Queens

Interesting that someone here mentioned "Watchmen". There's no ethnic masked heroes in the story, yet the recent film adapation was co-written by Alex Tse, a Chinese-American.

Apr. 23 2009 10:48 PM
Dame CuchiFrita from Brooklyn

Love that we are bringing up the issue but there are also what I would call the "black asians" naturally curly hair and dark skin from a specific part of the world . Bet no one does comics about them in the mainstream american pop culture, and these people have a rich tradition of legends and superheroes simply by the fact they are historically are in the bottom of the world's economic and political totem pole.

Apr. 23 2009 11:13 AM
Jason from Midtown

[____] , you're mixing up two very different things between Asian comics and characters versus Asian American ones. There is a huge difference of life experiences between the two.

[A portion of this comment was removed by WNYC staff as per a user's request.]

Apr. 23 2009 11:12 AM
kevin from Chelsea

And then again johnny Quest and Haji

Apr. 23 2009 10:59 AM
mike from brooklyn

this might be the best example, but I always thought Data from Goonies would have made a great super hero human.

Apr. 23 2009 10:58 AM
Jonathan Kaplan from Long Island

This reminds me of a lot of Beau Sia's poetry, who has been chronicling the marginalizaton and or lack of asians in popular culture.

Apr. 23 2009 10:57 AM
Laurence from Manhattan

Does Godzilla count? The monster was often a misunderstood 'good guy', no?

Apr. 23 2009 10:57 AM
gerald from brooklyn

everyone should check out The Maximortal by Rick Veitch. It's a brilliant deconstruction of the idea of the super hero.

Apr. 23 2009 10:57 AM
suki from Williamsburg

There are considerably more female Asian "superheroes." To what does your guest attribute this?

Apr. 23 2009 10:57 AM
Theo Coulombe from Brooklyn

My neighbor Totaro! A great kids hero!

Apr. 23 2009 10:56 AM
kevin from Chelsea

What about Astro boy and the eighth man?

Apr. 23 2009 10:55 AM
Joanna from Brooklyn

Himura Kenshin!

Apr. 23 2009 10:55 AM

when i was a kid i was really proud that teenage mutant ninja turtles had so much japanese influence. and splinter was a japanese karate master turned rat mutant. i might have been a bit of stereotyping but it made me proud.

Apr. 23 2009 10:54 AM
Pat from nyc

Pokemon, Charzard, Dragonball Z, Astroboy, Gigantor....

Apr. 23 2009 10:54 AM
antonio from park slope

Optic nerve (wriiten by adrain tomine) is not a super hero comic book, but it is definitely inspiring with its varied subject matter..racial dynamics, young adult life etc

Apr. 23 2009 10:53 AM
Naoko from Osaka, Japan

As for the sports field, Sadaharu Oh.
As for the movie world, Bruce Lee.

Apr. 23 2009 10:53 AM
John-Paul from Elizabeth NJ

Props to Bernard Chang, architect, comic artist, fine artist.

Also, I think one of the greatest non stereotypical Asian characters in comics I've ever read was Milestone's (one of the first major African American owned publishers) was Xombi by John Rozum.

In response to the idea clip played, Iron fist was a blonde white guy.

Apr. 23 2009 10:51 AM
Betty Anne from UES

It's not just comic books here. Asians to the best of my knowledge are not represented in any major way in the American media spectrum.

Apr. 23 2009 10:50 AM

I've always been surprised at the paucity of Asian superheroes in comics. There's lots of Asian comic book fans, and many of the most popular artists (such as Jae Lee, Jim Lee) are Asian. And there's a lot of influence of Asian arts and culture.

There seem to be far fewer African-American and Latino creators, but more of a demand for that representation.

Also, you should ask Mr. Yang for his opinion on the white-washing of the casting of the Avatar movie.

Apr. 23 2009 10:49 AM

Heard some good advance word on Yang's book.

As '70's kids desperately hungry for Asian faces in U.S. media, we always suspected/hoped that Marcie, Peppermint Patty's more cautious friend from "Peanuts", was actually Asian. Check the classically Chinese bobbed/banged haircut, the glasses, and the stereotypical academic overachievement and ineptitude at sports. Also, she's curiously familiar with classical music (probably not by choice, if you met her mother.) Plus, like us, she showed un-American elder respect, with the constant "Sir" bit.

(If Marcie grew up, would she be Wendy Yoshimura, the prototypically nice Asian American girl - who grew up and grew angry enough to help kidnap Patty Hearst?)

Separately, I'd be interested in seeing how Yang's overview of Asian-American comic heroes differs from some of the more ribald and subversive stories told in Japanese manga, from Tezuka's gender-bending to Nemoto's seminally grotesque, crudely drawn "Bureiku Lullaby" in which a sperm becomes irradiated and thus gains the powers of a full human being, with all the attendant horror involved in being giant human, irradiated sperm.

In a dream world, there will one day be an Asian-American R. Crumb, but that may require, per Crumb's instruction, a lot of LSD. And is there an As-Am version of Watchmen's Rorschach?

Apr. 23 2009 03:01 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.