BY ELLA KIRBY
St. Norbert College was both sad and excited to welcome the third and final installment of the “SkypeTacular” series, hosted by the Cassandra Voss Center. The CVC welcomed Gene Luen Yang to present his lecture titled “American Born Chinese and the Superhero Vacuum” on Friday, Feb. 27, in the Fort Howard Theater.
Yang’s graphic novel “American Born Chinese ” was not only the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award; it was also Publishers Weekly’s Best Comic of the Year. The lecture received a great turnout from SNC students and the community.
Yang began the lecture by sharing a bit about his personal background. His passion for comic books arose early on in his childhood and he started drawing his own comics from as early as fifth grade. Yang has been a cartoonist for nearly 20 years now and his ideas have always been truly imaginative, ever since his first comic book publication as an adult writing about a man who got a spaceship stuck in his nose.
On top of publishing his award-winning graphic novels, Yang has also recently become involved in writing for the “Avatar: the Last Airbender” comic book series, working off the original television program.
In 2013, he both wrote and illustrated the graphic novel “Boxers and Saints,” which appears in two volumes. The book reflects the history of the Boxer Rebellion War in China.
“The Boxer rebellion really embodied Eastern and Western ways of thinking and I have felt this conflict within my own life as an Asian-American,” said Yang.
Yang moved on to talk about the rise of Asian-American writers within the comic book industry, stating “There is this Asian invasion and influx of Asian-American talent into the field of comics.”
“It is interesting to think about this rise when we consider the previous history of Asian-Americans, particularly within American newspapers,” said Yang.
America had its concerns about the Asian immigrants that came over to the country in the late 19th century and the U.S. Congress was pressed to do something about this sudden immigrant increase.
“They started using cartoons as a way of commenting on the situation,” said Yang. Looking back at these comics today, people would notice them as being extremely racist.
“They featured very stereotypical images of Chinese at the time. They would have exaggerated facial features and they would use these exaggerated facial features as a way of emphasizing how inhuman these immigrants were,” said Yang.
As Yang came to the end of his lecture, he presented his three theories as to why there are so many Asian Americans within the comic book industry. Comic books blend together the elements of pictures and words.
“In Western culture, especially European culture, words and pictures were seen as two separate disciplines,” said Yang. After the reformation Protestants eradicated the blend of words and pictures, as they wanted to separate their visual art from that of Catholics. Asian culture contrasted strongly with this history, especially within art.
“The work was not considered complete unless both words and pictures were there,” stated Yang. From this, Yang’s first theory was that “Maybe our cultural heritage prepares us to work in this field.”
Yang went on to announce his second theory reflecting the birth of the comic book, saying “Embedded within the conventions of the superhero genre is the immigrant experience.”
Superheroes also often have to contend with a dual identity. In Yang’s second theory he stated “The superhero genre in some way also reflects the Asian-American experience.”
In his third theory Yang talked about the impact that Japanese culture has had on American pop culture, saying “Because of the Internet and globalization within the last 15 years, a lot of the way the Japanese do comics has infiltrated America.”
America now expects some sort of Japanese element to be embedded within comic books today. In conclusion to his last theory Yang said that the rise of Asian-American writers is “because this influx of Japanese cartooning culture had prepared the readership for our work.”
Yang’s most recent comic book, “The Shadow Hero,” was published in 2014. It uncovers the true identity of Chu F. Hing’s older comic book “The Green Turtle.” Yang ended his lecture by stating, “It’s possible to be a Chinese-American superhero and it’s possible to be of Chinese heritage and to be an embodiment of American ideals.”