The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Sonny Liew
2014 • 176 pages • First Second
On Monday, The Mary Sue republished Lilian-Ann Bonaparte’s Black Girl Nerds essay on the importance of racebent fanart, “For Black Girls who considered Esmerelda Black when Cinderella wasn’t enuf: The Importance of Race-Bending Fan-Art.” It is well worth a read—Bonaparte specifically fixes on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the greatest of the Disney Renaissance films—but Bonaparte makes herself very, very clear at the end of it: “Race-bending is radical, progressive and imperative for the WOC who are starved for more positive representation in media.”
Gene Luen Yang, I think, would undoubtedly agree with Bonaparte. Given his measured but angry response to the atrociously whitewashed Avatar: The Last Airbender film (could have had it all, rolling in the deep, etc.), it’s very tempting and, I think, rewarding to think of The Shadow Hero as Yang’s opportunity to avenge the scores of Asian characters who have been whitewashed over the years for the sake of appealing to a “wider” (which is a very odd way to spell “whiter”) audience.
Level Up by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Thien Pham
Confession: I didn’t read any comics in public on Read a Comic Book in Public Day. I felt like an awful nerd, even though I would go on to prove my nerd cred by stomping around in the absolutely atrocious heels of my Dr. Quinzel costume and being part of the choir preached to at a wonderful panel about women in comics the weekend after. But circumstances weren’t right, and the idea of exposing any of my single issues to the rigors of my daily routine made me quake in my boots. (Well, sandals. Georgia only really has two seasons.) Thus chastened, I found myself eying the graphic novel shelf at my local library, and took this little number home to make up for my transgression.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
I first encountered Gene Luen Yang when his comic Prime Baby was serialized in The New York Times. It was, quite frankly, adorable—a little sci-fi tale about a young boy coming to terms with his baby sister and her ability to spit out pods filled with the most helpful and cheerful aliens known to man. The art was simple and appealing, the characters fantastically human, and the jokes were funny. I think you can still read it here—I highly recommend it. So when I saw American Born Chinese on the graphic novel shelf at my local library (why yes, my local libraries are awesome), I decided to take it home.