Gene Luen Yang Talks About The Shadow Hero

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Image by First Second.

I hope everyone has picked up a copy of The Shadow Hero for you and your kids’ summer reading. If not, read my review on why you should! Plus, here’s an interview with the writer, Gene Luen Yang:

GeekMom: How was the story and art divided between you and Sonny Liew? What is your creative process?

Gene Luen Yang: I did the writing and Sonny did the art. There was some overlap, of course. Comic books by their very nature demand that the text and the visuals interact, so the writer and the artist have to interact.

I wrote the book as thumbnail sketches—rough sketches of what each page should look like. Sonny reframed the panels that weren’t working. He did all the character designs. He also did extensive visual research on the time period to give the book the proper look and feel.

GM: Who found out about The Green Turtle comic? And how?

GLM: My friend and fellow cartoonist Derek Kirk Kim first pointed it out to me. (If you’re unfamiliar with Derek’s work, I highly recommend it. His latest, Tune, is a wonderful sci-fi rom-com graphic novel series.) Derek had read about the character on Pappy’s Golden Age Blogzine, a blog about obscure Golden Age superheroes.

As soon as I learned the rumors surrounding The Green Turtle’s creation, I became fascinated with him. Was he a Chinese American or wasn’t he? Chu Hing, his creator, never gives his reader a definitive answer. I really wanted that definitive answer, so I teamed up with Sonny Liew to provide one.

GM: I like The Shadow Hero a lot because it has a great blend of action, character, good plot, and humor. The mother is very funny! How did her character come to be?

GLM: Thank you! Hank’s mother was inspired by a few of the ladies at my home church. I grew up in a Chinese American Catholic community. Many of the “aunties” were very much like Hank’s mom. They were well-meaning, but also very… opinionated. Their hearts were always in the right place.

GM: I am currently running an Asian cultural studies camp for teens, and we talked about old stereotypes of Asians in the media (film, tv, comics, etc.). The kids were totally baffled at the caricatures depicted from the turn of the previous century and early decades. What would you like my students to know about Asian stereotypes in today’s media?

GLM: I think that’s great! I’m glad today’s kids are baffled by the caricatures from a century ago. It means things are different now. It means we’re growing in our understanding of culture.

At the same time, stereotypes of Asians and Asian-Americans still pervade today’s media. An Asian or Asian-American character’s ethnicity can sometimes be used as a lazy way of flattening her, of sidestepping her humanness. Pay attention and you’ll see it. The long-term solution—or at least one of the long-term solutions—is to tell better stories about Asian-Americans.

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GM: The Shadow Hero certainly sets things up for more adventures. Are you planning on telling more?

GLM: I have vague notions of doing two more Shadow Hero books: One about the relationship between early Chinatown and early Japantown, another about The Green Turtle in post-World-War-II China. Nothing’s set, though. We’ll see how this first book does.

A big thank you to Gene for taking the time to answer my questions! Here’s to more of The Shadow Hero.

Rebecca Angel was one of those kids that put the dragon book on top of her pile in the hopes that someone would say, "Hey, I'm into that stuff too!" Alas, she had to wait until she was an adult to find fellow geeks. Luckily, she married one and their kids are too. A music teacher by day, Rebecca is also a lover of tea, science literacy, funky tights, RPGs, anime, manga, comics, fantasy books and movies.