Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gene Luen Yang - Comic Artist

Don't let the smile fool you. He gets smeared with ashes just like anyone else.
If you’re experiencing geekcaine withdrawals from the closing of this year’s San Diego Comic-con, then I have just the remedy. Gene Luen Yang is an award-winning Chinese-American comic artist and writer whom you should check out RIGHT NOW if you want to relieve that emptiness inside.

In all seriousness, Gene is a dream-come-true for Christians aspiring to do cool things on the nerdier side of life. Though comics may not be vilified today as they were in the decades following their inception, any involvement with them is unlikely to earn you a high-five with your priest, Sunday school teacher, or beams of praise from your German-Catholic grandparents. Gene, himself born to strict and devout Chinese parents, knows this and has written an insightful article entitled “Telling the Old, Old Story.” It details the commonalities between the histories of Christianity and the modern comic medium, going as far to say they’re complementary:
...(John of Damascus) suggests that our tradition of visual art grows from the very heart of the gospel. When "the Word became flesh and made a dwelling among us" (John 1:14), God expressed the desire to make what was once invisible (the Word) visible (flesh).

To respond to the Incarnation -- the making of the invisible visible -- we must express the Incarnation visually. In other words, we must make comics.
He also makes an astute observation that our beloved stained glass windows are just a graphical representation of a story, in other words, a very expensive comic.

I hate reading clockwise.
As fascinating as you probably think that all is, you should check out Gene’s work from the library, or buy it if you’re one of those people with money. His most well-known is American Born Chinese, which won an Will Eisner award as well as being a finalist for the National Book Awards in the category of Young People's Literature, which is rare for a comic book (maybe unprecedented, too lazy to look up). It interweaves an ancient Asian narrative, in which a monkey king travels to India to retrieve the Buddhist sutras (Journey to the West), with the identity-bending experience of a young boy living between two cultures. Superimpose a Christian interpretation of God onto the braided narrative, and you have a reflection of Gene’s life as well as that of his fictional characters'.

That guy's always in control. What's the deal?
In the end...I decided I wanted to do an Asian-American telling of this (Journey to the West). Christianity has had a profound effect on Asian American identity. I feel like it’s a particular style of Christianity that emphasizes where Western Christian morality and a Confucian-based moral system intersect. You visit any college with Christian groups or clubs, you’ll usually find a lot of Asians in those groups. -Gene Yang in an interview with
He openly admits that his religion is one of the most important aspects of his identity, the other being his heritage (talkingwriting), and you can certainly pick up subtle hints of that in all his work. It shows up in the form of philosophy, or theology if someone took out deliberate Judeo-Christian references to God and his works. This investigation into morality is very apparent in the collection Animal Crackers, The Eternal Smile, and Level Up. In other words, in pretty much everything he does.

Seriously, buy it so you can pretend to have a ridiculously large Game Boy (story's good too).
If by any chance Gene sounds too intellectual or not geeky enough to be your mentor in spirit, you should know that he's in charge of writing the Avatar: The Last Airbender comic continuation. Yeah, the series is in good hands.

More on Gene Luen Yang:
The Millions interview  (Great insight about race representation)