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ArtHey, Reddit! I'm Gene Luen Yang - creator of the award-winning graphic novel American Born Chinese! I also write New Super-Man (about the Chinese Superman) for DC Comics. AMA!

Dec 15th 2017 by Gene_Luen_Yang • 16 Questions • 41 Points

Hey, everyone! I'm Gene Luen Yang, the creator of the award-winning graphic novel American Born Chinese! I also write New Super-Man (about the Chinese Superman) for DC Comics. AMA!

Proof Pic: https://twitter.com/geneluenyang/status/940652538638098434

Q:

Does your narrative ever visit China? How do you balance the spirit of a character like Superman with the realities of an organization like the CCP?

A:

In New Super-Man, it was hard, right? I've never actually lived in China. I want to be respectful. But at the same time, that Superman S stands for certain things, even when it's on the chest of someone besides Clark Kent.

A central theme of the first eighteen issues of New Super-Man is balance. How will Kenan balance power with vulnerability, human with metahuman, East with West, safety with freedom? I'm trying to take the same approach with the issues you raise, too.


Q:

Does he go to China and ever interact with Chinese culture from an Asian-American perspective? Don't answer if it will spoil anything.

A:

The book is actually set in China. Kenan Kong is a 17 year old kid growing up in Shanghai. We brought him to America (well, DC Universe America -- he went to Metropolis), but most of the stories are set in China.

In Issue #20, out next February, we'll be moving the action closer to the border between China and North Korea.


Q:

Interesting. Are you getting a Chinese print? Do American comics get much traction out there?

A:

As far as I know, there's no official Chinese translation of New Super-Man. We do hear from readers in China, though...


Q:

Interesting. Are you getting a Chinese print? Do American comics get much traction out there?

A:

Jubilee might've been the first one I actually read in an actual American comic book. She was kind of a revelation for me. Now that I'm 44, it's creepy for me to say I have a crush on her, but I swear the crush started when she used to be just a year or two older than me.


Q:

Hahah thanks! Now I have a reading list :)

A:

Wait. You haven't read Totally Awesome Hulk or Ms. Marvel yet? YOu gotta read those books! They're great!


Q:

Hey Gene, I'm a big fan of New Super-Man! I've been shilling it over at r/dccomics. It's great to hear that it avoided cancellation! Was it always your intention to build a Justice League of China?

A:

Thanks for shilling, man! I deeply appreciate the shilling!

The idea for a Justice League of China came out pretty early on. I was doing research, and I realized that so much of modern Chinese pop culture is modelled after American pop culture. For instance, these guys are kind of like the One Direction of China:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cls8ECKf97E

China has a rep for being a copycat, and to be honest I think some of it is deserved, but not always.

Sometimes the Chinese use American art, American music, American symbolism to express something very Chinese.

That's what we wanted the Justice League of China to be. On the surface, they would appear to be "cheap Chinese copies", but underneath they would express something new. (Hopefully.)


Q:

Hey Gene! Thanks for doing this AMA. I read American Born Chinese I read it for school, and as a white American, I felt more connected to the characters than any other book about a different race. What do you think are some barriers for audiences connecting to a character from a different culture, and how do you think authors can get around this?

A:

Thank you for being here! Here's what I'll say. I think it might be true that there are barriers for audiences to connect with a character of a different culture, but dude, kids in minority communities have been doing it for DECADES. Black and Asian and Latinx kids have imagined themselves as Peter Parker since he first debuted. I fully believe kids in the majority culture have as much imagination to do the same.


Q:

Thank you for your response, it's very comforting to hear that those careers can be balanced!

A:

There are many, many cartoonists who are also teachers. Thien Pham, James Sturm, Jessica Abel, Matt Madden... I could give you a list as long as my arm. Totally doable.

I still teach through Hamline University:

https://www.hamline.edu/cla/mfac/


Q:

As someone who has to make some fairly important life choices at the moment (university, etc) it's reassuring to know I could potentially balance my main employment with my other interests. I've been really worried that I'll end up stuck in a single career when there's so many different fields I want to explore, comic writing included. Thanks for your answer!

A:

Thanks for being here, flyin_narwal! And thank you for reading American Born Chinese. The fact that you read it in FIFTH GRADE makes me feel old, but that's offset by the happiness of having you as a reader.

Let me tell you, teaching is an AMAZING profession. I was a high school teacher for 17 years and I still miss having my own classroom. You will love it.


Q:

The story of the monkey martial artist was really prominent. Pretty much explains my experience with racism, sexism, etc. What was the writing process behind the making of that story? Did you go through a lot of drafts?

A:

Hey jaewonblue! Good to meet you! My writing process kind of goes like this: I start with an outline where I lay out all thie big things that are going to happen in the story. For a 200 page graphic novel, this will be like a 4-6 page document. Then I write a script. Then I do thumbnail sketches of each page -- thumbnails are small, rough sketches of where all the panels are and the staging (where characters and props are) within each panel. Sometimes the script and the thumbs are the same document, but not always. Then I do pencils, inks, and letters. Each of those stages is essentially a draft, as I make changes all the way through.

Comics will eat your life, man. But they're also fun to make.


Q:

Hi Mr. Yang! I've been loving New Super-Man since #1 came out, it's one of my favorite books that's currently going.

The biggest question I have (since everyone already asked the good stuff) is:

Betty or Veronica?

A:

Ha ha. Veronica, but only bc she has black hair like my wife. (I love you, honey!)


Q:

Any chance we'll see the JLC team up with the Teen Titans or Titans? I think that'd be interesting to read. Also my friend is begging for an Aquaman of China haha

A:

I don't know I'm supposed to say this, but we were trying to put together a Teen Titans-ish storyline for NSM, but it didn't work out. (Emphasis on "ish")

Tell your friend to keep reading!


Q:

Love your work on new super-man. I know youre really into encouraging kids to read and stuff, but any plans to write stories for older audiences?

Additionally, do you have any writting advice for a weird asian guy whose never been to america but is trying to get into the american comics business?

A:

Thank you! Right now, all my work is either YA or middle grade. I might write for adults someday, but no immediate plans.

Business advice: I began as a self-publisher. Most of my cartoonist friends began in self-publishing. It's hard route, but quite a few of us came out of that world. (Kazu Kibuishi, Raina Telgemeier, Ben Hatke, Jason Shiga...)


Q:

Hi Mr. Yang! Thanks a lot for doing this, I'm a huge fan of your work on the ATLA comics and New Super-Man. I absolutely adore the way you write all the members of the Justice League of China. In particular, the way Kenan, Baixi, and Deilan embody the ideas of their counterparts while still being wonderful, lovable characters in their own right. My question is, are there any stories that primarily influenced your interpretations of who these characters are and what they mean to you? Thanks again!

Edit: Another question if thats not too much, but Dan Abnett introduced a character called "Warhead" relatively recently in his awesome Aquaman run. Is it possible he might show up sometime in Kenan's neck of the woods?

A:

The dynamic between Kenan and Baixi is loosely modeled after the Monkey King and Pigsy. Kenan is a jerk like early Monkey King, but Baixi is much more competent than Pigsy.

Thank you for reading!


Q:

Hey Gene! Me and a couple of big New Super-Man fans have asked Grant Morrison this question and were wondering where you land on the topic.

Cats or dogs?

Thanks for doing the ama!

A:

Cats. Bc you have to earn their love.


Q:

How will the feel of New Super-man n the justice league of china be different to the New Super-man? Also really enjoyed New Super-man.

A:

We're immediately introing a (possible) new team member!