The late Dwayne McDuffie (Justice League of America) called Secret Identities a “criminally overdue treasure trove …as rousing, uplifting, tragic and funny as our deepest secret fantasies.” Walt Simonson (Thor) called it “a window into truths you never thought of before.” And DC Comics’ co-publisher Jim Lee said of the groundbreaking first anthology, “Fabulous!…I am more than a little in awe.”

Now, three years later, the team behind Secret Identities is back with a new volume — bigger, bolder and more breathtaking in scope. Like the groundbreaking original, the next incarnation of Secret Identities unfurls an ingenious “shadow narrative” of the Asian American experience, set against the larger-than-life canvas of the comic book cosmos.

But while the first collection focused on the conventions of superhero comics, its sequel expands its horizon to include edgier genres, from hard-boiled pulp to horror, adventure, fantasy and science fiction. Using this darker range of hues, Shattered seeks to subvert — to shatter — the hidebound stereotypes that have obscured the Asian image since the earliest days of immigration: the stoic brute, the prodigious brain, the exotic temptress, the inscrutable alien, the devious manipulator.

Creators included in the eclectic and impressive lineup include leading Asian American comics creators such as Gene Yang (National Book Award finalist for American Born Chinese), GB Tran (Vietnamerica), Christine Norrie (Hopeless Savages), Sonny Liew (Malinky Robot), Larry Hama (G.I. Joe), Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman), Bernard Chang (Supergirl), Sean Chen (Iron Man), Greg Pak (The Hulk), and Takeshi Miyazawa (Runaways), as well as film and literary standouts such as Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet), Michael Kang (The Motel) and Tanuj Chopra (Punching at the Sun). The original graphic short stories they’ve crafted cover topics from ethnic kiddie shows to China’s AIDS policy to air flight security procedures; from the untold backstory of Flash Gordon’s nemesis Ming the Merciless, to the gritty reality of a day in the life of a young Koreatown gangster.

The first book has become a must-read book for fans of graphic storytelling — Graphic Novel Reporter called it “entertaining, provocative and powerful,” while Eclipse magazine gave it an “A” grade and called it “tremendously rewarding.” But it’s also been widely adopted as course material in ethnic and cultural studies programs as a unique lens on the frequently overlooked history of Asian America.

Shattered is poised to join its predecessor as a contemporary classic of the graphic novel form, incorporating thrills, chills and delight while exposing the hidden issues and vital truths of the nation’s fastest growing and most dynamic community.

Jeff Yang, the founder of the pioneering Asian American periodical aMagazine, writes the Tao Jones column for the Wall Street Journal and is a frequent contributor on NPR. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Parry Shen, best known for his lead role in the hit MTV Films movie Better Luck Tomorrow, lives in Southern California. Keith Chow, an educator and writer, lives in Maryland. Jerry Ma, the founder of the design studio Epic Proportions, lives in New York City.


Good News and Bad News from SI Contrib Tak Toyoshima…

Well, you may have heard already that United Features Syndicate didn’t renew Tak Toyoshima‘s awesome strip SECRET ASIAN MAN for daily syndication–their loss, dammit. Here’s Tak’s announcement of the news:

After just over three years of daily syndication with United Features, Secret Asian Man will shift gears and return to a weekly format. On Saturday September 19, 2009 papers will run the very last daily strip. It was disappointing that United Features decided to pull the plug but at the same invigorating to think of the freedom. I’m not going to bad mouth United Features at all but it will be liberating to be able to act on SAM related projects without having to clear them…and there are a couple I’m already working on.

So what does this mean for the strip? The characters and continuity will remain but I will produce one larger strip a week (like a Sunday comic format) and will keep running in publications and web sites that choose to continue running it. I even picked up a couple of new papers! The very last daily strip will reveal a major development in SAM’s life so stay tuned, see what happens and onward and upward for SAM!

On the other hand, the return to weekly format gives Tak more time to…BE A DAD TO HIS NEW BABY SON, born at 5 pm today, and joining his proud parents and big bro Owen in the Toyoshima household. (Just missed being one of our Secret Identities babies…) Congrats to Tak!

And thanks, Tak, also for joining me at the Asian American Journalists Association convention (link: Gil Asakawa’s Nikkei View) this year for a signing session that was, uh, light in numbers, but huge in camaraderie. See you when we’re back up in Boston in the fall!


Today, the Washington Post was justifiably sandblasted when its latest attempt to shrink millions of dollars worth of losses—a program that would sell access to top editorial executives (as well as unsuspecting high-level government officials) for as much as $250,000 a pop—were revealed by The Politico.

The Post subsequently canceled the “salons,” with WaPo staffers indicating they were “shocked, shocked” at the way the events were being

“You cannot buy access to a Washington Post journalist,” Brauchli told POLITICO. Brauchli,was named on the flier as one of the salon’s “Hosts and Discussion Leaders.”
Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0709/24441.html#ixzz0K7zRA0h4

The First-Ever Kiyama Award!

So, if you’ve been following the updates across the comics world (say, at Heidi McDonald’s essential “The Beat” column), you know that the first-ever Asian American ComiCon is giving out its first-ever installment of an annual award, which organizers have dubbed the Kiyama Award—after Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama, a Japanese American artist and cartoonist who lived and worked in San Francisco in the late Twenties and early Thirties.
Now why should that matter? Well, in 1931, Kiyama published his breakthrough book The Four Immigrants. A poignant collection of cartoon stories about life as a Japanese student expatriate in early 20th century San Francisco, the book explores the issues these early immigrants faced in a world whose language, culture and traditions were new, strange and confusing.
What makes The Four Immigrants special—and what makes Kiyama a verifiable pioneer, if somewhat by accident—is that, despite being originally intended for newspaper serialization, Kiyama’s stories were never published in that form. Which means that the first time they saw print was in this single, bound-and-collected book. This publication format, along with the fact that the stories in Four Immigrants featured a group of semiautobiographical characters (based on Kiyama and his friends) who grew, evolved and contended with real historical issues and events, has led some to advocate that it be recognized as the first original graphic novel published in America (arriving a decade before Virginia Lee Burton’s Calico the Wonder Horse in 1941 and nearly two decades before Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller’s It Rhymes with Lust in 1950).
As Heidi notes, that’s a controversial stance to take—but it’s one that the book’s translator, the always sagacious Fred Schodt, has defended persuasively in this essay. Fred notes that the characters in Four Immigrants have a definitive and rather sophisticated narrative; even though many strips in the book have the look and beats of gag comics, the characters are richer and more organic than those found in, say, “Nancy” or “Bazooka Joe.” They encounter and react to real-life events; they grow and change; they have actual arcs–for instance, two of the four immigrants end up returning to Japan, frustrated by the restrictive government policies of the era.

Schodt notes: “[Four Immigrants] visual style resembles that of U.S. gag newspaper strips…but its content– a serious story of an autobiographical nature, using apparently ‘real’ characters, who mature and develop over time– is closer to a modern ‘graphic novel’ than it is to early comic strips or comic books.”

Works for me! Anyway, regardless of where you stand on this somewhat academic argument, Kiyama’s status as a unique and pioneering graphic fictionalist is not in question; his role in bridging two worlds, and his use of sequential art to tell quintessentially Asian American stories—all of these underscore his worthiness to serve as the namesake for an award honoring later creators who’ve done the same.
For this inaugural year, we’re delighted to present this award to Larry Hama, the masterful writer who created the G.I. Joe universe, edited and scribed dozens of other titles (including Nth Man, Wolverine, Generation X, and Batman), and has just completed work on the first issue in a much-anticipated limited series featuring another real American hero—Barack the Barbarian.
The award itself is in the process of being created: Benton Jew, artist for “Driving Steel” in Secret Identities, has done a wonderful sketch of Henry Kiyama (with his omnipresent pet parrot!) that we’ll be engraving on a glass tablet in Larry’s honor. We did want to reassure Larry that this is not meant to be a “lifetime achievement award”: Something tells us that much of Larry’s best work still lies ahead…and as always, we’ll be looking forward to reading it!

SOMEWHAT MORE ON-TOPIC: Parsing the Politics of Caricature; Rich Lowry Is a Moron

Oh, man. As if we needed another reminder as to why cartoon art is a medium that can be used for evil as easily as good, comes now the next installment in a series of racist National Review covers trafficking in Asian stereotypical imagery.

You’ll remember, of course, that back in March 1997, the National Review released the infamous “Manchurian Candidates” cover seen here (which, due to the fact that the Internet was just a tot when that slice of tripe hit the newsstands, I was only able to find in greyscale — embedded in a journal article written by Darrell Hamamoto, w00t!). Asian Americans understandably reacted with stunned rage at the depiction of then-President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton, and Vice-President Al Gore in stereotypical Chinese garb, their features warped into exaggerated Asian caricatures (slanted eyes, buck teeth).

The National Review was unrepentant in the face of charges that the cartoon was offensive and inflammatory, responding, in part, that:

“Caricatures and cartoons … require exaggerated features and, where a social type is portrayed, a recognizable stereotype. Thus, a cartoonist who wants to depict an Englishman will show him wearing a monocle and bowler hat, a Frenchman in beret and striped jersey, a Russian in fur hat, dancing the gopak, etc.”

The first point can’t entirely be disputed: The cartoon medium often uses simplified, exaggerated features for emphasis, for satirical purpose and for ease in depicting broad emotion.

But it’s one thing to exaggerate features — Obama’s protruding ears invariably become giant jug-handles when he’s rendered, for instance. (The Mike Ramirez cartoon below actually essentializes Obama’s appearance down to his ears — and still manages to make its point clear.

It’s another to incorporate racialized features that weren’t there to begin with: For instance, consider these images — a caricature of Obama from an “Obama Waffles” package, as gleefully sold during the right-wing “Values Voters Summit,” and a close-up of Obama’s official portrait from his days as Senator from Illinois.

Apart from being overtly racist, the caricature on the box doesn’t remotely resemble Obama — with its pop-eyed expression, darkened skin, enormous, toothy grin and thick lips, it looks a lot more like…well, the picture below can speak for itself, I guess.

Going back to the National Review “Manchurian Candidates” cover now, what you see is that there’s more going on in the images of the Clintons and Gore than the typical flamboyant exaggeration used in cartooning. In addition to Bill’s bulbous nose and Gore’s pursed, almost sneering lips (both typical of their respective caricatures), you see…hmm…narrowed eyesoversized, bucked teetha Fu Manchu moustache — hey, just about every racist synecdoche in the anti-Asian propaganda library! (At least the stuff that belongs above the waist.)

Just to be clear here: It’s one thing if they were simply drawn in Chinese clothing or doing quaint folkdances, as suggested by the National Review in its disgenuous response. That would arguably be in-bounds satirically (regardless of whether you find the political point being made to be fair or accurate).

But layering yellowface-propaganda memes into the picture transforms the caricature from an act of humor into an act of war. The images to the right are examples of what I’m talking about.

Even if you’re insensitive enough to racial propriety to want to give white people Asian features in order to prove a political point, that simply isn‘t what Asian people look like, and never has been. The squinty, buck-toothed Asian person with bright yellow skin and eyes angled at ten minutes to two does not exist in nature. However much you soften it, those false features are in fact weapons of mass destruction, artifacts of an era where it was used to dehumanize the enemy enough so they could be killed without compunction.

For that reason, there’s no acceptable way they should be invoked in a casual popular context, any more than minstrel stereotypes or anti-semitic “Elders of Zion” caricatures have a place in everyday culture. Discouragingly, they remain persistent in media today — from entertainment (see left: Rob Schneider in 2007’s “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry“) to news and commentary. Well, actually not most news and commentary — it’s really only the profoundly racist right-wing organs that still blithely fart out the yellowface imagery. Like, for instance…the National Review.

This cover to the right is the current issue of the magazine, on stands now. As you can see, it depicts Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as the Buddha. Despite the fact that Sotomayor is Catholic and a Latina woman. While the historical Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama, was Hindu (before the whole Bodhi tree thing), and an Asian man.

The caption, “The Wise Latina,” frankly offers no real f*cking explanation for the image. I suppose it’s because the Buddha was wise, although you could just as easily have depicted Sotomayor as King Solomon if you’re looking for a legendary figure of wisdom; maybe it’s because to the raving radical Right, Buddha is seen as a proto-hippie and probably a pansy too, while King Solomon, that guy threatened to cut babies in half — not very pro-life, but not “empathetic” either. Badass!

But seriously: If they wanted a figure of wisdom and empathy, why not caricature Sotomayor as someone who’s of the right gender and a coreligionist, at least: Mother Teresa? That would have preserved the necessary level of corrosive offensiveness, right? Too close to home?

Whatever. As it is, the cover is just stupid and meaningless, as well as offensive — to women, to Latinas, to Buddhists of all backgrounds (note: The National Review guys are of the same ilk that went ballistic when Rolling Stone depicted Kanye as Jesus), and yes, to Asians. But it bears mentioning that it registers as EPIC FAIL even in the offending Asians category.

Because, unlike their “Manchurian Candidates” cover, where at least they picked the correct racist stereotypes to parade, the “Wise Latina” cover puts the hideously slanted eyes and bucked teeth of East Asian yellowface stereotype onto an image inspired by a Northern Indian man of Brahmin descent.

In fact, to the left here you can see the original image of Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha that the artist used as a reference (it’s actually quite a popular icon). Notice any differences?

As usual, National Review has been quick with a completely absurd and totally disingenuous retort to the appalled reactions they’ve been getting from, you know, everyone. From editor-in-chief Rich Lowry:

“I take it the theory is that we don’t think Latinas can be wise so we had to make her look somewhat Asian. Or something like that. What these people don’t understand is the entire concept of caricature (or of a joke). Caricature always involves exaggerating someone’s distinctive features, which is all that our artist Roman Genn did with Sotomayor. Oh, well. Keep it humorless, guys, keep it humorless.”

No, Rich, the theory is that you took a Latina woman and turned her into a North Indian man with horribly racist East Asian-stereotypical features because you guys are clueless morons. And actually, that’s kind of funny, in that Lowry and the National Review don’t quite get that the joke, ultimately, is on them.

ALSO KINDA OFF-TOPIC: I wants my Palm Pre, but not if they’re gonna advertise it this way

(Another tangential post that I’ll reel back into Asians and comics at the end. I promise!)

So, I’m up for a new phone, and I’ve been eyeing the Palm Pre with a certain slavering hunger (Parry and Jerry rock the smexy iPhone of course, and whip it out annoyingly whenever an opportunity arises), but I’ve been in a death-clench with Sprint as my only provider since I got a mobile phone; we shall both go down together. And so, with the iPhone an AT&T-only property for now, my options are limited.

I’ve got old love in my heart for Palm. I had a series of Treos, before begrudgingly switching to Blackberry when it became obvious the Treos just weren’t hacking it anymore. And now, the Pre—which seems to be a legitimate rival to the handheld many call the JesusPhone. So may maybe the Pre wants to be the BuddhaPhone? At least that’s what their marketing suggest, kinda. Or something.

If you haven’t seen it yet, their big teaser ad for this Saturday’s release is called “Flow,” and it features your basic porcelain white demigoddess on a rock being worshipped by an emotionless army of Asian drones, performing rippling moves in rhythm with the dance of her slender ivory fingers. It’s unsettling. Like, Verizon‘s “network” ads are freaky enough, but at least the crowd following the dude is a.) multicultural and b.) smiling.

This, on the other hand, does that whole “Asians as synchronized mob” thing that I can’t help but find a little troubling—like, it’s cool we can do stuff that requires massive discipline and collaboration (see: Beijing Olympics, Cirque du Soleil acts) but why is it always done in a flat-featured, mechanical way that erases individual identity? (At least they told the drummers at the Bird’s Nest to smile, so they didn’t look so robotic. Not here.) Having the empowered white queen on a pedestal in the center of the Asian hive only makes it that much more creepy, if you ask me.

Anyway, in the real world, wouldn’t it be the other way around? Like, a whole bunch of blank-faced Caucasians worshiping an Asian person with a TOTES AWESOME PHONE, because Japan and Korea get all the good stuff first? In Japan, Pre is short for “(only appropriate for) Pre-(schoolers, since our phones already rock so much harder.)”

But Asians always get depicted as faceless, identical hordes, don’t we? Like in the comics (see Keith? I’m bringing it back to Asians and comics!). Remember “Contest of Champions“? China‘s “national representative” for that lame-o crossover was the Collective Man. Some wikilove for Collective Man:

The Collective Man is actually an identity shared by the Tao-Yu brothers. They possess the mutant power to merge into one body, which variously possesses the collective strength of all five men or of all of the people of China. The brothers also share a psychic/spiritual link that allows them to telepathically communicate and teleport to one another.

Oh yes, they’re also quintuplets. Five people, all look same! Share one power, can join together using Socialist principles into glorious “super” work team!

(This, by the way, is the future of the Gosselin kids: Merger into one giant, Voltron-esque Gosslective, their unholy strength powered by collective rage at their parents.)

And how about this one, from Grant Morrison’s horrible attempt at creating a China super-team, Great Ten (Wikipedia)?

Mother of Champions: Real name Niang Guan Jun, is a woman who can birth a litter of twenty-five super-soldiers about every three days. She uses a metallic chair with six insect-like legs to remain mobile during her pregnant state….it is revealed that she has had thousands of children, and that each batch of superhuman children are conceived by suitors whom she hand picks.

Eewww. That’s wrong in just so many ways. Like…she’s the mother/whore dichotomy in one misguided ultimate combo. And she births “litters,” like a dog or pig, although really if you’re talking 25 soldiers every three days, it’s more like “spawning” than “birthing.”

…let’s just move on.

All I’m saying is, we hardly need more Asians-as-undifferentiated-drone-army bullsh*t. Non-Asian superheroes get to be grim-n-gritty individualists, lone-wolf mavericks who ride motorcycles and throw around awesome taglines like “I’m the best there is at what I do” and “Bub.” Asian superheroes, meanwhile, are cannon fodder—the original Clone Army.

Maybe I’ll get a Samsung Instinct.


Okay, so this is a little off the rails of this blog’s intended purpose (e.g., discussion of Asian Americans, comics, and Asian American comics), but I don’t currently have anywhere else to post my thoughts on breaking events, and anyway, I’ll do my best to circle back to some kind of rationale for posting this here.

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Wingnuttia) is one of the most vitriolic attackers of the Supreme Court candidacy of Judge Sonia Sotomayor; notably, he’s called into question her membership in the Hispanic American advocacy organization National Council of La Raza, which he has referred to as a “Latino KKK without the hoods and nooses.” (And without the history of racist violence, or supremacist ideology, or toxic anonymity, or deep-rooted influence on America’s tragic record on race. But otherwise, just exactly like the KKK!)

Of course, this only opens up the standard “takes one to know one” line of retort, and by that standard Tancredo should be quite the authority on knowing racists.

You see, Tancredo’s hostility toward Sotomayor is due in great part to his broader hostility toward off-white folk, especially those who hail from places other than this great nation of ours (and only ours): The grandson of Italian immigrants has spent most of his legislative career and bully-pulpit bandwidth trying to turn out Liberty’s lamp, lock the golden door, and disperse the huddled masses with pepper gas and rubber bullets.

  • He sponsored a bill called the “Mass Immigration Reduction Act,” which would have imposed an indefinite moratorium on immigration to the United States. Under the act, only spouses and children of American citizens would be allowed to immigrate.
  • He believes illegal immigrants are the greatest threat to America’s security, claiming that federal prisons are overflowing with illegals, some of whom aim to “harm people,” and has been quoted as saying “They’re coming here to kill you, and you, and me, and my grandchildren.” During his abortive campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, he released an ad called “Tough on Terror,” positing a future in which inept border security leads to a catastrophic new terrorist attack. Over images of an injured child and a wrecked train, the ad’s voiceover says, “There are consequences to open borders beyond the 20 million aliens who have come to take our jobs … the price we pay for spineless politicians who refuse to defend our borders against those who come to kill.”
  • He wants to spend billions erecting an enormous wall between Mexico and the U.S., and believes mayors and city council members who adopt “sanctuary city policies” should be tried as criminals.

  • And to ensure that his bizarre brand of ultra-paranoid xenophobia spreads virally through the ranks of the Right’s next generation, he’s created a PAC that “identif[ies], recruit[s], and help[s] elect to public office individuals who are committed to enforcing our laws and securing our borders.”

And that’s where the sad part comes in. It turns out that the guy Tancredo appointed to run this PAC as executive director is a toolbox named Marcus Epstein…who happens to be half Korean, half Jewish, and all all a-hole.

Epstein is expected to be sentenced on July 8 for a charge—to which he has pled “guilty“—that he karate-chopped (tae kwon do chopped?) an African American female while calling her “n*gger.” For no reason. While walking down the street muttering to himself. All according to witnesses, including the federal agent who apprehended him.

It’s amazing that Tancredo has been able to find a proxy for his loathsome views who’s actually more insane and racist than he is. It’s embarassing that he happens to be Asian American, though one somehow doubts that he uses that label proudly, any more than does, say, Michelle Malkin.

If there’s anything funny about this sad set of circus clowns, it’s the name of the PAC that Epstein runs on Tancredo’s behalf: It’s called the Team America PAC. Perfect. Did they name the PAC after the hilariously impolitic puppet movie by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, thinking it was a frakkin’ documentary or something?

I’m going to say yes. Because I can totally imagine Epstein, Tancredo and their hate-filled, anti-immigrant pals dressing up in their spare time as a paramilitary super-soldier squad, convinced that they’re defending America against the invading hordes of brown disease-ridden evil rapist deathmongers. Plus Kim Jong Il. Assuming that Epstein’s mom is South Korean, anyway. America, f*ck yeah!

And on that note, please do check out Installment Two of our downloadable, browsable Discussion Guides for Secret Identities—and look, this one happens to be about immigration!

See? I told you I’d circle back somehow.