Tuesday, December 13, 2011

the tuesday interview: gene luen yang

[thanks, as always, to royalquietdeluxe for this]

I first read Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese when I TA'd a children's lit class as a graduate student and was, without reservation, completely blown away. He lives here in the Bay Area and right after that I had a chance to hear him read at SFPL and then again, this summer, I head him read as part of The Diversity in YA Tour. He strikes me as genuinely curious and is thoughtful and creative in ways that inspire my own work.

RQD: What are you working on? What interests you about these characters?
Gene Luen Yang: I've got three different projects going on right now.1. I'm doing a graphic novel continuation of Nickelodeon's popular animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender for Dark Horse Comics. I'm writing and a Japanese art team named Gurihiru is drawing. I'm a huge fan of the original cartoon, so I'm very excited about this. Of all the main characters, Zuko is my favorite. I relate to his struggle to do -- or even know -- what's right.

2. I'm writing a superhero comic for First Second Books. Sonny Liewis handling the art. The story is set in Chinatown in the 1930's. I can't say much more about the project at this point, but I'm super-excited about this one, too.

3. I'm writing and drawing a graphic novel about The Boxer Rebellion for First Second Books. I've been working on this one for years and years, ever since American Born Chinese came out. The Boxer Rebellion was a war that occurred on Chinese soil over a hundred years ago. At the time, the Chinese government was incredibly weak so the European powers were able to set up concessions all over China -- pieces of land that the Chinese government had no control over. A group of poor, illiterate teenagers from the Chinese countryside decided to take things into their own hands. They performed rituals that called down ancient Chinese gods to possess them. Then, emboldened by the gods' superpowers, they marched through China killing foreigners and Chinese Christians. There are many parallels between The Boxer Rebellion and what's happening in the Middle East today. Of all the projects I'm currently working on, this one is closest to my heart.

RQD: What art or artists interest you?
GLY: I have to confess, I'm pretty comics-y. I read a lot of comics and I am primarily inspired by other cartoonists. My musical tastes are lame. I mostly like pop music from when I was a teenager (late 80's, early 90's -- Rick Astley is totally underrated, as are the Fine Young
). Even my movie tastes are comics-y. Like pretty much every other cartoonist, I love Studio Ghibli movies.

RQD: What book, story or poem do you return to over and over?
GLH: Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. As for prose books, I love Silence by Shusaku Endo.

RQD: What are you reading now?
GLY: I'm reading a collection of Father Brown short stories by G.K.Chesterton. I recently read The New New Thing by Michael Lewis. (I really wanted to read the Steve Jobs biography, but my library didn't have it so I settled for the biography of another Silicon Valley

As I mentioned already, I also read a lot of comics and graphic novels. Comics that I've read in the past month or two: Picket Line by Breena Wiederhoeft, My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf, Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Merrick, Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol, a
volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that I borrowed from a friend, Chris Giarrusso's G-Man with my kids, and the new Wonder Woman comic from DC Comics.

RQD: What did you read as a kid? What is its impact on your work now?
GLY: I read a lot of comic books. :) I also loved Orson Scott Card, Lloyd Alexander, Judy Blume, Clifford Hicks. Remember Clifford Hicks' Alvin Fernald books? I *loved* them when I was a kid. I wanted to be Alvin. I seem to be the only one, though. Nobody else my age knows what I'm talking about.

I remember reaching the end of the J section at my library and feeling lost in the adult section. That's when I latched onto comics. There wasn't much of a YA section when I was growing up.
Illustration: Still from Studio Ghibli via Cartoonbrew

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