I inherited my love of comics from my dad. He was a huge Marvel fan and when my brother and I found his old collection of Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Thor comics, we were hooked. It never really occurred to me as I was growing up, but as I was about college age, I noticed that my favorite comics lacked heroes that looked like me. Though many of my favorite titles were drawn by Asian artists, there were hardly any Asian heroes in the pages. I was pretty disappointed, but the revelation didn’t put me off comics. In fact, I expanded the types of comics I collected because the super hero genre just wasn’t holding up.
I figured that this was going to the be the state of things. Then a few years ago, I heard about an anthology that would feature Asian American super heroes, Secret Identities: The Asian American Super Hero Anthology.
Be Careful What You Wish For
I ordered a copy of Secret Identities and waited with great anticipation. Would this be the Asian American equivalent of the Milestone Universe, a super hero universe featuring Black super heroes created in the early 90s. Would this anthology encourage the big two to feature more Asian American heroes? I conjured all sorts of hopeful maybes.
It arrived at my doorstep and I tore into the packaging like a mad wolverine to get to its contents. I couldn’t wait to read about super heroes that looked like me. But as I turned the pages, I felt my brow furrow. These weren’t hopeful stories of heroes doing super human deeds. These were angry stories that sought to punish the White Man for years of oppression.
To be fair, not every story came from a place of anger. But the overall vibe of the collection was so angry and bitter that I hid the thing in a dark place on my shelf. I couldn’t recommend this to my non-Asian friends for fear that they’d feel like they were being attacked. I mean, I’m a pretty angry and bitter person in general, but even I felt put off by the overall tone.
These weren’t the heroes I was looking for. These weren’t the stories I had been waiting for.
A Second Glance
Needless to say, I was a bit hesitant when the Secret Identities crew contacted me earlier this year to contribute to their second anthology, Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology. I nearly declined, but I felt that maybe I’d have an opportunity to be part of the solution, to tell a story that featured Asian characters that wasn’t bitter or angry. After some soul searching, I agreed.
I was sent a few scripts to consider and already, my fears were put to rest. These were the kind of stories that I had been looking for. The one that spoke to me the most was Howard Wong’s Master Tortoise and Master Hare. As you might guess, it’s a retelling of the classic Tortoise and Hare fable set in ancient China.
One of my biggest concerns was creating a unique look for Master Hare. To me, the definitive long-eared action hero is Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. I was afraid that my love for Stan and Usagi would creep into my Master Hare. I hid all my Usagi books and my Stan Sakai sketchbooks and collected screen shots of Kung Fu villains and photos of hares.
With Master Hare somewhat settled, I went on to design Master Tortoise. Again, I had to push out childhood favorites out of my mind. I drew a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it first hit the airwaves in the late 80’s. Their head shapes, body contours, hands are all second nature to my drawing hand. I can TMNT with the best of them. So I made a concerted effort to lean on my reference photos of actual tortoises. Even so, you can see the TMNT influence in Master Tortoise’s limbs.
I had an absolute blast drawing the story and playing with these characters. I was pretty pleased with the work and couldn’t wait to see how it fit into the rest of the anthology.
Shattered, A Triumph
I was absolutely elated when I read through the preview copy of Shattered that we creators were sent. This anthology is exactly what I had been looking for. Rather than spending time trying to shame the White Man for years of oppression, this collection concentrates on telling good stories that feature Asian leads. This is a comic I would be proud to share with absolutely everyone I know.
It’s a much more subtle statement than the first collection. It’s not trying to shame you for ignoring the plight of Asians in America. It’s telling good stories that are universal in relate-ability and proving that you can do so while featuring minority leads. It’s a powerful statement and one of the reasons I think this is such an important work.
Shattered is on shelves now. If you’re in the DC area and haven’t yet picked up a copy, you can come on down to Busboys and Poets on Monday from 6:30pm to 8:00pm for a signing. I suggest grabbing food at Chinatown Express before to stuff your face full of dumpling and noodle goodness.
And if you’d like to hear from some of the other contributors, here’s a list of us who have blogged about our experiences: