ASIANS IN COMICS: Long Beach Comic Con 2014

 

 

To my right, Harley Quinn was posing for a picture with Deadpool and Groot. To my left, Chewbaca and a female Loki were casually sipping coffee together. Up ahead, a giant wall was filled with Funko pop vinyls of every Marvel, DC, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones character imaginable.

Yup, I was definitely at a Comic Con.

Long Beach Comic Con was held on September 27th and 28th at the Long Beach Convention Center. The official website describes the event as “a celebration of comic books and pop culture that showcases the exceptional works of talented writers, artists, illustrators and creators of all types of pop culture.”

Although Long Beach Comic Con (LBCC) is much smaller than the famed San Diego Comic Con, it certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, many of the LBCC guests said they preferred the more intimate experience provided by a smaller convention. I admit, I enjoyed that this convention didn’t include pushing, shoving, occasional biting and the general crazy that came along with some of the other conventions I’ve been to. Don’t get me wrong though– there was no shortage of passionate geeking out, squealing fangirls and men who made the poor decision to skip their morning shower in order to be the first in line. No, it wouldn’t be a Comic Con without all that.

And while everything seemed to grab at my attention, there was one thing in particular that caught my eye. Sure, the cosplayers took up all of my camera’s memory and the venders took all of my wallet’s money, but what really captivated me was Artist Alley. Everyone from amateurs to famed illustrators gathered at Artist Alley to share their passion for art.

My mission was simple: I was on a hunt to find Asian American artists who went against the career stereotypes of our community (Doctor, lawyer, doctor, pharmacist, engineer and did I say doctor?) to follow their dreams of being an illustrator. When we announced the creation of Marvel’s Asian American superheroes, Ms. Marvel and Silk, our audience reacted with absolute delight. It was clear that people want to see diversity in their superheroes, but what about the people behind these superheroes? Would it be difficult to find Asian American artists? Do Asians truly turn away from this profession because of family expectations, or was that simply a stereotype of the past?

I went to find out. Check out some of the incredible artists that I found at this year’s Long Beach Comic Con.

 

 

 

 


 

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Albert Nguyen
Age: 32
City: St. Paul, Minnesota, currently in San Francisco 
Favorite Superhero: Wolverine
(I have a theory that kids like superheroes based on how they grew up– I grew up as one of the only Asians in Minnesota, so I always felt very different from everyone. All of the X-Men appealed to me, but Wolverine seemed extra different, so I liked him most.)

What do you do?
I’m an illustrator. I do a lot of Star Wars and some Ninja Turtles stuff. My shtick is putting pop culture icons into famous paintings or famous photographs.

What’s the most favorite thing you’ve worked on?
That’s always changing. I usually like what I’m working on next the best. I see all the ways I could have done things better in my older work. I did once do an oil painting of a friend’s dog wearing a Star Trek uniform and that is definitely up there for favorites though.

Asians in comics?
There’s actually a lot of Asians working as creative professionals! I wonder if it’s taking the discipline of growing up Asian and all the energy you should have put into studying for the MCAT and putting it into drawing that pushes Asians to be really good. I like that art is very close to a pure meritocracy too– if you’re good, people will see that. I think it’s easier in art for that to come through clearly. Race is a sticky thing in modern America. We want to believe we’re beyond racism and bigotry and often uncomfortable talking about it, but it’s there. And it’s definitely there in a lot of non-nerd workplaces. The nerd community has definitely been a very progressive place though. [The Nerd community] is just everyone that’s ever felt different all come together in one place. I think that a lot of nerds have felt ostracized and I have seen that the community is good at accepting others.

Asian characters, that’s still lacking. There really aren’t that many Asian pop culture characters. Most Asian males who are in movies seem to be martial arts masters or really good at drifting. Most Asian female characters tend to get played up as exotic. We need more Asian role models who are fairly normal people. Glenn (Steven Yeun) from Walking Dead is awesome though.  John Cho is doing a lot of good work too.

How did your family react to your career choice?
(laughs) Well I didn’t go into this blind. Being Asian, my parents just wanted to know that I knew what I was doing. I’ve been doing these shows off and on, on top of my day job, for years and I’ve been collecting more and more money. My girlfriend’s actually a financial analyst so she built a financial model for me to project what a year would look like for me. So I presented that to my dad who’s an actuary and he got it.

What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I’m planning to branch out into more properties. Next I think I’m going to do Harley and Joker as Bonnie and Clyde.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE OF ALBERT’S WORK.

 

 


 

 

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Dustin Nguyen
Age: 38
City: LA/Long Beach and now currently in Fountain Valley
Favorite Superhero: Batman :)

What do you do?
I’ve been with DC for around 14 years. I’ve drawn all kinds of Batman stuff, but now I’m moving on to my own book with Image. I’m still doing stuff with DC—a lot of toys and designs for their stuff, but my main focus right now is in creating my own property.

What’s the most favorite thing you’ve worked on?
My favorite thing I’m working on.. is always the project I’m working on now, you know what I mean? The one I’m most proud of right now is Li’l Gotham because we pitched that half a decade ago, like 6-7 years ago and it finally got off the ground. It was the closest to something that I own because DC owns Batman. It was something that was as fun to work on as it was for us to read it. Right now, I’m working on Descender over at Image. I always love the next thing and hate the last thing.

Asians in comics?
I don’t think being Asian has ever created an obstacle for me in anyway in my past 15 years in comics, or has even come up ( aside from the usual jokes at meetings and dinner). If it means anything, some of the best artists working in the industry today are Asian. Jim Lee, who’s not only the most sought after and best-selling artist in comics ever (also happens to be the head co-publisher of DC Comics), is Asian. Comics is one of those industries in entertainment and pop culture where there is truly free range to be creative, regardless of who you are. Unlike music, or Hollywood, the consumer and fans see very little of the talent themselves, but more our creations. So in a way, we don’t really matter, and I think that can be a great thing. Mostly because some artists and writers are weird as hell.

As far as Asian characters themselves in comic books, I think there are a few. Definitely not a lot, but I dont have a problem with that at all. It’s safe to say I like Batman because he’s got a great back story, amazing aesthetic development as a character over the years, and just freaking cool. I’ve never once stopped and thought ‘it would be so cool if he was Asian.. like me.’

Also, I’ll be honest and say the reason there are not many Asian characters in comics, might be because they haven’t made one worthwhile yet, whether through purpose or story. The worst thing you can do when creating a character is creating one for the sole purpose of pandering to a certain demographic– whether Asian, Black, Gay, whatever. Unfortunately, that’s what I’ve seen being done a lot by the higher ups in corporations. It’s insulting to the demographic, and cheapens the character and therefore doesn’t last. Story should come first.

How did your family react to your career choice?
My mom was real cool with it. I grew up in LA and she was always like ‘as long as you’re not in jail, awesome. As long as you have a plan, awesome. ’She was really supportive. She knew I loved to draw and you know, she really saw that there was no money in it. She said ‘you know you’re never gonna make a living, but hey, you’re out of trouble.’ So she was real supportive. My brothers and sisters were all UCLA grads so she was like ‘oh if I lose one, it’s fine’ (laughs) and then it got better so she was fine. She actually has all of my books and she brings it back to Vietnam.

What can we look forward to from you in the future?
Descender definitely. It’s our book that comes out in March. Then next month Li’l Gotham has a toy line coming out—they’re tiny little figure, you can get them with a stand and everything. One statue that I just worked on was Catwoman and we made that into a toyline, but it took 3 years to get going. I have an exclusive cover coming out with Scott Snyder.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE OF DUSTIN

 

 


 

 

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Kristen “Hapa” Lau
Age: 28
City: Alhambra, California
Favorite Superhero: Wonderwoman!
(Beauty Brains and Brawn! Plus, who can resist Linda Carter and that jazzy action fighting theme song?! I sure can’t! She’s AMAZING!)

What do you do?
I’m currently a Freelance Character Designer/Illustrator working for various clients. I have been getting mentored for Character Design and Development alongside Mark Mcdonnell who is a current Disney Master Instructor, whom has helped expand my knowledge and grow as a designer.

What’s the most favorite thing you’ve worked on?
Wow! That’s a hard question! Each piece has its own unique quality to it. I’m jumping into stylization, dynamics, character and overall…. just having fun in what I do! I’m always testing my versatility and challenging myself in shapes and design. I’ve been very lucky and honored to be featured at a few recent gallery shows in LA this year so that helped me tap into the different worlds and genres in my pieces and put my own little twist into it. The most rewarding feeling I get is when I see people smiling at my work. A smile can say so much without saying anything at all– and that keeps me going!

Asians in comics?
I think Asians and Asian Americans are definitely on the radar in this industry. There is so much wonderful talent out there, it’s beyond exciting! I not only have one perspective, I’m lucky to have 3. I’m Asian, Hispanic and American. In all three, it comes down to the same denomination– The work, the passion and your personality.

I’m new in this industry– taking courses, observing, learning, executing everyday. As an artist, all of us are learning and our work is always changing, nothing really stays the same in what we do and THAT’s the exciting part of it—- you can definitely see it in one’s work.  No matter who you are and what your background is, it’s the life in what you do, in what you draw, and your personality combined that shows the true talent and makes one shine bright.

How did your family react to your career choice?
(laughs) Quite well actually. My mother was and still is my ROCK. She was very supportive in what I wanted to do. She’d seen it first hand, so it was no surprise to her that I would be come an artist.

My mother would actually look up courses in community college courses that didn’t have an age requirement and sign me up when I was in middle school  So I was the youngest rugrat there. I didn’t care at all because, heck (yes I said said heck), I got to draw! She supported everything I did. Recently I spoke with her and she reminded me about how I would draw in elementary school and charge .25-.50 per drawing of my classmates’ favorite cartoon characters. I would even sell drawings at my mom’s yard sales! My mom and grandparents were very supportive and I’m glad they saw something in me before I even did.

What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I’m currently working on my first ashcan book full of my daily doodles and drawings I’ve done in the past couple of years. It’s been such a fun ride where I documented my quirks, experiences, notes, drawings and rough sketches — including some of the recent work and new pieces! It’s set to release February 2015 at Long Beach Comic Con Expo so be on the look out for it!

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE OF KRISTEN’S WORK

 

 


 

 

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Ryan Odagawa
Age: 38
City: Los Angeles
Favorite Superhero: Wolverine

What do you do?
I’m a comic book artist and a storyboard revisionist. I do comics and I do my own comic called Shadowzone and I also do freelance work.

What’s the most favorite thing you’ve worked on?
My first job at WildStorm working with Jim Lee. I’ve worked on The Heroes, an online graphic novel for NBC. More recently, I worked on the Cheetos bag – I drew Chester Cheetah. Also, one of the recent jobs I had was on the Ultimate Spiderman cartoon and that was a lot of fun.

Asians in comics?
I think there seems to be a lot of Asians in the art field. I know a lot of Asian parents traditionally want their kids to be doctors, lawyers, etc., but it’s not really what the kid wants to do.  Seems like things have changed over the years where Asians can make a great living doing art. Especially in the Movie or Game industry.

How did your family react to your career choice?
My family was fine with my decision. My dad and several of our relatives on his side are artists, so it was not a big deal. I wanted to start working when I was in high school, but I remember my mom said, “You have to graduate high school first!”

What can we look forward to from you in the future?
Right now I’m working on my own graphic novel called Shadowzone, so I’m currently developing the characters and story.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE OF RYAN’S WORK

 

 


 

 

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Whilce Portacio
Age: 52
City: Born in Cavite City, Philippines. Currently in California
Favorite Superhero: The Silver Surfer

What do you do?
I am now what we call a Creator, I do everything– I pencil, ink, color and create the characters and the story

What’s the most favorite thing you’ve worked on?
So far, it was the creation of the X-Men character Bishop…I was able to create a character I thought was interesting and when the comicbook was published, it was gratifying to see that the audience thought he was interesting too. So it is now a great pleasure to see him in a movie this year.

Asians in comics?
Even before me, there have always been Asian artists. It seems to me that we not only have a great desire to imagine the fantastic, but we somehow have skills needed to realize thee goals.

In the bigger perspective, the world has already gone through the let’s say, “European” myths, legends, heroes…now the world audience in hungry for something new, and since there is an abundance of Asian characters, myths, legends, and heroes that have yet to be presented to the world, I believe it is time to expose all of that, and that the world audience will embrace this new outlook.

How did your family react to your career choice?
I have been winning art awards since the sixth grade, so when I decided to try art as a career, they gave me the chance to try. Like most Asians they didn’t feel it was a good career move, especially me being an honor student. When I made it they quietly accepted it because I could make a living with it. Now that comics are celebrated by society at large they are proud.

What can we look forward to from you in the future?
My partner-creator Glen Brunswick and I just recently launched our book (sci-fi) called Non-Humans for Image Comics, and we are now producing the Second Arc.

Then I am building a studio in Manila to do just this. I have also partnered with young filmmakers to produce them into film. I will then form a school to discover and train aspiring young artists.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE OF WHILCE’S WORK

 

 


 

 

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Ann Shen
Age: 29
City: Orange, California
Favorite Superhero: Wonder Woman

What do you do?
I’m an illustrator.

What’s the most favorite thing you’ve worked on?
A HarperCollins book cover for “Say What You Will”

Asians in comics?
I think that everyone should pursue their dreams and follow their heart, regardless of their ethnic background. The comic book and art world is a place where someone can really take on and address the issues of representation they feel is lacking in mainstream media; it all starts here in your own hands.

How did your family react to your career choice?
When I said I wanted to be an artist as a kid, my mom was freaked out. However, as I got older, I never shook the creative bug and first became a writer and photographer, which eventually led to art school to become an illustrator and designer. My family is fully supportive of my career choice now, especially since my work can be found in stores like Target and Anthropologie!

What can we look forward to from you in the future?
A variety of projects I can’t talk about yet, hopefully coming to your bookstores soon, and booths at more shows! I’ll be at DesignerCon and CTNx here in the L.A. area this November.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE OF ANN’S WORK

 

 

Feature photo by Dustin Nguyen, courtesy of www.dccomics.com

 

 

 


ASIANS IN COMICS Appreciation Post

Comic-Con may be over for the summer, but the fandom behind it is as enthusiastic as ever. The San Diego Comic-Con, which gains thousands of attendees yearly, is still fresh in the minds of many so its not a surprise to me that comics have made its way to being one of the main topics of discussion these past couple of weeks.

One question I was asked was which character I would cosplay as if I were given the opportunity to do so. I found myself hesitating. While I can acknowledge that the Asian presence in the American comic book industry has been making quite some progress, the list of Asian comic book characters that I could choose from still felt slim. To prove my point, my friends laughed while suggesting the only mainstream Asian woman character they could think of off the top of their head: X-Men‘s Jubilee (or apparently if I wanted to be daring, I could also be The Walking Dead‘s Glenn).

Now one could argue that I don’t have to choose an Asian character just because I’m Asian, but quite frankly thats not the point. There’s a reason why we get so excited when we see even one Asian character pop up in a series. You have to give us a break here- it doesn’t happen all too often.

With that said, the Asian presence is slowly, but surely, increasing in numbers. Writers, artists, and even Asian characters have been popping up everywhere and upon closer examination, I realized that the list of characters to choose from was more than I had originally presumed. Much to my delight, it became clear that there are a number of notable Asian figures making strides in the comic book industry. There are people who are working so that in time, I will have more characters suggested to me aside from Jubliee and Glenn (Don’t get me wrong, of course. I’m sure I’d make a lovely Glenn).

It only feels right that we take some time to showcase and appreciate some of these notable Asian comic book characters and the Asian artists behind these works. Lucky for us, this list seems to be growing more everyday.

 

CHARACTERS:

(Women)
cass cain

Cassandra Cain- A Eurasian fictional character in DC Comics who serves as one of many Batgirls (part of the Batman franchise). A gifted warrior, Cassandra Cain was born and trained from birth to be the ultimate assassin. Cassandra was deprived of speech and human contact. Instead, she was taught to read the physical movements of humans in order to determine their next move. Cassandra is the first Batgirl to get her own Batgirl comicbook series.
jubilee

Jubliee-A Chinese American mutant within Marvel’s X-Men franchise. Known for having the superhuman ability to create “sparkles” from her hands. Although the youngest member of X-Men for quite some time, she was also a prominent figure during the 90’s era. More recently, Jubilee had lost her mutant powers, but was infected with a vampiric virus and currently has the abilities of a vampire.

 

psylocke
Psylocke- A fictional character in Marvel Comics most known for her appearances in the X-Men franchise. Psylocke made her first appearance in UK Comic book Captain Britain which stars her twin brother. Psylocke’s mutant powers begin as telepathy and she eventually acquires telekinesis.

lady Shiva
Lady Shiva- Mother to Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, Lady Shiva is also a character from DC Comics. She is an assassin known for killing her targets with her bare hands. Her popularity increased when she became more involved with the Batman franchise characters including the famous fights with her own daughter, Cassandra.

deathstrike
Lady Deathstrike- A Japanese Marvel Supervillain. Lady Deathstrike’s father was Lord Dark Wind himself who created the adamantium-bonding process (This is the indestructible metal alloy used on Wolverine’s skeleton and claws).Lady Deathstrike had adamantium bonded to her own skeleton. After her fathers dramatic end, Lady Deathstrike focused on seeking vengeance for his death. She is a foe of the X-Men and aims to kill Wolverine in particular.

karma
Karma- A Vietnamese mutant part of Marvel’s X-Men franchise. Karma was among the “boat people” fleeing Vietnam during the war. Her mutant power is the ability to control the mind of others. She is one of the five founding members of the New Mutants (a group of teenage mutant superheros-in-training) and she is one of the first lesbian characters in such a well-known comic-book franchise.

(Men)

atom
Ryan Choi (Atom) - A DC Comics fictional super hero. Born in Hong Kong, Choi was a protege of Ray Palmer. Palmer had a sudden disapperance and Choi moved to Ivy Town to take over his Palmer’s position as a professor at Ivy University. What he didn’t expect was to find Palmer’s “bio-belt” which can control the size and density of its wearer. Under Palmer’s blessing, Ryan becomes the new Atom.

captain steel
Captain Steel- Although this DC Character was not originally Asian, in DC‘s “New 52″ reboot which featured a parallel world, it was revealed that Captain Steel was Pilipino. Although DC had Pilipino characters prior to this, Captain Steel was the first Pilipino superhero. Suffering from a congenital defect causing brittle bones, his scientist father created a metal substance to replace his bones and unknowingly gave him super human strength.

tony chu
Tony Chu- A Chinese character from Image Comics, Tony Chu is one of few Asian American characters who is the lead of his own book, Chew. Chu is a police detective who is a “Cibopath” – he can take a bite out of anything and get a psychic read of what happened to them/it. It is in this manner that he solves his crimes.

glenn twd
Glenn (The Walking Dead)- A young member of the original Atlanta survivor group- a group of random strangers who must work together to survive an undead apocalypse. He is described as a selfless character who takes dangerous risks for the benefit of the group and thus becomes a vital member for their survival. His character increased in popularity due to the hit horror television series based on the comic book of the same name. His character is played by Korean American actor, Steven Yeun.

 

CREATORS:

jim lee 2
Jim Lee- Arguably the most known and decorated Asian-American comicbook artist, Korean-American Jim Lee began his career as an artist for Marvel Comics and he became a household name with his work for the X-Men franchise. In 1992, Lee joined forces with serval other artists to create Image Comics where he worked on WildCats. Adding on to his impressive resume, in 2010 Lee was announced as Co-publisher of DC Comics. He has worked on popular franchises such as X-Men, Batman, and Superman.

Leinil Yu
Leinil Yu- A Pilipino comic book artist who currently serves as one of Marvel’s major Asian-American artists. He began his career at Marvel by working on Wolverine. Pleased with his work, he was then asked to create art for Fantastic Four, Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk, and New Avengers. Yu has also done some work with DC such as Superman:Birthright with prominent writer Mark Waid. Additionally, he was the conceptional artist for the 2005 film Serenity (written and directed by Joss Whedon)

wilce
Whilce Portacio- Pilipino comicbook artist who was discovered in a San Diego Comic-con by a Marvel Comics editor. He was offered a position at Marvel to ink artwork and as a penciller. He is one of the seven co-founders of Image Comics and has also worked with DC Comics. While working on Uncanny X-Men became co-creator of the character Bishop. He has worked on many big titles including Punisher, Batman/Superman, Stormwatch, X-Force, Hulk, Iron Man, X-Factor, Alpha Flight, Batman, The Darkness and he is the creator of the series Wetworks.

Marjorie_Liu
Marjorie Liu- A novelist and comic writer most known for her work with Marvel Comics. She has written for the X-Men/Wolverine franchises with works such as NYX, X-23, Dark Wolverine, and Astonishing X-Men. She is also known for writing the first ever gay wedding in comics.

jo chen
Jo Chen- A comicbook artist and writer most known for her painted comicbook covers. She worked professionally in the Asian comic book industry before beginning her career with DC Comics in 2000. Within DC, she has worked on major titles such as Thor and the Batman & Robin Franchise. She is most known for her work as a cover artist for Runaways (A Marvel comic book series) and Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In addition to comics, she has done artwork for videogames such as Fable and Final Fantasy, and has created a manga series.

dustin nguyen
Dustin Nguyen- A Vietnamese-American comic book artist who has worked with DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and Wildstorm. He has worked on popular Batman titles such as Batman, Detective Comics and Batman: Streets of Gotham. His cover art includes other major DC titles such as Batman Beyond and JL: Generation Lost. In addition, he has worked on projects such as Batgirl, Justice League Beyond, and a new digital series titled Batman: Li’l Gotham. When he’s not working on comics, Nguyen is also a conceptional artists for toys, games, and animation.