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

 

 

 


Heartwarming Friendship Between Grandmother And Cat

Story by Taylor Weik.

It doesn’t get much cuter than this. After graduating from the Nippon Photography Institute in Japan in 2002, Miyoko Ihara began taking daily photographs of her grandmother, Misao, to document her life.

One day, Misao walked into her shed to discover a small white kitten with heterochromia –– one eye a warm amber, the other an ice blue. She named the kitten Fukumaru, and the pair have been inseparable ever since.

Ihara captures the growing friendship on camera as the duo work in the fields, munch on watermelon and take naps together. Although both Misao and Fukumaru are hard of hearing, Ihara is able to clearly portray their strong connection to one another. She has since compiled her photography into a book titled “Miyoko Ihara: Misao the Big Mama and Fukumaru the Cat.”

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(photo source)