Insider Series: An Interview with Gene Luen Yang (Part 1)
This installment of our Insider Interview Series features a spotlight on Gene Luen Yang, award-winning creator of the graphic novel American Born Chinese.
His other works include Prime Baby, Gordon Yamamoto and the King Of The Geeks, Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order, Animal Crackers, The Eternal Smile (with Derek Kirk Kim), and Level Up (with Thien Pham).
Read on for part 1 of our interview, where he shares a bit about himself, his inspiration, and his thoughts on comic books.
Who Are You, Where Are You From, and What Do You Do?
“My name is Gene Luen Yang and I make comic books. Sometimes I write and draw, other times I just write and someone else draws. I've lived my whole life in the San Francisco Bay Area.”
How Long Have You Been a Comic Book Fan?
“I started collecting comics in the fifth grade. The very first comic I remember buying was issue #99 of DC Comics Presents, featuring Superman and the Atomic Knights. I really wanted a Marvel Two-In-One, but my mom made me buy the Superman comic because she thought Superman was more wholesome.
Pretty soon, though, I began sneaking to a local comics shop with a friend and buying what I wanted. I grew up on Marvel comics. When I was older, I started getting into American indie stuff like Bone and Love and Rockets. I didn't start reading manga until I was an adult, but I started with the best: Osamu Tezuka's Adolf.”
What Inspired You to Make Comics? When Did You Decide to Take the Plunge?
“I've always loved stories and I've always loved drawing. After graduating college, I thought to myself, ‘I've always loved comics. If I don't publish a single comic before I die, I'm going to die unfulfilled!’
I did some research online to figure out how to self-publish a comic. I applied to the Xeric grant and got it! Within a year and a half, I put out Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks #1.”
(Note: The Xeric Foundation, which has been awarding grants since 1992 to aspiring comic book creators so they can self-publish, will award its final grant this year.)
Who Are Your Main Influences?
“I could give you a list as long as my arm. I love Jeff Smith, Osamu Tezuka, Lynda Barry, and Jay Stephens. But my main influences are really my crew of cartoonist friends: Derek Kirk Kim, Lark Pien, Jesse Hamm, Jason Shiga, [and] Thien Pham. We all got started in the industry at around the same time. I learned a lot from watching them work and getting their feedback."
How Important Is It for You to Consume Other Works Outside of Comics?
“I love comics. To be honest, much of what I read is comics. I do read some prose, though. I just got off a nonfiction kick. I read a couple of books about the global financial crisis and a neuroscience book about happiness. I'm currently in the middle of a YA novel called The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt.”
Comics Have Long Fought for Recognition as Literature and Art. What Do You Think Makes Them So Unique and Valuable?
“Comics [embody] a multimedia medium. It combines still art with text. I really appreciate the interplay between art and text. In a good comic, the narrative responsibility gets passed from one to the other. The way the words interact with the images can bring out a new layer of meaning within the work.”
Tune In Next Time...
Look out for Part 2, which will include talk about libraries, some advice for aspiring creators, and more from our distinguished guest!
You can follow Gene Luen Yang on Twitter under @geneluenyang.
Photo Credit: First Second Books
Intern Anthony Andora loves comics!