But this post is not about how great Kate Beaton is (go read her webcomic now) but about the books I bought!
So I also met Gene Yang! I talked to him about Level Up and the Asian-American experience. And then I bought American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang, who is like Gene Yang but has awards.
American Born Chinese is highly acclaimed for a reason. First, we meet the Monkey King, who wants to be a god and command the respect a monkey doesn't get. Then, we meet Jin Wang, an Asian-American boy who simply wants to be accepted at school. Finally, we meet Danny, a white boy who wishes his offensively negative stereotype of a cousin, Chin-Kee, would just go home. These three seemingly unrelated stories work together to capture the Asian-American experience, and when they inevitably intersect, it's very powerful and perfectly done.
Each story has a different feel and is entertaining in its own right. The Monkey King's story is mythical, full of magic and kung fu. Jin's story feels terribly real, as he has to deal with racism as well as simply just, you know, growing up. Danny's story is the most uncomfortable to read, as Chin-Kee is just awful, as if Yang is daring you, just fucking daring you to laugh at his incredibly racist antics. But the very simple art gives the reader some distance and allows all three stories to become, as the book jacket says, a fable.
I thought American Born Chinese was pretty fantastic for the most part, but the ending, like with Level Up, felt a little rushed and unearned. The final message feels very simple, and I would have liked a little more exploration of it. I love that Gene Yang is making comics about growing up Asian-American, though, and they can be appreciated by children and adults alike.
So I also met Craig Thompson! I told him how much I loved Blankets, which he signed beautifully. I picked up Good-bye, Chunky Rice, by Craig Thompson, who is exactly like Craig Thompson and has awards.
Good-bye, Chunky Rice is the tale of a turtle named Chunky Rice who leaves his best friend, a deer mouse named Dandel, to find a place where he belongs or something. He travels on his landlord's brother's ship and meets some Siamese twins. And I don't know, stuff happens.
The art is pretty. I expected that. But, man, I could not really get into the book at all. Chunky Rice, the apparent protagonist, doesn't really have a personality. Dandel isn't actually a character; she just spouts poetic sentiments. Strangely enough, the most developed characters are the landlord and his brother, except I didn't like or care about them, so. And then there are Siamese twins for some reason. The book is supposed to be about friendship and loneliness or something, but, gah, I don't even know.
At least the art is pretty.
So I also met Jason Shiga! I told him how much I enjoyed Meanwhile, which he made more awesome for me. I discovered that he had a couple other algorithmic comics, which were tempting, but in the end, I just bought Empire State, by Jason Shiga, who is like Jason Shiga but writes regular graphic novels.
In Empire State, Jimmy—presumably not Jimmy from Meanwhile, although he looks just like him, as that is how Shiga draws—is a nerdy Oakland librarian who follows his best friend, Sara, to New York to declare his love. That, and what happens, is essentially the story, which isn't so much about the plot as it is about examining Jimmy's life and motivations, what would drive him to do this. The non-linear narrative isn't readily apparent at first, but we get a lot of flashbacks to Jimmy and Sara and Jimmy and his mom as Jimmy takes his journey. Interestingly, the book has a bit in common with Good-bye, Chunky Rice, as they both deal with that sense of growing up and wondering where you belong, if the place you've been all your life is where you should continue to be. Jimmy loves Oakland, but there are other places.
The book is a little light, but it's a quick, nice read, with simple yet detailed art that really captures the locations. Plus, there's a cool red/blue color palette going on. I thought I figured out the symbolism but wasn't sure. It's a decent story, but I wanted more. That being said, I was pretty impressed that the same guy who made something as silly and complicated as Meanwhile also made this book, which has real heart and emotion behind it.