Kids and Teen Blog
Writer and artist Gene Luen Yang first burst onto the book scene with his best-selling graphic novel American Born Chinese. A modern fable about growing up Chinese-American, the book was a 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature, and the winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album.
Gene's new two-volume graphic novel Boxers & Saints, released in September and a finalist for this year's National Book Award for Young People's Literature, tells the parallel stories of two young people caught on either side of the Boxer Rebellion in China at the end of the 19th century. An extraordinarily accomplished, yet accessible work, I recently took the opportunity to talk to Gene about why he became interested in this particular period of Chinese history, and the difficulty of bringing historical events to the page:
When did you become interested in Boxer Rebellion?
I first became interested in the Boxer Rebellion in 2000, when the Roman Catholic Church canonized a group of Chinese Catholic saints. I grew up in a Chinese Catholic community and my home church did a series of events to celebrate the canonizations. When I looked into the lives of the new saints, I discovered that many of them were martyred during the Boxer Rebellion.
Did you know right away that you wanted to make a graphic novel about it?
Well, I’m a comic book guy. That’s how we comic book guys think. Whenever we run across something interesting, we wonder, “Would this make for a good comic book story?”
Was it always going to be two volumes?
The more I read about the Boxer Rebellion, the more fascinated I became. Issues of identity and power and belief played important roles in the historical incident. I just felt very ambivalent in my research. I couldn’t decide who the good guys were. The two-volume nature of the project is an expression of that ambivalence. The good guys in one are the bad guys in the other.
Was one book harder to write than the other?
Saints is the shorter of the two books, but it was definitely the harder to write. The Boxers lent themselves to narrative. They went on this epic journey from the farmlands of China to the capital city, fighting along the way. The Boxers’ Chinese Christian victims, on the other hand, had a much quieter story. They basically stayed in their villages, held onto their faith as best they could, and died. Theirs was an internal struggle, much more difficult to portray.
How long did it take you to complete them both?
The entire project took me six years from beginning to end.
Did you have to do a lot of research?
I research for about a year, a year and a half before I started writing and drawing. I visited my local university library once a week and read everything I could get my hands on about turn-of-the-century China. I also visited a Jesuit archive in France where they had photos and letters from that time period.
Were there any historical details you had to leave out that wish you could have left in?
In my research, I stumbled across the Taiping Rebellion, a rebellion led by a failed Chinese scholar who believed that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ. It occurred about 50 years before the Boxer Rebellion. I give it a passing mention in the books, but that event really deserves its own graphic novel.
The two stories have quite different tones to them. Boxers is almost an adventure story, while Saints is much more introspective. Was this a conscience decision? How did you try and reflect the difference visually?
I worked closely with the immensely talented Lark Pien who colored both volumes. I wanted Boxers to be a comics equivalent of a Chinese war epic. That’s why it’s long and colorful and full of blood. Saints is, as you said, much more introspective. I wanted it to be humbler and more intimate than Boxers. That’s why it’s shorter, with a more limited color palette. Lark and I drew inspiration from American independent comics for that one.
Boxers & Saints has just been shortlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Have you been surprised by the reaction to the books?
It’s been overwhelming. The National Book Foundation changed my life when they nominated American Born Chinese, my 2006 graphic novel. They’re changing my life again.
You’re also a parent and high school teacher. Is it important to you that kids can read your books?
It’s important to me that kids read books, period. Storytelling is this on-going conversation about what it means to be human. It’s important that kids are a part of that. And if they read my books as a part of the conversation, even better.
Your new book with artist Sonny Liew, The Shadow Hero, has just been announced. How did this project come about and when will it be in stores?
The Shadow Hero is a revival of an obscure Golden Age superhero called the Green Turtle. The Green Turtle was created by Chu Hing, one of the first Asian Americans working in American comics. Rumor has it that Chu Hing wanted the Green Turtle to be a Chinese American but his publishers didn’t think it would sell. Chu Hing reacted in this very unusual way. In those original Green Turtle comics, we almost never see the hero’s face. His almost always has his back facing the reader. The rumor is, Chu Hing did this so he could imagine his hero as he originally intended, as a Chinese American. I found the Green Turtle to be so strange that I wanted to write a story about him. I’m working with Sonny Liew, a comics wunderkind from Singapore. I’m doing the writing, he’s doing the art. First Second Books will release it in the summer of 2014.
Sun Wukong appears in both American Born Chinese and Boxers. Do you think you’ll ever write a book about the Monkey King (please!)?
I love the Monkey King character. As you said, he’s already appeared in two of my projects. I’ll probably use him again in the future, though I don’t have any current plans.
Earlier this week Cory Doctorow revealed the cover for Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew's forthcoming graphic novel The Shadow Hero (available June 2014) on popular website Boing Boing. Cory's post also included this fantastic video of author Gene Luen Yang explaining the genesis of The Shadow Hero, and the Golden Age inspiration for the book:
With Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists hitting stores next week, we thought we'd take the opportunity to chat with the extremely talented Luke Pearson about his contribution to the book—an adaptation of Japanese fairy tale called 'The Boy Who Drew Cats.'
How did you become involved with Fairy Tale Comics?
I just got an email from Chris Duffy asking me if I wanted to be in it. It was a very easy decision to say yes.
I wasn’t familiar with the fairy tale you choose to adapt. Where did you come across it?
I wasn't familiar with it either. In the aforementioned email, Chris said that if I was into it, he'd be interested in me taking on either 'The Boy Who Drew Cats' or 'The Baba Yaga' (with others available if I didn't like either of them.) I felt sure I'd do Baba Yaga because I knew that story and I knew it would be really fun to adapt, but I checked out the other one anyway.
What attracted you to the story?
I liked that the non-European setting made it feel more like a folk tale than a fairy tale, or at least made me consider the differences and similarities between those two things. It's easy to think of all fairy tales basically being those collected by the Brothers Grimm and this felt very different to those. I liked that even though it does feature some classic bad parenting and generally weird attitude to children, it's overall message seems enjoyably bizarre rather than morally dubious. And I could see how it was going to be visually appealing to me. The image of these drawings of cats with blood round their mouths felt like something I wanted to draw as soon as I read it.
Also, I don't think it was a deciding factor, but the fact that I wasn't familiar with it and didn't have countless previous interpretations at the back of my mind, kind of freed me up a bit to go with my instincts rather than subconsciously react to what I've seen before.
Your (wonderful) Hilda books also have a very magical quality. Are you interested in fairy tales and mythology?
I am and always have been to some extent. My Hilda books draw really heavily on Scandinavian folklore overall, although references to the folklore of other cultures has started to sneak in. For instance, the raven in Hilda and The Bird Parade is a reference to both Odin's ravens and the Native American thunderbird myth. In the next book I'm starting to tap into English folk tales. I'm generally more interested in the kind of strange, small scale folk tales involving regular people and household spirits, rather than the epic mythology involving gods and their squabbles.
Are there any other fairy tales you would like to illustrate?
I'd really like to do some straight adaptations of some of the Norwegian and Icelandic tales that I've pilfered various elements from in the past.
Were you concerned that ‘The Boy Who Drew Cats’ might be too scary for children?
I made a point of only hinting at the mangled body of the goblin rat, but I'm generally not actually concerned about scaring children. It's not a bad thing for children to be scared sometimes. I feel like the stuff that scared me as a child is the stuff that stuck with me and I think back on most fondly almost.
What are your favourite stories in the book [aside from your own!]?
My favourites were Joseph Lambert's Rabbit Will Not Help, Charise Mericle Harper's The Small Tooth Dog, Graham Annable's Goldilocks and Jillian Tamaki's version of Baba Yaga.
What’s coming next from you?
Another Hilda book next year and hopefully some other stuff before and after.
Fairy Tale Comics is available September 24.
American Born Chinese author Gene Luen Yang's new two volume graphic novel Boxers & Saints is published tomorrow, and Gene will talking about the project—which tells the parallel stories of two young people caught up on opposite sides of the Boxer Rebellion—with TCAF Director Chris Butcher in Toronto next week. If you would like to catch the event, it starts at 3pm on Saturday September 21st at The Central on Markham Street (not far from Bathurst subway station, and just a few steps from The Beguiling comics shop who organized the event).
But if you can't wait (or can't make it) for the event, why don't you watch Gene talk about his work and the inspiration for Boxers & Saints in this video for Publishers Weekly:
Gene Yang presents BOXERS & SAINTS
Saturday, September 21st, 3pm-4:30pm
@ The Central, 603 Markham Street, Toronto
Free to attend
I think we've established how much we love Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant around here. If we haven't, the first Delilah Dirk adventure by Vancouver-based cartoonist Tony Cliff is FANTASTIC—we love it and you should read it this instant.
Don't just take our word for it—the folks at Vancouver's Kidsbooks love it too.
And, if that's not enough, it already has three (THREE!) starred reviews from the trade press (you know, the guys who review books before they're even published!) and praise from The A.V. Club ("incredible"), Boing Boing ("marvelous and exceptionally lovely") io9 ("quote possibly the only Victorian adventureress you'll ever need") and Wired ("a rollicking adventure").
But, maybe you've read it already and now you were wondering (like me!), "are there going to be more Delilah Dirk adventures?" Well, good news! First Second, Tony's publisher, has just announced that there WILL be sequel to Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant tentatively titled Delilah Dirk and the Blades of England.
England you say? Whoo-hoo!!!
Delilah Dirk and the Blades of England lands Delilah and Selim right in the middle of yet more crazy adventures. When Delilah is framed as a spy by an English army officer, her passion for revenge threatens to sever her friendship with Selim. Is she willing to lose the companionship of her only good friend in order to reclaim her reputation? Selim finally gets to see the England he has only imagined, but how will he feel when the combined strains of social conventions and Delilah's thirst for revenge overwhelm his experience?
Sadly, we don't know exactly when the book will be published yet, but fear not, we'll be sure to keep you posted!
The adventures of Delilah Dirk drawn by Vancouver-based animator and illustrator Tony Cliff first started life as an online comic. But this week finally sees the release of the English-language graphic novel Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant published by First Second.
A rollicking historical adventure story starring the eponymous English adventuress Delilah Dirk and her reluctant sidekick/straight-man, a Turkish soldier called Selim, it has sparky dialogue, easy off-beat humour and a disarming charm. To put it simply, it's just one of the most straight-up fun comics I've read in ages. That it also looks beautiful doesn't hurt either! With the book hitting the shelves, I had to take the opportunity to ask Tony a few questions:
When did you start drawing comics?
Oh, I don’t even know. I’ve been reading them as long as I can remember, and probably drawing them just as long.
I did have a series of teachers through elementary and high school who were very supportive in terms of creativity in general and comics specifically. In elementary school, I had one teacher for three years in a row, and for each of the “units” that we’d study, we were tasked with making illustrated books to complete our assignments in. We weren’t simply filling out photocopied quiz sheets, everything took the form of a drawing, or an essay, and they were all glued into an exercise book, so that by the end of the unit you had this colourful little volume full of your learning on, say, medieval England, or the Pyramids, or whatever. Maybe that’s why, to this day, I prefer to hold an actual book instead of reading things online.
In high school, I started off with an art teacher who had a strong love of comics. We even had an elective art class specifically devoted to the craft of comic-making, and he ran an after-school club to take student’s comics and bind them into zine-like comic anthologies, full of short comics and pin-ups. Both he and my subsequent art teachers emphasized strong drawing fundamentals such as observation, perspective, anatomy, and composition. It wasn’t until I’d spent time in post-secondary schools that I discovered how fortunate I had been to have encountered so many excellent and supportive teachers.
What was the inspiration for the character of Delilah Dirk?
There are a lot of streams that feed into the Delilah Dirk watershed, but I’ve done a poor job mapping them, so it’s tough for me to recall what they look like. I think a lot of it came from a contrary desire to make something different from what I’d seen, while at the same time recapturing a feel that I hadn’t seen in a while. I was seeing a lot of male protagonists and female supportive characters who were dour and serious and not a whole lot of fun, so I made the opposite. Since Indiana Jones, I haven’t encountered many movies, books, or games that felt the same way, so I tried to make something that would have a similar quality—I wish I could put my finger on it, but it’s a mix of tone and presentation that I haven’t seen anyone reproduce since Last Crusade.
I think I may have been inspired by some friends who were making similar characters, too. Kazu Kibuishi (of Amulet fame) was making drawings of Daisy Kutter and posting them on a message board that we were both frequenting. It wasn’t even a conscious thing, but several months into working on my first Delilah Dirk comic, I had to hit up Kazu and say, “oh dude, I think Delilah is a copy of Daisy Kutter.” He was kind and (probably) honest when he assured me that while they might have some similar qualities, there are so many differences and so many quirks that will get introduced as artifacts of our individual approaches that it’s silly to worry about it.
Though, I don’t really think of Delilah as the star of the story. I think there’s an element of her conception which was simply, “I need a fun character to allow me to explore different locales and different adventures.” Her character sprung from a desire simply to travel, drawing-wise, through different settings. I don’t think of her individually, I think of her as part of a puzzle with the other characters and the setting of the story.
Were you particularly interested in that place and time?
Not initially. If you had approached me several years ago and said, “make a comic set in Turkey of 1807,” I would have probably dismissed the suggestion.
I started out with an interest in Europe of the Napoleonic Wars, fuelled by reading a lot of Hornblower and Sharpe novels. I started researching the histories of the Venus de Milo and the Elgin Marbles, the major drama of which seems to have occurred at a relatively similar time (1810s-1830s, if I recall correctly). I think reading up on those things led me to western travel illustrations from what was at the time considered “the orient.” I think that led to a couple of drawings, just exploring some ideas, and next thing you know I was writing a comic set in 19th-century Istanbul.
Did you have to do extensive research to draw the costumes and locations?
I didn’t have to, but I did try to be as accurate and respectful as possible. Sometimes I feel compelled by the requirements of one scene or another to go out and look for a specific costume or bit of architecture, and sometimes I try to take note of particularly appealing settings that I encounter during research and use those where I can. I have a genuine personal interest in a lot of the things that surround Delilah Dirk and her setting, so I’m always ingesting things from the library or on the internet and making notes when something seems important.
I find it’s easy for me to get stuck thinking that I need to accomplish a specific bit of research before I continue with a specific story element, but sometimes the work’s just gotta get done, and in the end the readers are there for the story of the characters. Sometimes the historical details just aren’t as important as they might feel. For me, as long as I’m not making any gross cultural faux pas, I feel pretty comfortable. But then, I also have a flying sailboat in there, so maybe that calibrates the reader to a different level of expectation.
The comic looks amazing, but the back-and-forth between Delilah and Selim is also a joy. Was it fun to write?
Absolutely. It’s one of my favourite parts of the process, and for me, bad dialogue is absolutely a deal-breaker. If the dialogue isn’t believable, it really ruins my enjoyment of a book/movie etc. This is why my enthusiasm for video games has been waning lately, I think. All that powerful technology and they still can’t write a line of dialogue.
Some people (ahem, Robert McKee) downplay the importance of dialogue, and I get their point. If a writer gets distracted by the nitty gritty of the dialogue, he or she can potentially lose track of what’s important—the development of the story. So the recommendation is that you write your story without writing dialogue, so you can focus on the motivations within your characters and how it makes the story flow. Fair enough.
On the other hand, assuming that same writer is willing to be diligent about critiquing and editing their story, why not go have some fun with the dialogue? Anything that gets you excited about moving forward in your writing—anything that keeps you typing away at the keys and keeps things moving forward—that’s a good thing. Maybe you’ll have to excise that really clever line of dialogue later, because it doesn’t necessarily help the story. But maybe it also adds levity or drama, texture and colour to a scene, and that has its own value. Discipline and efficiency are good, but sometimes you just have to have fun with it. Whether it works to help the end product or not, well, that’s why you need trustworthy test readers.
Delilah Dirk started as a webcomic. Was it important to you to see it in print as a graphic novel?
The Turkish Lieutenant was, indeed, first unleashed upon the public in the form of an online comic. I had always intended the book to be read as a book, though. That was my first priority—putting it online was just a way for me to gauge a public reaction to it. I needed to know whether I was doing something that might have wide appeal or whether I was working on something that was truly a vanity project. Considering how long a graphic novel takes to make, this would be an important factor when considering if I’d like to work on a second DD book.
How is drawing for the web different?
If I were designing the comic specifically for the web, I would like to take advantage of some of the medium’s strengths, like the infinite scroll, animated features, or interactive things. For better or worse, though, I like real, actual books too much to commit to making a comics exclusively for the web. Maybe someday, but for DD my preference will always be for paper, so I will continue to design it that way.
Who are some of cartooning heroes?
I grew up reading Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes almost religiously. He’s had a huge influence on me in many ways, not the least of which is my taste and values when it comes to comics.
I’m also a strong fan of Travis Charest. His draughtsmanship is superb. Not only that, but when I was sixteen years old and I took some of my (admittedly poor) comic pages to a local comic show so that I could get his opinion and advice, he was very polite and encouraging. He made it very clear that I had a lot of work to do, but he did it in a way that made me want to do that work, which is the best effect that advice can have, I think.
What comics are you reading now?
There are a few books from First Second that I have an unbiased love for - Dave Roman’s Astronaut Academy series and most recently Lucy Knisely’s Relish. It’s fun to see how far you can make it through Relish without having to get up to get something to eat. Do not read it on an empty stomach.
I also picked up Luke Pearson’s Hilda and the Bird Parade, and it’s spectacular. It’s charming, it has elegant, amusing dialogue, its story is a nice shape, and it delivers a theme effectively without being too heavy-handed about it. It is a very inviting book.
Is there a thriving community of cartoonists in Vancouver?
Ha ha, there is definitely a community of cartoonists. Whether it’s thriving or not, well, I’m not the best person to ask. I do know that Ed Brisson’s monthly comic jam is usually very busy. The folks involved with Cloudscape Comics are also doing some really excellent things. They run regular events which are good for comic-makers of all experience levels.
Vancouver also has a strong animation industry, and there’s a lot of overlap between animation folks and comic folks. After all, a lot of the skills are very similar, and comics present a good opportunity for someone who wants to be creatively involved in a narrative format to just be able to do the whole thing themselves. Animation, whether 2D or 3D, really relies on having a whole team to complete the work. With comics, an enterprising individual can present an entire story all by themselves, from start to finish. Novels allow that, too, but an animator tends to be more visually-focused, so comics end up being a better fit.
Who else is doing interesting work right now?
Everyone is! It just depends what you’re interested in.
I like Brandon Graham’s work a lot. Not only does he make good things, but it seems like there are few people in the industry who actually love comics as much as he does. He breathes comics. This has the not-entirely-incidental effect of making him a really good person to consult about what sort of cool new stuff is out there.
Also, not enough North Americans read French comics. Okay, yes, some of that is because they’re in French, and few ever get translated. It’s a real chicken-egg issue. Nevertheless, even if you can’t read French, some of them are just gorgeous to look at. Recently, I’ve been enjoying Fabien Mense’s work on Agito Cosmos; Nicolas Sure’s work in general but specifically on Neverland; basically anything illustrated by Alessandro Barbucci, especially Chosp; and Bastien Vivés work on Polina and Last Man.
When can we expect the next Delilah Dirk adventure?
I’m working hard on a second full-length, full-colour graphic novel. I don’t know what year it’ll land, or what month, but I can say it will probably be a Tuesday. If anyone wants to stay abreast of developments, I’ll be posting regular progress updates in a subsection of my Tumblr, or on my personal or Delilah Dirk-dedicated Twitter feeds.
Tony Cliff will be signing copies of Delilah Dirk and The Turkish Lieutenant on Friday August 30, 7:00pm-10:00pm at Hot Art Wet City Gallery (2206 Main St, Vancouver BC).
“It's a great book if you're starting kindergarten.
The pictures are funny and I like the characters/creatures.”
Sorren – age 4.
Sorren is starting kindergarten in September and turning 5 in October. He lives in Vancouver with his parents, his younger brother and their cat Jane. Sorren is an avid reader and has read Monstergarten five times.
Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger is one of those rare picture books that creates a meaningful, emotive story with just a few simple words and illustrations. Kids of all ages will empathize with the characters and learn that it’s better to be a friend, not a bully.
First, Bully the Bull is yelled at in the barnyard by an older bull. Instead of seeking friendship, he goes on to treat the other farm animals in the exact same way. “BUZZ OFF!” he yells at the bee; “YOU STINK!” he says to the skunk. He grows in size all the while, inflated by the false sense of being bigger than everyone else. Finally, Bully is forced to look at himself and realize what he really is: just a big, mean bully. That’s when Bully shrinks down to his normal size and apologizes to his friends.
Bullying is a destructive cycle that can be hard to stop without empathy for those involved. In only 36 pages and 22 words, Seeger shows us why people start bullying others, why it makes them feel good, the negative effect it has on themselves and everyone else, and the healing power of friendship.
I count myself among the YA readers tiring quickly of the dystopia trend, so I was suspicious to hear that Francesca Lia Block had jumped on the bandwagon. Fortunately, I needn’t have worried.
Adding Greek mythology, LGBT themes and her trademark magical realism, Block rewards readers with a haunting apocalyptic novel that (for once) will certainly not be compared to the Hunger Games (in a good way!).
Full disclosure: I am a huge Francesca Lia Block (FLB) fan. From the charmed Weetzie Bat to the disturbing Wasteland, I have always faithfully followed where FLB led.
In this particular journey, we meet Pen (Penelope) in the moments following a devastating earthquake. It’s no accident that our heroine shares the name of Odysseus’s wife. FLB draws heavily from the Odyssey as Pen traverses through a broken and dangerous Los Angeles, desperate to find her family. Along the way she encounters sirens, lotus eaters and a host of other fantastical creatures who now populate the earth.
Love in the Time of Global Warming certainly contains more accessible prose than some FLB fans may be used to, but with signature echoes of the sweeping poetry we’ve seen in previous novels. The story is punctuated with a healthy dose of violence (how else do you vanquish mythological creatures?!) and some achingly beautiful romance. Readers will also be pleasantly surprised by an all-LGBTQ cast (including the main love interest, who is a transsexual man). A rare and lovely discovery in YA fiction.
For longtime fans of FLB, you will be happy to know that not since Necklace of Kisses has Block delivered style and imagination like that found in Love in the Time of Global Warming. For those invested in magical realism and looking for a beautifully penned adventure, start your FLB journey here.
To celebrate the outstanding success of the Lunar Chronicles in Canada (and the imminent arrival of the much anticipated, Cress) our incredible in-house artist Lynne Fahnestalk created a Cinder Robot (which we Raincoasters have affectionately termed the “CinderBot”) to surprise author Marissa Meyer.
For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to read Cinder, the first book in the Lunar Chronicles, Raincoast YA enthusiast Megan Radford summarizes it best:
Girl meets boy. Girl is cyborg, boy is prince of New Beijing, and, oh yeah, the world is being threatened by both a deadly plague and a race of eerie moon people who seem bent on intergalactic domination.
Cinder is a cyborg, a second-class citizen with a mysterious past who is both reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her sister’s illness. After becoming intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai, Cinder becomes caught in an intergalactic struggle. Cinder must uncover secrets about her own past in order to protect the future of the world.
Inspired by Cinder’s own mish-mash of bionic parts, Lynne used mostly upcycled metals to create the CinderBot. The body is a former desk lamp. The arms are a spoon, fork, and clockwork parts. Chainlink creates the illusion of Cinder’s spunky ponytail.
Congratulations to Marissa Meyer on the continued success of the Lunar Chronicles, and a big thanks to Lynne for her artistic vision!
The next book in the Lunar Chronicles series is Cress, set for release February 2014. You can read the first chapter of Cress here. To find out more about the Lunar Chronicles and Marissa Meyer, visit her website.
Lynne Fahnestalk is a two-time recipient of the Canadian Aurora Award for Artistic Achievement. To see more of her robot creations or to commission your own robot, visit http://www.smilingdragonflystudio.com/