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Kids and Teen Blog

Tag: Graphic Novels

Boxers & Saints: Gene Luen Yang Discusses His New Graphic Novel

by Dan
Graphica + YA Fiction / October 25, 2013

Gene Luen Yang

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.

Boxers page 130

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.

Saints page 73

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. grin

The Shadow Hero

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.

Thanks Gene!


The Shadow Hero: Forthcoming From Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew

by Dan
Graphica + YA Fiction / October 16, 2013

Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang

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: 

In other news, it has just been announced that Gene Luen Yang's latest work, the incredible two volume graphic novel Boxers & Saints, is a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.  
Established in 1950, the National Book Award is an American literary prize organized by the National Book Foundation. The winners of this year's awards will be announced on November 20th, 2013. 
Congratulations, Gene! 

Boxers & Saints: Gene Luen Yang in Toronto

by Dan
Graphica + YA Fiction / September 09, 2013


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