Gene Yang's ABC

With First Second's fall catalog about to hit shelves, I thought it was about time to offer my thoughts on their newest releases.

First up is Gene Yang's American Born Chinese, which begins as three straightforward stories addressing Asian American stereotypes before a nice twist drives the message home.

The book begins with what would seem to be an ancient fable with modern sensibilities about a magical monkey king whose mastery of kung fu leads to a massively inflated ego. This story is incredibly engaging and is constantly working as both a comedic adventure and as a larger metaphor. The third section is a racist, over the top sitcom complete with mindlessly inappropriate laugh track that follows high school student Danny's growing frustration with his cousin Chin-Kee. Both of these stories seem to function as commentary for the middle story, which follows Jin, a Chinese American boy as he tries to adjust to life as one of the few Asian students among his milquetoast classmates. Yang repeatedly sets up cliches in Jin and the monkey king's stories and proceeds to subtly turn them inside out while more obvious cliches of the sitcom story pile high until their thematic purpose is revealed.

Yang's art is deceptively simple but occasionally stunning and makes for an attractive package with this level of production value. The ending breaks more than a few of the story's own rules, but it does so in service to the book's deeper themes and holds together well enough if you don't stare at it too long.

Is this graphic novel groundbreaking? Not exactly, but it's certainly entertaining, and who can ignore a story that features the adventures of a kung-fu monkey king and actually has something important to say?


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