Currently reading Gene Yuen Yang’s American Born Chinese

american born chinese gene yangAnother comic! But Gene Yuen Yang’s American Born Chinese (ABC) has been on my radar for quite a while. When I was following Parry Shen’s blog posts about Secret Identities (SI), which he co-edited, 2006’s ABC is one comic they do recognize in the very empty field of comics that include Asian characters. Thus, the birth of the all-Asian Secret Identities anthology. I still haven’t read SI given some of my own issues and personal preference to not read that style (like hardcore graphic novel illustration, tone, dialogue, material).

ABC, on the other hand, is a fun, cute, light walk-in-the-park type of read. Afterall, it is a Young Adult category book.

The book launches without much warning into three seemingly unrelated stories, going into a “chapter” of each.

In the first story, Jin Wang is a pretty acclimatized ABC from New York who doesn’t fit in at his new school where he’s the only Chinese student. When Wei-Chen Sun arrives, he reluctantly gets befriended and a friendship develops. Wei-Chen is fluent in Mandarin while Jin’s responses are a natural Chinglish mix of English and Chinese; this was all denoted using angled brackets to denote dialogue in Mandarin. Wei-Chen is really nice, awkward but helpful and honest. When Wei-Chen gets a girlfriend and helps Jin woo Amelia, it reads like an Archie comic with Asians and I quite like that!

The Monkey King story follows and it’s really cute. He wants desperately to be accepted in Heaven as a certifiable god but is rejected in humiliating fashion by the gods in humanoid form. He trains and perfects himself in the major fighting disciplines but gets a bit too big for his britches when he shows off not knowing he is in the presence of the creator Tze-Yo-Tzuh.

Danny’s story is the weirdest yet right off the bat. He is a white youth who is plagued by the yearly visit of his cousin Chin-Kee. Why isn’t anyone questioning how they could possibly be related? Chin-Kee may be advanced in school subjects but he is also loud, obnoxious, downright gross in some instances, and complete with the thick accent you need to read aloud to figure out what he’s saying. For example, “What big bootiful Amellican school! Chin-Kee rike! Chin-Kee rike vely much!” After each of Chin-Kee’s visits, Danny’s schoolmates look at Danny differently and he find he has to transfer to a new school each year!

The tales are related in the following way that I will try to explain: [SPOILER ALERT] Amelia’s friend warns Jin not to stick around too much and distract her from her studies, leading him to mull over the meaning behind the warning and act out, kissing Wei-Chen’s girlfriend and then getting punched by his best friend. Jin’s anger and confusion brews and bubbles, some magic takes place and he becomes… Danny! Okay, Chin-Kee as a cousin is explained. Monkey King goes on some kind of quest as a disciple of an emissary for Tze-Yo-Tzuh and you think that’s the last of it. Meanwhile, Chin-Kee’s visit with Danny is going so badly, they get into a fight and Chin-Kee’s true form as the Monkey King is revealed in his kungfu fighting form. Monkey King entreats Danny to show his true form and we see Jin again. After completing his quest, Monkey King found favour with Tze-Yo-Tzuh and grew in position and popularity. His son also wanted to become and emissary and his test of virtue was to spend 40 years on Earth… as Wei-Chen Sun. All was going okay until Jin’s betrayal with the kiss and Wei-Chen questioned why the gods would want to serve humans and decides to spend his human form years indulging in pleasure. Monkey King then started to visit Jin/Danny every year as his conscience. To complete the cycle of healing, Monkey King gives Jin a location to stake out to wait for Wei-Chen who finally arrives one evening and we see he’s become a kinda gangsta. They reconcile. [/END SPOILER ALERT] It was just too weird for me to not write down as I’ll forget the twists in no time!

You know me, not a fan of the mystical stuff. To be fair, the Monkey King chapters were light and humourous, with gods not taking themselves too seriously, and I may have learned something about mythology. From my standpoint, I did enjoy most of all the Jin story until the transformation and could have read many more chapters about their high school lives.

 

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