Title: The shadow hero
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Sonny Lieu
Publisher: First Second (2014)
This morning I woke up to the wonderful news that my wonderful mentor and teacher Toby Rajput was going to be on TV promoting diverse books. It is getting close to the holidays and as we plan our Christmas shopping, and it is important to include books on our list for young people that will act as mirrors (readers able to see themselves in characters), windows (readers able to look into the lives of others who are different from them) and ideally sliding doors (books draw us right into the story so that we can imagine ourselves in place of the main characters who may have lives similar and different to our own). This is the message of the social network campaign #weneeddiversebooks and it was the message of Toby this morning. You can watch the footage here.
One of my favourite books from Toby's holiday list (although to tell you the truth it's hard to pick between her four examples which are for different age groups) is The Shadow Hero pictured above. The main character is an Asian-American super hero called The Green Turtle. According to interviews like this one with Yang, the rumor is that The Green Turtle was originally intended as a Chinese American character by 1940s cartoonist Chu Hing. However when Hing was told that he must make the super hero caucasian, he passive aggressively made sure that nobody ever saw Green Turtle's face. It was always obscured by shadow or you saw a back view of the super hero, but no actual proof of his identity or ethnicity. The original series wasn't very popular (maybe the name? Green Turtle doesn't sound so flash....) and it was cancelled before the story could get very far, or even have an origin story.
I love the reference to this 1940s story in the title of The Shadow Hero, which is Yang and Liew's way of providing that backstory for The Green Turtle, who might well have been America's first Asian superhero. And I love everything about this book. The young protagonist who gets a hard time from his family. His mission to train himself. His dorky super power (is it a super power?) to be able to dodge bullets. Most of all however I love how this comic portrays a very Asian vibe while still being set in America, reflecting the Asian American experience of that era.
You'll notice in that interview with Yang he's asked about Superman and the immigrant experience. That's a theme Yang's been able to elaborate on this year, with his new Superman comic. Check out this article and Yang's quote about how Superman's experience as an immigrant resonates with him: "I felt like I was living under two different cultural expectations. Super heroes are the same way. They have two different names. They have to operate under two different sets of rules."
I have bicultural kids who live in a third culture, and I just know they will get what Yang's talking about there. Can you guess what kinds of books are going to turn up under our tree this Christmas?
An Australian who lived in Japan with my bicultural family now living in the USA, I believe that there are more different realities than there are books to be written.