Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Secret Identities Interview: Greg LaRocque

From his start at Marvel in the early 80s on books such as Web of Spider-Man and Power Man & Iron Fist to his legendary runs on two of DC Comics’ most iconic titles—Legion of Super-Heroes with Paul Levitz and The Flash with Mark Waid—Greg LaRocque’s art is synonymous with some of the most iconic stories in modern comics. Since the mid-1990s, when he formed Exiled Studio, Greg has been steadily churning out critically acclaimed series such as The Exiled and Cry Baby. His latest, The Dreaming, will be out in February.

Having been partly responsible for one of DC’s most prominent Asian American characters—Wally West’s love interest, Linda Park, it was a no-brainer to have Greg join the SIUniverse. For SECRET IDENTITIES, the legendary artist contributed a story called “TRINITY,” about three super-powered individuals that share a mysterious connection, and features LaRocque’s first Filipino superheroine.

We recently sat down with Greg to talk about his participation in the book and to share his thoughts on being an Asian American creator in the comics biz.

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SECRET IDENTITIES: So, how does it feel to be a part of the book?
GREG LAROCQUE:
I was excited about creating my own character. I can’t recall to my memory any Filipino characters in mainstream American comic books. I’ve traveled to the Philippines quite a few times and know of the long tradition of comics over there. The background behind “Trinity” really started with me wanting to do a story about the great injustice during WWII when Filipino guerrillas who had fought alongside American soldiers were promised [but denied] U.S. citizenship.

What does it mean to be an Asian American creator in the comics industry?
You know, I can’t say there’s been anything that I could attribute to that feeling. Being a creator is such an individual thing. It’s not like I necessarily draw on Filipino culture in my stories. It’s strange, though, that if you go back to some of my work—like Legion, Flash and Fighting American, all three had a female co-star that was Asian.

Why do you think there’s such a struggle to have Asian American representation in other forms of media, if not necessarily in comics?
I remember the days when the series Kung Fu was on television. It starred David Carradine, but it was created by and for Bruce Lee. They would not do the series with him because of his Chinese blood. So, I think the money people [in movies and TV] look for the person that has the “broadest” appeal. Of course we have Asians in entertainment, but who’s at the top? Jackie Chan? There isn’t that much opportunity for Asian actors to make a dent in the industry. With comic books, you can hide behind your work. I compare comics to the music or sports industry. As long as you can produce, [you’ll have a job.]

There are plenty of minorities in the business, but yet there’s still a lack of any significant comic book heroes of color. Why is that?
The bottom line is money. It’s the same reason why it’s so hard to push a female superheroine. [The mainstream comic companies] are making business decisions to “play it safe.” When the independent scene exploded, though, there are [a lot more chances] for creators to be given opportunites that weren’t available to them years ago.

That said, you were the artist that first drew Linda Park, who’s arguably one of the more prominent Asian American characters in mainstream comics.
I can only guess at this point since I never talked about it with Mark [Waid], but I think the trend at the time was to just be more diverse. I think story tellers nowadays have progressed as much as our culture has progressed. If you look back at the stereotypical cartoons of Asians in the past, these moves were made to bring more diversity to the books. And comics, going back to Marvel and Stan Lee, have always had that history of introducing ideas we’d never seen before. It was just the next step forward.

And Linda was a byproduct of that progress?
Yeah. I can give you a little trivia on Linda. The look of Linda Park was based on my wife, who’s Filipina [unlike Linda who is Korean American]. Though Mark had created her personality seperately, it was like he knew my wife! Here’s the thing about Filipina women. They take a backseat to no one. They are the heads of the family. I mean, who else has elected two women presidents?

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For more of our interview with Greg LaRocque, be sure to pick up a copy of SECRET IDENTITIES: THE ASIAN AMERICAN SUPERHERO ANTHOLOGY, in stores April 2009 from The New Press!

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