Sunday, June 28, 2009

The First-Ever Kiyama Award!

So, if you've been following the updates across the comics world (say, at Heidi McDonald's essential "The Beat" column), you know that the first-ever Asian American ComiCon is giving out its first-ever installment of an annual award, which organizers have dubbed the Kiyama Award—after Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama, a Japanese American artist and cartoonist who lived and worked in San Francisco in the late Twenties and early Thirties.

Now why should that matter? Well, in 1931, Kiyama published his breakthrough book The Four Immigrants. A poignant collection of cartoon stories about life as a Japanese student expatriate in early 20th century San Francisco, the book explores the issues these early immigrants faced in a world whose language, culture and traditions were new, strange and confusing.

What makes The Four Immigrants special—and what makes Kiyama a verifiable pioneer, if somewhat by accident—is that, despite being originally intended for newspaper serialization, Kiyama’s stories were never published in that form. Which means that the first time they saw print was in this single, bound-and-collected book. This publication format, along with the fact that the stories in Four Immigrants featured a group of semiautobiographical characters (based on Kiyama and his friends) who grew, evolved and contended with real historical issues and events, has led some to advocate that it be recognized as the first original graphic novel published in America (arriving a decade before Virginia Lee Burton’s Calico the Wonder Horse in 1941 and nearly two decades before Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller’s It Rhymes with Lust in 1950).

As Heidi notes, that's a controversial stance to take—but it's one that the book's translator, the always sagacious Fred Schodt, has defended persuasively in this essay. Fred notes that the characters in Four Immigrants have a definitive and rather sophisticated narrative; even though many strips in the book have the look and beats of gag comics, the characters are richer and more organic than those found in, say, "Nancy" or "Bazooka Joe." They encounter and react to real-life events; they grow and change; they have actual arcs–for instance, two of the four immigrants end up returning to Japan, frustrated by the restrictive government policies of the era.

Schodt notes: “[Four Immigrants] visual style resembles that of U.S. gag newspaper strips...but its content– a serious story of an autobiographical nature, using apparently ‘real’ characters, who mature and develop over time– is closer to a modern ‘graphic novel’ than it is to early comic strips or comic books.”

Works for me! Anyway, regardless of where you stand on this somewhat academic argument, Kiyama's status as a unique and pioneering graphic fictionalist is not in question; his role in bridging two worlds, and his use of sequential art to tell quintessentially Asian American stories—all of these underscore his worthiness to serve as the namesake for an award honoring later creators who've done the same.

For this inaugural year, we're delighted to present this award to Larry Hama, the masterful writer who created the G.I. Joe universe, edited and scribed dozens of other titles (including Nth Man, Wolverine, Generation X, and Batman), and has just completed work on the first issue in a much-anticipated limited series featuring another real American hero—Barack the Barbarian.

The award itself is in the process of being created: Benton Jew, artist for "Driving Steel" in Secret Identities, has done a wonderful sketch of Henry Kiyama (with his omnipresent pet parrot!) that we'll be engraving on a glass tablet in Larry's honor. We did want to reassure Larry that this is not meant to be a "lifetime achievement award": Something tells us that much of Larry's best work still lies ahead...and as always, we'll be looking forward to reading it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The First-Ever Asian American ComiCon Comes to New York on July 11, 2009!

SIUniverse Media, the company behind the groundbreaking graphic novel Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology, in association with the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), the Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW), Asian CineVision, and Diamond Comic Distributors have joined forces to organize the First Annual Asian American ComiCon (AACC), a celebration of the unique contemporary role and historical legacy of Asians and Asian Americans in the world of graphic fiction.

The event will be held on Saturday, July 11, 2009 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the brand-new, Maya Lin-designed home of the Museum of Chinese in America. The Asian American ComiCon—the first of its kind—will be the first major event to take place at MOCA’s new two-level, 14,000 square-foot facility at 215 Centre Street in Lower Manhattan.

The day-long event will bring together leading Asian and Asian American creators, fans and readers of mainstream and alternative graphic fiction, and creative leaders of the larger Asian American community for a one-of-a-kind gathering, incorporating education, dialogue, spontaneous creativity, intergenerational outreach and the chance for established and emerging talent to show off their work. Tickets for the nonprofit event are $15 for students, $25 for adults (18 and older), and $75 for a special VIP Pass, entitling the bearer to priority reserved seating at all panels and workshops, a complimentary Asian American graphic novel, signed by its creators (courtesy of Diamond Comic Distributors), and an original sketch from one of the artists participating in the event's Artists Alley.

Registration will be limited, and is available in advance through the following link:

Note: All passes may sell out before the day of the event.

"The thing that makes this different from traditional cons is that it's designed to bring down boundaries," says Jeff Yang, co-chair of the event and Editor-in-Chief of Secret Identities. "We're bringing together creators from inside and outside of the comics world; exploring how film, literature, and history interact with graphic fiction; looking at the connections between Asia and Asian America, and we're giving attendees ways to meet, interact and engage with creators as they never have before. For this event, 'con' doesn't stand for 'convention'—we like to think it's short for 'conversation.'"

“Central to the Museum of Chinese in America’s mission is its goal to promote dialogue that transcends generational, geographical and cultural boundaries,” adds AACC co-chair Beatrice Chen, MOCA’s Director of Education. “The Asian American ComiCon, with its focus on exploring culture, identity and history through the world of comics, offers a compelling and accessible way to foster that dialogue.”

In addition to an exhibition room and an Artists' Alley, the Asian American ComiCon will feature three concurrent programming tracks:

· The SPOTLIGHT features high-profile comic creators in one-on-one settings discussing some of the ways in which the comics and non-comics worlds are overlapping and interleaving. Scheduled to participate in these sessions are Derek Kirk Kim (The Eternal Smile, Same Difference & Other Stories) and Larry Hama (G.I. Joe: Origins, Barack the Barbarian).

· READING COMICS, curated by AAWW Executive Director Ken Chen, explores comics as literature, as texts, and as cultural artifacts, with speakers including non-comics creators and critics as well as comics artists and writers.

· Finally, MAKING COMICS, programmed by Marvel writer Greg Pak, allows creators to share their insights on the industry and profession with those wanting a behind-the-scenes look at comics or advice on how to pursue a career in the field.

"Everyone knows that Asian Americans love comics, but no one's ever asked why” says Ken Chen. “That's why we organized the First Annual Asian American ComiCon as a mash-up of a fan convention, an Asian American Studies conference and a literary festival. The ComiCon will be a one-of-a-kind event that'll put superhero comic artists, professors, and novelists at the same table to discuss how we read comics today."

"I love the fact that Asian Americans are doing amazing work in every corner of the comics industry," says Incredible Hulk writer Greg Pak. "The Asian American ComiCon will give fans the chance to hear from indie superstars and superhero fan faves alike about creative choices and the practical reality of building a career. We're also hooking in a few behind-the-scenes comics executives who'll provide unique perspectives that I can't wait to hear!"

Among some of the top comics industry professionals scheduled to attend the First Annual Asian American ComiCon include:

--BERNARD CHANG (Wonder Woman)
--FRED CHAO (Johnny Hiro)
--SEAN CHEN (Iron Man)
--CLIFF CHIANG (Green Arrow/Black Canary)
--DEREK KIRK KIM (The Eternal Smile)
--JERRY MA (Burn)
--GREG PAK (Incredible Hulk)
--KHOI PHAM (Mighty Avengers)
--MISAKO ROCKS! (Biker Girl)
--TAK TOYOSHIMA (Secret Asian Man)

The officials behind the launch of the AACC feel that the time is ripe to celebrate the contributions of the Asian American community to the comic book industry. To that end, the event will climax with the presentation to G.I. Joe creator Larry Hama of a special award recognizing his incredible career and the influence he's been on his peers and a generation of rising creators. “I’m honored,” says Hama, “as long as you don’t call it a ‘lifetime achievement’ award. I’ve still got a lot to do!”

For more information, please visit
For general inquiries, please contact
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Ticket Information:
VIP Pass: $75*
Adult: $25
MOCA or AAWW Member: $15
Student (with a valid ID) and Senior (65 and over): $15
Child (age 10 and under): Free with Adult

*The tax-deductible VIP Pass not only helps to support MOCA, it also guarantees the richest possible experience at this event! Including:

· Priority reserved seating at all panels and workshops

· One Original Sketch drawn by an artist from the AACC Artists Alley—artist availability based on first-come, first-serve basis

· One Asian American graphic novel, signed by its creators—choose from:
Secret Identities: The Asian American Anthology
(The New Press),
Good As Lily
(DC Comics), or
Johnny Hiro Volume 1
(AdHouse Books)

· Admission to the invitation-only, post-Con VIP Reception

The First Annual Asian American ComiCon is presented by:

The Museum of Chinese in America ( Founded in 1980, Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history, heritage, culture and diverse experiences of people of Chinese descent in the United States. Through innovative exhibitions as well as educational and public programs, MOCA promotes dialogue and understanding among people of all cultural backgrounds.

SIUniverse Media ( SIUniverse Media is the editorial and production team behind the pioneering Asian American superhero anthology Secret Identities, as well as its affiliated video, online and educational resources. Committed to raising up new voices from the Asian American community and creating original, authentic and engaging stories with an organically multicultural perspective, we strive to create work that pops eyes, drops jaws and opens minds, all at the same time.

The Asian American Writers' Workshop ( Founded in 1991, the Workshop is the largest non-profit devoted to the creating, publishing, developing and disseminating of creative writing by Asian Americans. A community of readers and writers and the country’s preeminent authority on Asian American writing, the Workshop dedicates itself to empowering emerging writers of great promise to make the transition to a career in the literary arts.

Asian CineVision ( Asian CineVision is a nonprofit media arts organization dedicated to promoting and preserving Asian and Asian American media expressions by helping to develop and support both emerging and experienced Asian American film and video makers and other media artists working in a range of genres and styles; and helping to ensure that the full spectrum of Asian and Asian American media works reach diverse audiences in Asian American communities and beyond.

Asian American Comics ( Edited by Greg Pak, writer of Incredible Hulk and creator of the Marvel superhero Amadeus Cho, is devoted to spreading the word about Asian American comic books, comic book characters and comic book creators. We hope will help neophytes find interesting reading material, point existing readers towards new creators and books and provide fans and pros a place to read all the latest news. For more about Pak's work, visit

Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. ( The world's largest distributor of English-language comic books and related merchandise, Diamond Comic Distributors is based in Timonium, MD, with strategically located Distribution Centers servicing more than 4,000 specialty retailers worldwide.