Guest blog by IU graduate student Bridget Albert from SPEA’s arts administration program:
On Feb. 23, award-winning graphic novelist and comic book artist Gene Yang will be visiting Indiana University as part of IU’s inaugural Global Arts and Humanities Festival, “China Remixed.” As an arts administration student, I have partnered with the IU Arts and Humanities Council to attend a few of the many events taking places during the “China Remixed” festivities and write about my experiences to provide a student perspective.
In the comic book world, Yang is well known for rebooting the Superman series for DC Comics with his work “The New Super-Man.” His groundbreaking graphic novel, “American Born Chinese” (2006), features the trials and tribulations of adolescent Jin Wang as he navigates his dual identities as a Chinese-American.
Not only is Yang a prominent figure in both the world of comics and graphic novels, he is also a 2016 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. According to the MacArthur Fellowship website, Yang’s “work for young adults demonstrates the potential of comics to broaden our understanding of diverse cultures and people.”
To better understand Yang’s work in anticipation of his visit, the IU Arts and Humanities Council has sponsored a reading group tackling some of his comics, as well as his graphic novels “American Born Chinese” and “Boxers and Saints.” The group is led by IU Bloomington professors Ellen Wu, Aaron Stalnaker, De Witt Kilgore and John Walsh, as well as the Rev. Patrick Hyde, associate pastor and campus minister at the St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington. The last of these discussions will take place Feb. 21 to discuss Yang’s work in comics.
While I will be attending the presentation as a newer fan of Yang’s work, I am interested in attending to hear more about his take on issues of diversity in comics and graphic novels as well as what U.S.-Chinese identity means to him. Diversifying the realm of graphic novels and comics is an incredibly important endeavor to undertake.
The entire premise of his series “The New Super-Man” is that a teenager in Shanghai inherits the famous superhero’s powers. It is crucial to examine the ways in which Yang provides new stories and faces to the canon of the storied Superman narrative. By featuring a Chinese reboot of the Superman series, Yang is inviting broader audiences that may recognize themselves in a way they previously did not. Asian representation in comics or graphic novels has been scarce, particularly in terms of lead characters or superheroes.
Yang helps bring to light new voices and representations in his comics by moving beyond merely representing diversity and directly into giving agency to new perspectives and identities we desperately need in current media. Yang’s ability to re-conceptualize the identity of Superman as Chinese is the type of Asian representation in media that we consumers must demand of our comics in order to continue seeing newer and more inclusive character portrayals. We have Yang to thank for bringing those characters to the next generation of comic fans, and for that I am thrilled to see what Yang is up to next in his career. I can’t wait to hear more about him during his presentation.
Join me and the Arts and Humanities Council as we check out Yang’s presentation at the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre on at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23. This event is free, but ticketed. Tickets are available through the Buskirk-Chumley box office.