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All walks of life are on display in today's alternative and mainstream comic book worlds. I do not just mean those politically astute anthropomorphic lions that strut through a U.S.-invaded, bombed-out Iraq, as seen in Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon's Pride of Baghdad (2006). Off the cuff, I think of: the dyspeptic Asian American Ben Tanaka in Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings (2007); the bipolar Latino Omar Guerrero in Wilfred Santiago's In My Darkest Hour (2004); the angsty Latino suburbanite teen Miguel in Gilbert Hernandez's Sloth (2006); former Gotham City police detective and lesbian Latina Renee Montoya as love interest of Kate Kane (Batwoman) in Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison's maxi-series 52 (issues 1-52, 2006-2007); the Japanese émigré superhero Sunfire, out of the closet as a lesbian in Judd Winick's Exiles (issue 11, 2001); and Asian American Dupli-Kate, her brother Multi-Paul, and well-heeled black Black Samson in Robert Kirkman's Invincible (issues 2 and 6, 2003).
With author-artists at the helm like Los Bros. Hernandez, Santiago, Kirkman, and Winick, to name a few, we see a multiplicity of shades, colors, and sexual orientations expressed in comic book storyworlds. Today, for instance when Winick receives fan mail critical of superheroes like Sunfire or the introduction of Green Lantern's assistant Terry Berg as queer (Green Lantern, vol. 3, issue 137, 2001), he has to ask, "Which social agenda are you complaining about? Is it the gay people? or the black people or the Asian people? After a while, it doesn't look like a social agenda. This is the world we live in" (Gustines, "Straight (and Not) Out of the Comics," 25).
Of course, the world we live in offers an infinite array of possible experiences and identities for a given author-artist to aesthetically reframe and transform into comic book storyworlds. And this is exactly what author-artists do. They take from the real world and fictional worlds: author-artists of color talk about real, biographical experiences living at the margins of a xenophobic society informing their comics as much as they talk of the influence of fiction, film, and art. In the creating of Rocketo (2006), for instance, Latino Frank Espinosa's fictional world is as much an allegory of the Cuban émigré experience as it is an engagement and radical revision of Homer's Odyssey. (See Aldama's Your Brain on Latino Comics.)
This isn't too surprising, given that author-artists of color have the capacity to imagine and feel outside of themselves. While categories used by academics and the media like Latino, Asian American, or African American, and so on, might be useful at first to make these author-artists' work visible, at the end of the day, they want not only to have their work judged by the standard of the great comic book author-artists, but also not to have their talent and imagination squeezed into only one identity-politics box. As Espinosa declares, "If all we do is just talk about one experience in our lives, we will remain trapped" (Your Brain on Latino Comics, 165). These categories ultimately force the massive creative range of author-artists of color, as Gilbert Hernandez tells Derek Parker Royal in an interview, "back into a kind of ghetto" ("Palomar and Beyond," 227). Why shouldn't Latinos or Asian Americans or African Americans or Native Americans be writing, as Espinosa asks, "the new Lord of the Rings, the new Star Wars, the new Harry Potter?" (Your Brain on Latino Comics, 165).
There are many other author-artists of color who share this sentiment—and act upon it. For instance, while Roberta Gregory has created a biographical comic book vignette "California Girl" (collected in Roadstrips: A Graphic Journey across America) that touches on experiences growing up Mexican and American in the 1950s—Mexicans could only swim on certain days at her public pool—her eponymous protagonist "Bitchy Bitch" of her trademark comic book has nothing to do with this experience; in fact, she's about as white, racist, and bigoted as they get. And we can say the same of native Hawaiian R. Kikuo Johnson's non-ethnic-identifiable protagonist in Night Fisher (2005). In both we see author-artists of color place a large distance between their own biographical experience and the characters and storyworld they create.
Any and all comic book author-artists should be free to create any type of storyworld populated by any type of character. There has been a tradition, however, of gatekeeping race- and ethnic-identified experiences and characters. This said, steps have been made toward widening the scope of comic book representations. In the United States, in the wake of civil rights activism, we see a first big growth spurt in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when characters of color began to see the light of day. Behemoths like DC and Marvel, as well as the little guys publishing "underground comix," or others, were offering more than the typical chiseled white-guy comic book fare.
I will leave it to Leonard Rifas in his essay "Race and Comix" in this collection to provide the context and specific detail for this shift in the underground comix world. As far as DC and Marvel go, we do see the making of a handful of African American, Latino, Asian American, and Native American superheroes. Several highlights from the late 1960s and the 1970s include: Stan Lee and Gene Colan's inventing in 1969 of the Harlem street thug Sam "Snap" Wilson as the Falcon (Captain America, vol. 1, issue 117). In 1972, Archie Goodwin and John Romita Sr. brought to life the Shaft-blaxploitation-styled superhero Carl Lucas in the series Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. A year later Marvel featured the African American day-walker vampire Blade as a supporting character in Tomb of Dracula (issue 10); this was followed by Blade holding his own in a fifty-six-page solo story in Marvel Preview (issue 3). (See Elizabeth Nixon's "'It ain't John Shaft': Marvel Gets Multicultural in The Tomb of Dracula" in this volume.) In 1977, comic book readers came across one of the arguably more complex superheroes of the day: using his athletic prowess to get out of the ghetto, Jefferson Pierce is a high-school teacher by day and the bioelectric-charged Black Lightning by night (Black Lightning, vol. 1, issue 1).
The 1980s and 1990s saw other notable superheroes of color arrive on the scene, including: Steve Englehart and Joe Staton's creating of a team of immortals called the Chosen, as part of their series Millennium, who are recruited to "advance the human race" (issues 1, p.4, 1988). The team includes, among others, an Australian aboriginal woman, Betty Clawman; a Maoist from mainland China, Xiang Po; an Inuit, Tom Kalmaku; an Afro-Caribbean Brit, Celia Windward; and Gregorio de la Vega, born and raised Peruvian. In 1997 Christopher Priest (writer) and ChrisCross (artist) created the African American pro-basketball player Coltrane "Trane" Walker as the superhero Xerø, who performs a sort of white minstrelsy (blond-haired wig and whiteface mask) to sleuth out and foil espionage operations that threaten the nation.
While in this period we see African-American-identified superheroes picking up the relative lion's share of representation, there were several notable Asians, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, including the Japanese-identified Sunfire (X-Men, vol. 1, issue 64, 1970). There has been a tradition of Native Americans appearing as sidekicks, the easily disposable, and the preternaturally ecological in comics. In mainstream comics, we had, for example, superheroes like Cheyenne William Talltrees, who dons the ceremonial garb of Red Wolf appearing in Avengers (vol. 1, issue 80, 1970), the Apache James Proudstar as Warpath (New Mutants, vol. 1, issue 16, 1984), and his elder brother John Proudstar as Thunderbird, with his super senses, strength, speed, and stamina (Giant-Size X-Men, issue 1, 1975).
There have also been some notable Latino superheroes. Marvel introduced Bonita Juarez as Firebird in 1981; DC introduced Paco Ramone as Vibe in 1984, as well as Rafael Sandoval as El Diablo in 1989. In 1993 Latino author-artist Ivan Velez Jr. filled out with rich complexity a team of queer and straight Latino superheroes (Dominican, Puerto Rican, Afro-Hispanic, among others) in the Milestone series Blood Syndicate. Velez not only represented characters of color, but did so in ways that point out that there is not one type of Latino or one type of African American in the United States. (See Aldama's Your Brain on Latino Comics. For a detailed discussion focused on gender in another Milestone series, Icon, see Jennifer Ryan's essay "Black Female Authorship and the African American Graphic Novel: Historical Responsibility in Icon: A Hero's Welcome.") And Velez also worked hard to bring "color" into Marvel's Ghost Rider (vol. 3, issue 1, 70-93), where, for instance, he gave the Ghost Rider not only a backstory that included his living in the Bronx and having an Afro-Caribbean Latina as his wife, but also a supporting cast made up of characters of color. (For more on this, see my interview with Ivan Velez Jr. in Your Brain on Latino Comics.)
Mainstream comic books in the twenty-first century put several interesting superheroes of color on the map. In 2001 we see a certain self-reflexive playfulness with race and representation in Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's revamped X-Force (beginning in vol. 1, issue 115 and collected as X-Force: New Beginning). Here, Axel Cluney, or "Zeitgeist," speaking tongue in cheek, tells African American superhero team member, Tike Alicar, or "Anarchist": "Hell, I'm a black mutant. In this country, that's like being black with a little black added" (vol. 1, issue 116, 2001). In this same issue, when Anarchist hears that another black superhero might be joining the team, he worries that he'll lose his spot on the team as the token minority. In issue 117 Milligan and Allred introduce, along with others of a younger generation of multicultural mutants, the green-eyed, mixed Irish and Latina superhero Saint Anna, who was, we are informed, conceived when an Argentinean priest crossed the line with an orphaned Irish girl in a mission. Saint Anna's mutant superpowers: to transform herself into gaseous form, move objects with her mind, and heal the "sick and sad."
In 2004 Robert Morales and Reginald Hudlin introduced Isaiah Bradley as an African American Captain America who is survived by his son, Josiah X, in Truth: Red, White, and Black. This same year, Cuban American editor-in-chief Joe Quesada of Marvel brought to life the voodun-practicing multicultural team called "The Santerians" in Daredevil: Father (issue 1). The team leader, Nestor Rodriguez, or NeRo, is by day a multibillion-dollar entrepreneur with a successful hip-hop label and cologne line for men, and by night he is Eleggua, with superpowers such as being able to scramble thought and communication. Just as NeRo, as Eleggua, derives his power from his Yoruban-Caribbean deity namesake, so, too, do the others on the team derive powers from the deities Ogun, Chango, Oshun, and Oya. In 2006 Keith Giffen, John Rogers, and Cully Hamner introduced an El Paso Tejano, Jaime Reyes, as the new Blue Beetle. This same year Tamora Pierce and Timothy Liebe brought to life a new-generation White Tiger as the book-smart Latina Angela del Toro; unlike her uncle, the original White Tiger created by Bill Mantlo and George Pérez in 1975 (Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu, issue 19), del Toro is not the brown sidekick to an Anglo superhero like Spider-Man or Daredevil. She's the protagonist of her own six-issue series. In issue 3 ("Earth to Rita," 2008) of DC's series Trinity, Kurt Busiek (author) introduced a story that gravitates around the Latina superhero character Tarot. Tarot reads, well, Tarot cards and the future they portend, allowing her to help out down-on-their-luck members of her Latino community: "Hey, Tarot-chica, Gracias! I asked for a raise like you said—it worked" (issue 3, 23). Not all is morally on the up and up, however. In switching back and forth between her interior thoughts and her actions, Busiek gives her a shade of complexity. She's coerced into reading cards for street thugs as well.
While few and far between, sidekick or central protagonist superheroes of color have appeared. Of course, it's much harder for DC and Marvel than independents to introduce new superheroes generally: their worlds are more rigidly determined and circumscribed. So when brown or black or any other color superheroes appear, they are often reincarnations of existing characters in the DC and Marvel worlds. And, there is the pressure of market demographics: even today, those who read comic books still remain mostly white guys.
Once they're created, there's a revolving door for superheroes of color—some never return and others experience sporadic returns. There have been, for instance, multiple resurrections of black superheroes such as Blade, Black Panther, and Storm (the latter two even tie the knot in issue 18 of Reginald Hudlin's 2006 Black Panther). Blade, launched in 1973 and making further appearances in the 1970s and 1990s, reappeared again in 2006 only to disappear a year later, and after having her own four-issue miniseries in 1996, Storm took over as the leader of an X-Men team in 2001 (X-Treme X-Men) and was given a backstory makeover in another miniseries in 2005, Ororo: Before the Storm (issues 1-4). And DC's 1987 creation of the African-identified female eponymous superhero Vixen (she lives in the present but is firmly anchored in the heritage of her past, deriving her superpower from a fox talisman ["Tantu Totem"] passed down by her ancestors) only finally starred in her own book (the series in which she was to appear was canceled before the first issue was even released) in a 2008 five-issue limited series, Vixen: Return of the Lion. In 2004 Marvel introduced the mixed Mexican/Puerto Rican American superhero Araña as the star of Amazing Fantasy (vol. 2, issue 1), then gave Araña her own title (Araña: The Heart of the Spider) in 2005 with a twelve-issue run; while the issues were collected and published in three manga-sized pocket volumes, Araña never again battled another "Sisterhood of the WASP" foe. However, she did appear in Ms. Marvel for a while as well as in the alternate future of Spider-Girl.
This is not to say that racial and ethnic experiences and identities do not appear more lastingly in comic books today. They do, but mostly in the world of the alternative comic books self-published or issued by publishers like Seattle's Fantagraphics, Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly, Berkeley's Image Comics—even DC's more daring imprint, Vertigo. Here, too, we see author-artists exploring a range of storytelling styles and modes: from the superhero, crime-noir, sci-fi, and Western genres to the realm of erotica. Given that the sky's the limit in terms of the use of genres and the inventing of themes, characters, and storyworlds, I highlight here only a few to give readers a sense of the range of multicultural comic books out there.
Author-artists can use all manner of formulaic storytelling vehicles to contain stories of race- and/or ethnic-identified characters. These include not only the superhero formula, but those of the crime-noir detective story, the gothic, the romance, and the Western, to name a few. Often, author-artists intermix these different storytelling forms to skew reader expectations and break up the monotony that following a genre rigidly can bring; intermixing of genres in a given comic book story can introduce variations in plot tempo and allow for a greater flexibility in character development. Rafael Navarro, in his Sonambulo series, infuses the gothic/horror into a dominant crime-noir story to follow the sleuthing adventures of Latino detective Sonambulo. Sonambulo has been walking in the land of the dead for decades before returning to the land of the living as a luchador-mask-wearing detective who solves crimes during his sleepless nights wandering L.A. By infusing the goth-horror into the noir genre, Navarro can plausibly introduce a range of living-dead villains to engage his readers.
We see this cross-pollination of genres in other multicultural comics such as Scalped. Here, Jason Aaron (author) and R. M. Guéra (artist) blend the crime-noir with the Western to present a story that blurs the boundary between right and wrong. Within this hybrid storytelling form Aaron and Guéra create a complex Native American protagonist, the Oglala Dashiel Bad Horse ("Dash"). He slips into neither the savage (noble or brute) stereotype nor that of an eco-warrior, both of which essentialize Native American identity. (For examples of contemporary comic books that essentialize Native American identity, see Rob Schmidt's 2001 comic book series, Peace Party, as well as Nunzio DeFillipis and Christina Weir's Skinwalker. For a detailed history of Native American representations, see Michael A. Sheyahshe's Native Americans in Comic Books: A Critical Study.) Even before opening to the story proper, the reader-viewer of Scalped is readied for this cross-pollinating of genres: Brian K. Vaughan's introduction identifies it as a "Western-slash-crime story" (1) that deals with all issues of "race, vice, class, family, and sex" (2).
Once the reader-viewer has opened to the story, Dash returning home to the Prairie Rose reservation after a fifteen-year absence, we see how Aaron's dialogue—including much code-switching between Oglala and English—and Guéra's bold lines, subdued colors, and frenetic mix of close-up, medium , and long-shot panels, intensify our engagement with Dash and the characters who revolve around him. Moreover, as Dash uncovers the mystery behind the murder of an FBI agent on the reservation fifteen years in the past, the backstory fills in details relating to several important figures, including a lone Oglala cowboy who mostly keeps to himself; Dash's tribal-activist mother, to whom actions both good and bad are attributed; and the psychologically complex and corrupt Lincoln Red Crow—casino owner, sheriff, and Mafioso—who, as a child, was beat by Jesuit missionaries who wanted to "kill the Indian inside [him] in order to save the man!" The genre mixing gives Dash's detective work a sense of historical importance: revealing that the problems of drug and alcohol abuse, the internalized racism (Oglala versus Lakota, mixed-blood versus full-blood), and the capitalist greed that infect life on the reservation result from a time of "cowboys and Indians," when the ideology of Manifest Destiny, with its hierarchies of difference, smoothed over violent acts of genocide.
This storytelling form allows author-artists of color to explore a wide range of early experiences inflected by race, culture, sexuality, class, and gender. Given that the stories take place while the characters are, well, coming of age, the types of racism, homophobia, sexism, and the like that they experience can be quite raw and eye-opening to reader-viewers. In American Born Chinese (2006) author-artist Gene Luen Yang intermixes chapters told in a third-person colloquial narrative voice that follow the adventures of the mythical Monkey King with chapters told in a first-person voice that texture the contemporary experiences of the Asian American character Jin Wang as he grows up in and around San Francisco. While author-artist Yang anchors his art in a traditional Chinese-style pictorial storytelling layout (four-square panel layout with wide margins of empty white space on each page), along with a soft muting of strong colors like red, he does so not to express how prescriptive Chinese cultural traditions constrain the experiences of his protagonist Jin Wang, but rather how they can ultimately, as we see with the final crossing over of the Monkey King story into that of Wang's, provide the foundation (cultural) for building and growing a strong Asian American identity in a sea of xenophobes. (For more on American Born Chinese see Jared Gardner's more detailed analysis in this collection.)
We see author-artist Ivan Velez Jr. employ the coming-of-age form in his Tales of the Closet Vol. 1 (2005) to richly texture a variety of multiracial gay and lesbian teenager coming-out stories. Not only do these characters feel alienated from the adult world as teens with their own sets of issues, but they feel doubly and triply alienated as racially and sexually different. While Velez presents a certain affirmation of gay teen coalition-building as Tony, Imelda, and a handful of other characters discover their common closeted experiences, the inclusion of a tragic gay-bashing scene near the story's end acts as brutal reminder of the suffering experienced by gay and lesbian youth of color living in a homophobic and racist society. And in Skim (2008), creators Mariko Tamaki (writer) and Jillian Tamaki (artist) use the diary form as the vehicle to tell the story of high school growing pains. The story follows several episodes in the life of protagonist Kimberly Keiko Cameron, or "Skim," as she comes to terms with teen suicide, friends made and lost, her crush on her high-school teacher Ms. Archer, and growing up with divorced parents. The author/artist team here, however, choose not to foreground race or ethnicity in Skim's day-by-day coming-of-age narrative. Indeed, the only time race and racism come up is when Skim and her classmate Hien are the only ones to be thrown out of a birthday party filled with girls interested only in country clubs and blue-eyed guys who look like the TV star "Don Johnson" (84). In her diary entry, Skim reflects on what happened to her and her friend Hien as they were shut out of the party: "We waited and waited for them to let us back in. After a little while Hien left. Hien's parents adopted her from Vietnam two years earlier and she never got invited to parties. Maybe she thought that's how people left parties in Canada. Asians first" (86). And, after waiting awhile and thinking about the party, Skim concludes, "The more I thought about it, the less I wanted back in. It was a boring party anyway" (87).
Just as the coming-of-age story can offer a slice-of-life picture of young characters, so too can the autobiographical form—but with one crucial difference: the latter is expected to correspond in some way to the life of the author-artist. Of course author-artists can play with this expectation—and they do. They can choose to anchor their story more tightly to the facts of their life, or more loosely. In the case of Canadian Mark Kalesniko, his biographical self finds expression in a hybrid man (body)/dog (head) protagonist, Alex. In Alex (2006), his anthropomorphic biographical persona pines over his first high-school love, Asian Canadian Lori Chio-Lin Chen. In his Mail Order Bride (2001), the autobiographical appears in the shape of the protagonist's marriage to an Asian character—just as Kalesniko is married to an Asian Canadian. The autobiographical is kept in sight, but very distantly so in both cases. Perhaps this is to give Kalesniko more flexibility to explore issues outside of his proximate experience: life as a dog or the feminist emancipation of an Asian mail order bride. This blurring of the autobiographical with the fictional allows for Kalesniko to give, as Lesley Paparone concludes, "a more heterogeneous understanding of Asian womanhood" ("Art and Identity," 217).
And we see in One Hundred Demons mixed Anglo-Filipino author-artist Lynda Barry deliberately playing with the autobiographical mode. She begins Demons with the protagonist asking: "Is it autobiography if parts of it are not true? Is it fiction if parts of it are?" (7). (See Melinda de Jesús's essay in this collection for a detailed discussion of the significance of destabilizing the autobiographical genre in Barry's work.)
In the case of Percy Carey (writer) and Ronald Wimberly (artist), there's a closer adherence to the details of Carey's life story. While the title of their comic book Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm (2007) might not tell the reader that this is an autobiography, the jacket cover blurb does establish such an author-equals-character reader contract: "Percy Carey tells his own personal tale about his rise, fall, and rise again through the ranks of the Hip-Hop industry." As we open to the first pages, readers are situated in time and space: January 12, 1994. Harlem, New York City. A first-person narrative voice begins: "This was how it went down" (2). The visuals that follow indicate a shift to an earlier time (flashback) and this same voice embodied in the shape of a child: "My story begins on the street. . . . Sesame Street, that is" (10). Jacket cover blurbs and the first couple of pages of verbal and visual narration firmly establish that we are to connect the biographical life of the author Percy Carey with that of the visual (black and white washed over with a sepia tint) and verbal (urban, rhythmically hip, and quick-paced) narrated life of the protagonist, "Percey Carey." Finally, this autobiographical slice of the U.S. racialized experience doubles as a morality tale. Carey ends Sentences with: "I want to show the youth that there's other options out there that don't involve guns and crime. You CAN make it in this business—and any business for that matter—without taking the route I took" (128).
While Sentences provides a big life-story arc, the autobiographical form doesn't have to follow this type of big sweep. U.S.-Iranian comic book author Dara Naraghi uses the autobiographical to provide slice-of-life vignettes in his Lifelike (2007). He explains that in writing the first story, "The Long Journey," about the Iran-Iraq war, he "borrows bits and pieces from a wide set of experiences—my own, as well as those of friends and family—and wraps them all up in a healthy dose of fiction" (4). Nor does the autobiographical comic book have to be focused microscopically on the subject's life story within family and community. As with Arab American author-artist Toufic El Rassi's Arab in America (2007), the comic book can be anchored in one's life story and reach outward toward the historical. The first series of panels establishes this outward reach into a grand historical event. It opens: "I remember sitting there in the computer lab at school," followed by a panel with a computer screen monitor and an e-mail dated "11 September" and with the message "Hey man you better shave" (1). As the story of El Rassi unfolds, the reader-viewer learns how his life is caught up in the recent history of the United States and the Middle East—the civil war that led his parents to flee Beirut in 1979, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the first Gulf War, the post-9/11 invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and a September 12, 2006, raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which "showed up at my family's house at dawn and pulled everyone out of bed" (15), to highlight several events. By intermixing the life story with the historical (and even privileging the latter), El Rassi aims to use the autobiographical content—the experiences of being Arab in America—to teach readers about a not-so-black-and-white racism that permeates American society. (For other contemporary examples of a variety of uses by author-artists of the autobiographical genre, see the diverse array of stories collected in Diana Shultz's edited volume AutobioGraphix.)
Often author-artists of color will also use autobiography's close kin, the memoir, to capture specific moments in their past as retrospectively and critically interwoven into the stories of family and community. Well-known memoirs include Art Spiegelman's anthropomorphic rendering of mice in his Jewish Holocaust-set Maus (1986), as well as Marjane Satrapi's more recently published Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (2003), which tells the stories of Satrapi's family living in a repressive post-1979 Islamic Revolution Iran. The memoir has also been used by author-artists such as Miné Okubo, whose Citizen 13660 (1983) tells the story of the author's experience as a Japanese American in the internment camps during World War II. That Okubo chose to tell the story using the visual and verbal mode of the comic book is especially important. Xiaojing Zhou considers that the Us versus Them propaganda that identified Japanese Americans as an enemy of the state was "spatially constructed" ("Spatial Construction of the 'Enemy Race,'" 52), and therefore Okubo's visuals of the spaces from the point of view of those actually imprisoned offer an important resistant image repertoire. Asian Canadian author-artist Ann Marie Fleming uses the memoir form to interweave events from her life with those of her great-grandfather. In The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam (2007) we see Fleming carefully interweave anecdotes, interviews with family and friends, diaries, letters, postcards, and other archival evidence to destabilize fixed ideas of Asian-ness. Fleming begins by telling and showing her readers that she was born in Okinawa, but that she was "a lot bigger than the other Japanese babies in the maternity ward. Maybe that's because my father was a tall Australian. My mother was from Hong Kong, and not very tall at all" (2). The memoir continues to tell the story of her great-grandfather to complicate fixed categories of identity—he was a Buddhist but became a Roman Catholic to marry an Austrian woman, for example—as well as to show how global historical twists and turns impacted the shaping of this complexly defined Asian family. (See also Rocío G. Davis's essay "Locating Family: Asian Canadian Historical Revisioning in Linda Ohama's Obaachan's Garden and Ann Marie Fleming's The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam.") Recently, in American Widow, Alissa Torres (author) and Sungyoon Choi (artist) use the memoir form to tell the story of Torres's post-9/11 trauma and isolation (depicted in a simple visual style using black and white with light blue coloring) at the loss of her Latino husband in the mass murder that took place that day at the World Trade Center.
Those who choose to texture the multiracial experience and identity also find the biographical mode appealing. Like autobiography and the memoir, biography can either focus on the particulars that make up the facts of a given subject's life or reach by varying degrees into the social, historical, and political context in which that subject lives. Author-artists can choose to remain tightly tethered to the facts of the life told or wander more freely. Andrew Helfer's ear for dialogue and Randy DuBurke's no-nonsense black-and-white six-panel page layouts create the hagiographic Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography (2006). Flashbacks (the comic book biography begins and ends with his assassination), sudden juxtapositions of comic book drawing with photographs, along with snippets of information from The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), weave together the story of an individual very much shaped by and a shaper of his times. The story moves through various social and historical moments: Jim Crow segregation, lynchings, the Ku Klux Klan, the freedom of the Harlem renaissance, the rise of the nation of Islam, and the politicizing of African Americans nationwide. Pedagogically inclined, Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography aims to teach its reader-viewers about how Malcolm X's "words and teaching" (4) influenced black politics in the United States. (See also Don Hillsman and Ryan Monihan's more colloquial and factually loose By Any Means Necessary: The Life and Times of Malcolm X—An Unauthorized Biography in Comic Book Form.) In a move away from the visual and verbal "realism" of Helfer and DuBurke's Malcolm X, author-artist Ho Che Anderson goes for a more visually and verbally stylized portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. In King: A Comics Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (2005) Anderson follows closely his subject's life—from childhood through college and the civil rights era—but does so in a visual style that announces its artifice at every turn: from a more cartoon-iconic style to artful abstract collage to Cubist expressionism. In this same performative spirit, Anderson uses the device of the Greek chorus to interrupt the flow of the life story and to comment critically and often ironically on the events taking place. Furthermore, as Stanley Crouch aptly observes in the introduction to King: "There is a level of complexity and a superb capturing of the range of Afro-American features, which include the frequent varieties of lighter skins and the patches of facial freckles that do appear very often in fine art paintings of black people by black people. . . . But notice that Mr. Anderson achieves this in black and white alone, which is a high mark of skill" (11). Moreover, not only does Anderson's juxtaposition of a variety of visual techniques self-reflexively comment on the use of the visual and verbal media within the comic book, but the visuals' increasingly "totemic" structure and feel as the story winds to a close transport MLK visually into the mythical, or, as Crouch puts it, "the land of dreams and tragic finality" (11).
Several author-artists of multicultural comics choose as a springboard to their making of fictional narratives the historical event or figure. The anchor here is not the verifiable facts of life presented in the various life-story modes mentioned above, but fiction. In an interview I conducted with Derek McCulloch (author), who teamed up with Shepherd Hendrix (artist) to create Stagger Lee (2006), he discusses how the comic book medium was particularly suited to the alternating between a "comparatively conventional fictional narrative and a pseudo-scholarly examination of the story's progression into folklore" (Aldama interview with McCulloch, August 21, 2008). The comic book captures the double narrative dynamic the moment it begins: "Maybe you know about Stagger Lee. There are songs about him. . . . The songs are part of a very old tradition, and as they passed from singer to singer each voice would inevitably sing its own point of view" (Stagger Lee, 7). Working with an already very slippery figure of legendary proportions, as with the many versions of Stagger Lee's life circulating out there (over five hundred different songs, all with different details of his life and slight variations on his name), McCulloch is careful to remind the reader-viewers: "This book is a mixture of fact and fiction [and should] not be confused with a work of history" (225). For McCulloch and Hendrix, the greater leaning toward the fictional allowed them the flexibility to "fudge timelines, conflate episodes, [and] sneak in small anachronisms" (225). So while the inclusion of the primary archival sources gestures toward the historical, the freedom to invent character and event, play with chronology, and use multiple narrators, and the use of a not-so-contrasting and defining brown ink and sepia wash, lend themselves well to the comic book retelling of the story of Stagger Lee as legend that outstrips the actual, biographical man. Along with the sepia inking "making logical sense for the story," it was a way to "make sure it didn't look like other comics," as McCulloch remarks (Aldama interview with McCulloch, August 21, 2008).
There are many other examples of author-artists who have as their subject one or another multicultural issue in their comic book realization of historical fiction. I think also of Ben Katchor's The Jew of New York (serialized from 1992 through 1993 and published as a collection in 2000), which bases characters on historically verifiable figures—Major Ham is based on the late eighteenth/nineteenth-century polymath and Jewish advocate Major Mordecai Noah—as well as inventing completely new imaginary characters to fictionalize the factually based movement to make New York the Jewish promised land. (See Jennifer Glaser's "An Imaginary Ararat: Jewish Bodies and Jewish Homelands in Ben Katchor's The Jew of New York.") And, more recently, Mat Johnson (writer) and Warren Pleece (artist) intermix fiction and history in their so-called "graphic mystery," Incognegro (2008), to tell the story of Zane Pinchback, who sleuths out lynchings in the Deep South. Zane is inspired by former executive secretary of the NAACP Walter White, whose light skin allowed him to pass in the Deep South, where he uncovered and made public the lynchings that were still taking place in the 1930s. Johnson and Pleece begin the story with a single-panel spread that depicts a gathering of people—some with children and others wielding bats and sticks—surrounding a man hanging by a rope from a tree. A narrative voice fills in the detail: "Between 1889 and 1918, 2,522 Negroes were murdered by lynch mobs in America. That we know of" (7). While the lynchings persisted through the 1930s, the media were not interested. The light-skinned African American protagonist, Zane Pinchback, writing under the byline "Incognegro," passes in order to publicize these lynchings. His investigation becomes especially personal when he discovers that his brother, accused of murdering a white woman, is a day away from being lynched. Clearly within the realm of the fictional, Johnson's invented characters, dialogue, and events, along with Pleece's black-and-white chiaroscuro pen-and-ink visuals, open eyes to this abhorrently violent period in American history.
The historical events used do not have to be set in the distant past. Ryan Inzana also blends the historical with the fictional in the contemporarily situated Johnny Jihad: A Graphic Novel. In prefatory remarks, Inzana discusses his inspiration: the U.S. funding of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, and John Walker Lindh, from Marin County, California, who became a Taliban freedom fighter. They are followed by a prologuelike sequence where a first-person narration recounts, across a series of five stretch panels, Walker's dream of flying through the air and colliding with two large buildings (from the visual we recognize these as the Twin Towers). On the next page appears a date, "October 25th, 2001," followed by the words "Check, one, two . . ." and then by a close-up photograph of a tape recorder. Then the story begins as a full-page spread on the next page: "The how and why of me being here, in the middle of American bombing raids in Afghanistan, is complicated. It is only a little over a month since two planes smashed into the World Trade Center in New York. The world can change a lot in one month. The following story is my life, my sorry, short life, and how it all went wrong" (1-3). Inzana's preface, the prologue sequence, then the story proper situate the reader-viewer fully in the realm of a comic book that employs the historical fictional mode to recount the private psychological struggles of an individual as they blow up (literally) into various forms of destructive fundamentalism. We see this same blend of the contemporary historical moment and the fictional in Jaime "Jimmy" Portillo's Gabriel (2007). Rather than use the faux autobiographical mode to recount contemporary events, as seen in Inzana, however, Portillo uses the horror gothic mode. As the story of vampire protagonist Gabriel de la Cruz unfolds, we learn of the very real and current horror of the hundreds of raped, mutilated, and murdered Mexican women along the Juárez/El Paso border.
All comic books refer one way or another and with lesser or greater degrees of verisimilitude to reality—even when they are stories of, say, lions in a bombed-out Baghdad. If that were not the case, we wouldn't be able to understand them. In '85 (2008) we have Danny Simmons (writer) along with Floyd Hughes (artist), who invent a world for their character Crow Shade that resembles a mid-1980s drug-filled, hip-hop– and subway art-obsessed New York, for instance.
And comic book authors and artists might choose to blend in their realism the recognizable everyday with the fantastical otherworldly. Farel Dalrymple's Pop Gun War (2003) follows a young African American protagonist, Sinclair, who discovers a pair of discarded wings and has encounters with giants, homeless men, and talking fish. G. Willow Wilson (author) and M. K. Perker (artist) intermix the fantastical with the everyday in Cairo: A Graphic Novel (2007). Here we follow the stories of everyday types—contraband smuggling Ashraf, Lebanese American expatriate Shaheed, Egyptian journalist Ali Jibreel, American tourist Kate, among others—as well as the character Shams, a "real, no-shit genie" (32), otherwise known as a "djinn," who "manipulates probability" (34). And there's Espinosa's Rocketo: Journey to the Hidden Sea, Vol. 1, where futuristic fantasy—in a world, set two thousand years after the earth is nearly obliterated, that is now populated by Mappers, like Rocketo, and hybrid species Dogmen and Fishmen—overlies a contemporary Cuban American experience of identifying with a lost homeland. Kova ("Cuba") is one of the few land masses still left on the planet, but that's impossible to find without a Mapper like Rocketo. Espinosa's brand of realism includes, then, a plot unfolding in a fantasy other world but alluding strongly to Homeric epics, a dialogue reminiscent of Bogart films, an expressionist visual form, and an allegorical subtext of a pre– and post-Castro Cuban experience. (See Your Brain on Latino Comics.)
Another example of a realism that tips over into the fantastical is Grady Klein's The Lost Colony Book 1: The Snodgrass Conspiracy (2006). Even before the story begins, the jacket cover flap describes it as taking place on "a mysterious island unknown to the rest of the world, in nineteenth-century America. Its citizens: a colorful and outrageous band of capitalists, inventors, hucksters, and freemen, who jealously guard the island's fantastic wealth from the prying fingers of the outside world, even as they attempt to conceal its captivating secrets from one another." This other world is at once removed from the reality of the mainland, populated with cartoonish figures (in their visual and psychological portrayal) like Snodgrass and Dr. Pepe Wong, and filled with anachronistic dialogue (faux outdated language intermixing with "dude"). At the same time, this other world refers to a historical moment: the United States's transition from an agrarian slavocracy to a full-blown mechanized and industrialized capitalist society.
And there is the cartoonish realism of satires like Ilan Stavans and Roberto Weil's Mr. Spic Goes to Washington (2008) and Aaron McGruder and Reginald Hudlin's Birth of a Nation (2004). Both are grounded in fantastically imagined situations. Mr. Spic opens: "The day America finally becomes brown starts like any other" (11). In Birth of a Nation, East St. Louis secedes from the United States. At the same time, both refer to a reality we do recognize. In Mr. Spic the L.A. Mayor turned Democratic Senator Samuel Patricio Inocencio Cárdenas (S.P.I.C.) has a photograph (literally) of Bush and Che Guevara on his office wall; in Birth of a Nation, while the characters consistently appear in a cartoonish iconographic style, they include a malapropistic Bush Jr., a lynching-thirsty Dick Cheney, and sell-outs Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. (For more on Birth of a Nation see Michael A. Chaney's "Drawing on History in Recent African American Graphic Novels," which considers this comic book a political commentary on a history of slavery and minstrelsy continuing to haunt America today.) Both use the reference to our everyday reality to educate their audiences. In Mr. Spic, for instance, Mr. Spic mentions that less than 1 percent of schoolteachers in Los Angeles are Mexican American and asserts that we don't need a wall between the United States and Mexico, given that "the two countries are forever intricately linked" (23).
We also see the fantasy brand of realism at play in multiculturally dimensioned mythic comic books such as India Authentic Vol. 1: The Book of Shiva (published in 2007 by the now defunct Virgin Comics). As Deepak Chopra (creator along with Saurav Mohapatra) writes in the introduction, while based on the "primal stories" of Hindu myths and their gods (Shiva, Indra, Ganesha, Uma, and Kali, for instance), the comic book stories are not about myths and a long-ago past: "They are actually about us. They chronicle our greatest aspirations, our darkest fears, our collective experience as a species" (1). And the vampire myth comes alive, not as set in some Transylvanian never-never land, but in a contemporary multicultural L.A. in Life Sucks (2008) by Jessica Abel (author-artist), Gabe Soria (author), and Warren Pleece (artist). At one point the protagonist Dave hitches a ride from soon-to-be love interest Chicana goth Rosa from Boyle Heights—who speaks Spanish only to her mom and very occasionally sprinkles her English with Spanish like "qué mentiroso" (111) and "puta madre" (153)—to get home in time to watch a repeat of the telenovela El amor de los amores. He wonders if she's surprised at this, since he's a "dorky gringo" (45). Once Rosa finds out Dave is a vampire, to soup up her gender-regulated life—"I should be getting a full-time job, getting pregnant . . ." (117)—she declares, "If you love me, you'll make me a vampire. Right here, right now" (166).
In his comic book anthology Trickster Native American Tales, Matt Dembicki also uses a brand of realism to offset reader expectations of Native Americans as somehow frozen in a mythological past. He mentions in an interview that while "it's impossible to capture the art of Native American oral storytelling visually," the comic book's unique combination of visual and verbal storytelling devices can grab immediately the "attention and imagination" of audiences both mainstream and Native American, young and adult, in ways that prose narratives and/or children's books (the typical means for conveying the trickster tales) can't; it also offers a compelling way to record and archive Native American "stories for future generations" (Aldama interview with Dembicki, September 3, 2008). Rather than follow the life of a single protagonist, Dembicki chooses to follow multiple characters because, as he states in an interview, the trickster animal reflects the geographic domain of the tribe: "the coyote is the southwest, the raven is the northwest, the raccoon is the northeast, for instance" (ibid.).
Finally, we have the mix of fantasy in terms of plot and character with either extremes of comic book realism (drawn-over photographs) or comic book iconicity (cartoonlike characters). The cover of the comic book spin-off of the television show Heroes (drawn by Alex Ross 2007) uses a photographic realism to depict clearly and recognizably those television actors that play the various members of its multiracial cast of fantastical humans in a contemporary world. Steve Ross's satirical Chesty Sanchez (1995) uses a graphic style that is iconic to depict the adventures of Latina-luchador superhero Chesty and her sidekick Torpedo in a contemporary Mexico City.
Author-artists of color have also used the storytelling mode of erotica to create worlds—both otherworldly and more recognizably that of our own everyday. This form seems to allow for characters of color to experience radical gender bending and sexual freedom. We see this with Latino author-artist Gilbert Hernandez in his creating of the stories that make up Birdland. And along with Hernandez, there is the Asian American author-artist Sandra Chang, who introduces in her series Sin Metal Sirens (2002) the character Anodyne. Anodyne is Asian, supermuscled, and smart. As she travels across the galaxy to rescue kidnapped victims, she encounters adventures that reveal her polysexual ways. Nothing is off-limits in this techno-bondage otherworldly story. Chang's work extends and revitalizes the Japanese hentai manga tradition, as well as the sci-fi erotic worlds of Michael Manning (his 1995 Spider Garden and 1996 Hydrophidian, for instance) and the work of Roberto Raviola, aka Magnus (Milady 3000). And author-artist Adam Warren ups the ante on the erotica when he invents his over-the-top characters such as the latex-wearing, bulging-muscled Asian character, Kozue Kaburagi as "Ninjette," the hyperliterate Asian toyboy, "Thugboy," and the African American feminist supervillain, Sistah Spooky.
There are many other comic books about how race and ethnicity interweave into issues of gender roles and sexual desire that I haven't mentioned. There are many comic books that focus on multicultural issues in other countries—India, for instance—that I have not discussed. (Those in India, at least, are discussed at length in an essay by Suhaan Mehta in this collection.) But this overview provides a taste of what has shaped multicultural comic book author-artists working today and summarizes their innovations.
Some argue that comic books are a particularly good medium to overturn denigrating stereotypes. As Derek Parker Royal writes, "Because of [their] foundational reliance on character iconography, comics are well suited to dismantle those very assumptions that problematize ethnic representation, especially as they find form in visual language. They can do this by particularizing the general, thereby undermining any attempts at subjective erasure through universalization" ("Introduction," 9). And Gillian Whitlock considers the visual and verbal ingredients of comic books important in that they "free us to think and imagine differently in times of trauma and censorship" ("Autographics," 967).
Certainly, comic books do engage and elicit a response. Wilfred Santiago's In My Darkest Hour wants us to feel a deep sadness; Gilbert Hernandez's Birdland wants to arouse us; Carlos Saldaña (Burrito) and Steve Ross (Chesty Sanchez) want us to laugh—with irony; Hudlin and McGruder seek to raise social awareness. And while the characters that fill up the storyworlds of these multicultural comic books don't themselves, as Terry Kading soberly reminds us, "actually intervene in the real world" ("Drawn into 9/11," 227), they might indeed push people to act. In Iran a strip both moved Azeri Turks to protest and moved the Iranian government's Press Supervisory Board to shut down the newspaper that published the popular cartoonist Mana Neyestani's suggestively derogatory depiction of Turkish Azeri as cockroaches. And there was the murder of the Danish cartoonist who lampooned the Prophet Muhammad; the caricature's reprint in two weekly Jordanian newspapers also led to jail sentences for two newsroom editors.
It is important to consider carefully the craft—the aesthetics of multicultural comics. The aesthetic is neither in the object nor in the subject. The aesthetic is a form of relationship between the subject and the object. What the artist-author of multicultural comic books does is create a blueprint: he or she imagines, then writes and draws (alone, or collectively with another artist, inker, etc.), little by little in sequential manner the blueprint that is going to be one way or another read-viewed and assimilated.
The process of writing and drawing implies, at each instant, myriad choices (one word instead of another, one image instead of another, one or another style of lettering, etc.); in thinking in images, as with lucid dreaming, the author-artist (or author-and-artist team, as the case may be) is deciding which gaps to leave and which gaps to fill in. The author-artist of multicultural comics is deciding which gaps the reader-viewer is going to fill in. Here, too, we need to keep in mind that the author-artists discussed in this collection work hard to become proficient in their comic book craft, constantly educating their senses to produce visual and verbal narrative blueprints that engage and help reader-viewers, in turn, to educate their own senses in new and novel ways.
Thus, when reading and writing about multicultural comics, we might keep centrally in mind several of the following questions that the essays collected in this volume directly and indirectly raise. If one is to determine that a given comic book is multicultural through and through, is it so because of a character, a style of writing or drawing, a plot? Is there a specific narrative type (form and content) that we as scholars, students, and readers generally associate with "multicultural" comic books? Is this comic book storytelling form something defined or circumscribed only by sociological or political issues and racialized content? And if so, at what point can these be understood by those outside the experience? The many different approaches presented in the thirteen essays that follow consider one way or another that multicultural comic books are a unique expression—a narrative fictional "idiolect"—within a world of experiences and a world of comic books.
Multicultural Comics: From Zap to Blue Beetle brings together scholarship that uses a range of approaches and methods to enrich our understanding of how multicultural comic books created by a variety of author-artists work. Whether focused more on character analysis, history, or formal verbal and visual features, each essay attends to how one or more author-artists—mainstream, underground, or independent—engage, move, and open the eyes of their reader-viewers in ways that complicate issues of race, ethnicity, caste, gender, and sexuality.
I divide the book into two main sections. The first section, "History, Concepts, and Methods," brings together essays that focus primarily but not exclusively on how author-artists resist, complicate, and occasionally capitulate to simple scripts of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. The second section, "A Multicultural Comic Book Toolbox," collects essays that focus more (albeit not exclusively) on developing and deploying sets of tools for analyzing and evaluating the visual and verbal elements used by author-artists to cue, trigger, and move reader-viewers to engage with complex schemas of race and ethnicity.
Leonard Rifas's essay "Race and Comix" begins the section "History, Concepts, and Methods." Rifas offers a glimpse into an important moment in comic book history, the rise of the underground comix scene. While dominated by white comic book creators, this was by no means a racially monolithic moment in the history of the comic book. There were author-artists who slipped into the racial exoticism that characterized a late-1960s counterculture (in the name of peace, love, and equality, middle-class Anglos donning African dashikis, Indian feathered headbands, and Mexican serapes), and there were other comic book author-artists who resisted. Of the latter, Rifas discusses the self-reflexive parody and critique of race essentialism and exoticism in R. Crumb's "Whiteman" (issue 1 of his series Zap) as well as Gilbert Shelton's "The Indian That Came to Dinner" (Feds 'n' Heads). Rifas also reminds us that, while few and far between, there were black comix practitioners, including Larry Fuller and Richard "Grass" Green. However, as Rifas cautions, whether white or black, even the most multiculturally self-aware of underground comix author-artists could create characters who in their appearance and action conform to preexisting racial stereotypes. For Rifas, finally, it is not so much that one has to be black, brown, or whatever color to make interesting multicultural comix, but rather that the author-artist must detail character, events, and settings in ways that highlight a given racialized character's "unique humanity."
In "'Authentic' Latinas/os and Queer Characters in Alternative and Mainstream Comics," an analysis that explores a more contemporary comic book scene, Jonathan Risner further questions and complicates the notion of authorship: does one have to be Latino to create a comic book that expresses well a Latino experience and identity? To answer this, Risner contrasts representations of Latino-ness in Los Bros. Hernandez's series Las Locas with DC's new Blue Beetle series as well as DC's recent introduction of a queer Latina Batwoman. Like Rifas, Risner upsets race-essentialist nativist paradigms that straitjacket the imagination of author-artists generally. So, for Risner, it is not only the obvious author-artists like Los Bros. Hernandez who infuse vitality into their Latino comic book worlds, but all those who create well and responsibly.
This sense of an author-artist taking seriously the crafting of storyworlds also centrally informs Margaret Noori's analysis in her essay "Native American Narratives from Early Art to Graphic Novels: How We See Stories / Ezhi-g'waabmaananig Aadizookaanag." Noori carefully outlines the three creative streams—oral, written, and visual—comprising contemporary native comic book storytelling. She then focuses on a number of Anishinaabe-authored comic books to demonstrate how these author-artists' sense of responsibility to their craft and subject matter stands against simpleminded portrayals of Native Americans in U.S. popular culture. Rather than depict natives perennially in loincloth, for example, author-artists such as Chad Solomon and Christopher Meyer (The Adventures of Rabbit and Bear Paws) clothe their characters in season– and setting-appropriate wear; other author-artists switch language registers from English to Anishinaabemowin not only to vary the rhythm of their prose, but to preserve their language.
Other essays in this section focus on how author-artists complicate the racial, ethnic, gender, and sexuality representational map in their destabilizing of single-minded cultural and national identities. In "Liminality and Mestiza Consciousness in Lynda Barry's One Hundred Demons," Melinda L. de Jesús situates mixed-race author-artist Barry and her strategically "naïve" visual comic book style within a Filipina American feminist narrative fiction tradition. Barry's various in-between figurations—narrator, character, and author—provide a model for a more inclusive Filipina American identity. In "Black Nationalism, Bunraku, and Beyond: Articulating Black Heroism through Cultural Fusion and Comics," Rebecca Wanzo situates Kerry James Marshall's Rythm Mastr within a diasporic aesthetic that shakes up essentialist notions of African American-ness and Anglo American-ness. James Braxton Peterson's "Birth of a Nation: Representation, Nationhood, and Graphic Revolution in the Works of D. W. Griffith, DJ Spooky, and Aaron McGruder et al." explores how contemporary African American author-artists use a "Hip Hopographic" style and radically explosive content to revise and engage anew mainstream ur-texts such as the film Birth of a Nation.
While still focused largely on questions of representation, other essays in this section telescope to single-character analysis. Patrick Hamilton's "Lost in Translation: Jessica Abel's La Perdida, the Bildungsroman, and 'That "Mexican" Feel'" goes against the grain of La Perdida's laudatory critical reception and instead reveals just how the U.S. Anglo/Mexican character, Carla Olivares, experiences little of the kinesis of consciousness expected of the bildungsroman genre. She begins her journey into Mexico objectifying Mexicans and reifying Mexican-ness—and ends her journey with the same ignorant worldview. The mature Carla (postjourney) as narrator is no wiser for the experience than the young Carla experiencing the journey. In "Same Difference: Graphic Alterity in the Work of Gene Luen Yang, Adrian Tomine, and Derek Kirk Kim," Jared Gardner chooses as his subject the stereotype in Asian American comic books. A bridge piece to the next section, Gardner's historical and formal analysis provides a background context to many of the allusions made in today's Asian American comic books that complicate and parody those pejorative model-minority and Asian-invasion stereotypes. Indeed, the move from comic strip—and single-panel cartoon gag especially—to the comic book, with its narrative time and space opening the possibility for readers to imagine between panels, allowed for the development of the more sophisticated use of character type in Asian American comics today; it allows for, in Gardner's words, the "embracing of the radical consequences of an alterity that disables stereotype and the easy readings of the hegemonic gaze."
The second section, "A Multicultural Comic Book Toolbox," focuses on how author-artists create comic book worlds that trigger very different emotions in their reader-viewer. With "'It ain't John Shaft': Marvel Gets Multicultural in The Tomb of Dracula," Elizabeth Nixon focuses specifically on the device of second-person narration and direct address ("You") to tease out just how the reader-viewer is encouraged to cross over into the silent margins inhabited by the literally mute Indian character, Taj Nital. While characterization (muteness) and visuals (Taj Nital appears at the fringes of the panels) marginalize and silence, the strategic use of second-person narration and direct address forcefully pulls readers into Taj Nital's complex interiority. In this way the second-person narrative device encourages reader-viewers to step across borders of subjectivity. Following a like thread, Evan Thomas also attends to how narrative devices work to give voice and complexity to the otherwise unheard and invisible people. In his essay "Invisible Art, Invisible Planes, Invisible People," Thomas analyzes how the gutter and interpanel tensions in Grant Morrison and Philip Bond's Vimanarama open a space for the "subaltern" character Ali to speak. Suhaan Mehta's "Wondrous Capers: The Graphic Novel in India" focuses on the use of image-versus-word tensions, as well as certain text lettering and positions, in explaining how nonmainstream comic book author-artists Orijit Sen (The River of Stories), Naseer Ahmed and Saurabh Singh (Kashmir Pending), Amruta Patil (Kari), and Sarnath Banerjee (The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers) give voice to those at the caste and sexual fringes of Indian society and resist kowtowing to an "air-brushed" (the technique used in the mainstream Indian comics) Hindu nationalist line. And Nicholas Hetrick's "Chronology, Country, and Consciousness in Wilfred Santiago's In My Darkest Hour" focuses on the devices of layout, color scheme, and style to show how Santiago blurs the boundary between his Puerto Rican American character Omar's interiority (private) and the post-9/11 American psyche (public). It is the atypical use of exterior narrating devices (layout, color scheme, and style as opposed to word balloon, thought bubble, or narrator box) as focalization technique (subjective filter through which the narrator presents the story) that makes physically present this blurring of the boundary between the private and public, the real and unreal, in a post-9/11 American consciousness. Bringing "direct representation of subjective states out of the province of interiority (i.e., speech balloons)" allows Santiago "to affect, literally, the shape and feel of the storyworld."
The collection ends with "Finding Archives/Making Archives: Observations on Conducting Multicultural Comics Research"—an analytical and descriptive bibliography coauthored by Rebecca Wanzo and Jenny E. Robb. Wanzo and Robb point readers to important archival and scholarly resources for approaching multicultural comics. They remind us that, given the scarcity of resources available, much still needs to be done in developing approaches to multicultural comics.