ABC: Smart Comics, Part 3

My planned series on more literary comics (as opposed to regular old dumb comics) didn’t really work out like I planned due to life being, well, life, and I ran out of the available time to work on things (which seems absolutely insane, considering that I have loads of free time now, right?).  It’s not the lack of free time, but it’s the lack of feeling coherent enough to write something, worthwhile. I’d really like to continue this thread, I’ve got pre-ideas for Big Hero Six and the new Batgirl run, as the first two issues sit on my desk unread, mocking me.

By ABC, the comic, I mean, American Born Chinese (to not be confused with ABC, America’s Best Comics, Alan Moore’s DC Comics imprint from the early 2000’s.. Something else on my list of things to write about.) Of all of my so-called ‘smart comics’ to discuss, ABC is by far my favorite. Why? Because it features my favorite literary trope, awkward teen romantic angst. Beyond that, universally relatable things are littered throughout the book, like high school and feeling alienated and creating a new self to fit in, and of course questions about race, and monkey kings peeing on the hand of God.

One of my favorite aspects of American Born Chinese is how I was able to immediately connect it with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s journey theory. Or At least, how I interpret the theory, based on Community creator Dan Harmon’s explanation/story telling technique. I haven’t researched anything beyond that, but I feel I have a better grasp on the concept beyond the generic example of Star Wars, which is normally thrown about with the theory. Harmon further breaks down the concept into an easy to digest story structure, here and here. Up to this point, Harmon’s theory breakdown has been incredibly helpful to me in my writing and story construction, as I outlined in my process post.




Back to American Born Chinese:

So, for my basic understanding of the concept, which I remind you, comes entirely on a television writer explaining the concept in terms of story structure, ABC follows the structure nicely, through each of it’s three rotating and seemingly unconnected stories. The first, structured like a historical fable, is a tale of the Monkey King. The second, structured like a typical indy auto bio comic, featuring the struggle of Jin as he tries to adapt to an all white school and the trials and tribulations of, well, girls. The third, structured like a terrible american sitcom, complete with laugh track, is the story of an “all American boy” Danny and his struggles with his overtly offensive Chinese Stereotype cousin, Chin-Kee. Our Main character is Jin, and we  discover we aren’t reading three stories, but one, we discover at a point of heartbreaking teen rejection, Jin has transformed himself into Danny, but is still tied to his Chinese heritage by his cousin, who we later learn is the Monkey King in disguise.

This follows our hero’s journey by having Jin, start off on his own and alone, and his desire to fit in with his white classmates and also, because girls, and literally transforming into Danny, only to pay the price of learning that things aren’t that much different before returning to life as Jin to make amends with his former childhood friend, Wei-Chen.

There are clues foreshadowing Jin’s eventual transformation, from almost the beginning, the biggest being his childhood love of Transformers toys, and yet I didn’t see it coming, despite the kinda obvious symbolism. I should note, that ABC features my favorite use of Transformers ever.

I struggled to find a thematic tie between ABC and the other two ‘smart comics’ I worked with, Persepolis and City of GlassI realized that the three were all tales of transformations, but also tales of lost innocence. ABC features a less intense loss of innocence, there’s no childhood destroyed by war or loss of a child at work, but that innocence of childhood lost to simple childhood cruelty.

I just realized I made it this far without mentioning anything about Gene Luen Yang’s art in American Born Chinese, which is an absolute blast, capturing the kinetic feel of animation in comic art form, which is the kind of art I love the most, the kind that feels like it’s going to explode off of the page.


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