Diversify Your Shelves with WNDB
Column by Maurene Goo
Maybe it’s because Comic Con is around the corner, or just the general languor that settles in when it’s hot—but summer always makes me want to crack into a good graphic novel and just completely escape.
So here are my personal recommendations for some great graphic novels by Asian American authors and illustrators—there’s a lot of ’em out there and I’m excited to share their crazy talent with you all.
Find a hammock, some shade, and give your eyes and brain some summer lovin’...
This One Summer
I’ve been a fan of Jillian Tamaki’s artwork for years (she did those great Penguin thread covers and was properly blown away by the lushness of the illustrations in this coming of age novel. Every page, every spread, is a serious piece of art. It’s a story of friendship between two girls who see each other every summer, and the one summer where things start to change. Not only do the girls find themselves growing apart as they grow older, but they also witness some teenage drama that becomes a fixation to either help them cope or distract them from their own turmoil (a parents’ dissolving marriage for example). It’s about what happens as you transition from the innocent bubble of childhood to the realities of the adult world, beautifully captured through the lens of a fleeting summer.
Same Difference and Other Stories
When I first read this over a decade ago, it was one of the first stories (or collection of them) that I had ever read about the Korean American experience. And with such humor, angst, and heart! I don’t think it was a coincidence that it was in the form of a graphic novel—a medium that I feel is always a step ahead of the curve. I fell in love with this collection of stories (a lot of which feels autobiographical) and graphic novels in general, soon after. Kim’s amazing illustration skills are just icing on the cake. While the Korean American factor is what initially drew me in, it was just good solid storytelling that had me smitten. And I credit Kim as a huge inspiration for my own writing, as I’m always in pursuit of humor and authenticity in writing about the Asian American experience.
In Real Life
In light of all the Gamergate craziness, I was very interested in picking up this book about a gamer girl (it helped that it was illustrated by my good friend Jen Wang!). I don’t know what I expected but it sure wasn’t this thoughtful, heartrending story about human connections, the complexity of online gaming, and rethinking what is “right” and “wrong.” In Real Life tells the story of an American teen girl named Anda who loves playing a multiplayer roleplaying game online called Coarsegold. She eventually takes on the role of hunting down gold farmers—players who illegally collect valuable objects and sells them to other players. It’s the right thing to do, you know? But what seems black and white becomes murky when she befriends one them, a Chinese teen who is doing this out of necessity. I was surprised by the intensity of my feelings about this story, which is an important one as the globe both constricts and expands with our online connections. And Wang’s illustrations are just so perfect and gorgeous that you’ll find yourself wishing the world of Coarsegold was just a little bit real.