Interview: Gene Yang Pt. 2 [of 2]

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In this second part of our interview with Gene Yang, we speak in more detail about his latest book, The Eternal Smile, a collaboration with fellow Bay Area-based cartoonist Derek Kirk Kim, which collects two brand new stories and an old, largely forgotten fantasy tale, which saw a small run on Image Comics in the late-90s.

Yang discusses his collaboration, the impact of its predecessor’s success, and the difficulties of tackling ethnicity in comic book form.

[Part One]

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Interview: Gene Yang Pt. 1 [of 2]

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It was 2006’s American Born Chinese that put Gene Yang on the sequential art map. The book, an exploration of Asian-American identity situated at the cross section of cultural struggles, stereotypes and fantasy, was nominated for a National Book Award—the first graphic novel to receive that prestigious honor.

Yang’s follow up to that much lauded project is this year’s The Eternal Smile. The book—the artist’s sophomore work for First Second Books—teams him up with fellow Bay Area comics veteran Derek Kirk Kim on three short stories that explore the sometimes thin lines between fantasy and reality.

In this first part of our interview with Yang, we discuss his day job as a high school teacher, the roles he sees technology playing in the creation and consumption of comics, and how his collaboration with Kim first came about.

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The Eternal Smile by Gene Yang and Derek Kim

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The Eternal Smile
By Gene Yang and Derek Kim
First Second

yangkimtheeternalsmilecoverIt’s a testament, of course, to Derek Kirk Kim’s abilities as an artist that, upon first glance, there are no immediately discernable similarities between the three short stories that make up The Eternal Smile. The artist adopts a vastly different aesthetic for each of the three pieces—three styles which might easily be mistaken for the work of three different artists. It’s a testament to Gene Yang’s ability as a writer, however, that despite the works’ clear differences, its the unified nature of the three pieces that ultimately stays with the reader.

On their face, the three works could hardly be more different. Duncan’s Kingdom is a fantasy story, set upon the backdrop of a medieval kingdom under siege by an army of glowing-eyed frogmen. A hero is tasked with the destruction of said army, so that he might win the hand of a fair maiden. Kim adopts a quasi-fantasy style for the piece, at times taking cues from artists like Mike Mignola.

The artist’s style shifts abruptly for the next story. Opening with a cover page paying a less than subtle homage to Carl Barks’s Uncle Scrooge, the second story, which lends its title to the book, uses aesthetics borrowed from American and Japanese funny animal comics to tell of a covetous frog who will stop at nothing in pursuit of fame and fortune.

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