When I was in high school, I met two comic artists that have a huge influence on me today. They have huge voices of Asian-Americans in comics, and have attained critical acclaims and tons of awards. They are on top of the industry! (Photo: taken when I was in high school! I look the same don’t I?)
I met Derek Kirk Kim when I took a comic book illustration class at the Academy of Art University. I’ve seen him throughout the past few years, and then he was invited to Comics Art Forum here in Savannah, where one of the other visiting artists mistook me for Derek. I didn’t know of his online comic Same Difference until later. He won the Triple Crown of the comics industry for it when it was published as a graphic novel, winning the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz awards. And then he went on to win another Eisner for a short story in a book he did with Gene Yang!
Gene Yang is a computer science teacher at my rival high school. He stopped by to promote the book he had just published with First Second. I remember my art teachers and the librarians were all aflutter when he visited. His book American Born Chinese won an Eisner and was the first graphic novel nominated for a National Book Award.
Derek tells me that he’s been mistaken for every Asian cartoonist when he’s at conventions, including Frank Cho and Clio Chiang (who is a girl! Just kidding, he didn’t say Clio). When Gene Yang wrote a comic about the lack of Asians casted in the movie The Last Airbender, it penetrated the comics community and solidified my stance against the movie for the same reason. I’ve looked up to both when I started doing comics, and still do. Their simple styles work with the kind of stories they tell: uncomplicated, but deep. I hope that in the future, I’m not compared to how much I resemble them, but that my work can stand up to theirs.