API & AAPI Creators: The Original Comics Pioneers: Comics creators from the API/AAPI community talk about their deeply rooted history in the comics medium, how they are changing the industry in the modern era, and discuss upcoming projects guaranteed to enthrall comics fans. An audience Q&A session will make time for questions from librarians and educators about how to make sure API/AAPI voices are well represented in every collection. Panelists include Jeremy Holt (Made in Korea), Pornsak Pichetshote (The Good Asian, Infidel), Ram V (Blue in Green, Grafity’s Wall). Moderator: Vince Alvendia (Local San Diego indie comic artist and illustrator, Dark Agents Book One: Violet and the Trial of Trauma, Super-Abled Comics, Horrorgasm).
Image Comics gathered three of their most prolific API (Asian Pacific Islander) and AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) writers to talk about their unique experience, a changing industry, and their current work. The wide-ranging discussion dealt with everything from having to explain the creative industry of comics to your immigrant parents to writing as a POC.
Pornsak Pichetshote is the author of the Asian American Noir comic The Good Asian. He’s also the author of the award-winning series Infidel. The Good Asian tells the story of Detective Edison Hark in 1936 Chinatown as he tracks down a prolific serial killer. Pichetshote teamed up with artist Alexandre Tefenkgi for the series. The comic confronts the horrific ramifications of the Chinese Exclusion Act and widespread anti-Asian American racism.
Jeremy Holt’s Made in Korea features the story of Jesse, a nine-year-old adopted from Korea by an American couple. Made in Korea is a coming-of-age story for people who don’t fit molds, who are still finding themselves, and who have to carve out a place distinctively their own in a world that corrals them into one way of living and being. It is a wonderful book on the diversity of the API and AAPI experience. Holt says they were inspired to write Made in Korea by their childhood, “As a trans-racial adoptee, I wanted to explore a sci-fi story that was interesting to me. The good A.I. stories I’ve seen are rooted in adopted experience. I just haven’t seen anyone do it directly.”
Explaining their progression as a writer, Holt says, “When I came out in 2017, I looked back at all the work I had been producing, and I realized I was writing all these white male savior stories. It took a lot of therapy to get me to understand why I was doing that. Raised by white people, raised to believe that I shouldn’t see color, which is a disservice to anyone who is POC.” Holt has been able to unpack their past and let some of it go. Doing so has helped them write more authentically as a non-binary creator. They have been able to remove whiteness and add color. In doing so, they say they found permission to be their authentic self.
To say Ram V has had a prolific year would be uh, putting it mildly. The writer has been on an absolute tear. Blue in Green, featuring the art of Anand RK, is about the dangerous pursuit of creative genius. Erik is a saxophonist down on his creative luck who will make whatever deal necessary to get the spark back. Yes, even if it means making a deal with a demon. The comic abandons traditional SFX, letting Anand RK’s work, colorist John Peasen, and letterer Aditya Bidikar truly shine.
See, here’s the deal with writing and creating comics. It’s all about finding commonality. Ram V spoke about finding commonality in Grafity’s Wall by translating and mapping hip-hop to the Indian experience. “All the representations of Mumbai have been told by people looking in from the outside. I felt like there is more there than sympathy for the poor. There is the ambition to be great and the drive to do well that is irrepressible in a city that is so oppressive in so many ways.”
The panel went on to focus on the topic of race and gender-bending characters. The creators agree the best place to focus is first, on telling a great story. By revamping old stories in comics, the creators believe they allow us to filter our current experiences to the moment we find ourselves.
Holt importantly surfaced the critical difference of a non-POC person writing a POC narrative. They said if you haven’t lived a certain experience, you really need to do the research. They added, “You can’t just swap in a POC character to make a character more interesting. I think that’s a cop-out. Why? It’s taking up space, like the three of us, who weren’t granted that space, to begin with.”
Pichetshote says people need to ask themselves how qualified they are to write about any experience. “You can’t author anything without authority. I’m very aware there are aspects I can’t write about, and it would be disingenuous for me to try to steer a story into a direction where I don’t have that lived experience.”
For these writers, sometimes that means a story isn’t yours to tell. It’s essential to make space for more API and AAPI creators. Challenging conventional comic narratives, making comics less white, less male, less binary, can only serve to benefit all of us. Sometimes it’s all about sitting down and being humble.