Writer and artist Gene Luen Yang guest blogs about his experiences of getting into writing comic books and his brand new entry into the superhero genre, "The Shadow Hero #1."
I began making comic books in the fifth grade. Jeremy, who sat at my table in Social Studies, had already been collecting for many years. I think he’d skipped Dr. Seuss in favor of Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Our discussions about Spider-man’s rogues’ gallery eventually led to a collaboration that would take Blue Hills Elementary School’s fifth grade class by storm.
We came up with the general plot of Spade Hunter #1 together. Then I did the pencils and Jeremy did the inks. The titular hero of Spade Hunter #1 borrowed heavily from Robin Hood. He lived in the woods, wore all green, and yearned for justice deep within his soul. But Jeremy and I were no plagiarists. Rather than a bow and arrows, Spade Hunter had a Discus of Death that he would throw at people’s heads.
When we completed the issue, Jeremy’s mother took our originals to her workplace, waited for all her co-workers to go home, and used her office copier as our personal printing press. Over the next few weeks, we sold sixteen copies at fifty cents each, just four copies shy of needing a second printing.
Jeremy and I were a phenomenon. We strutted down the halls, fielding questions from the masses. (Or at least one question - Sheryl from Social Studies wondered if she could buy a copy for her little brother. The answer was “yes.”) Our teacher gave us McDonald’s gift certificates in the hopes, no doubt, that we wouldn’t forget her after signing our contracts with Marvel. I thought a good long time about buying a pair of sunglasses, the kind Stan Lee wore even during the day. From then on, when Jeremy and I watched the more athletic kids play flag football during recess, we watched with our heads held high.
Unfortunately, Jeremy gave up on comics before we were able to collaborate on Spade Hunter #2, so the mysterious murder of Spade Hunter’s father remains unsolved to this day. Jeremy’s now a radiologist.
I, however, kept making comics. Thirty years after the fifth grade, I’m still making comics. After all that time, Spade Hunter #1 remains my only foray into superheroes. Until today, that is.
Today, First Second Books releases The Shadow Hero #1, a comic book by me and cartoonist Sonny Liew. I did the writing and Sonny did the art. The Shadow Hero is the story of how Hank Chu, a Chinese American teenager of the 1930’s, becomes a superhero. We borrow heavily from the conventions of the genre, but Sonny and I are no plagiarists. We hope we’ve taken familiar tropes in new and surprising directions.
Sonny Liew is a genuine phenomenon, and I’ve wanted to work with him for quite a while. Sonny studied at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. His work has won awards on both sides of the Pacific. His most well-known works for the American market include Sense and Sensibility adaptations from Marvel Comics and Malinky Robot from Image Comics.
It feels good to dwell in the world of superheroes once again. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to return to this genre that I love. Maybe I just needed to find the right collaborator.
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