Gene Luen Yang to Create an Asian Superman
One of the big announcements at last week’s Wondercon is that one of the most iconic characters of all time, Superman, is getting a makeover—in the hands of writer Gene Luen Yang.
The original Superman isn’t going anywhere, but Yang will be writing a new series, New Superman, featuring a 17-year-old youth from Shanghai, Kenji Kong, who inherits Superman’s powers. The comic will be illustrated by Victor Bogdanovic.
DC co-publisher Jim Lee and chief creative officer Geoff Johns created the character and then handed it over to Yang (who just finished a stint as writer of the main Superman series) to flesh out.
“Kenji Kong — I created that name with my mom,” Yang said. “I wanted to find a name that works in Chinese and is immediately pronounceable to an American reader. With Kenji Kong, we stuck with the hard-K sound like Clark Kent. I would definitely be more comfortable writing a Chinese-American character, as I myself am Chinese-American. Writing a Chinese character is, for me, a lot like writing ‘The Other,’ another culture. So it requires a lot more homework and talking to people who actually live that experience.”
Yang is the son of immigrants from China and Taiwan, and his previous works include American Born Chinese, Boxers and Saints, and the Avatar the Last Airbender graphic novels. He explored the idea of an Asian-American superhero in his graphic novel The Shadow Hero. The immigrant experience is a theme that runs through much of his work, including his contribution to the anthology Secret Identities.
“One of the guys who was involved with ‘Secret Identities,’ Jeff Yang, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, he used to talk about how Superman is an Asian American: He has black hair, he wears glasses, he has two different names — an American name, Clark Kent, and a foreign name, Kal-El, with a hyphen in it,” Yang said. “His parents are non-English-speaking and sent him to America to have a better life.”
At the same time, Yang said, Superman is a truly universal figure:
“Everybody in the world recognizes Superman,” Yang told NBC News. “The reason he transcends cultures is that he embodies these ideals that are international, that are cross-cultural. We wanted to tell a story that was about the Superman ideal but tell it in a different culture. Regardless of where you grow up, you know what he stands for.”
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About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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