Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints is a pair of volumes about rebellion in 19th century China. In Boxers, we follow a young man whose father is humiliated at the hands of the foreign devils and the people who’ve gravitated to their power so he turns to mystical powers to try to rid China of their influence. In Saints we follow a young woman as she tries to become a foreign devil herself.
The stories are good, but somewhat slight. I don’t know. I liked the representation of the Brotherhood of the Righteous Fist becoming gods in their fights. Whenever I read histories of the Boxer Rebellion it seems stupid that so many people would believe a little ritual would protect them from bullets. This represented things in a way much easier to empathize with.
Really though, this book is a decent enough fictionalization of history, but it felt like the characters were there as a means of showing us history rather than having real depth of their own. Which is disappointing, because Yang’s made me care about characters and their individual struggles before.
Gene Yang and Derek Kirk Kim’s The Eternal Smile is a collection of three stories about layered realities.
Duncan’s Kingdom is a sword & sorcery tale of a young knight who is trying to win the hand of a princess, though he’s haunted by dreams of an older woman and a cola bottle. Gran’pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile is about a greedy (to Scrooge McDuck kind of levels) frog who wants a pit of gold deep enough to swim in without hitting his nose on the bottom. When a smile appears in the sky, he builds a church to exploit it and further his dreams. Urgent Request is about Janet, who is a shy worker at a telecom company who responds to a Nigerian email scam when her request for more responsibility falls through.
All three of the stories start off as one thing and then once you’ve bought into the concept they change. And they’re all kind of beautiful.
Gene Yang’s Level Up is a comic about videogames and “fulfilling your destiny.” The protagonist is basically deciding between the pleasurable life of videogames and eating bitterness (they’re an Asian family) and becoming a doctor to fulfill his parents’ dreams for him. In the end the negotiation is made quite well. It’s not just a simple “I’ve got to do my own thing!” kind of story, but is a story of the complexity involved in doing what you love.
Thien Pham’s art was a little cutesy for my taste (I much prefer the bolder stylings from Yang’s American Born Chinese, for example) but it gets the job done.
Liquid City is an anthology of comics by Southeast Asian creators. It wasn’t bad. I really liked a couple of the stories and couldn’t get into a bunch of the others. You know, the standard anthology lament.
The opening story about a bug collector turning into a bug was great. The stinky-fish story was also good. There was one story about a harpy I liked but absolutely hated the art for, which was sad.
For pure joy of reading though, the best part of the book was Gene Yang’s introduction. He talked about how reading translations of comics is inherently better than reading translations of novels and better than watching translations of movies (subtitled – he doesn’t even deign to acknowledge dubbed movies).