Today’s love goes to science fiction author William F. Wu who has donated his archive of comics containing Asian images to New York University’s Fales Library. Fu’s collection of comics, published between 1947 and 1986, will be on exhibit at NYU starting in May.
I grew up reading comics and always loved them, but the Asian characters when I was young ranged mainly from stupid to evil to banal — with just a very few exceptions. To my regular collection, I added an adjunct collection, of comics with Asian characters. I was concerned, outraged, and amused because popular culture reaches virtually everyone. The role models—good and bad—can have real world effects on people’s perception of themselves and those around them.
Writer Jeff Yang is more than thrilled to be the curator of this rare exhibition. In the process of researching comics, Yang came across the first edition of “The Yellow Claw,” published in October 1956. The work features “perhaps the first-ever Asian-American pulp hero and protagonist: Jimmy Woo, a Chinese-American FBI agent.” You can see the images from Yang’s blog.
The exhibition will publicly and visually denounce Asian American stereotypes by showing Asian American characters positively portrayed as heroes instead of as the menacing villan or side-kick character. Growing up, I never saw many Asian Americans portrayed in comics or literature in a positive light, if they were even featured as characters at all.
Wu grew up in the midwest, Kansas City, Missouri, where there were few families of Asian descent during the time he was growing up. In a casual biography, Wu said:
I enjoyed and hated high school. While I was a good student, I was not as good as most people thought; I took honors classes in everything but math, in which — despite a common American stereotype — I was no better than average and probably worse. I dated, was no athlete, and most of all kept writing.
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