Award-winning comic Gene Luen Yang has a new graphic novel out with Sonny Liew called “The Shadow Hero.” It’s based on a little-known character named the Green Turtle from a 1940s Chinese-American cartoonist named Chu Hing. The new novel is the sort of revisionist history that’s also a cause for celebration; 27 artists did their own renderings of the Green Turtle to celebrate the occasion.
Yang spoke with GalleyCat’s Maryann Yin about his research for the new project, and it’s a fascinating look at the world and history of race and publishing in comics:
Q: Can you describe your research process for this project?
A: The main character of The Shadow Hero is a superhero called The Green Turtle. He is not our character. The Green Turtle was created in the 1940s by a Chinese American cartoonist named Chu Hing. Rumor is, Chu wanted his character to be a Chinese American but his publishers wouldn’t let him do it. He reacted very passive-aggressively. If you look at the original Green Turtle comics, the main character almost always has his back to the reader. Supposedly, Chu did this so that he, and his reader, could imagine the hero as he intended, as a Chinese American.
I began my research by reading Chu’s Green Turtle stories. They were the lead feature in a short-lived series called Blazing Comics. Like so many obscure superheroes from the 1940s, the Green Turtle is now in public domain. You can legally download scans of all the original comics from websites like The Digital Comics Museum.
Once our story began taking shape, I read a lot about early American Chinatowns. Even though our characters live in a fictional Chinatown, I wanted it to feel real. Sonny, too, did a lot of visual research on the Chinatowns in both New York and San Francisco.
(h/t Angry Asian Man)