Is It Any Good?

The History of Asian Images in American Comics through five decades at the Japanese American National Museum.

Yeah, I sooooo wanted to be a comic book artist when I was younger.

And my Mother sooooo wanted me not to.

So desperate was she to provide an alternative to Comic Book Drawing, she suggested Screenwriting instead, because that’s so much more stable.

Point is, I collected (past tense) comic books. So anything dealing with Comic Books will get my attention, even though this can be an occasionally high falutin’ Artsy Website.

As a side note, while I was pursuing that Screenwriting Degree at NYU, I was a part of a group of students that helped get a course in the history of Racial Stereotypes taught in our Department. So, anything with Comic Books and Racial Stereotypes is really going to get my attention.

Which brings me back, yet again to the Japanese American National Museum, and their latest offering: Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986.

It turns out that William F. Wu is a bit of a comics book buff himself. He’s a Science Fiction Author who’s been collecting Comic Books for years. He’s also been focusing on stuff with images of Asians in them In 1982, he wrote a Doctoral Dissertation called The Yellow Peril, which is an overview of fictional depictions of Chinese-Americans in culture. So, this guy knows his stuff.

He apparently has donated his comic collection to…of all places…the New York University Fales Library and Special Collections. Much of that collection is on display at the Japanese American National Museum through February 9, 2014.

The exhibit, curated by Asian Pop columnist Jeff Yang, breaks the down the Asian Stereotypes into seven categories. This is much the same thing that Dr. Donald Bogle did for his book: Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks.  It’s also what Dr. Bogle taught in his class at NYU.

Man, the NYU connections in this article…

The Exhibit itself a haunting review of the damage being done on very young minds through several key points in American History, particularly World War II, Korea and Vietnam, all three conflicts giving creators all the fuel they needed to highlight the “Yellow Peril” that supposedly endangered us all.

My only criticism is…well…more of a criticism of Dr. Wu’s collection more than the exhibit.

My problem really is that Dr. Wu stopped collecting comics in 1986.

There’s no particular event that happened in 1986 that turned everything around, lord knows, but something was starting to happen that time that grew and grew over time. It was about that time that I started to hear about and maybe even read Manga.

Now, Manga are Japanese Comic books, written and drawn by Japanese Creators, more often than not with Japanese Subject matter, and driven by Japanese Heroes, Heroines and Villains.

The idea that of a wave of Asian Creators was about the hit our shores can’t really be reflected in a Collection that stops in 1986.

The point is, things were going to get a lot, LOT better over the near term. Those Japanese Artists and Writers would influence a generation of American Artists and Writers (no matter what their ethnicity), a new and growing chunk of them Asian-Americans themselves (semi High School buddy Frank Cho comes to mind). Still do I suppose. I’m sure a lot of the same (racial) mistakes are being make by this new generation, just as I’m sure that a lot of newer, unfortunately revised Stereotypes have made it into the ether. Still things did get better.

What’s important about an exhibit like Marvels & Monsters is to see how far we’ve come. What’s important about Dr. Wu’s collection is the stuff from the bad old days.  That material, despite my, your and anyone else’s utter revulsion to it, needs to be preserved. We need to remember the mistakes we’ve made, the insult we have offered, if for no other reason to make sure it never happens again.


IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Bring your reading glasses.

Seriously, the exhibit takes whatever panels are of particular interest and prints them on canvas for display. The prints come out nice, but…they’re small, and occasionally hard to read. (I guess this would count as a second criticism).

I totally understand why the exhibition does this. When you blow up the graphics to large size, it doesn’t always look that great. To preserve the sharpness and the clarity of the overall page, they made a choice to keep the prints at near their original size. But there was a tradeoff.


PARKING: Scattered, and mostly limited to Paid lots and Parking Garages.  Expect to pay about $7 bucks, but that can vary.  If you’re willing to walk you may be able to find Metered Parking a a couple of blocks away from the Museum, down near Wurstkuche.   But when in doubt, consult the Little Tokyo Parking Guide that’s available at the Little Tokyo website.


Japanese-American National Museum
369 East First Street
Los Angeles, California 90012
Phone: 213.625.0414
Toll-Free: 800.461.5266
Fax: 213.625.1770