May 11, 2015

Kids Comics Q&A Blog Tour: Interview with Gene Luen Yang

Children's Book Week was just last week, and thanks to First Second we're still celebrating--throughout April and May, MacTeenBooks has organized a massive multi-blog tour featuring Five Questions with a wide range of amazing cartoonists for kids and teens, with all interviews conducted by by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado, the authors of Dragons Beware! If you check out the list (RIGHT HERE!), you'll see familiar names like Cece Bell and Mariko Tamaki and Cecil Castellucci and tons of other great graphic novelists. It really is a wonderful virtual event, and it's co-sponsored by the Children’s Book Council, Every Child a Reader, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Without further ado, but WITH an awesome imaginary drum roll I'd never be able to pull off in real life, here are Five Questions with one of our favorite (and local) graphic novelists, Gene Luen Yang. He's the author or co-author of so many GNs we've really loved here on Finding Wonderland: American Born Chinese (reviewed here), Level Up (reviewed here), The Eternal Smile (reviewed here), Boxers & Saints (previewed here), Prime Baby (reviewed here) and Shadow Hero (reviewed here). We've also interviewed him before, way back in 2007 (gulp). We're stoked to welcome him back again!

RAFAEL/JORGE: Gene, when our first book came out, you let us interview you, and now that our second book is coming out, you are allowing us to bombard you with questions yet again.  You're a good man, Gene!  Thanks, again!
GENE:  Thank you guys for getting in touch again!  I thoroughly enjoyed the first volume of Giants Beware!  Can’t wait to find out what Claudette and her friends are up to next!

QUESTION:  The last time we interviewed you, we asked you about something we’re still struggling with:  how do you balance a day job with creative endeavors. You recently discussed your work as a High School Science Teacher.  Has the balance of day job and comics gotten tougher or easier for you since we last spoke?  Have you learned any tips that you can share with us and others? 
GENE: It’s funny you should ask about this.  I recently made the decision to leave my day job.  For the past seventeen years, I’ve worked at a high school in Oakland, California.  I started as a full-time teacher.  These days, I’m down to just one class, plus some database work.

Leaving will be hard.  I love the community.  I feel like I’ve learned so much from my students.  But recently, DC Comics offered me the opportunity to write Superman and I couldn’t pass it up.

I know some folks hate their day jobs, but I loved being a teacher.  Still do.  Teaching and making comics provided a great balance for me.  Teaching’s incredibly extroverted, making comics is the exact opposite.  Being around people all day often gave me the source material I needed to write and draw stories.  Though I’m concentrating on my cartooning career for now, I hope to end my working life as a teacher.

Balancing a day job with creative work can be difficult.  For a few years, I would wake up early and go to sleep late to get my comics done.  I think you have to find the right day job, one that leaves you with enough energy to finish your own stuff.  For me, teaching and comics drew from different “energy buckets” – they wouldn’t exhaust me in the same way, so it worked!

QUESTION:  We can't wait to read your Superman! Was that a goal of yours to write for the Man of Steel?  How did that come about? Any chance for a Superman - Green Turtle team up?
GENE: I’m definitely excited to be a part of Team Superman!  Because he’s such a popular character, Superman is the star of four different titles from DC Comics.  I’m working with the other writers to build something new for the Man of Steel, something that will hopefully be a springboard for some good stories.  I’ve learned so much from seeing how those other guys work.

I’d love to do a Superman-Green Turtle team up!  Not sure it’ll ever happen, though!

I do want to mention that Sonny Liew, my partner on The Shadow Hero, is drawing the Dr. Fate comic for DC.  I’m super-excited about it.  Sonny, of course, is one of my favorite artists, and Dr. Fate is one of my favorite superheroes!  I got really into him when I was in high school, during J.M. DeMatteis' run on the character.  Can’t wait to see what Sonny and writer Paul Levitz do with him.

QUESTION: Speaking of the Green Turtle, "The Shadow Hero" only whetted our appetite for his adventures.  Can we hope to see a sequel or two or three?
Thank you!  Sonny and I have talked about doing two more Green Turtle stories.  I want to do one that’s set right before America enters World War II, and one right after the war ends.  Hopefully we’ll be able to actually do it someday.  Right now, though, we’re both busy with other projects.

QUESTION:  Who are you reading these days or who are your current influences? 
These days, most of my reading is research.  I’m almost done with Glen Weldon’s excellent Superman: An Unauthorized Biography.  I’m also reading a couple of books about basketball because I’m working on a graphic novel about the subject.

In terms of comics, Jason Shiga’s Demon is brilliant.  Not for kids, not even for some adults, but brilliant.  Jason is one of the most innovative – and bizarre – cartoonists to have ever walked the planet.  Mind-blowing stuff.

Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer has won a bajillion awards, and if you read the book you’ll understand why.  Absolutely masterful comics-making.

The comic I most recently read is Superman #23.4, written and drawn by Aaron Kuder. Aaron’s another member of Team Superman.  He’s most well-known as an artist, but he’s an excellent writer as well.  The issue focuses on Parasite, who is arguably the best purple-skinned supervillain ever.

QUESTION: Is Superman the next thing you're working on or are there other things on your plate you're working on these days?
Cartoonist Mike Holmes and I are busy with Secret Coders, a middle-grade graphic novel series all about computer programming.  I’m really, really excited about it.  I finally get to combine my two careers – cartooning and teaching computer science – into a single project.  I’m doing the writing, Mike’s doing the art.  Mike’s stuff has this Saturday morning energy to it that’s perfect for the story—you’ll see what I’m talking about when it comes out in September.

Thanks so much to First Second and the generous book-loving sponsors who made this blog tour possible! We're excited, too, about the upcoming Secret Coders, and can't wait to add it to our TBR pile. Thanks to Gene for taking the time to answer Jorge and Rafael's questions, thanks to the interviewers, and thanks to the amazing Gina Gagliano. Don't forget to go check out the other stops on the blog tour!

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