Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
Racebending.com returned to WonderCon this year with a panel featuring Asian American creators, artists, performers, and influencers. Here are the highlights!
THE ASIAN AMERICAN SUPERHERO
Join Jim Lee (DC Entertainment), writer/producer Maurissa Tancharoen (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), actor Yoshi Sudarso (Power Rangers Dino Charge), and graphic novelists Sarah Kuhn (Heroine Complex), Amy Chu (Poison Ivy), and Christine Dinh (brand manager, BOOM! Studios) as they discuss the origin stories of iconic Asian American superheroes on screen, on the page, and behind the scenes. Moderated by Racebending.com’s Dariane Nabor.
Saturday, March 26 at 5pm in Room 502B
Link to event on MySched: http://sched.co/6Q16
Unfortunately due to a death in the family, Maurissa Tancharoen was unable to attend WonderCon and participate in the panel. Our condolences go out to her and her family.
DARIANE NABOR [MODERATOR for RACEBENDING.COM]: Hi everyone. It’s good to see all of you here today at our WonderCon panel: The Asian American Superhero brought to you by Racebending.com. We have a great panel today for you. I think we’re going to get started here and just hope that Jim kind of comes in and moseys in when he so desires.
AMY CHU: He knows… Yeah. I just did a signing with him. He’s on his way. On his way, yes.
DARIANE: Let’s get everyone seated here. My name is Dariane Nabor, by the way. I’m one of the volunteers at Racebending.com. And one of the things that started Racebending.com was the anger against The Last Airbender casting. Yeah. So we care very deeply about diversity in pop culture and representation and things. And that’s why we’re here. So let’s start off with some introductions here.
This is Amy Chu, she’s the writer of Poison Ivy and she’s just an all-around awesome person.
We have Christine Dinh who’s a brand manager and BOOM! Studios.
We have Sarah Kuhn who is the creator of forthcoming novel Heroine Complex featuring Asian American superheroines.
And we have Yoshi Sudarso who is the current Blue Power Rangers Dino Charge Ranger.
And last but not least, we have Jim Lee.
JIM LEE: Sorry. I was like, where is this place?
DARIANE: Alright, let’s get right into it. I’m excited to have a really good discussion. Let’s get everyone settled. Are we good?
YOSHI SUDARSO: I probably should have worn black.
SARAH KUHN: Didn’t get the memo.
YOSHI SUDARSO: No, I didn’t.
JIM LEE: Didn’t get the memo?
YOSHI SUDARSO: Whoopsies!
DARIANE: Alright, so this is the Asian American Superhero panel. So let’s talk about Asian American identity. Now, there are multiple ways to experience this, right? The way that you portray that identity and the way that others perceive that identity for you. Let’s talk about how your experience as an Asian American informs the work that you do. Informs or affects the work that you do. So, let’s start on that end: Yoshi?
YOSHI SUDARSO: Aw man, I’m going first? You mean, through what I do? That’s interesting. Well, I have been blessed to be able to play not a stereotypical role for Power Rangers Dino Charge. I know most of you probably don’t watch Power Rangers Dino Charge, but the Blue one isn’t the nerdy one this time around. He’s actually like the big, burly one, which is weird because I’m not that big. They’re just smaller than me, that’s all it was. The rest of the cast was just shorter, so I look like the big, burly one. And it’s been good.
At first I was kind of upset because they gave me the character that was– He didn’t speak English all that well. ‘Cause at first I was like, “Yeah! I get to be the big, burly guy!” And then they’re like, “Oh, you also have an accent. Just so you know.” I mean it was like, “You don’t speak English that well.” I was like, kind of upset? And then I played it without an accent, just like a stilted language. Because, for those who don’t know, my character is a caveman from 100,000 years ago. So yeah, I know. He was frozen in time, didn’t know English, and then they taught him English and all this stuff. So it wasn’t like he was an Asian guy who doesn’t speak English.
I was upset for like a month into it, and then somebody tweeted me and was like, “You know, I actually don’t speak much English and it’s cool to see somebody on TV who doesn’t speak English and is a superhero, you know. And it helps a lot.” And I had that problem. When I was a kid, when I first came to America, I didn’t speak English. I was bullied a lot. You know, me and my brother, we were bullied for not knowing the English language which I get sometimes, you know, kids are kids. But he was saying that that wasn’t happening anymore too much to him because he was able to say, “You know what, Yoshi’s a power ranger. And the character on there, Koda, he doesn’t speak English. That means I can be a hero just like he can be.” So it was really cool. I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna own this.” So yeah it was really good. And… next.
SARAH KUHN: I’m a big geek. I’ve always been a big geek. I grew up loving superheroes and superhero stories. And, you know, when I was younger, there weren’t a lot of Asians, especially Asian women really centered in the story. I think the closest thing we had was Jubilee. And I love Jubilee, but.. There’s Jubilee in the back! But, you know she really didn’t get to do a lot, except wear the awesome yellow trenchcoat and kind of be funny in the background. And it took me — So when I sort of started thinking about writing, it took me a long time to realize that those characters could be centered.
The thing that sort of blew my mind wide open was in college, I saw a movie called The Heroic Trio, which is an old Hong Kong movie. Well, it’s not that old, it’s like ‘90’s. And it’s about these three Asian women who were superheroes. And they just are. There’s no real explanation, there’s no real excuse for it. It just kind of is. The husband of one of them, when he finds out, he’s like, “My wife is a superhero? That’s awesome!” Like it kind of just was a fact of life. And that sort of made me realize that these characters can be centered. So that’s something that I’ve tried to do in my own work, is always protagonists, always Asian American, female superhero protagonists and get to do all the awesome things that lead characters get to do like kick ass and shoot fire out of their hands and have, like, really hot love interests.
YOSHI SUDARSO: Yeah-uh.
CHRISTINE DINH: So growing up for me as well, we didn’t really have a lot of Asian Americans. And, you know like when we were kids, and both my parents worked, I watched a lot of TV. And I didn’t, until the third grade, get an Asian American character, which was Trini from Power Rangers. That was my first introduction.
YOSHI SUDARSO: Shout out.
CHRISTINE DINH: That was really amazing. But I think one time I told my mom, I was like, “Why wasn’t I born blonde or blue-eyed?” Because on the playground, you can’t be Kimberly. You can only be Trini, and that’s all you can ever be because that’s what you look like.
SARAH KUHN: Yeah.
CHRISTINE DINH: And I think just growing up… You know I grew up in LA but in a very small town of LA, so we didn’t see a lot of people. But it was until I got like to college and I signed up for every single Asian American website like Asianavenue. I don’t know if it’s still around. But you know, I was like I gotta find people who are just like me. I was going through an identity crisis in college, where I hung out with Armenian groups and then I went with Korean groups, but I’m Vietnamese. So I wasn’t really accepted.
But I think for now, I work at BOOM! Studios and we do a lot of really cool books for young women. One of our special stories is Lumberjanes, and you know, I think it really makes me happy that Mal is Korean if anyone did not know. Mal is Korean, and I think it’s just really cool to support that. I work really hard at BOOM! to show that we are not only working with just really diverse characters but the people behind the pages, you know like people like us, they want to push and share the stories. And I think that’s really important for me. I’m really lucky that BOOM! allows me to start initiatives like diversity panels, and I get to work with amazing people like Sarah and Amy, like everyone here. So I’m just really excited.
YOSHI SUDARSO: And don’t worry, I was Trini all the time too so–
SARAH KUHN: We were all Trini!
JIM LEE: Okay. So this is the first type of panel I’ve ever done like this so I don’t want to say anything to offend anyone. Let me just share that I might have an atypical– maybe it’s very typical, I don’t know. I was born in South Korea. I’m Korean. My parents immigrated to the US. We lived mostly in the Midwest, so it was rare to see another Asian person. So I never really identified myself by my race, more so that I was short, right? Because you can’t really see yourself everyday, but when you’re short, you’re looking up at everyone’s nostrils. And so, yeah, I guess I am. And so it was more– But even then, I didn’t really want to focus on that much, that part of me that much either. It was always, to me, what you did and not necessarily what you looked like, or– So I was always– I would always kind of measure people based on what they said or what they did. And it was very kind of focused on what you created or what you wrote or whatever.
So, with that said, I had like one really close Asian friend. My parents, you know we went to a Korean American church. But they were very domineering, which is very typical of Korean, or actually Asian families. And so, you know, they came to America with this American dream that I would follow in their footsteps, but little did they know I got infected by the American bug and I just wanted to do my own thing. And I think I really just, in my own way, resisted everything they wanted me to do. So they wanted me to be a doctor, and I kind of played along. And then in the end I switched gears and went into comics. And you know, they wanted me to marry an Asian girl, that didn’t happen either. So, I was a big disappointment to the family. There were other things too. They wanted me to learn Korean, I didn’t. I learned German. I spent eight years learning that language, and then learned Italian. So Korean is actually my worst language at this point.
With that said, as I got older, I did start– Certainly my kids, they’re half-Korean.. I started thinking about race a lot more. But they’re very cool. I mean, they fit into both cultures very easily. In fact, they’re probably more into Korean culture than I am. I’ve got a 17-year-old daughter who goes to La Crescenta and she went there because she wanted to learn Korean. Her Korean is much better than mine. She actually– Yeah. So, she’s gonna go to Korea next year after graduating from high school for a year.
The thing that really impacts me is, like when I — Right around Halloween, that’s when I’m most aware of it. That there are not many cool Asian characters. Because I want to dress up as a cool Asian superhero. I don’t want to be like Captain Kirk, the Asian version of Captain Kirk. You know, as much as I love Captain Kirk… So I’ve been Oddjob. I’ve been Sulu. So I feel like there’s a dearth of cool Asian characters to dress up for Halloween. So that’s kind of been my mission lately, because I feel like that’s something that’s actually changeable and can have real impact and would be kind of a fun side project to do. So rather than kind of think of it in this loftier, philosophical, revolutionary kind of spirit, I realize that there are real tangible ways that we can shape and offer options to people that, you know, right now doesn’t exist.
YOSHI SUDARSO: Thank you for that, by the way.
AMY CHU: Like Jim, I actually– My formative years, I grew up in Iowa. I grew up in the Midwest and there weren’t a lot of Asians there.
JIM LEE: Nice.
AMY CHU: Iowa, well there just wasn’t a lot. It was a very– Yeah, you’re kind of growing up as an “other,” for the most part. There were some Asians. There were some other Koreans. There were some– Really, again just a handful. And it was– Oh my God, prom time was excruciating. I couldn’t get a date. And then like, the only guy who had asked me was this Korean American guy who was just like– Again it was just like a last resort. It was awful. Yeah. It’s like therapy now, right? You know, you grow up in that kind of environment and then I went to the East coast and I went to a college that was very heavily Asian American. And that was just a revelation because I’m coming from like almost nothing to 15-20% Asian American, I’m like, “Wow, that is a revelation.” Because again, I didn’t really have this identity thing until I suddenly was like “Wow, there are people like me!” And so I became really really active in Asian American student activities in college. And that was like a really– At that time, I didn’t know I was going to go into comics actually. My parents are happy now because I’m writing for DC. Now it’s okay, it’s all branding right?
JIM LEE: That’s where Jim Lee works, right? That’s what they’re saying? That legitimizes it.
AMY CHU: Yeah, totally legitimizes it.
JIM LEE: Right. Right. That the good Asian company, right?
AMY CHU: Everything is okay, as long as it’s the best. It’s the top, right? Yeah. And now I’m writing Poison Ivy. And I guess the question is how does my Asian American identity– And actually it does really influence the way I write Poison Ivy because she is kind of an “other.” She is kind of a hybrid. Literally she’s a hybrid, you know? Does she belong in the plant world or the human world? And that’s kind of like a theme throughout– I don’t even know if you knew that or have read it.
JIM LEE: Sure, yeah no I’ve read the interviews.
AMY CHU: And that’s the theme. And I felt that very much growing up, and even through college and into my career–my pre-comics career, when I was doing business and everything that I was supposed to do. But yeah, so Poison Ivy seriously was– it is very much a part of my identity that’s coming out in her character and I think in some of the other characters as well. I was on the Racebending panel at San Diego Comic-Con, which was an awesome panel. But it was also the question is there are just not that many Asian American characters and I’m given an opportunity here to do six issues for DC. And they’re not gonna tell me– I mean basically I just put all these Asian American characters in it. Ivy has a kind of– I don’t know. How many people here are reading Poison Ivy?
DARIANE: It’s great. You all need to get it, but it’s gonna be hard because they’re sold out everywhere I went to try and pick it up.
AMY CHU: Yeah, it’s sold out but I have–
JIM LEE: We’re going into a second printing.
AMY CHU: Yeah. Okay, thank you. Because you have to read it. Because Poison Ivy kind of needs a– she has a kind of, pseudo- love interest and he’s an Asian American male.
YOSHI SUDARSO: Yes!
AMY CHU: And the last panel was kind of like there’s no– there’s almost no Filipino representation. So I’m like, “Alright I’m gonna put in her mentor as a Filipina American.” You can do that because it’s not the movies. I don’t have to cast. I just tell them to–
DARIANE: No, but that’s interesting because, I know– You know comics are so important because, I know you mentioned this at the Rebirth press conference earlier, it’s the source for all of these big movies nowadays. And so it’s so important to have this representation there. I’m curious. Everyone here– We have such a diverse panel here from different fields. We have television, we have an actor, we have someone working in the behind-the-scenes marketing. I want to know as an Asian American, what responsibility do you have to representation both as characters, as employees at your company. You know, what– Is there a responsibility that you should have as this lone representative in this big field or–? What do you guys think about that?
YOSHI SUDARSO: Are we just going anywhere here?
DARIANE: Yes, anyone.
CHRISTINE DINH: Well I guess like for us– One of the comics that we publish is Big Trouble in Little China. So a lot of the context and the jokes for that is very dated back to the ‘80’s. Those jokes were acceptable back then. And I think now, especially bringing it to a modern setting where we tow the line– and especially because for me, I’m really clear with BOOM! that if it’s not something I’m comfortable with, I’m not gonna lead with it. And luckily they’re cool with that. But some other companies would not be okay with that. You know, they’re saying, “We’re putting out Big Trouble in Little China. We’re going to put every single racist, stereotypical things in there.”
And I think it’s like something where they need you as a filter because that might be something that they have never had. Like a perspective. Especially when we’re doing other books about female protagonists and we have men writing it. They don’t know how to like– they don’t know the things that we’ve endured or the things that we’ve come up as. Like, we’ve all felt micro-aggressions when we were younger and it carries out. We don’t want to impart that for future generations. We don’t want them to feel like there’s not someone that they can– that they’re still the butt of a joke. You know, we saw that with the Oscars. We’re still constantly just marked as just some Asian kids who know how to do math and count money. So I think it’s something that we want to show that, “Hey, there are people who are–” I think the most important thing is showing that Asians can be any character.
YOSHI SUDARSO: Yes.
CHRISTINE DINH: And I think what I’m really most excited about is Riverdale with Archie. That Reggie gets to be an Asian American guy. Because Asians can be assholes too. We don’t have to be the sidekick all the time, you know we can be everything.
SARAH KUHN: I like that motto, Christine. “Asians can be assholes too.” I’m gonna internalize that.
DARIANE: Is that our hashtag for the panel?
SARAH KUHN: That should be our hashtag. Though I do actually feel a lot of pressure as a writer. The genre that my books are in is urban fantasy, which has a lot of female leads but does not have a lot of non-white female leads. And so whenever I’ve sort of talked about this book to Asian people, there’s a lot of excitement and like, “I’m so excited that this exists, that it’s coming out.” And that makes me excited, and then I immediately get this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, which I talked about a little bit on the panel last night: something called “rep sweats.” It’s a term my friend Jenny Yang I think came up with some other people when Fresh Off the Boat came out. She was like, “I’m so excited, but you also get this kind of feeling of, ‘is this going to be good representation? Is it going to be like long-lasting representation? Is it going to be something where it gets cancelled and Asians aren’t allowed on TV for another 15 years?’” There’s a lot of pressure on that.
When there are so few, there’s a lot of pressure on that one show or that one piece of entertainment or that one character. And so I’ve definitely felt that from the creator side of, “Is what I’m putting out there, is it a good representation? Will it satisfy everyone? Will the people who are telling me they’re excited about it be excited when they actually read it? Or will they just be like, ‘Well, those Asians are assholes. What are you doing? Why are you putting bad stuff out there?’” So I do feel that pressure, and I’m trying to just sort of, I guess– Now this is my therapy, Amy. I’m trying to sort of work through it by thinking like, hopefully this is, all of everything that everyone is doing is the start of there being lots of representation and lots of variety so that we can have all different characters including assholes.
CHRISTINE DINH: I think when you’re– going back to Fresh Off the Boat, there was that one really meta episode where the husband goes on TV, and that one time he went into jokes. And he comes home and Constance Wu’s character is like, “You just made us look like we’re just jokesters who just don’t take ourselves seriously.” So then he goes back again and he becomes super serious and now she’s like, “Now everyone’s gonna think that we’re just uptight Chinese people.” And then the husband finally gets a breakthrough. He’s all like, “I just can’t be everything. I can only be myself, you know. Who I am.” But you can’t just make us be like this whole encompassing person.
SARAH KUHN: I think no one can be– no person I know or character can be all things to all people.
YOSHI SUDARSO: Yeah, and as long as people realize that that’s not on us to be the everyman, then I think that’ll be where we reach the breakthrough in my opinion. And for me, it’s a little bit weird because as an actor and as a stunt performer I kind of just have to go out for the roles that are there for me. Sometimes we’ll get the “Any ethnicity” stuff, which I’ve actually– When I go in there, I’m like “Haha, I’m not gonna get this.” But lately actually, like in the past year, it’s gotten different and I’ve actually booked a couple of things where it’s “any ethnicity.” And it’s pretty amazing for me to see the change on that side of it. Either I got better or people are actually like, “Oh yeah.” Maybe I just was bad back then, you know what I’m saying? I don’t know. But it’s really like– Yes, for now I’ll play those roles. I’ll play whatever roles that are there for me to get to a certain point where I can then create my stuff, you know? Because there’s ideas I already have for male Asian superheroes. There aren’t very many Asian superheroes as it is, and for male superheroes it’s like itty bitty, you know what I mean? Like we have Shang-Chi who’s a martial artist. You know stuff like that. But I think when I get to a certain point I want to be able to create more things like somebody with lightning powers or something. I like lightning.
DARIANE: Or be casted as Iron Fist, maybe?
YOSHI SUDARSO: Ha. Yeah, right.
JIM LEE: Iron Fist is a blonde-haired guy though.
YOSHI SUDARSO: Yeah, I kind of got the blonde going right now.
JIM LEE: Sure. Look I’ll tell you– So I have kind of two jobs. One, co-publisher at DC Comics. And I would say that it’s definitely something that you have in your mind but it’s not the sole criteria. It’s not the sole sort of mission that we have. I think you’re trying to balance, obviously, entertainment and having a line of books that reflect the diversity of the community that buys and reads comic books. So it’s not just about one particular race. It’s also about whether people are physically disabled, or you know– So there’s lots of different groups of people or people that aren’t necessarily– they don’t look like Adonis or whoever. So there’s a lot of different discussions that we have so it’s not just centered around race or certainly around Asian characters, although I think we’re probably a little underrepresented in that.
On the creative front, I think that’s actually, like what Amy was saying, the easiest way to make change. Because comics are a fairly low-budget business for the most part. If you just don’t mess with Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman, you do whatever you want. So you can introduce a lot of Asian characters, and they have. Certainly when I had WildStorm, we created Gen 13. We had an Asian character called Grunge whose real name was Percival. And that’s–you know a lot of first generation Asians, the parents give them completely effed up names, American names. And so they would always pick something cooler. Anyway, he was a slacker. He’s a guy who’d basically slow down the team. Just was not the brightest cog. And you know, we did that on purpose just to kind of show that, “Hey, we can be stupid too.” I don’t know.
So I think it is the thing where, certainly with the first examples of any character you’re gonna have that filter of, well you’re only portraying this way or this way or this other way. And I’ve read articles– I read a lot of articles online about how this should be portrayed or that should be portrayed. It gets very dangerous when it gets very prescriptive and it says, “Well, you can’t have this type of person be portrayed as villains because we’re always portrayed as villains.” And if you start making those kind of hard, fast rules, then you really take a lot of the options out for the people who are creating these stories. Because you can’t just say, “If I have an Asian, he’s gonna be, or she’s always gonna be X, Y or Z.” So I think you’ll have true diversity when, in fact, there’s interchangeability.
And I will say something that you might judge me on, but there’s this movie called How to Be Single. So I saw that the other day. Anyone see it? That’s it? Just us two? Wow. Or maybe none of you are brave enough. So I saw it with my wife and it was really interesting because in that show it’s a white protagonist, but a lot of the love interests and supporting cast love interests were multi-ethnic, right? It was just very seamlessly done. And I kind of applauded them and it was just a thing where I didn’t even notice until about three-quarters of the way through and I thought, “Alright, this is–” We’re getting closer and closer to the point where you’re not gonna really even notice it or think about it. And I see that, certainly even at conventions, the people that turn out and are supportive of comic books, things are changing and they’re changing very quickly. So I think it’s gonna move quicker and quicker every year and hopefully to the point where it’ll be less of an issue and won’t have a panel like this. Although I love this panel, I wouldn’t want to kill it. So it’s awesome. Anyway.
AMY CHU: Yeah, I don’t really feel the pressure on the representation. I guess, it’s because, like Jim said, it’s kind of easy in comics. You just put them in. I mean somebody’s gonna have to tell me to change my Asian character to somebody else, I don’t think anyone’s going to do that. What the pressure I feel is getting it right, you know? Because it’s gotta feel real. This is a real cha– well as a real comic book character.
But you know like Ivy’s love interest, the guy– he’s a Jain. He’s Indian American and he’s Jain. He has a religion that she is very intrigued by because Jains are super pacifist. They’re like super Vegan. They really don’t even want to eat plants. So that’s why she’s like, “Whoa, this is really interesting.” And he’s a cool dude. He is a guy who really didn’t want to go into science, but he’s feeling a lot of pressure from his parents to work in the botanical sciences. And that’s what he’s doing. So it was really trying to make him more real instead of being like, “Okay, we’re just going to have representation that he’s a tokenized Indian American there,” you know? And that’s more important to me. That he’s fully fleshed out as a real character than, “how many Asian Americans can I get into this story?”
You know, it feels really weird to me sometimes when I look at other things in TV, movies, comics where there’s one. There’s always only one. It’s like, “why can’t there be two?” You know? It would be nice if there were two. Just like, push it a little further, you know? And that I think is more important to me than anything else.
DARIANE: Going off of that “pushing forward,” I mean I love this panel too but I think at this point in time it’s still important to have this kind of thing because we’re so starved for representation. So talking about moving forward, pushing things forward, what do you think is the current state of your respective industry? What do you think could be done to move things forward? And what do you think are some of the challenges in your industries to do that? That’s a loaded question, I’m sorry. Anyone.
AMY CHU: I will talk about a very practical problem in comics. It’s not like people don’t want to do representation. It’s that script is typically fairly ambiguous. Often times it will go to an artist, maybe that artist is from another country, and so they just make assumptions about what American audiences want to see. And sometimes that’s actually the problem more than anything else. I had scripts where it’s set in New York and they’ll draw it and it’s all white people. And I’m like, “Oh my god, that’s obviously not the case” right? And it’s not like they’re trying to do– this is their assumption coming from another country about what we might be seeing or what they perceive the city as. That’s kind of a problem, and sometimes you have to be hyper-specific to the point where… I did a Vertigo story set in Detroit. I learned my lesson. I went to Wikipedia and I copied down the demographics of Detroit. Then I sent it to the artist, “by the way, THIS is what Detroit looks like just in case. Because when you put in those background people, just so you know.” I’m not trying to be a real jerk. But just let people know, in case you didn’t know, this is what it should look like. So, you know, I don’t get that blowback. You read it and you feel like it’s a real city.
SARAH KUHN: Yeah, and I think a lot of it comes from something that Amy and Jim were kind of talking about earlier as far as just trying to incorporate it whenever you can. Whenever you have the opportunity. I’m writing a series of Barbie comics right now, and of course Barbie has to be the main character. But, when we’re coming up with sort of what the idea for the whole series was, I kind of kept saying like, “I think this character is Latina. I think this character is African American. And I think this super cool fashion designer Barbie looks up to is Asian.” And I think I was very specific about it, but also expected to get a lot more pushback. I actually didn’t. Everyone was all for it. So I think there’s that.
And I think it’s also about forming these sort of support group networks where we can kind of raise each other up. I’m lucky enough to be a part of some Asian Girl Gangs, Geek Girl Gangs which Christine is in too. And I feel like we all sort of bring different skills to the table. We’re like Voltron; we come together and we fight evil and do crafts. But the thing that comes out of that as far as work is, I think, when opportunities come up we know other talented Asian American creators or people who are good at other things that we can recommend. So like Christine recommended me for this panel. Or Jenny Yang, who I mentioned earlier who’s a really talented stand-up and producer, I feel like whenever she gets a good opportunity, her first thing is kind of like, “Who else can I bring in?” So I think it’s like putting it on the page in terms of getting in whenever you can and then behind the scenes, making sure you kind of advocate for diverse voices when you’re in the position to do that.
CHRISTINE DINH: So I only handle marketing. And a lot of ??? that stories of how they’re created really falls into editorial and the creators that they come to. And I think what’s really important for a publisher is to have their office really reflect what the world looks like. You know, we’re really lucky at BOOM! that we’re 50% women. We only have five managers but three of them are Asians which is really cool. I think getting that perspective is in there. So I know we’re working really hard. We’re actually doing a Mexican cartel story, but we’re not doing it in the way that like it’s sensationalized in the films. It’s actually from a Mexican artist who lives in Mexico and deals with it. And I think that’s really important because if you’re not getting authentic ones, it’s often hard because you end up getting really short-sighted persp– Like comics that aren’t really, really sending the message that you want it to be. It just seems like it’s a cash-grab. Because I see, you know, some guys will be like, “I’m gonna write an Asian American story about a girl. But I don’t know how to be either, but I’m just going to rely on what I think it is.” And I think it really hurts us because they’re taking up a seat at a table that should be really given the opportunity to someone who could do that, and tell it in an authentic way. And I think that’s why I go back to Fresh Off the Boat, is actually that their writing staff is really comprised of a lot of Asian Americans. And that’s why you see little things that you didn’t think really mattered but– There was that one episode where Eddie, the oldest son, wanted to go to an American market and get Lunchables because he didn’t want to get food with fish sauce in it. And I lived that. I totally get that. You know like, if that cast, if that writing group wasn’t Asian American they would have never known that.
SARAH KUHN: Right. Like there’s these little specific things that I think always make a story authentic. Like in my book, the main character is half-Japanese like me and her dad is from Hawaii. And there’s this running thread about spam musubi. Like how that’s like. And so, I just saw someone “raise the roof” for spam musubi. That’s awesome. So I did this little reading of it when I was still kind of developing it. And the audience was mostly white, which was kind of a bummer, and there was this one Asian woman. And so I read it, and you know, it was like whatever, people laughed or whatever. And she came up to me afterwards and she was like, “I never thought I would hear about spam musubi in a fantasy novel. Like, that’s amazing.” And so I feel like those little things that make a story specific do come from having creators behind the scenes.
CHRISTINE DINH: Yeah and I think what’s important for a marketing person– So I’ve been at other agencies where they’ll be like, “A Marvel movie’s coming out,” but there’s no black or Asian character on there. And they’ll be like, “Oh, you don’t need to market to them. They don’t really care because they’re not in the movie.” But if you have, like sometimes an Asian American story like Fresh Off the Boat, they’ll be like, “Oh, only Asians watch that. No one really cares if it’s outside of that.” I think it’s trying to get into the mindset that people watch everything and you can’t just limit it to that way. I think that’s a marketing person’s perspective. Or even like stuff where we were marketing a superhero movie like, “Girls don’t watch it. Don’t even care about those girl sites. Only market to sites that guys go to.” And I think it’s just trying to break that mentality that people only watch one thing that only represents them. You know, we just want to be in the same playing field.
JIM LEE: So, uh, the original question… I’m sorry, I..
DARIANE: It was, “the state of your respective industries.” I think we can all agree that things are a lot better now than they were before.
JIM LEE: For sure a lot better. I’m the oldest person here on this panel for sure, and I never thought I’d live in an age when marijuana would be legal to purchase. Thank God. No, I am completely kidding. I have my kids. And you see companies that you thought were tight in the industry evaporate. Polaroid, for example. So it’s just that things are moving at a very very quick pace both socially and business– in the world of business. And so when I– seems like a very big question that I don’t know I have a quick answer to, which is, you know, it’s more complicated than just saying, “Alright we’re going to hire more Asian writers. Or we’re going to create more Asian characters.” It runs deeper. I mean it’s a cultural thing.
If Asian parents are saying the only thing you can be is a doctor, lawyer or engineer, and maybe an engineer only if you can’t be a doctor or a lawyer, you know. Nothing wrong with engineers. I’m just telling you this is what I’ve heard. You just realize that it’s– You know what? You have to get to the point where it’s cool to want to be an artist or cool to want to do something in the performing arts. And a lot of the– It has changed. The more… certainly with the rise of K-pop and a lot of the Korean movies that come out like Oldboy. I mean that’s really awesome that that has made a difference, I think. And it’s just going to continue.
I’m pretty confident that within a generation it’s going to be in really really good shape in that there’s no resistance to it. No one’s saying, “Oh my gosh, that’s too many Asian characters” right? No one’s saying that, right? I haven’t heard it. Maybe they’re saying it but I don’t hear about it. But anyway, at the end of the day I think that, you know, I don’t– We don’t do a specific breakdown by race of all the characters but there’s definitely more. Like today we did the big presentation on Rebirth and we brought back older incarnations of the characters that you’re gonna see.
YOSHI SUDARSO: Blue Nightwing.
JIM LEE: Yes, Blue Nightwing among others. You know the Hispanic Blue Beetle… There’s going to be some other… Cassandra Cain, so that’s a big one, right? So, yeah. I don’t know…
YOSHI SUDARSO: Isn’t there an Asian superman now?
DARIANE: The New Super-man?
JIM LEE: There is an Asian superman now, yeah.
YOSHI SUDARSO: Yeah!
JIM LEE: He’s called “The Superman,” and then we found that there’s no Chinese word for “the,” right? Right? Anyone Chinese here? I don’t know. Anyone? So we changed it to “New” Superman. Right? So basically Gene Yang’s an amazing author. Yeah, so he’s going to write that book. It’s a very touching, very personal story. But his viewpoint is that, if I could just make a plug here for a second, is that Superman embodies this ideal of humanity even though he’s this alien. But that it’s very much filtered through American culture. And he wanted to really explore what would happen if you took that same idea and applied it to Chinese culture because that’s obviously a big thing, a part of his life, of his work. And so he’s taken that ideal and kind of put it through a different lens. At the end of the day, he’s come up with a really awesome take on the idea of being a superman in that culture.
So that’s where it works. I don’t think you just go and, “Hey, we have a German character. He’s called ‘Blitzkrieg’ and his power is electricity!” You know? Because there is a character called Blitzkrieg, you know what I’m saying? Or Red Dragon and he, you know, whatever. So I think you have– it has to run deeper than that to have– to get critical and creative traction. And that’s where it comes from. So it’s not just an editor saying, “We gotta create a Chinese villain.” You gotta have the whole, fully realized pitch of why it’s a cool character who happens to be Chinese or why the Chinese aspect really enhances the uniqueness of that character. I don’t know why I’m looking over here as I’m talking, but yeah. So that’s where it’s at.
YOSHI SUDARSO: Now we can cosplay Superman and not be “Asian” Superman.
JIM LEE: That’s right!
YOSHI SUDARSO: Now we’re the New Super-man.
JIM LEE: I will be Asian Superman.
[??: ???] on the convention floor.
YOSHI SUDARSO: I think there’s a few.
JIM LEE: No more Long Duk Dong.
AMY CHU: Oh my god, yeah.
DARIANE: You guys kind of went to my next question which was, “What we are going to look forward to,” and you already mentioned Superman, so there’s that. But no, here’s the thing is– what I want to see is I want to see Superman become a movie and actually cast an Asian guy to play him. But, you know, wishful thinking. It’s really early, you just announced it, whatever. Let’s see, what else did I want to ask you guys? Do you guys have anything else you want to add before we end the panel?
YOSHI SUDARSO: Well, I think sometimes… There’s a lot of people on Twitter and stuff who’s always upset– I don’t know if you guys watch The Last Ship? Everybody’s kind of upset with the season because it’s like the new season and it’s like an Asian season. They go to Asia and it’s always all these Asians. And they’re like, “oh, why are you making all the Asians the bad guys?” and you know all this stuff. I’m like, “Shhhh I’m working. Please.” So it’s the same sense of like, yes we’re being put in the bad guy role. Yes, we’re getting shot at and what not. But for one, on the other side of it, we’re all working. There’s so many more Asian American, in LA right now, stunt guys that are working. In fact, that’s so hard for them to find Asian guys out there for all the Last Ship stuff that they’re recycling us. We’re just like… You know what I mean? Trying to cover our faces. Make sure they don’t see us. But I mean, it’s great that that’s happening. And I know that there’s a lot of people who’s like, “Yes, you’re the villains again, of course.” But for now, let’s get ourselves seen, and then there’s probably a character in there, that’s like, oh, they join in with the good guys because they don’t want to be the bad guy. Which, I think that happens in The Last Ship. So it’s just like stuff like that, we get little bits of it, you know?
CHRISTINE DINH: I just finished Daredevil 2. And I was like, man, there’s…
YOSHI SUDARSO: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no! No spoilers!
CHRISTINE DINH: All I’m saying is there’s a lot of Asian people in there. But I think what’s really cool is because there’s a female character who’s not sexualized– There’s two actually, two female Asian characters in there. They’re not sexualized. They’re known for their prow– their skill-sets you know. One of them runs them out. She’s in the season one, so that’s not a spoiler. So she’s–
YOSHI SUDARSO: If you haven’t seen season one by now, come on. What are you doing here?
CHRISTINE DINH: It’s really cool because at first you think they’re all just bad guys who are actually really bad at martial arts. But–
YOSHI SUDARSO: I know them.
CHRISTINE DINH: You know I love someone like Elektra because she’s not good or bad. She tows the line. I just feel like she can be everything. She is just anything.
JIM LEE: Elektra’s in season two? What?
CHRISTINE DINH: What? Everyone knows that! Everyone knows that!
DARIANE: I didn’t know that.
YOSHI SUDARSO: You ruined it! Ruined it!
JIM LEE: Now they do.
CHRISTINE DINH: That was all over the trailers.
YOSHI SUDARSO: I was a little bit scared to come out to WonderCon without having seen Batman vs. Superman and finished Daredevil 2. I’m just like, “Please! Please, no! No spoilers!”
CHRISTINE DINH: I didn’t tell you anything that ruined it. I just said there’s Asian bodies in there.
YOSHI SUDARSO: No, no. Not you, you did good. I’m just worried.
SARAH KUHN: I think as far as moving forward, for me it’s really heartening just to see like, for example, there’s so much interest in this panel and there’s definitely a hunger to see Asian superheroes and Asian main characters and Asians in all different kinds of roles. Because sometimes on the creator side, when you’re getting feedback from, you know, maybe someone who’s in a position of power to help you make your project, you sort of get these questions like, “Well, isn’t this a little niche? Why does this character have to be X? Are you sure you’re appealing to the broadest possible audience?” It’s very coded. It’s basically saying make this lead character white please. And so I think things like this.. Because sometimes then you’re like, “oh, are they right? Is this a thing?” But seeing something like this, I’m like, “No, that’s not right. There is a hunger for it. There is an audience for it. There are people who want to see those stories and you just have to keep trying to make them.
YOSHI SUDARSO: Yeah. Never give up ya’ll.
DARIANE: I think the important take-home message is to, for you guys, please create and portray more characters that are Asian so we can have something to look to. And also for you guys to consume these things and–
AMY CHU: You guys can create too. I mean, I didn’t think I could write.
DARIANE: Well I mean, you know. I mean create, consume. Let’s just, you know, get it out there and–
YOSHI SUDARSO: Don’t torrent.
DARIANE: Support. Vote with your dollar. Things are changing. We’re in the middle of it. It’s great that all of you are here today. Thank you all so much for coming and being on the panel, we really appreciate it. I think we’re going to stop now and– oh gosh it’s so quiet. We’ll go ahead and stop now and we’re going to take a group photo and yeah. That’ll be it.
YOSHI SUDARSO: So Jim, Asian Nightwing next?
JIM LEE: Sure!
YOSHI SUDARSO: With the blue. With the blue.
JIM LEE: Make it happen.
DARIANE: Thank you all so much for coming. Thank you WonderCon.