Sunday, February 11, 2007

Another post

So I already blabbed about comics, but I should probably do some American Born Chinese analysis, too.

I guess the first thing I want to say is that I find it interesting that people place ABC in the kids' category at all. For some reason I assumed that everyone would find it strange that it was placed in the "young adult" category for the National Book Award, but Chadé's post talked about how well it bridged the genres of children's literature and non-children's literature. Maybe it's because I'm used to reading comics that most definitely aren't for kids (ahem), but when I read ABC, I didn't think of it as targeted toward kids. Not that it would be inappropriate for children to read, or that children couldn't appreciate it, but the racial epithets and instances of mild sexual content (see page 87 when Jin first notices Amelia because she removes an item of clothing, and page 177 when he fantasizes about sleeping with her) made me think it wasn't geared toward children. But that's a minor part of what I want to say.

What I mainly want to say is that I think different stories are told best with different media. I'm in a Spanish lit class about the works of Gabriel García Márquez right now, and we watch the film adaptations of all the stories we read. I just watched the movie version of "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" and it was wretched. There was no possible way a live-action movie could ever do that story justice.

I think that for the story Gene Yang tells in ABC, the medium of graphic novel is perhaps the best choice. First of all, as Chadé pointed out, the comic timing works especially well because of the comic form; "Why is his hair a broccoli?!" on page 98 made me laugh out loud, and I doubt it would have worked half as well in pure text form. Also, I loved getting to see just how ridiculous Jin's permed hair looked. It's the kind of detail that would be hard to visualize and easy to forget in a normal novel, but here we get to see it and snicker/sympathize every page.

The main reason I think a graphic novel is the best way to tell this story is because of its tripartite nature. There are plenty of successful novels that switch points of view or places in time between chapters, but switching from Chinese folktale to theoretical sitcom to present-day school-kid plot would probably be harder to pull off without graphics. We wouldn't be able to see that Amelia and Melanie are the same girl; we wouldn't be able to see the seamless transfer from English to Chinese in people's speech. And can you imagine the denouement? "Then Jin turned into a sitcom character, and then he punched this other sitcom character and his head came off and it turned out it was a character from Chinese mythology! And it turned out that the Chinese myth/sitcom character's son was Jin's friend!"

And the denouement is crucial because these three narratives are really sort of a genius way to tell the story Yang is telling. It's a story about the difficulties of identity crises and internal culture clashes, and so we have a Chinese folktale (by definition, quintessentially Chinese), a sitcom (sadly, quintessentially American), and then a kid torn between his American half and his Chinese half. And all three of the stories deal with hating and rejecting a part of yourself that shouldn't be hated or rejected. So if these microstories are essential to the macrostory, and the graphic novel as a medium is essential to the microstories...well, the transitive property probably doesn't apply to literature, but you get the picture.

Plus I submit that page 106's visual representation is the best version I've ever seen of feeling elated that you got a date with your crush. It doesn't get any better than that.

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