American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is a uniquely written graphic novel that addresses the issue of racism with raw truth and from the perspective of a young Chinese boy. The story begins leaving the reader with three plot threads to follow, and the impression none have anything to do with the other. The first is about the Chinese boy trying to seem more like the typical American rather than embracing the fact he is Chinese, The second is of a monkey king who works hard to seem like he is not a monkey, denying the truth and transform into something he’s not. And the third, a seeming American boy becomes embarrassed and ashamed when his Chinese cousin visits for a couple weeks, and his cousin acts like the stereotypical Asian person. Yang then weaves the tales together to show that the Chinese boy from the first one and the boy from the second one are the same boy, and he struggles with his identity as an American born Chinese person. Yang then uses the monkey to teach the boy a lesson about being who was born to be and how to find peace in oneself.
The majority of the novel is drawn in the generic boxed or rectangular panels, with the occasional alternative (such as pictures drawn in triangular panels, or no panels used at all). Yang’s images are clean and organized, making it clear how to read the story and progress page by page. This decision is important when telling his story, for with the three threads there could have been room for confusion, but the format of the images drawn helps guide the reader and makes the story clearer. It also resembles basic manga a bit, which reflects and enforces the idea of the Chinese theme (even though manga originates from Japan).
Several of the concepts that have been reviewed in class could be applied to the imagery in this graphic novel, but one of the ones that is used in a few interesting ways would be
layering. In one image, he uses typical layering, which the objects (mountains, trees, fog) are drawn and layered over one another to convey physical placement and distance. In another example, a more interesting one, Yang has an image of a hand in a black box and layers smaller boxes at the bottom with the picture of the monkey king. This shows not only one thing that is happening, but shows the monkey king’s reaction while still having essentially only one panel.
Point is another technique Yang uses a little more high scale, than just the expected points making up lines and planes. Throughout the novel, he chooses specific times to draw his images in one large box taking up almost the entire page. When he does this, he is demanding the reader to focus on these images instead of the images on the other page. Making these boxes bigger draws better attention and signifies that something important is happening, whether it be something important in the story or a shift between the tales. In this picture for example, it gives an important event in the monkey king’s tale, showing the reader his fate and a certain finality that indicates a shift to one of the other tales.
Gene Luen Yang’s storytelling in American Born Chinese gives an unique perspective on racism, through the perspective of a boy born Chinese and trying to will himself into an American. He weaves three interesting tales in a braid, connecting each together through a specific message of teaching someone to embrace who they are with pride and understanding. His images and comic format are clean, crisp, and clear, as he uses various techniques to achieve this.