Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Superheroes within the APA community

Ever since I totaled my car three days ago, I've been mostly confined to my local area in Los Angeles and passing my time by playing the guitar, working out, reading, calling multiple casting directors that I apologize for missing their auditions (missing a particular one broke my heart so I let the director know he could use me as a crew hand or extra), the entire Justice League cartoon series.

Nerd alert?? Okay yeah, I'm gulity as charged. While I'm not an avid comic book reader, I cannot lie...I am a huge fan of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, GI Joes, Transformers, Spiderman, X-Men, the Hulk, and so on and so on. I love what they represent and how they vanquish evil and I especially love how modern renditions of these characters make them complex and flawed characters, just like normal human beings.

But as much as I love these superheroes, I wish there were more superheroes who looked like me but not done in a way where they represent the insidious yellow peril but as fully fleshed out Asian/Asian-American heroes. What I did not know in my yearning for more superheroes that looked like me were that there are real-life Asian American superheroes who work behind the scenes to bring these classic heroes and villains to life as well as creating new superheroes who are of Asian descent.

Larry Hama. Bernard Chang. Greg Pak. Jerry Ma. Keith Chow. These are only few of many amazing Asian American comic book writers and illustrators who have crafted many of the heroes the American public has come to love and know. For this post though, I want to focus on Larry Hama and his legacy as a comic book writer and illustrator for the past 40 years.


If there is one particular American pop culture icon that Larry Hama has been a huge influence in shaping, it's his role as the writer of the Marvels-licensed G.I. Joe. Many of the characters were named after Hama's family, friends, and comrades who died during the Vietnam War, whereas others were named after historical figures. Classic characters such as Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Quick Kick, and many more were created by this man and these characters will continue to exist long after their creation. However, many people are not aware of this fact and for many Asian Americans who struggle to find role-models in the entertainment and comic book business, it must be said that Larry Hama stands tall along with other legends such as Stan Lee and Bob Kane.

So how will people know of Larry Hama and other Asian American artists who have made equally important contributions in their work? Who will show the history of such contributions so that other APA folks can get inspiration from and create the next legendary comic book character? In this day and age, there aren't that many museums and exhibitions that come into mind but this will all come to change when the ImaginASIAN exhibition takes place in Lafayette, Indiana on April 2nd - May 9th, 2010. Spearheaded by Kate Agathon, a graduate student of Purdue University, the exhibition accomplishes both as a silent auction and as a permanent display collection that will tour around the country and celebrate the experiences and works of APA artists.

Larry Hama is one of many contributors to this exhibition and has sent in two submissions: a pencil sketch of Snake-Eyes and one of the Baroness as well. Which one goes to the silent auction and which one goes to the permanent collection? The donations made from the silent auction will go to fund for APA materials in Purdue University and Indiana University libraries and so it could be argued that the more popular work of art should go to the silent auction so that it gets people to eagerly offer their donation. But at the same time, if the classic icon is part of the permanent collection, it is priceless and will become part of HISTORY and allow thousands of people to gaze upon the artwork and learn where and who it came from. Among the thousands of people will be Asian Americans who will look at these historical artifacts and before you know it, be imbued with a reassuring sense of history and placement that they can let their dreams go wild.

So which should go to the silent auction and be sold to the highest bidder? Which should become part of history and be part of the permanent APA collection? Snake Eyes or the Baronness?

If I had any silly input in this, I would make the tough choice and have Snake Eyes for the permanent collection. While his greater popularity would probably result in higher biddings and gain funds for the APA studies department in Purdue University, one must realize that once that artwork is sold, it is for the individual's viewing pleasure only. To people who are not even GI Joe fans, there are many who are aware of the silent deadly black ninja that is Snake Eyes and only GI Joe fans will know who the heck the Baronness is. Hell, I don't even remember what she looked like. For the Snake Eyes artwork to become priceless and not stay just in one person's home but travel around in multiple locations throughout the United States, even the world, its impact will be more meaningful.

The world will know that Snake Eyes, and many of the GI Joe characters, came to be because of Larry Hama.

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