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Author Booklist: Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew Recommend

Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, creators of The Shadow Hero,  recommend their top Asian-American books.

51u6oy3jIpLFrom Gene Luen Yang:

Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim

Cartoonist powerhouse Derek Kirk Kim perfectly captures what it was like to be an Asian American twenty-something in the 90's.  I know.  I was there.

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

To be perfectly truthful, I don't remember much from most of the books I read.  But this book haunts me. There's a scene where the narrator picks on a quiet girl in the bathroom -- it's been years since I read it, but I can still feel it.

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before by David Yoo

Yes, this is a teen romance.  Why would a 40-year-old man be recommending a teen romance?  Because David Yoo is hilarious.

Malinky Robot by Sonny Liew

OK.  So this isn't exactly Asian American, but Sonny cheated on his list so why can't I?  Honestly, I would recommend this book even if Sonny and I aren't friends.  Malinky Robot follows the adventures of Oliver and Atari, two street urchins living in a futuristic metropolis.  

Silence by Shusaku Endo

Another cheat.  Endo is Japanese, not Japanese American, and his book was originally written in his native tongue.  Even so, in this masterful novel about a European missionary travelling through a hostile 17th Century Japan, Endo explores the clash between Eastern and Western belief systems, a struggle central to the Asian American experience.


From Sonny Liew:

Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say
I've enjoyed all of Allen Say's books -- the art and language looks  simple of the surface, but they're wonderfully adept at capturing the passage of time; a sense of things lost, and found, if only for a moment again, in his stories. This account of his Grandfather's journey from Japan to the United States and back again reminds us of how we can be torn between all the places we've lived in -- that there might be no one true home, and our choices are dictated by our mortality as much as anything else.

Drawing From Memory by Allen Say
My favorite of Say's books, though, is Drawing From Memory, about his early apprenticeship under the Manga artist Noro Shinpei. Using artwork and photographs, he shows us the early fears, hopes, and dreams of a young artist in post-war Japan. It's pitch perfect from beginning to end.

The Ghost Bride: A Novel by Yangsze Choo
The writer spent her early years Malaysia but now lives in the United States. The novel itself is a supernatural tale set in 19th century Malacca. Yangsze and I have talked about adapting the book into a graphic novel -- something I raised after reading a draft of the story. It's a bit of Sandman-esque fantasy set in my home country of Malaysia, with a brave (in believable ways) female protagonist -- I think it'd make a great comic, but the book itself if of course well worth a read.

51hzCCavQOLSour Sweet by Timothy Mo
I read this years and years ago – it’s about Chinese immigrants making a go in London, and the cultural gap between generations. There were troubles with triads in there, too. In my own mind, Sour Sweet has become the prototypical immigrant novel. It's also been a while since I've read another book in the same genre -- a reluctance borne maybe of fear of repetition. Which is probably unfair to all those books out there, but somehow Sour Sweet already occupies that brain space, and there hasn't been room for more just yet.

Chan is Missing by Wayne Wang
Strictly speaking this clearly isn't a book of any sort -- but it's one of my favorite movies and an intriguing look at Chinese-American assimilation in the United States. There's a sort of Rashomon thing going on, with multiple accounts of the life of the missing Chan providing no easy answers, but rather a textured, complex view of a man. It's funny as well!

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
It's rather good, this.

The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck
Ok, by now this whole Asian American Lit category thing is halfway out the window, maybe we can pretend this counts too. I remember The Good Earth being a harrowing read -- all the hardships the protagonist goes through. I can't vouch for how accurate it is a depiction of the lives of Chinese villagers back in the day, but it certainly felt authentic,  a book that's lived long in the memory even as the details have faded.

Skim by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
I haven't had a chance to read their new book This One Summer (from First Second!) yet, but Skim was wonderfully drawn and written, an unexpected surprise when I picked it up on a whim from a local comics store. The beauty, aches, half-truths and half-lies of adolescence, all expertly and subtly captured.


Zita the Spacegirl is back!

In celebration of this week's release of "The Return of Zita the Spacegirl," check out Ben Hatke's exclusive original art below! Zita

Zita, the young girl from earth who finds herself hopping from world to world on a quest to get home, is the character through which I learned to be a storyteller. I started making Zita comics to entertain a very special girl (Anna, now my wife). I continued making Zita webcomics when I was inspired by Kazu Kibuishi's Copper. I wanted to teach myself to make better comics and distilling stories into one or two pages was the perfect method. Finally, it was time to write book-length stories and I sat down to tell the story of why this girl from earth was so far from home in the first place.

And so I'm thrilled to be sharing this last book in the Zita trilogy because it's kind of my senior thesis as a writer/illustrator -- not judged by a professor but by smiles and gasps of readers (both young and old, I hope) who turn the pages.

I hope I get an A.

Ben Hatke_Zita the Spacegirl original art

Comics, Wrestling and Telling the Story of Andre the Giant

Box Brown, the author of the new Andre the Giant graphic novel talks about the similarities between the art of comics and professional wrestling and his admiration for the subject of his new book. AndretheGiant

Comics and wrestling seem like a natural fit to me.  When, as an adult, you tell someone you’re interested in comics you have to be prepared to defend that.  I think there can be a lot of misconceptions about what comics are and what comics can be, like that they’re only for kids or perhaps a generation of older men still living in their parents’ basements.  As a comic artist (and reader) I know this just is not the case.  Comics is a medium capable of an infinite range of expressions—an art form.  I believe that pro-wrestling is an art form too.

Surely then, if pro-wrestling is an art form, it has had no greater master than Andre the Giant.  Andre had a condition known as acromegaly, which caused him to grow too large for his own good.  When he was told he wouldn’t live past the age of forty, he decided to live the life he had to the fullest.  Andre had a leg up in the pro-wrestling business, because he was a huge man who was naturally foreboding. But he didn’t rest on that.  He knew how to work a crowd the way great comedians and MCs do.  He knew how to play both a “babyface” (good guy) and “heel” (bad guy) to perfection.  He also worked constantly for many many years to develop his craft. 

In pro-wrestling when two wrestlers are developing a match they say they are telling a story in the ring.  So, in addition to all the storylines that go into a pro-wrestling television show, the two athletes in the ring are telling a story.  It’s a sequential story that has the qualities we look for in the greatest works of literature.  The hero sets out on a quest and is tested and beaten down and eventually he rises to the occasion to defeat and overcome his detractors.  Each story is different and can be a drama, tragedy or comedy.  Each wrestler has his own unique style and way to depict his character.  Is it that different from using a brush and ink (and Photoshop) to tell this type of story on the comic page? 

I think of Andre’s story as a tragic one.  He was disabled for a large part of his life and he died at only forty six years old.  He was mostly portrayed on TV and spoken of as a kind man with gentle heart.  But Andre was only human.  He had all the flaws and personal idiosyncrasies that we all have.  He was imperfect at times.  He spent a lot of time in pain.  I think he felt disconnected to this world that he didn’t quite fit in.  Every aspect of his life had to be special fitted for him, from his clothes to his cutlery to his cars.

Towards the end of Andre’s career he was in a lot of pain. People said he probably should have retired and he could have, financially, but instead he persevered.  I think this is what I admire most about him.  I think those moments when he was in the ring creating stories were extremely important to him and really made him happy.  I hope one day when I’m nearing the end I continue to persevere and create the way Andre did. 


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The Time of the Finite

Philippe Squarzoni, author of Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science asks, “How can we--each of us in our own sphere--handle the fundamental contradictions between our lifestyle and the needs of the environment?” ClimateChanged

In 2006, while I was working on my previous documentary graphic novel, I began to look into the issue of global warming. I realized that, probably like most of us, I didn’t know a lot about it, and I decided to explore it more seriously.

I grasped, then, the nature of the climate crisis, the gravity of the situation, and the enormity of the changes that would have to be put in place to escape the worst consequences of climate change. And it became clear to me that it could not be just a few pages devoted to it, but an entire book itself, to which I committed six years of work.

The IPCC reports, scientific books on the subject, and interviews with experts and journalists paint a rather bleak picture of our collective future. While the first part of my book details the causes and consequences of climate change, in the second part it addresses possible alternatives and the energy scenarios that will allow us to escape this as best as possible.

It’s both this growing understanding and the questions that are posed on an individual level that Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science recounts.

How can we—each of us in our own sphere—handle the fundamental contradictions between our lifestyle and the needs of the environment?

If the magnitude of the changes that must be made far exceed the capacity of our individual actions, then true change must be made on a much broader, structural level—these must be political decisions, where, unfortunately, inaction is the order of the day.

Each of the past three decades, the surface of the earth has been successively hotter, compared to all other decades since 1850. Greenhouse gas emissions are now higher than in the most pessimistic predictions.

We stand, in a way, in the intermediate period between two moments in history. A first one where the riches of nature were considered infinite, unlimited resources, a period of perpetual growth. This was the time of promise. But we must move now into a second period, where the constraints of the climate are imposed on us—the depletion of resources, the limits of the planet. This is the time of the finite.

In Montana, “brown season” is a name for a fifth season, a period of transition between winter and spring. A period of uncertainty, from which we must now move on.


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Two Things We Get Wrong About Social Mobility

Michael Goodwin, author of Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work), in Words and Pictures, discusses the challenges with getting ahead in the world. 51rFM2e87lL

A recent study claims that social mobility in the U.S. hasn’t changed for the last several decades. (See “Upward Mobility Has Not Declined, Study Says” by David Leonhardt, New York Times, January 23, 2014.) The paper received a lot of attention; after all, most of us think it’s harder to get ahead than it used to be.

And we’re right. The paper looks at one type of social mobility, and not the important type.

Think of a ladder with a hundred rungs, with a person on each rung. The paper looks at our ability to climb the ladder—the chance that, say, someone born on rung 20 can climb to rung 80.

And it’s true that it’s no harder for a child born at the bottom to climb to the top than it was in the 1970s. (It’s not easy, compared to other countries, but it’s no harder.)

But that type of mobility isn’t what we should be looking at. After all, it’s a zero-sum game—you can’t climb up a rung without pushing someone else down.

By contrast, here’s what social mobility used to look like. Check out how real after-tax incomes increased just from 1941 to 1950 (in constant dollars):

Income rank

Change in After-Tax Income, 1941-1950

Bottom 20%


Next 20%


Middle 20%


Next 20%


Top 20%


Source: The Review of Economics and Statistics, Selma Goldsmith, et. al., Vol. 36, No. 1, The MIT Press, Feb., 1954.

So if you were on, say, the 40th rung, your income improved even if you stayed on that rung. An entire generation rose into the middle class, not because other people dropped out of it, but because more people could afford a middle-class lifestyle.

That’s the type of social mobility we want, and that’s what we’ve lost. Where the ladder used to lengthen, carrying us up even if we stayed on the same rung, now we’re lucky to stay even. All too often, people who stay on the same rung fall out of the middle class. (See “The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World.” by Nelson D. Schwartz, New York Times, February 2, 2014.)

Why did this happen? Was it, as Time says (in “Time to Talk About Inequality” by Rana Foroohar, February 10, 2014), the unavoidable result of “the forces of globalization and technology?”

If that sounds odd to you, you’re right—we had technology and trade in the mid-20th century, and economic law hasn’t somehow completely reversed itself since then. And other countries share our technology, and trade in the same world, without squeezing their middle class out of existence.

What’s really changed is our politics. In the mid-20th century our economic policies were designed to expand the middle class. Since the 1980s, our policies—whatever their official justifications—have been designed to concentrate wealth at the very top. In both cases, the policies worked.

For instance, check out the income tax, circa 1948:


Income left over after federal income tax









$1 million


Source: Paul Samuelson, Economics, McGraw-Hill, 1948, p173.

To turn that into current dollars, add a zero—a 1948 dollar had roughly ten times the purchasing power of a 2013 dollar (see this CPI Inflation Calculator). So someone who made the equivalent of $10 million would get to keep only a little more than a million and a half.

In the government’s hands, that money became spending and jobs.

Today, billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries (see “Buffett says he's still paying lower tax rate than his secretary” by Chris Isidore @CNNMoney, March 4, 2013) and that’s if they pay taxes at all (see “Millionaires Don't Pay Taxes?” by Dennis Romero, LAWeekly, Mon, Aug 8, 2011). They sit on that money (see “How the rich save today” by Lora Shinn,, while the government can barely afford to stay open at all.

So we get two things wrong about social mobility. It is falling, and it’s not due to the impersonal operation of economic laws. If we want to return to the sort of mobility we used to have—where “getting ahead” didn’t mean leaving someone else behind—we should try returning to the sort of policies that favor the middle class.

Certainly, favoring the rich hasn’t helped anyone except the rich.

Guest Blogger: Barbara Taylor Bradford on “A Woman of Substance”

A Woman of SubstanceNew York Times best-selling romance author Barbara Taylor Bradford discusses her breakout first novel, A Woman of Substance, one of the top ten best-selling novels ever written with more than 32 million copies sold.

A Woman of Substance was my first novel.  I had attempted to write four others, and every time I stopped when I'd written about 90 or 100 pages. I simply didn't like them.

And then one day, unexpectedly, a young girl popped into my head as if from nowhere. I could see her clearly in my mind's eye. She was a girl of 12, and I knew she would grow up to be a beautiful young woman. Her hair was auburn and she had green eyes. But the important thing was that I sensed she was determined and clever and had a strong will.

That very moment, I took out my yellow pad and started to make notes. And soon I knew her very well indeed! Her name was Emma Harte. I understood she was driven and ambitious, and she was going to become and extraordinary woman. In fact, I wanted her to become a woman who would make it in a man's world of business when women were not doing that. I decided she would become a great tycoon.

Essentially, A Woman of Substance is the life story of a girl who started with nothing in life, who overcame hardships and adversity of every kind and triumphed in the end. I believe it’s an inspiring book because Emma achieves her dreams.

When I started to write the book, I knew I would finish this one. I had to because Doubleday in New York had bought it on a 12-page outline plus 90 pages – and they had done so within 48 hours of first reading those pages.

People have asked me why A Woman of Substance became so successful, and so quickly. I think there are many answers to this question. To begin with, Emma is a compelling character, as are her life long friends Blackie O'Neill and Paul McGill, the love of her life. And of course, the book has everything in it... drama, intrigue, money, passion, power and revenge – all of those great human emotions that make for a good story.

Eventually, A Woman of Substance was published in 90 countries and 40 languages. And I'm happy to tell you that it is still selling today. Woman all over the world told me that Emma Harte was their true role model, and that the book had changed their lives for the better. Some had started businesses. Others left bad relationships or abusive marriages. Many had gone to live in other cities. But they had all moved on and been successful. They thanked me for creating Emma Harte.

I had set out to simply tell a good story about a strong woman. I hadn't intended to send a message. But apparently, quite unconsciously I had. To sum it all up, all I know is that I wrote the kind of story I love to tell about an ordinary woman who becomes extraordinary in living her life a certain way and goes out to conquer the world.

Barbara Taylor Bradford’s second and third book in The Emma Harte Saga, Hold the Dream and To Be the Best, are now available in ebook, along with Act of Will, Angel, Remember, The Women in His Life and Voice of the Heart.

Author Booklist: Comics & Graphic Novels to Watch Out For in 2014

Author and artist Gene Luen Yang (Boxers & Saints and American Born Chinese) talks about his books to watch out for in 2014.

How to be Happy by Eleanor Davis 51hkOHCdzIL

I’ve been a fan of Eleanor Davis for the better part of a decade now.  I’ve marveled at her range, both in her writing and in her art.  She switches genres and styles at will, all the while maintaining the uniqueness of her storytelling voice.  She is a master of the comics short story.  I’ve shared her lovable young readers’ graphic novel Stinky with my children, much to their delight.  The one thing I haven’t been able to do is hold a collection of her comics in my hands.  In 2014, Fantagraphics will finally rectify that situation.


The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita’s everything a hero should be: brave, loyal, clever, and selfless.  She even wears a cape.  Two graphic novels ago, Zita jumped through a space portal to save her best friend Joseph.  She found herself in a particularly colorful corner of the universe, populated by aliens, robots, and giant mice.  She made some friends, became a planet-wide celebrity, and even got to pilot a giant robot version of herself.  Now, in the final installment of Ben Hatke’s sci-fi epic trilogy, our hero makes her way home.


Continue reading "Author Booklist: Comics & Graphic Novels to Watch Out For in 2014" »

Guest Blogger: Gwyneth Paltrow

WithinGwyneth Paltrow is an Oscar winner and author of the New York Times best-selling cookbook, My Father's Daughter. She is a mother and an actress, splitting her time between London and New York.

When my latest cookbook, It's All Good, was nearly complete, I was still searching for someone to write the foreword.  Because the book included amazing recipes based on a particular healing diet I had been prescribed by my physician, I immediately thought of Dr. Habib Sadeghi.  Not only did he understand the medicinal qualities of whole foods, but also the spiritual partnership we have with the earth that provides them to us.  I was extremely grateful when Dr. Sadeghi agreed, and even more so when I recently received the opportunity to return the favor and write the foreword to his incredible new book, Within.

What struck me immediately about Within is that it’s so universal.  Yes, it focuses on the goal of losing weight, but it does so with principles that can be applied to anything we want to achieve.  It’s really a life map instead of a diet.  In fact, it isn’t a diet at all because he never mentions food or even exercise.  The world doesn’t need another carb counting lecture.  It’s really a healing workout for the soul, and that seems only fitting since people often call him the Old Soul Doctor.  

They say that over a lifetime, everyone has at least one story or experience that will break your heart. If that’s true, then Dr. Sadeghi has enough for three lifetimes.  He’s an old soul not because of what he’s been through, but because of how he survived and thrived on the other side of those difficulties. In Within, he shares the tools he used to get through those experiences and the wisdom he earned in the process. 

That’s why I was so proud to write the foreword to Within.  Who hasn’t wanted to change their life in some significant way and felt totally lost as to how to make that happen?  Dr. Sadeghi isn’t a motivational guru.  Even better; he’s somebody who’s “been there”.  If direct experience is the only real teacher in life, then Dr. Sadeghi has a PhD in getting your life off life support.  You’ll feel his compassion on every page and he never talks down to the reader.  Instead, he approaches every subject with the same intuitive empathy that makes him so successful as a physician.

I highly recommend Within, no matter what kind of change you’re seeking in your life.  Just be prepared for a paradigm shift in the way you think and feel that only comes from fearlessly “stepping into your loving”.

--Gwyneth Paltrow

Guest Bloggers: Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo

Hunt the FalconSEAL Team Six and Thomas Crocker are back hunting their most elusive adversary yet: The Falcon.

When the White House needs someone to track down a group of dangerous terrorists who have been assassinating U.S. diplomats in posts all over the world, who do they call? Tom Crocker and his SEAL Team Six special operators, aka Black Cell. They’re the black ops specialists who are often tapped when anything highly sensitive, time-critical and extremely dangerous has to be done.

This time they raid a bomb-making factory in Thailand where Crocker and his team discover a group of Iranian terrorists holding Venezuelan passports, which points the finger of blame directly at the Iranian Quds Force. And here’s the little known true fact(the one that DC officials never talk about): the United States has been fighting a secret war with the Iranian Quds Force for years. They’re the group behind many attacks against Americans in Iraq (including the rocket attack on the Green Zone) and Afghanistan. Currently, they’re fighting alongside pro-Assad forces in Syria, and they also have a branch of operatives in Venezuela known as Unit 5000 that is in the business of shipping cocaine to Europe and using the proceeds to attack the West, and particularly the United States.

No one talks about them because they’re so nasty and as part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, take orders directly from the religious leaders of Iran – not the president, but the mullahs. They are, without a doubt, a state-sponsored Islamic terrorist group, much better trained, armed, funded and more insidious than al-Qaeda. And in Hunt the Falcon they’re lead by Crocker’s nemesis and the man behind his wife’s kidnapping in Tripoli (depicted in the previous book in the series Hunt the Scorpion) Farhed Alizadeh – the Falcon.

The question is: what are they up to now? And why are they operating right under our noses? To find the answers, Crocker and his men crisscross South America, trying to stay one step ahead of Unit 5000 operatives. When the latest technical gadgetry from DARPA fails during a raid on the terrorist hideout, Crocker has to rescue one of his wounded men the old-fashioned way: climbing a fence and improvising his way out with bullets flying.

Believe it or not, that’s just in the first hundred pages. And it’s only a fraction of Crocker’s problems. People back home in Virginia depend on him, including a wife at home who is trying to cope with PTSD and a father who seems to have fallen in love with a much younger woman.

The pace and severity of the physical and mental challenges Crocker and his men must face as they attempt to head off catastrophe push them to the brink of exhaustion. But even when they’re asked to undertake a final “suicide mission” deep behind enemy lines without backup, or a credible exfil plan, Crocker and his men answer the call.

--Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo

Guest Blogger: Michael Connelly

The Gods of GuiltDefense attorney Mickey Haller returns with a haunting case in the gripping new thriller from best-selling author Michael Connelly.

In my new novel, The Gods of Guilt, the Lincoln lawyer Mickey Haller likens the practice of law to juggling chain saws: It can be dangerous, especially if you catch it by the wrong end. I think writing a novel is the same way. There are many pitfalls. You have to be careful and steady with your juggling. Still, every book is a challenge in its own way, and those challenges are set by the juggler himself. So there is no use complaining about it. If you want to take the easy route, then juggle marshmallows.
When I wrote The Gods of Guilt, I think I went with chainsaws. I gave myself a challenge that probably nobody would notice but myself. I just wanted to see if I could pull it off.

First of all, I wanted the book to function as an entertaining legal thriller with lots of intrigue, courtroom drama, and subterfuge. I wanted a few surprises too, including the death of a secondary character that the reader wouldn’t see coming. None of that was really secret in terms of the structure of the book. They were needed ingredients and difficult enough to juggle and keep in the air. The secret agenda I added was with regard to two of the main characters. While functioning as a fast-moving thriller, the book’s true center revolves around the relationship between Mickey Haller and his 16-year-old daughter, Hayley. I wanted that strained relationship to be the engine that drives Mickey’s choices and desires through the book. The book is, after all, called The Gods of Guilt. I wanted Mickey to be operating from a standpoint of seeking redemption in his daughter’s eyes, and if he succeeded, then he would save the relationship that means so much to him and ease the guilt that weighs him down as the story begins.

But here’s the catch—or, I should say, the challenge. I did not want Mickey and Hayley to have a single exchange of dialogue in the book, let alone meet face-to-face. I thought this was necessary, at least in the first half of the book, to underscore how deep the rift was between this father and daughter and how difficult it would be to bridge the gap. I wanted Mickey’s efforts to reach out and to explain his actions to be unrequited. I wanted his phone calls to go unanswered, his texts unreturned. When the centerpiece trial got underway, I wanted Mickey to turn from the defense table to look for his daughter in the public gallery, only to see she was not there.

I hope you pay attention to this as you read my novel. I know there is one scene where Mickey watches his daughter from afar, and another off the page where Hayley visits without Mickey really knowing it—you’ll understand what that means if you read the book. You’ll then be able to decide if the challenge was successfully met, and if it was the right choice. Can the father-daughter relationship be the true center of the book if the two principles never talk to one another on the page? You be the judge.

— Michael Connelly