Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Inkpot Interview: Gene Luen Yang

Today is launch day for Gene Luen Yang's Boxers & Saints (First Second Books; colored by Lark Pien), and what da ya know--the Inkpot is on the spot!

Please describe the book in under 50 words. (Feel free to use the publisher’s promo copy, but do attribute it.)
Boxers & Saints is a two-volume graphic novel project that explores both sides of the Boxer Rebellion. The protagonists of the first volume are the poor, illiterate Chinese teenagers who tried to eradicate all foreign influence from their homeland. The protagonists of the second are their Chinese Christian victims.

As the story progressed from inception to copy-edited version, what were the major changes? How did those changes come about? When did you first begin work on it? When did you finish?
As I worked on the project, Boxers got longer and longer and longer. Saints did not. Historically, the Boxers went on an epic journey from the Chinese countryside all the way to the capital city. The first volume had to grow in order to include the scope of their story.

The Chinese Christians, on the other hand, lived a much smaller, quieter story. They defended their villages as best they could and eventually died for their beliefs. Figuring out how to pair the two together was tricky. I had to signal to the reader that these were very different narratives, that their goals were different.

What research was involved, and how did it affect the story’s development?
This was my first historical fiction project. It was the first time I really had to research. I spent about a year visiting my local university library once a week, reading everything I could get my hands on. There would have been no story without the research. I didn’t know much about the Boxer Rebellion before I started, so I didn’t even have a vague notion of a narrative arc before I started researching. 

Without naming names, tell us who your first readers are (e.g., live-action writing group; online writing group; editor; agent). When do you share a piece of writing?
I have a small group of beta readers. They include my editors, my fellow cartoonists, and a few friends. A couple of them have very little experience reading comics. I find their feedback especially useful.

What books do you love to teach or recommend to students?

What widely-loved or acclaimed book is one that didn’t work for you?
I have a hard time getting into Robert Crumb’s stuff. I totally understand his importance within the history of visual storytelling. I think he’s a brilliant draftsman. He’s much, much more courageous than I’ll ever be. I just have a hard time personally connecting with his stories. Maybe I’m just too much of a prude.

During the January 2013 residency Emily Jenkins lectured on “How to Be Funny,” and one of her suggestions was to “use jolly words.” A good idea even if one isn’t trying to be funny. Do you have a favorite jolly word?
I was writing a middle grade book where a character kept making jokes about death. The company I was working for wasn’t comfortable with it, so they asked me to replace all my deaths with dooms. And you know what? It worked better. Doom is funny.

To learn more about Gene and his work:

Hamline Faculty Page

1 comment:

  1. BTW: The new books just got a starred review in Horn Book! Congrats, Gene!