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Though any day is a good day to celebrate Asian American Pacific Islanders, we’re wrapping up the second week of May which means we've got only a little over two weeks left to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month specifically. Free Comic Book Day is still on the mind from the start of the month, so we thought what better way to highlight the achievements of AAPI creators than to feature some of our favorite AAPI graphic novel writers, illustrators, and their characters?

 

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Deservedly named one of the best books of 2020 by the New York Public Library, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, The Magic Fish is a heartfelt coming of age story following young Vietnamese-American Tiến and his Vietnamese mother Helen. Though Tiến is more comfortable with English and Helen more so with Vietnamese, making it even harder for Tiến to tell his parents he’s gay and for Helen to reach out to the son she dearly loves, the two bridge the gap through reading fairytales from the library together. Trung Le Nguyen, fondly referred to as Trungles, not only creates a beautifully detailed narrative with Eastern and Western versions of fairytales strategically tying to Tiến and Helen’s experiences, but he also gorgeously illustrates spreads that artfully alter between red, blue, and yellow color palettes, depending on the viewpoint, and heighten this novel to jaw-dropping status.

Buy the book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Books A Million | Bookshop

 

Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales, Vol 4: Oceania Edition by Various

More fairy tales are coming your way in the fourth volume of the Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales series, headed by Kate Ashwin and Kel McDonald and with Sloane Leong as the third editor for the Oceania edition. With over 15 comics from Hawaiian, Indigenous, Filipino, and other Oceanian writers, this collection includes classic stories of Aswang (a flesh-eating shapeshifter from Filipino folklore), Kapo'i and the Owl (one fable explaining the significance of owls to Hawaiian culture), and Pele and Poliahu (the Hawaiian goddesses of fire and ice). Although there’s only the digital versions of this anthology at the moment, the editors ran a kickstarter a few years back for print editions of this volume and made $10,000 over their initial goal, so fingers crossed it’s only a matter of time until there’s a print edition. In the meantime, check out Leong’s A Map to the Sun or Ashwin and McDonald’s Asia and other Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales collections. Visit the individual creators’ sites to get a sense of their richly illustrative works.

Buy the book:

Amazon | Comixology

 

Good Talk by Mira Jacob

Mira Jacob’s critically-acclaimed Good Talk is accurately subtitled as “a memoir in conversations.” Its unique format combines mostly speech bubbles, thought boxes, and bust shots of players from Jacob’s life, comparative to character avatars for video game conversations, superimposed on photographs. Paired with Jacob’s blunt conversations, natural dialogue, and wry sense of humor, this mix of real life and illustrative work strategically invokes both the feel of a comedy skit and a sociology lessen surrounding American identity in Jacob’s interracial family. From 9/11 and the Trump era to growing up as an Indian American and her half Indian, half Jewish son’s blunt questions, this memoir discusses racism, colorism, sexuality, marriage, politics, family, love, and so much more.

Buy the book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Books A Million | Bookshop

 

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

Avatar: The Last Airbender fans may recognize Kiku Hughes from her pieces in Avatar: The Last Airbender - Team Avatar Tales, but she’s also created numerous shorts for various anthologies, which you can read on her tumblr. Last summer she released her first full-length graphic novel, and time travel and history fans rejoice because it’s a good one—so much so she won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Title that year. In a sort of fantastical biography, Hughes explores the complex history of her late grandmother by sending a fictional Kiku back in time to 1940s America when Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps during World War II. Through animated characters, soft color palettes, and crisp compositions, Hughes deep dives into an often brushed over aspect of American history, all while highlighting characteristics of her and her family’s experiences from generational trauma to culture loss to the myth of the model minority.

Buy the book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Books A Million | Bookshop

 

The Magnificent Ms. Marvel, Vol 1: Destined by Saladin Ahmed and illustrated by Minkyu Jung

If you haven’t read any Ms. Marvel comics yet, there’s no better time with the upcoming release of the Ms. Marvel TV show later this year. After her initial 2013 appearance in Captain Marvel, Pakistani-American Kamala Khan headlined her first solo comic in 2014, making her Marvel’s first Muslim character to do so, and has released at least one tradeback volume a year ever since. Basically she stretched, punched, and shapeshifted into everyone’s hearts with her Spider-Man like relatability, enthusiasm, and awkwardness. Although you may want to familiarize yourself with her origin story via G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Hugo-award-winning run, Ahmed and Jung’s 2019 follow up is a fun, action-packed, and endearing read with alien battles, helpful side-kick friends, and protective and loving parents.

Buy the book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Gurihiru

And now for the DC readers. If the title didn’t give it away, Superman Smashes the Klan is about Superman beating down a stand-in for the KKK, and it’s as great as it sounds. For more context, it follows Roberta and Tommy, two Chinese-American kids in 1946 who recently moved from Chinatown to Downtown Metropolis with their parents, and after they’re attacked by the Klan of the Fiery Kross, the two work with Superman to expose their operation. The crazy cool thing about this is not only that award-winning Gene Luen Yang wrote it, but he adapted it from a 1940s Superman radio serial called “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” which also featured Chinese-American Tommy and Superman taking down the clan. It was so popular, some people believe it contributed to the downfall of the second rising of the KKK, and Yang and the Gurihiru team revived this concept perfectly for the modern-day audience.

Buy the book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Books A Million | Bookshop

 

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte and illustrated by Ann Xu

If not for the story, Gene Luen Yang’s fans will appreciate the American Born Chinese reference in LaMotte and Xu’s Measuring Up, but there’s so much more to appreciate in this middle grade read. When Cici immigrates from Taiwan to Seattle, she has trouble fitting in with her new American friends and, maybe worst of all, she deeply misses her grandmother, A-má. When she spots an ad for a cooking contest, she concocts a plan to win the $1,000 prize money for a plane ticket for A-má to visit, but the problem is Cici only knows how to make Taiwanese food and she’s not sure how the judges would react to her dishes. With charming art comparable to Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novels, this coming-of-age story emphasizes the power of food to bring people together, whether they’re near or far.

Buy the book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Books A Million | Bookshop

 

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Similar to Cici’s journey but based on true experiences, Robin Ha’s YA memoir starts with middle school Chuna finding herself unexpectedly relocated from Seoul to Alabama after a vacation with her single mother becomes a permanent stay. Now with an American name, Robin, she must quickly adjust to foreign American foods, a language she has little to no experience with, a stepfamily that’s full of both traditional Korean and unfamiliar American ideas (neither of which work in Robin’s favor), and the knowledge that her mother had planned to stay in America all along. But also similar to Cici and her passion for cooking, a comic drawing class offers Robin some solace and eventually catalyzes her into a journey of self-discovery and forgiveness.

Buy the book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Books A Million | Bookshop


Gabrielle Bujak's picture

Gabrielle Bujak

Gabrielle Bujak spends her days as the Publicist & Marketing Assistant for Quirk and her nights often dreaming of turning into birds and wondering what that means. As a past library worker, she always has at least one audiobook, one book, and one graphic novel at her disposal, and she occasionally writes stories that have earned her a Pushcart Prize nomination. Connect with her on Twitter or Instagram @justabuj.