In need of comic relief? Just in time for the summer, Gene Luen Yang has recently released his first non-fiction graphic novel, Dragon Hoops. This past March, Yang, whose workshop at the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) was cancelled due to the pandemic, had a virtual book launch where he discussed Dragon Hoops and answered questions from fans. Interested readers can still access his interview on Yang’s Facebook page.
Yang was born in the San Francisco Bay Area to parents from Hong Kong and Taiwan. From an early age, he had a knack for drawing and storytelling. Collecting comic books soon became one of his favorite hobbies as well as making comics with friends from school.
“When I was in third grade, we had to do these biography reports on famous people,” says Yan. “I did mine on Walt Disney. After that, I became obsessed with him. I desperately wanted to become a Disney animator. I remember going to our local library and checking out as many books about Walt Disney as I could find. I remember spending hours trying to mimic that classic Disney style.”
Not just a hobby
Yang kept making comic books all through his youth, but it wasn’t until after university that he was able to get national recognition. In 1996, he began self-publishing his comic books. Only one year later, he received the Xeric Grant for his comic Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks. The Xeric Grant is a prestigious self-publishing grant given to comic book writers. Over the years, Yang has become more and more prolific and in 2006 received the National Book Award for his book American Born Chinese. This was the first graphic novel to be nominated for this award as well as the first comic book to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award.
Writing comics is more than just a job for Yang but a deeply ingrained part of his identity. As well as writing full time, Yang also teaches MFA writing courses in hopes to inspire future generations of authors and animators.
“I love the combination of words and pictures,” says Yang. “But to tell you the truth, my love of comic books is pre-logical. I began to love comics before I thought about why I love comics. When I’m reading a well-crafted comic, I feel like I’m getting a glimpse into somebody’s soul. I guess that’s true for pretty much every artistic medium out there, but for me, it’s especially true of comics.”
A multi-faceted author
Yang’s first non-fiction book is inspired by his foray into the world of high school basketball. This book came together after he followed a high school basketball team out of Oakland, California.
“The book is about a team of coaches and players chasing after the California State Championship,” says Yang. “It’s also about how I became a basketball fan. When I began that book, I knew nothing about basketball. After seeing the courage of those coaches and players over the course of the season, I became a fan not only of them but also of the sport.”
Along with Dragon Hoops, readers can also check out Superman Smashes the Klan. This comic book from 2019 is an adaptation of a 1946 Superman radio show where Superman defends a Chinese American family against white supremacists. These novels differ vastly, but Yang hopes both of his works can provide some reprieve from the uncertain world around us.
“I hope the readers of Dragon Hoops and Superman Smashes the Klan also feel better after finishing them,” says Yang. “Following that team of coaches and kids for a season filled my heart. So did learning about Superman‘s place in American pop culture history. I hope I can get that across to my readers.”
To learn more about Yang and his works, please visit www.geneyang.com.