On Saturday, July 11, the first ever Asian-American ComiCon took place in New York, where dozens of comics professionals gathered to celebrate, highlight and discuss the contributions of the Asian-American population in the comic book industry. With a guest list including fan-favorite writer Greg Pak ("Incredible Hulk"), comics legend Larry Hama ("G.I. Joe"), and artists like Cliff Chiang, Bernard Chang and Khoi Pham, the show floor was packed with some of the biggest names in comics.
CBR News managed to speak to Keith Chow, editor of the recent Asian-American comics anthology "Secret Identities." Chow recalled how an innocuous offhand comment made at a panel planted the seeds for the watershed event. "Jeff Yang, one of the co-chairs of the Asian-American ComiCon; Greg Pak, also a co-chair; and Larry Hama were on a panel two or three years ago at Asian Film Festival," Chow told CBR. "After the panel, they had a conversation about how great it would be for the community to have an event that would celebrate them. Almost jokingly, they said they should do an Asian-American ComiCon. Lo and behold, it happened!"
Amongst the star-studded guest list was Marvel Comics PR guru Arune Singh, who had a unique take on the experience. "The first Asian-American ComiCon was an interesting experience for me both as someone of Asian-American ethnic heritage (but born and raised in Canada) and as a professional in the industry," he said. "While the event was packed with people, it never lost its distinct feeling of intimacy - every creator was personable and every fan in attendance seemed happy to see everyone else. I only spoke on one panel - Making Comics: The Business of Comics -but it was a very cool experience and it sounds like all the other panels were equally enjoyable.
"I also loved the great shop with materials by the many notable guests-from Greg Pak to Khoi Pham to Larry Hama-and the diversity of programming at the convention. Consider me ready for next year!"
The panel at which Singh spoke was one of many designed to help redefine what a comic book convention is. According to the AACC program, "We want to think of the 'Con' in Asian-American ComiCon as representing not just 'convention,' but 'conference' - or even 'conversation.'"
Keith Chow elaborated on this concept saying, "We wanted to have the staples of a traditional comic book convention - Artists' Alley, panels, meeting creators, but we also wanted to make it a conference. Ken Chen, who is the director of the Asian-American writer's workshop, was also one of the organizers behind the comic-con. His series of panels called Reading Comics took a more literary and academic track when it came to the programming that he put together.
"One of the panels that he did was called 'Every Comic is Asian-American' where he invited writers, poets, spoken word artists to re-imagine comic book characters as Asian-American. We would have a poet like Paolo Javier do a reading of a literary work in which he re-imagined an iconic super hero character as Asian-American."
According to Chow, panels like "Every Comic is Asian-American" and "The New Villains," which explored the implications of Asian villains in popular culture and their effects on the real world, were intended to encourage discussion of the comic medium and further promote the idea that comics should be considered a legitimate form of artistic expression. "One of the arguments a lot of us make about comics is that they are art, they are literature," he said. "How do you approach graphic novels from a more academic standpoint? That's something that Ken Chen was very successful doing."
In addition to Chen's series of Reading Comics panels, programming included "Spotlight" panels where in-depth interviews in the spirit of "Inside the Actors' Studio" took place. Guests included Derek Kirk Kim ("Same Difference and Other Stories"), William F. Wu ("Hong on the Range") and Larry Hama ("G.I. Joe"). AACC co-chair and fan favorite writer Greg Pak also ran a series of panels on "Making Comics" where participants included Arune Singh, Marvel Editor Daniel Ketchum and "Runaways" colorist Christina Strain and many others. Pak's panels brought attendants a little closer to the whole process that goes into creating a comic from start to finish.
"I had an absolute blast moderating three of the 'Making Comics' panels at the Asian American ComiCon," Pak told CBR. "The rooms were packed with eager audience members and the panelists were in fine form - funny, fresh, and frank. There was a relaxed, unguarded vibe among both panelists and audience members that made for great conversations. Just a few of the highlights include legendary writer Larry Hama revealing the shocking truth about his original pitch for the latest G.I. Joe series, colorist Christina Strain begging artists not to draw every individual snowflake, and Bernard Chang, Cliff Chiang, and Khoi Pham discussing the dangers of riffing off representations of things rather than the things themselves. I laughed, I learned, and I can't wait to do it again next year."
In addition to the panels, the convention ran a silent auction where guests contributed signed graphic novels, exclusive original pieces of art and other goodies to benefit the Museum of Chinese in America. "We had really cool artwork," said Chow. "We had original drawings from Khoi Pham, Tom Chiu - Cliff Chiang donated a series of trade paperbacks that were all signed and when the bidder opened the books, he had an original sketch inside each one as well."
"I think this had the old school charm of a comic book convention," Chow said. "Something I think a lot of people took away from Saturday is that the space was just the right size that you could feel a connection with all the panelists and all the artists that were present. Artists' Alley had constant foot traffic all day, but you really could meet your favorite artist like Bernard Chang, Cliff Chiang or Khoi Pham and feel connected with them."
Looking back at AACC, Chow attributed the much of the success of the event to the dedicated staff, volunteers and supporters of the event. "I'd like to thank all the people who helped make this event possible. Jeff Yang; Greg Pak; Beatrice Chen, the education director at MoCCa; Ken Wong who was in charge of the silent auction and Artist's Alley; John Franzise who designed the program; Raymond Sohn and Tomomi Fujimaru who designed the AACC logo and website; Parry Shen, who handled the editing of the program; Jerry Ma who was in charge of the volunteers - the volunteers were the best group of kids we could ever hope to have; Jef Castro who helped to organize screenings of Asian-American film content."
As a final retrospective, Chow recalled the amazing response from the fans. "I think the overwhelming response from fans that attended was at the intimacy of the event," he said. "The fact that they had the opportunity to meet these creators they never had a chance to meet and have the chance to talk and have a conversation was the big take away for a lot of people."