“Secret Identities” Asian American Superhero Graphic Novel Seeks Contributions

The story goes like this. A quiet, unassuming guy with black hair and thick glasses. He’s an immigrant, who’s done his best to fit in to a world that isn’t his—one very different from the land of his birth. He has a hidden side to himself that he can’t quite bring himself to show, not even to the popular girl he’s got a huge crush on. If only she knew who he really was—what he could really do—she’d be amazed, he thinks. If only she knew. If only everyone knew…

For many Asian Americans, this chronicle is a familiar one, because many of us lived it. But this also happens to be the story of mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, better known to the world by his alter ego: Superman. And it’s just one example of the parallels between the cultural narrative of Asian America and the mythic foundation of the comic book superhero.

These parallels, along with the burgeoning array of Asian American creative talent in the mainstream and alternative comics industries, are what have led New York Times best-selling author Jeff Yang; independent comics creator Jerry Ma; comics education specialist Keith Chow, and actor Parry Shen to team up to edit Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology, the first-ever graphic novel collection of original stories exploring the universe of masked marvels and caped crusaders from the perspective of the nation’s fastest-growing and most dynamic emerging community.

A special free sneak preview of the anthology was posted today on AngryAsianMan.com.

The book will be published in trade paperback by The New Press, one of the nation’s leading independent publishers, hitting bookshelves in Fall 2008.

Although top talents from the mainstream comic industry have already agreed to contribute stories to Secret Identities – including writers Greg Pak (World War Hulk) and J. Torres (Batman Strikes) and artists Sean Chen (Iron Man, Nova) and Cliff Chiang (Human Target), among others, the collection is actively seeking Asian American creators both within and outside the comics industry who are interested in contributing one to six page stories, either within the superhero genre or commenting on it in a satirical or insightful fashion. This may include artist/writer teams or artist-writer sole creators as well as artists seeking to be paired with a writer or writers with an idea seeking to be paired with an artist.

Interested artists must submit art samples, and writers must submit story ideas, by no later than October 15th, 2007 to be considered for the anthology. All characters and stories included in the collection must be original to their creators and previously unpublished in any venue.

The collection is intended to be creator-owned: Contributors will retain all rights to characters, depictions, backgrounds, marks, and storylines associated with their submissions.

Why “Secret Identities”?

As Entertainment Weekly’s review of NBC’s hit series Heroes reads: “Superheroes speak to the part of us – and we all have it – that hopes, deep down, that we’re special.”

“I think for Asian Americans, those parallels are even stronger,” says Secret Identities senior editor and educational director Keith Chow. “Superhero stories – geeks like Peter Parker turning into gods, or immigrant aliens like Clark Kent assimilating into mainstream society – are about the Ultimate Model Minority: a subset full of outsiders with abilities hidden to the rest of society. But, like the X-Men, when you as an Asian American go off to school and meet other people like yourself – you discover your secret heritage, the thing inside you that makes you special.”

Anthology editor-in-chief Jeff Yang notes that while this special resonance has created an “overabundance” of Asian American comic artists and writers, “Asian superheroes are a still rarity—and we thought that shouldn’t be the case. We want this book to jumpstart a bumper crop of Asian American superheroes that will inspire future generations of the community by representing the full breadth or our diversity and history.”

That full breadth means that the collection is looking to bring in voices and ideas outside of the conventional superhero comics space as well. “If you’re an Asian American writer/artist, author, performer, director – or have always just wanted to create a comic… we want to hear from you,” says art director Jerry Ma. “We’re looking for fun, illuminating and imaginative stories that live in the ‘superhero’ world while exploring the idea of the extraordinary side of ordinary Asian Americans.”

The ultimate goal of the project extends beyond simply publishing a single book. As managing editor Parry Shen notes, “When this book comes out, there will instantly be at least 20 fresh, hip, and well developed Asian American characters that can be expanded for future comics, live action film or animated series.”

The Secret Identities submission form and other information about the project can be found at the Secret Identities website, www.secretidentities.org. The deadline for all story ideas and art samples is October 15, 2007; all ideas and samples should be sent to submit@secretidentities.org.

Examples of stories that have been submitted to date include:

* “9066” – A Nisei superhero finds himself facing internment during WWII despite his powers and status as a hero.
* “The Hibakusha” – The children of the survivors of Hiroshima experience strange side effects.
* “Peril” – The son of an unjustly accused Chinese American scientist must use his father’s inventions to clear his father’s name.
* “Driving Steel” – The legend of John Henry is well known: the African American rail worker who beat the steam engine by driving spikes with a sledgehammer in each hand. But did John Henry have a partner, and why is he absent from the legends that have been passed down through time?
* “A Day at Costume Co.” – A tongue-in-cheek look at an Asian American suburban supermom and her quest to get her two paranormally-super powered teens through a day of shopping at the local big-box hero outfitter.

As a critical companion to the anthology, the creation of an in-depth teacher’s guide and discussion booklet based on social issues and historical events raised by the stories in “Secret Identities” is planned. Stories rooted in real-world context – like the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the murder of Vincent Chin in the 1970s and the prosecution of Dr. Wen Ho Lee – all offer strong potential use in educational settings at the middle school, high school and university levels.

Moreover, the signed, original artwork from the book’s full-color gallery section will be auctioned off for charity, with the proceeds to benefit organizations supporting and advocating on behalf of Asian American youth.

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