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Gene Luen Yang
(Chinese Traditional: 楊謹倫, Simplified: 杨谨伦,
Pinyin: Yáng Jǐnlún
; born August 9, 1973)
is a Chinese American
writer of graphic novels
and comics. Until recently, he was the Director of Information Services and taught computer science at Bishop O'Dowd High School
in Oakland, California
and travels all over the world, speaking about graphic novels and
comics at comic book conventions and universities, schools, and
In 2012, Yang joined the faculty at Hamline University
, as a part of the Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults (MFAC) program.
Yang is the son of Chinese immigrants and believes he was born in either Alameda, California
or Fremont, California
His father emigrated from Taiwan and his mother from Hong Kong.
They met at the San Jose State University
Library during graduate school
and both spent a great deal of time instilling in him a strong work
ethic and reinforcing their Asian culture. In a speech at Penn State,
where he spoke as a part of a Graphic Novel Speaker Series, Yang
recalled that both of his parents always told him stories during his
This set the foundation for Yang's career in comics.
Yang was a part of a small Asian American minority in his elementary
school. Yang says that he grew up wanting to be an animator for Disney
. In third grade, he did a biographical report on Walt Disney
, which is where, he jokes, his obsession started.
He says that this all changed in fifth grade when his mother took him
to their local book store where she bought him his first comic book, DC Comics Presents Superman
#57, a book she agreed to buy because Yang's first choice, Marvel Two-In-One
#99 (May 1983), featured the characters Thing
on the cover, which she thought looked too frightening.
Yang attended the University of California, Berkeley
for his undergraduate program. He wanted to major in art but his father
encouraged him to pursue a more "practical" field so Yang majored in
computer science with a minor in creative writing.
College was a time for Yang that he found himself much less of a
minority. During this time, he began to question his faith but decided
to make Jesus his focus during his freshman year.
After graduating in 1995, Yang went to work as a computer engineer
for two years. However, after a five-day silent retreat, he realized he
was meant to teach and left his job as an engineer to teach computer
science at a high school.
In 1996, Yang began self-publishing his own comics under Humble Comics
. Yang went on to be published with First Second Books
an imprint of Macmillan Publishers
, Marvel Comics
, SLG Publishing
, Dark Horse Comics
, Harper teen
, The New Press
, and Pauline Books & Media
In 1997, Yang first published comic Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks
under his own imprint, Humble Comics
, and it won him the Xeric Grant
, a self-publishing grant for comic book creators.
Yang later published two more installments in the Gordon Yamamoto
mini-series and a sequel, Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order
. In 2010, both Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks
series and Loyola Chin and the San Pelgrino Order
were published together as Animal Crackers
by Slave Labor Graphics
In 2006, Yang published American Born Chinese
with :01 First Second Publishing
and won the annual Michael L. Printz Award
from the American Library Association
recognizing the year's "best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit".
It was also the first graphic novel to be a finalist for the National Book Award
, Young People's Literature
and it won an Eisner Award
for best new graphic album. American Born Chinese
has since been recognized in many ways. It has been on the Booklist
top Ten Graphic Novel for Youth; NPR
Holiday Pick, Publishers Weekly
Comics Week Best Comic of the Year, San Francisco Chronicle
Best Book of the Year, The Rueben Award for Best Comic Book, The
Chinese American Librarians Association 2006/2007 Best Graphic Album –
New, Time Magazine
Top Ten Comic of the Year, and Amazon.com
Best Graphic Novel/Comic of the year.
Yang's other works have been recognized as well. In 2009, Yang was
awarded another Eisner Award for best short story for his collaborative
work The Eternal Smile
which he wrote and Derek Kirk Kim
Yang was nominated for Eisner Awards for both Prime Baby
and his collaborative work Level Up
Yang is currently writing the Avatar: The Last Airbender
comics series for Dark Horse Comics
, the first volume of which was released in January 2012.
Yang recently finished his new graphic novel, Boxers & Saints
, which was published by First Second Books in September 2013.
Yang is an advocate of the use of comics and graphic novels as
educational tools in the classroom. He wrote his final project for his
master's degree at California State, Hayward over this topic in which he
emphasizes the educational strength of comics claiming they are
motivating, visual, permanent, intermediary, and popular.
As a part of his Master's project, Yang created an online comic called Factoring with Mr. Yang & Mosley the Alien
as an engaging method of teaching math. This idea came from a time
where Yang was substitute teaching a math class at Bishop O'Dowd. Due to
the position of Director of Information Services
he held at the school, he was forced to miss classes and used the
comics to help the students learn the concepts in his absence. The
positive feedback he received from the students inspired him to use the
idea for his Master's project.
Yang's acclaimed graphic novel, American Born Chinese
, has been recommended to teachers for classroom instruction.
American Born Chinese
American Born Chinese
was released by First Second Books in
2006. The first story line is Yang's contemporary rendition of the
Chinese story of a Kung Fu practicing Monkey King of Flower-Fruit
Mountain, The Monkey King
, and his journey to the west. Yang, a Catholic
replaces the Buddha
from the original story, with a Christian influenced deity Tze-Yo-Tzuh.
Throughout the story, The Monkey King is unhappy with himself as a
monkey and continually tries to become another version of himself.
Tze-Yo-Tzuh tries to help The Monkey King accept himself. When The
Monkey King refuses Tze-Yo-Tzuh imprisons him under a mountain of rocks.
A monk named Jiang Tao is sent by Tze-Yo-Tzuh on a mission to carry
three packages to the west and is to pick up his disciple, The Monkey
King, on his journey. He finds The Monkey King imprisoned under the
mountain of rocks and frees him from the mountain by convincing The
Monkey King to return to his true form.
The second story line follows an American-born Chinese boy, named Jin
Wang, who moves to a suburb where he goes to school with only two other
Asian students. Jin struggles with his Chinese identity and begins to
reject it when he meets a new Asian student, Wei-Chen. Wei-Chen is a
immigrant who just came to the United States and he and Jin become best
friends. Jin begins dating a Caucasian girl in his class and her friend
Gregg asks Jin not to ask her out any more because he felt she needed
to protect her image. Jin perceives this as a personal attack on him
because of his race and becomes angry. Angry and confused, he kisses
Wei-Chen's girlfriend and they have a falling out. That evening, Jin
recalls the fight he had with Wei-Chen and convinces himself that
Wei-Chen deserved it. That night, Jin has a dream about a Chinese woman
he had met when he was younger. She had told him that he could be
anything he wanted if he was willing to give up his soul. He awakens the
next morning and looks in the mirror to see himself as a Caucasian boy
and he changes his name to Danny.
The third story line follows Danny, the "all-American boy"
and his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee, who comes to visit every year. Danny
is embarrassed by his cousin Chin-Kee, who is depicted in traditional
queue and buck-teeth, because he is Chinese. At the end of this
narrative, we learn that Chin-Kee is really The Monkey King. The Monkey
King then proceeds to tell Danny that his son Wei-Chen was sent to live
among the mortals without sin for forty years but that he had changed
and no longer wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father. That is
when The Monkey King decided to visit Danny. Danny realized that the
reason Wei-Chen fell into sin was his fault and as he realizes this, he
turns back into Jin Wang. The Monkey King gives Jin Wang a card with an
address on it and Jin Wang goes there to make amends with Wei-Chen.
Although Yang draws from experiences in his past to write these narratives, they are not autobiographical.
- The Rosary Comic Book (Pauline Books & Media, 2003) A graphic novel telling of the stories behind the mysteries of the Catholic rosary in which each panel represents one of the prayers.
- Animal Crackers (SLG Publishing, 2004) Featuring Gordon Yamamoto and the king of the Geeks and Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order.
- American Born Chinese (First Second Books, 2006) 
- The Eternal Smile (First Second Books, 2009). A collection of three short stories.
- Prime Baby (First Second Books, 2010) Thaddeus is upset to
discover that not only is his baby sister (who he hates) is an
inter-dimensional conduit for peace-loving aliens, but that nobody will
- Level Up
(First Second Books, 2011) Dennis Ouyang's parents expect him to go to
medical school instead of becoming a professional gamer. He finds
himself trapped on the path to medical school by four angels and must
find a way out.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise (Dark Horse Comics, 2012) 
- Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search (Dark Horse Comics, 2013) 
- Boxers and Saints (First Second Books, 2013), Two novels set during the Boxer Uprising, Boxers
describes the "bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers" who "roam
the countryside bullying and robbing Chinese peasants." Little Bao,
"harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods," recruits an army of
Boxers, "commoners trained in kung fu who fight to free China from
'foreign devils.'"  Saints
concerns an unwanted and unwelcome fourth daughter, Four-Girl, who
finally finds friendship in Christianity. But bands of young men roam
the countryside, murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. She
will have to decide whether she is willing to die for her faith. Boxers and Saints is the winner of the 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature and is nominated for the 2014 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel.
- The Shadow Hero, illustrated by Sonny Liew (First Second Books, 2014) An origin story for the obscure Golden-Age comic book hero The Green Turtle, who is thought to be the first Asian-American superhero.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rift (Dark Horse Comics, 2014) 
- Superman Vol.3 #41-ongoing, illustrated by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson (DC Comics, 2015-...)
- Secret Coders illustrated by Mike Holmes First Second 2015
- Up All Night (Harper Collins) – 14-page short story
- Secret Identities (The New Press) – 12-page short story
- Strange Tales II (Marvel Comics) – 4-page short story
- Nursery Rhyme Comics (First Second Books) – 1-page short story
- Shattered (The New Press) – 4-page short story
- Open Mic (Candlewick) – 4-page short story
- Comic Squad: Recess! (Random House) – 12-page short story