Gene Yang '03 (Image: loc.gov)
Gene Luen Yang '03 began drawing comic books in the fifth grade. In 1997, he received the Xeric Grant for Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks, his first comics work as an adult. He has since written and drawn a number of titles, including Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order and The Rosary Comic Book. His 2006 book American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award. It also won an Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album - New. A short story from The Eternal Smile, his 2009 collaboration with Derek Kirk Kim, won an Eisner Award as well. Recently, his graphic novella Prime Baby was also nominated for an Eisner Award.
Yang, writer-artist of National Book Award finalist American Born Chinese, writes this magical-realist tale of Asian-American parental pressure and video-game escape titled Level Up , leaving the art to up-and-comer Pham. Dennis Ouyang struggles with the burden of his dead father's orders that he study hard, go to med school, and become a gastroenterologist. When Dennis, inspired by four mysterious angels, gives up his passion—video games—and buckles down to his studies, he befriends three fellow second-generation students and begins to make a place in med school. But a crisis in confidence reveals the true nature of his guardian angels, and the real source of his father's dreams for his only son. Pham's watercolors can be charming, but his primarily gray and brown palette gets visually monotonous; thankfully, his work increases in energy as the plot does. Yang's familiar story of immigrant striving and filial rebellion gets just enough juice from its connection to arcade culture. A bravura storytelling and visual twist near the end brings together the plot's several strands. A minor work from Yang, but a welcome introduction to Pham, whose own upcoming First Second graphic novel, Sumo, looks promising.
In addition to cartooning, Yang teaches Computer Science at a Roman Catholic high school. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and children. He was also featured in the 2009 spring/summer issue of Cal State East Bay magazine. Read issue (pdf).