WHAT: “Marvels and Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986” and “Alt. Comics: Asian American Artists Reinvent the Comic Book”
WHEN: September 27 – February 24, 2013
WHERE: Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)
WHY THIS SHOW MATTERS: In their long history, comic books have used stereotypes and exaggerated features — for better or (often) for worse — to distinguish their fictionalized characters from real life. Now, concurrent exhibitions at the Museum of Chinese in America, “Marvels and Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986” and “Alt. Comics: Asian American Artists Reinvent the Comic Book,” are reviving the dark history of politically incorrect representation to highlight the its effects on history.
The collection of work (considered the largest of its kind) that makes up “Marvels and Monsters” was recently donated to the NYU Fales Library & Special Collection and includes issues from the ‘40s to the ‘80s, collected by sci-fi author and cultural scholar William F. Wu. Comics like “Yellow Claw” paint a mystical, super genius criminal of Asian decent as both alien in appearance and craving world domination, allying with Nazi criminals to defeat the West. Fraught with racial discrimination, the artworks in the exhibition reflect the backwards social climate of the decades in which they were created. In addition to life-size cutout reproductions of famous characters, an installation called “Shades of Yellow” positions Pantone TM colors with the skin tones used in illustrations.
Complimentary to the controversial depictions of characters past are those created by contemporary artists in “Alt. Comics.” Gene Luen Yang’s “American Born Chinese” tackles subjects such as immigrant assimilation, racial stereotypes, and issues of identity through its text and imagery, confronting everything head on. The show’s trajectory, going from past to present, yields both a critique of American culture and a snapshot of the evolution of the comic book as a medium.
To see work from the exhibitions click the slide show.