Yorktown Hosts Gene Yang, Cartoonist Behind New Disney+ Series ‘American Born Chinese’

Yorktown Hosts Gene Yang, Cartoonist Behind New Disney+ Series American Born Chinese

From struggling self-published cartoonist to the brains behind brand new Disney+ series American Born Chinese, Gene Yang’s rise to prominence is inspiring. Our school had the privilege of hosting Yang as a guest speaker on May 4, 2023, where he talked about his life and future projects.

The son of two immigrants, Yang was exposed to different cultures from an early age. He recalls how his dad always told him classic Chinese folktales, while his mom exposed him to an assortment of books from China, which he noticed were different from American versions because of lessons focused on filial piety.

A presentation Yang did on Walt Disney in third grade sparked a fascination with Disney and animation. His obsession went as far as including a poster-sized picture of Walt Disney’s face on his wall.

Yang found joy in making comics. He and his friend Jeremy made them every day at lunch in middle school before selling them for $0.50 apiece.

In college, Yang wanted to study the arts but his father encouraged him to follow another path so instead, he majored in computer science and minored in creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley.

Still, comics were Yang’s true passion.
“If I did not sell at least one of my comics, I would die unfulfilled,” Yang said.

Yang decided to apply for the Xeric Foundation Grant so that he could get the funds to self publish his comic. When the foundation didn’t reach out to Yang, he started to save money and was able to self-publish his first comic, Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks. These comics brought more attention toward his work than he’d ever had before. The Xeric Foundation accepted his offer for a grant three years later where Yang was able to publish the second and third Gordon Yamamoto books.

Yang ended up signing a contract with First Second Publishing and was able to release his book American Born Chinese. Yang took his real life experiences and put them toward the main character of the story.

In 2012, Dark Horse Comics approached Yang and asked him to make the first five issues of the comic book ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. DC comics messaged Yang and asked him to make the first issue of ‘New Superman’, which was published in July of 2016. Three years later, Yang created a limited series adaptation of the 1946 Superman radio series. In 2020, Yang made his Marvel debut when he wrote ‘Shang-Chi’, which was then adapted into a movie.

Two years ago, Yang’s phone rang with a call from Disney: they wanted to bring American Born Chinese to the screen. The graphic novel tells the story of a Chinese teenager tasked with helping a new Chinese student. The show comes to Disney+ on May 24. Half of its cast comes from the Hong Kong market, which brings more Asian representation, something Yang has always looked to do with his work.

“The theme of American Born Chinese is about the desire to fit in … I pulled heavily from my childhood to write the story,” Yang said.

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About the Contributors
Mason Wolverton
Mason Wolverton, Copy Editor
Mason Wolverton is a junior reporter entering his second year on staff and first year as Copy Editor. Mason runs cross-country and track for our school. In his free time, he enjoys reading and hiking with his dog, Crosley.
Olivia Pang
Olivia Pang, Reporter
Olivia Pang is reporting for the first time as a sophomore. She has previously worked on the yearbook at Williamsburg Middle School. She enjoys playing soccer in her free time as well as traveling the world with her family. Olivia has been writing for many years and is looking forward to continuing for The Sentry.
Lily Dezfulian
Lily Dezfulian, Illustrator
Lily Šekarić Dezfulian is a junior entering her second year on staff. Besides playing for the Yorktown Ultimate Frisbee team, Lily rock climbs and plays volleyball and basketball outside of school. She continues her epic battle against the Montenegrin language and its seven cases. Her favorite book is I Who Have Never Known Men and she enjoys sketching strangers.

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