Cartoonist Gene Yang is having a big year with the release of his two volume Boxers and Saints from First Second; he was also a guest at the recent San Diego Comic-Con where he talked about his work on the Avatar: The last Airbender series, and enjoyed a spotlight panel talking with fellow graphic novelist Paul Pope.
The jam-packed fan panel for Avatar: The Last Airbender on Saturday at San Diego Comic Con, featured Yang, Gurihiru Studios, which provides the artwork for comics, and several voice actors from the Avatar animated series. Yang, a National Book Award finalist for his 2007 graphic novel, American Born Chinese, told the enthusiastic audience that he was first approached to write the graphic novel series for Dark Horse after he posted a web comic about his concerns with the casting of white actors in roles written for Asian characters in M. Knight Shyamalan's live action film based on the series. (The film ended up flopping.).
The books have been a big hit for publisher Dark Horse, who confirmed to Publishers Weekly that sales, which include volumes one and two of The Promise and The Search, have exceeded 100,000 copies.
"Two volumes of The Promise made it onto The New York Times Bestseller List and we're expecting more from The Search,” says Aub Driver, Dark Horse's Publicity Coordinator. Those numbers continue to grow in both digital and print sales. The Search, which came out earlier this year, is, according to Driver, "sitting at about 45,000 copies (sold) right now.” While the publisher doesn't have numbers yet for The Search Volume 2, which was just released, pre-orders are high and Driver says that Dark Horse is, "expecting it to sell at a very similar rate."
Yang, who is a long-time fan of the show himself, felt an immediate connection to the material. When responding to an audience question about whether or not Avatar's large and loyal fan community influences his writing of the series, Yang said with a wide smile that he has learned and continues to learn a lot from fans.
On Sunday, Yang participated in a candid and thoughtful discussion with Paul Pope, whose Battling Boy is also due this fall from First Second.
Yang led the discussion between the two cartoonists, who share a mutual interest in mythological and fantastic elements in storytelling. The conversation touched on their early influences but focused mainly on their upcoming book releases.
At the panel, where attendees received a manga style sampler of Boxers and Saints and a full size poster for Battling Boy, Pope described his new character, Battling Boy, as "a new kind of Superman," adding that, "kids (today) know they're not safe so I thought it would be interesting to do something that would update (where) Peter Pan kills Captain Hook."
Yang also drew inspiration from superheroes for Boxers and Saints, which takes place during China’s historical Boxer Rebellion, an uprising against imperialist and Christian factions. "Part of what attracted me to The Boxer Rebellion is part of what attracts me to superheroes,” said Yang. He compared the Chinese teenagers who fought during the Boxer Rebellion outfitted as characters from Chinese operas to cosplayers.
Boxers and Saints is a two volume book (available for purchase as a set or separately) that will be released in September. Battling Boy comes out one month later in October.