Cartoonist and Teacher
If Gene ruled the world, he would…to be honest he doesn’t think he has the necessary skill set to rule the world.
A 2016 MacArthur fellow, Gene Luen Yang began drawing comics in the fifth grade. His rise to prominence as a cartoonist began in 1997, when he received the Xeric grant for self-publishing his graphic novel “Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks”, later picked up by independent comics publisher Slave Labor. During this time, Yang received his Master’s degree in education from Cal State Hayward and began teaching at a San Francisco school.
“American Born Chinese”, Yang’s first graphic novel with the then-fledgling publisher FirstSecond, put him on the map. The story of a teenager struggling with his identity, it was the first-ever graphic novel to be named a finalist for the National Book Award, causing a firestorm of controversy over whether graphic novels were eligible for the award. The book went on to win the Printz Award, the ALA’s yearly award for the best published young adult book. To date, it has sold over 500,000 copies, and is taught in high schools and colleges around the country. Yang’s next solo graphic novel, the groundbreaking diptych Boxers & Saints, about China’s Boxer Rebellion told from two different perspectives, was a National Book Award finalist, and received the Printz Honor and the LA Times Book Prize for Young Readers.
Currently, Gene is writing the graphic novel series Secret Coders, illustrated by Mike Holmes. Taking Yang’s background in education and computer science, the middle-grade series uses his comics storytelling to teach kids about computer programming. Gene is a strong proponent of using comics in education, and of representing diversity through the comics medium, which he does in all of his comics work. After speaking out against the lack of diversity in the casting of the Avatar: The Last Airbender movie, Yang was asked to write the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics, which he does to this day, as well as co-writing Superman for DC Comics. Yang is also a founding member of the Bay Area’s Art Night Crew, a local group of cartoonists.
Gene’s favorite TED talk is Scott McCloud, “The Visual Magic of Comics”.
Why Comics Belong in the Classroom
In this humorous talk, former teacher and graphic novelist Gene Yang shares some unexpected insights and urges educators to bring comic books into the classroom.