While I know very little about the graphic novel world (Didn’t we used to call them comics? I kid, I kid… please direct all angry fanboy mail to my publicist), I was very excited to read about American Born Chinese.

In ABC, the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award, Gene Luen Yang tells the story of three different characters: a Chinese American boy, the Monkey King and “Chinkie” – not the Bay Area ska-punk sensation The Chinkees, but a character amalgamated from exaggerated Chinese and Asian stereotypes. It is truly disturbing to hear that some people have actually told Yang they think that the Chinkie character is “cute.”

NPR has put together a great audio slide show of selected panels from ABC, in which he talks about his background as an author and the social/historical setting of this book. Watching the slideshow of panels from ABC and hearing Yang’s narration transported me back to my days of growing up in a predominantly white school. In particular, his words about struggling with his shame over his parents’ culture struck a familiar chord with me. I’m not sure what it is, but graphic novels such as Persepolis or Maus are able to evoke emotions in a way that other media cannot.

While this book deals specifically with the Asian American experience, there is something universal in the themes of dealing with shame and discovering identity, as Yang expresses at the conclusion of his narration. You can find a longer interview with Gene Luen Yang on the Bryant Park Project here (click on the “listen now” link near the top of the page).

** Edit: Looks like NPR is on a roll here — Terry Gross interviewed Adrian Tomine on Fresh Air today about his graphic novel, Shortcomings, a story about race, identity and love. Check out the interview with Tomine here. A New York Times review from November 2007 says:

Unlike the more playful graphic novelists who influenced him, Daniel Clowes (“Ghost World,” “David Boring”) and the Hernandez brothers (“Love and Rockets”), Tomine isn’t given to flights of surrealism, rude jests or grotesque images. He is a mild observer, an invisible reporter, a scientist of the heart. His drawing style is plain and exact. The dialogue appearing inside his cartoon balloons is pitch-perfect and succinct. He’s daring in his restraint.