BY MATT TUCK
Although a bit reliant on cliches, The Good Asian #1 delivers a hardboiled noir detective story from an often overlooked historical perspective, though the artwork sometimes takes away from the engaging story.
THE GOOD ASIAN #1
WRITTEN BY PORNSAK PICHETSHOTE
ART BY ALEXANDRE TEFENKGI
From the opening credits to the last page, The Good Asian #1 is a love letter to the black-and-white “gumshoe” detective movies of the 1930s and ‘40s. Although it embraces those classic movie roots, it views the culture of the time with a critical eye while clearly intending for readers to draw comparisons with modern America.
Consider The Good Asian historical fiction. Taking place in San Francisco in 1936, the center of the tale is the pressure on the protagonist during a time not unlike our own, with racial tensions mounting into violent eruptions. Think Jack Nicholson from Chinatown if he were of Asian heritage.
The hero is Edison, a San Francisco detective, working with a rather cliche veteran white cop who is violent and racist. The disdain for the Asian culture is palpable through each panel, and it creates a tense situation for our protagonist. On one hand, he is sympathetic to the plight of his native people. On the other, he has worked to prove himself among the ranks of an almost-exclusively white police force, and he is equally as violent as his cohorts. Thus, in a 1936 San Francisco that profusely distrusts the Chinese, he is seen as “the good Asian.”
Amid the comic’s social and historical commentary, a small but overall significant point comes in one of Edison’s flashbacks. We learn that, as a child, Eddy was taken in by an Irish family. The patriarch of the Carroways explains that his father became a lawyer “to prove wrong anyone thinking the Irish couldn’t respect the law.” The point here is that discrimination extended past racial prejudices at different points in history. It also helps establish that the Carroways understand Eddy’s reality because of their own history with xenophobia.
Be it a book, movie, television show, or a comic, I love when a story teaches me something new. In The Good Asian #1, Pichetshote schools the audience on the United States’ more xenophobic policies that led to the racism aimed at Asians during the comic’s setting. The writer points out that the U.S government banned Chinese immigrants in 1882 before expanding the ban to include all Asians and those of Arabic descent. “The Chinese was America’s first generation to come of age under an immigration ban,” Pichetshote writes.
The historical context sets the stage for the detective story that held my attention throughout the comic. It was well-written, and the panels progressed the action nicely for a “slow burn” type of story. Aside from the mystery, the inner conflict that Eddy faces as a Chinese man harshly enforcing the law against his own persecuted people drew me into his character.
The only thing I wasn’t overly fond of was the artwork. That’s not to say Alexandre Tefenkgi’s work was bad. On the contrary, his style fit the throwback noir aesthetic of the story. However, I felt the overall blocky figures and some of the closeups lacked details, which took me out of the storytelling for those moments.
This was an entertaining and engaging story, and the historical context added to the intrigue and emotionality of the budding mystery. If you are in the mood for a throwback story that gives you an education, make sure you give this one a try.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is also a teacher, freelance writer, comic collector, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.