“The Good Asian is a story about immigration, about police brutality, about who a person wants to be or is, about the innocent and the guilty, the rich and the poor – very modern themes all wrapped up in an intriguing noir style mystery from the 1930’s. There’s a real richness to the tale precisely because of all these different themes”
by Angela Cainen
Writer: Pornsak Pichetshote
Artist: Alexandre Tefenkgi
Colourist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Jeff Powell
In these times when we are much more aware of racial inequality and the issues surrounding immigration it seems timely to have a book that tackles these issues in a historical period where they were just as timely.
The Good Asian is a story about immigration, about police brutality, about who a person wants to be or is, about the innocent and the guilty, the rich and the poor – very modern themes all wrapped up in an intriguing noir style mystery from the 1930’s. There’s a real richness to the tale precisely because of all these different themes playing out against a backdrop of San Francisco during a time where there was legislation against Chinese immigration. I had not heard of the Chinese Exclusion Act but it clearly affected the immigrant community particularly in San Francisco, famous of course for its Chinatown.
Our narrator, our focus is Edison Hawke. He’s a Chinese-American from Hawaii (bear in mind Hawaii was not a US state back in 1936). Hawke’s mother was the maid to a rich white guy who took something of a shine to her and family politics also play a part in this story. As a result Edison is not your typical Chinese immigrant. Blessed with excellent observational skills he’s a Chinese-American detective in a world that isn’t ready for it.
He’s also clearly in the mould of great detectives from Holmes to Marlowe and Charlie Chan. What’s interesting is that we don’t meet him as a great detective but in a camp held with other Chinese immigrants. He’s eventually released as he’s lucky enough to have the privilege of knowing a rich family, so he is sprung but there’s something undeniably touching about his interactions with a young boy who is trapped behind bars.
Those early moments are really emotional as we see the reality of a policy that affected generations of migrants. We see other such moments as we see the police racism and brutality against those immigrants who have been allowed in. We see it through Edison’s eyes as he is acutely aware of his position versus theirs as he forges a path not open to most of his background.
The art style really evokes the era. Noir gives a certain feel and the colouring here certainly helps. The juxtaposition of the blues, teals and blacks with the oranges, and purples gives that noir feeling without black and white. It’s a really beautifully coloured book that way. The black gives the starkness with the different colour evoking the emotion running underneath – blue, oranges, purples and pinks. Sometimes pages are solely with black and another colour and it is incredibly effective. As are the ways Edison’s observations are highlighted in a red/orange.
Of course there are pages where there is more colour but even then it’s never too much. It’s still simple and keeps the same feeling as the more simpler colouring. Visually it takes you both into the world but you are still removed from it. It is like watching a film on the big screen giving cinematic scope to what are quite small moments purely through the colouring.
The art itself also helps with that.There are bold lines drawing characters with detail. Edison has a facial scar which is always well highlighted throughout and leads to questions – how exactly did he get that scar? There’s also some really nice use of art on the panels as we see Edison homing in on details and musing on aspects of people he sees.
We also get some nice distinctions with the lettering as Edison’s thoughts are clearly differentiated between the spoken words.
Overall it’s a really well put together book. There’s a lot to dig into here. There’s the mystery of Ivy, the missing maid of Edison’s white benefactor and the reason he’s in San Francisco, but he’s also running into police corruption, immigration issues, and the darker underbelly of Chinatown. And there’s a really interesting cliffhanger as to where this might go next in the best tradition of detective mysteries.
If you like mysteries, if you like interesting detectives, and if you have even a passing interest in the various themes this book will explore I would certainly recommend The Good Asian.