Notwithstanding 2003’s Ang Lee-directed Hulk and the upcoming Aquaman to be directed by James Wan, Marvel and DC films have failed to deliver when it comes to Asian representation. In a recent study, it was found that only 3.2 per cent of “popular movies released [in the US] from 2007 to 2017” were directed by people of Asian heritage.
Chinese-Canadian comic book artist Craig Yeung hopes to change this industry-wide under-representation one (comic book) issue at a time.
An experienced creative artist who has worked on various Marvel properties such as X-Men: Legacy and The Mighty Avengers, Yeung thinks that a more diverse voice is needed in the comic book industry. While he says there has been an increase in diversity in terms of creators, he believes there is still a long way to go in regards to the portrayal of Asian and Asian-American characters in comics, television and film. “The classic characters are often conceived as stereotypical representations [with] kung fu, yakuza [or] triad origins,” he says.
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Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Yeung grew up speaking Cantonese at home with his family. His first memory of seeing a comic book was in 1983 when he was eight years old. A classmate had brought in some comics, including an issue of Marvel’s Alpha Flight #1. From that point, he was hooked.
“When I was younger, Spider-Man and X-Men spoke to me the strongest,” Craig says. “Spider-Man, because he would be able to overcome seemingly overwhelming obstacles – both as Spider-Man and as Peter Parker. X-Men, because they were different and fought for equality and peace. While Spider-Man’s theme is universal, the X-Men’s situation struck a chord [with me] living as a minority in North America.”
After graduating from secondary school, Craig attended the Ontario College of Art and Design. However, that programme, he says, was “more devoted to editorial illustration” than comic book art. It was through a group of friends that he first learned to ink – the process of adding depth and shading with either a pen or a brush to the initial pencil sketch.
Yeung slowly built up a strong portfolio, and is now best known for his extensive work on Marvel’s Runaways – a comic that has been made into a TV series. “Runaways was a joy to work on and seeing it on screen is really something,” says Yeung. “They’ve kept true to the source material as well as dropping a tonne of Easter eggs. The showrunners are true fans of the series and have managed to flesh out the characters even more – especially [in regards to] the parents and their intentions.”
But Yeung also actively seeks out collaborations whenever he can, hoping to introduce Chinese culture to a wider audience.
“A couple of years ago I had a chance to work on a book for the Baltimore Museum of Art called The Precious Scroll of Incense Mountain ... It’s a condensed story of Guanyin [the Goddess of Mercy in Chinese folk religions] and I was given the opportunity to draw her story in an American comic format.”
When asked what advice he would give to kids interested in the comics and illustration field, it’s to never stop drawing and absorbing what’s around you – be it from art or real life. And, says Yeung, “if there’s something you don’t know how to draw, reference it. It’s better to learn how to draw it properly rather than fudge it.”
With more and more minorities among creative professionals working behind the scenes to promote equal representation in the arts, it’s just a matter of time before we see a mainstream superhero we can all get behind.