Continued from Wizard World Chicago: Part 4 of 5
Mike Choi was named by Wizard Magazine as on f the “10 Hot Artists” of 2007. He got his break into comic books in 2003 with Top Cow comics, and achieved fame by becoming the illustrator of Witchblade. Choi then penciled a 6 issue miniseries for Marvel Comics title, X-23: Target X. It was recently announced that Choi signed an exclusive deal with Marvel Comics to pencil X-Force.
II stix: When did you get interested in comic books?
Mike Choi: I discovered comics when I was a senior at UT-Austin. I had no aspirations whatsoever, but I really got into comic books. I think anyone who reads comic books, like anyone who watches football or basketball, they get the ball out. So I just tried doing it. I just started to doodle and that was pretty much it. I didn’t really start drawing to get better until I quit my job at IBM. I tried out for the marketing intern program at Top Cow, which is how I started there. Two years later I was on Witchblade and then another two years later I’m on at Marvel.
II stix: How did you parents take the shift from IBM to comic books?
Mike Choi: I didn’t fucking tell them! Even now, where ever I go, if there are a long line of people waiting, I make them hold up this sign that says “Hello, Mrs. Choi.” My parents are really supportive now, but it took a long time for me to tell them that it wasn’t a temporary thing. You know, no matter how many times you hear about a situation like that, where the kid wants to do something different, the parents support their kids. Even with white people. Asians, they’ll kill you first, but they’ll still love you. What makes it easier is seeing my name in magazines and stuff, it makes them feel good. The thing that my moms says, what makes her feel really proud is that my sister, who is an editor-in-chief of a magazine, we really Google well. But I don’t know if other Korean parents know what she’s talking about.
II stix: Based on your experience, how has the role of Asian-American in comics books has changed?
Mike Choi: You know, I used to think that in mass media, there couldn’t be a minority unless they served a specific purpose. If they brought in a Korean, he had to be there for a reason, like a dry cleaner. But now, the new Atom, Ryan Choi, is Asian. The change has been gradual, but I like it. Just so it isn’t like, “WOW! Our first Asian-American superhero!!” It’s just kind of happening and that way people won’t make a gimmick out of it.
That was pretty much my Wizard World experience. The event definitely provided comic book fans in the region a singular place to go to interact with the people create their daily escapes. There were panels there addressing important, upcoming plotlines in comics, exchange sessions with industry representatives and to give fans a chance to see in front of their lives what goes through a creative mind in real time.
I did not really partake in those. Mostly because it was so much to take in at once. I did however leave with a new passion for comic books, there are definitely some things I want to read about, keep track of, and explore in further depth. However, I did get a unique look into the Asian-American side of comic books, I can always catch up on a storyline, it’s rare to have an opportunity to examine part of our diaspora in action.
Thank you very much to all of my interviewees, please go their websites, read their work, drop them a line and tell them you read about them on IIStix.
Thank you to Joe Reyes for the photography.
Thank you finally, to Wizard Entertainment, for providing us with the opportunity.
I haven’t read comic books since the turn of the century. Not to any great degree anyway, I’ve picked up a book here and there, bought trade paperbacks of stories I used to follow when I was younger. I’ve not made an effort to keep up with the new happenings in comic books. I have been repeatedly told that I was collecting comics during a tumultuous time in the industry, one that almost collapsed it. So I went into my interviews unprepared as to what to expect, and without doing any research on my interview subjects. In fact, I would just wandered around and interview anyone that looked Asian.
That’s why you see me asking the same questions to each interviewee. I needed to find out, from their own mouths, what their background was and what their experience is. I hoped I was a change from the questions they may receive about the comics industry or their own work. I think if had done my due diligence and background work, I would have asked leading questions so I could hear what I wanted them to say. Some of the answers were what I might have expected, but for the most part, I was genuinely surprised after each interview. Every one of them brought something different, something that expands the notion of what being an Asian-American is, or how our evolving history will be defined. I conducted my own research on my interview subjects after I had transcribed and gone over what we had talked about. What I learned helped flesh out their answers to a great deal, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.
The weekend made me re-evaluate my concept of Asian-America. It made me think that maybe Asian-America does harm to itself, unintentionally. We celebrate our achievements as a whole, more or less by using the yardstick of the “model minority” myth. We see Asian-American doctors, lawyers, engineers, internet captains, and we lift them up as symbols of our progress in the United States or Canada, but to what end? That isn’t breaking the “model minority” mold at all, and I feel it only serves as a tool to be used by people to restrict immigration, or the redress of other issues that have come as result of the institutionalized repression of other groups in this country. So when faced with Asian-Americans who are successful in an area not associated with Asian-Americans, or to see them working hard at it and carving their own paths, I am inspired. I see their progress and their struggles as more beneficial of the Asian-American experience than a doctor, lawyer or engineer.
Whether it is a struggle against filial piety, objectification or ethnic stereotypes, everything the interviewees has gone through, and what they continue to do is impressive, something to be admired, and something to pass on. Thank you to all of those people in this article who gave me their time, and answered my questions. I came into this weekend thinking that I would be writing a light piece on a comic book convention, not expecting to see courage, perseverance and people I would mention if anyone asked me what Asian-Americans have done lately.
Twelve years ago, in the brutally humid, oppressive Korean summer of 1996, as I made my hike, for the umpteenth time, up that damned hill to Muak Dormitory at Yonsei University. I never thought that skinny, spectacled kid from Texas, with the comically aggressive posture that I had met there, would be someone I would run into randomly at a comic book convention. Good times, good times.