The Good Asian was a comic that I had heard positive things about since its initial release; however, it was a comic that I knew nothing about. Therefore, I picked up its first trade, which encompasses issues one through four, not knowing what to expect from a comic with such an unusual and, frankly, slightly uncomfortable title. What I discovered was a gripping tale exposing a rarely discussed time in American history told in a deeply authentic noir tone.
Taking place in 1936’s San Francisco, The Good Asian shines a light on a time period that most modern Americans either aren’t aware of or would rather not think about, but which sadly casts some reflection on current day events. The beginning of the comic opens with a history lesson, which tells readers about the 1882 ban that the U.S. passed on Chinese immigrants, blaming them for the 1874 depression because the immigrants were willing to work for undesirable wages, which Americans believed drove down wages for everyone. In 1924, the ban expanded to include all Asians and Arabs. By 1936, the U.S.’s view of Asian immigrants hadn’t improved any, and any immigrants hoping to enter the country had to first pass through the Immigration Station on Angel Island, the second largest island in the San Francisco Bay. Here, Chinese immigrants were separated from other racial groups and were detained in sub-par conditions as they went through a series of examinations and interrogations, a process which could sometimes take years. If they were eventually allowed off of Angel Island, relations between white Americans and Chinese were far from civil, with race-related tensions a constant issue and serving as a palpable backdrop to The Good Asian.
The comic’s tale begins on Angel Island, where Chinese-American detective Edison Hark has been detained for ten days after his arrival from Honolulu. He’s come at the behest of millionaire Frankie Carroway, a fact that gets him released from Angel Island the moment that authorities there learn of it.
Frankie is the son of sugar magnate Mason Carroway, Hark’s benefactor and the man who raised him as though he were his own son after Hark’s mother, Carroway’s Chinese maid, was murdered when he was a child. After a falling out caused Hark to voluntarily leave Carroway’s home, he all but entirely cut ties with his surrogate family until Frankie contacted him asking for his help in locating a missing Chinese girl named Ivy Chen.
A twenty-five-year-old maid at the Carroway mansion, Ivy and Carroway had supposedly developed feelings for each other, and her sudden disappearance had broken the older Carroway’s heart, throwing him into a shock-induced coma. Frankie anticipated that locating Ivy would awaken his father and, after exhausting all other resources, had reached out to his Chinese “brother”, hoping that Hark could sniff out leads that the American (i.e. white) Pinkertons had been unable to.
And so, Hark descends into this powder keg of race relations, where even the fact that he’s a detective is considered controversial by whites and Chinese alike, to help a family that’s rife with secrets of its own. It seems Hark can’t trust anyone as he chases down schemes within schemes in the classic noir detective style that writer Pornsak Pichetshote capitalizes on. Artist Alexandre Tefenkgi and colorist Lee Loughridge work together expertly to show the reader what ever-observant Hark is seeing with his trained eye and to set the tone in dark, monochrome colors intermixed with splashes of brightness that set the scene perfectly. Somehow, The Good Asian manages to feel both fresh and classic at the same time.
If you haven’t picked up this comic yet, I urge you to go out and get the trade now. There’s so many different levels of intrigue and conflict in this tale that even this already too long blog can’t properly convey it all.