Controversy sparked on social media over the weekend after Filipino American comic creator Joshua Luna took to Twitter on Friday to talk about his new graphic novel, AMERICANIZASIAN. At the start of his Twitter thread, he writes, “For #APAHM I’d hoped to announce the release date of AMERICANIZASIAN, a book collecting my online comic strips about Filipino American & Asian American identity & experiences.” Then, he adds, “but since my publisher @ImageComics doesn’t seem comfortable publishing it, I need your help.”
Thread: For #APAHM I'd hoped to announce the release date of AMERICANIZASIAN, a book collecting my online comic strips about Filipino American & Asian American identity & experiences, but since my publisher @ImageComics doesn't seem comfortable publishing it, I need your help. 1/ pic.twitter.com/OWh8jyRbY4
— Joshua Luna (@Joshua_Luna) May 31, 2019
Luna goes onto describe the process of pitching this graphic novel to Image Comics, where he has published several graphic novels including The Sword, Girls and Ultra. According to his tweets, when he initially pitched AMERICANIZASIAN in April, a partner at Image said it was too negative and that it wouldn’t sell if no one could relate to it. Luna says this partner, a white man, asked at least one Asian-American staff member at the publisher to back up his claims; eventually, the book was “begrudgingly” greenlit. Then Luna submitted the cover, and he was told it couldn’t be used to legal concerns over his riffs on copyrighted characters.
From there, Luna says, he attempted to seek feedback for changes to make the book work for publication, only to be rebuffed by the publisher and their legal counsel. Given Image’s controversial history of defending offensive material from its creators, Luna says the publisher is discriminating against him and his work.
Yet when a marginalized person speaks truth to power, speaks about the harm of anti-Asian narratives, it's condemned as unpublishable for being "angry" & "negative?" Suddenly Image's credo of publishing comics "no other publisher would dare take a risk on" no longer applies? 12/
— Joshua Luna (@Joshua_Luna) May 31, 2019
Since Friday, Luna’s thread has sparked conversation throughout the industry. Former Image publisher Erik Larsen tweeted, “The only partner involved with approving Image central books is Eric Stephenson and crying racism and taking to twitter is a classless move and absolutely unfounded.”
When reached via e-mail by The Beat, a spokesperson for Image Comics said the publisher has no comment on Luna’s claims. (However, Image had earlier submitted and then withdrawn a response to other media outlets.)
In addition to reaching out to Image Comics for comment, The Beat reached out to Luna via e-mail to discuss AMERICANIZASIAN, his tweets, why he opened up about the situation on Twitter, and how he plans to move forward.
Samantha Puc: Can you describe the content of AMERICANIZASIAN?
Joshua Luna: AMERICANIZASIAN is an original graphic novel that collects my online comic strips exploring Filipino American and Asian American identity through fictional and non-fictional situations based on my observations, struggles, and experiences, particularly from my point of view as a comic creator. The book also includes new, never-before-seen content that tie all the strips into an overall narrative, documenting my journey of self-actualization and self-love as I learn to dissect and embrace my Filipino/Asian identity after a lifetime of being taught to do the opposite.
Puc: Do you think the content of this book differs from other politically-minded comics that hit shelves lately?
Luna: From what I’ve seen, my book is a little unusual because it blends the genres of autobiographical memoir, political cartoons, and comic books. Each strip tackles a complex and difficult topic about the Asian American experience and condenses it onto a single page, and I can’t say I’ve seen that done before.
What’s also unusual is my audience. Since my background is in the comic book world, these strips were originally geared toward comic book readers. But over time, I’ve been surprised to be approached by so many educators who’ve told me they share my comics with their students and greatly enjoy the engaging discussions that result. So I think AMERICANIZASIAN can act as a bridge between the comic book and academic world, which is exciting. It’s like halo-halo—many disparate layers of ingredients blended together into one delicious treat.
Puc: When did you first pitch AMERICANIZASIAN to Image and what was the initial response?
Luna: I pitched AMERICANIZASIAN to an Image partner in the beginning of April, and the first response was… silence. I actually had to follow up to get an answer, and this became a reoccurring theme throughout our exchange. His answer was what I documented in the Twitter thread. As the discussion progressed, I had to repeatedly explain why this book had an audience, a story, and a positive tone and purpose. No matter what I said, it seemed the partner wanted to reject the book altogether and make me start over from scratch, but somehow make it my decision instead of his.
Puc: How was the response to this book different from the response to your previous work?
Luna: Very different, and I even said so in my conversation with the partner. Ever since I published my first book with Image, Ultra, in 2004, Image has promptly and enthusiastically greenlit my books. After Girls and The Sword, it got to a point where the partner explicitly stated that he didn’t even need to see sample pages for my pitches because I’m not new and he’s familiar with my work. When I pitched AMERICANIZASIAN, I provided samples anyway—since the content and format was different than what I had previously done—but he still needed more. Nothing I said or showed him ever seemed enough.
It’s worth noting that Ultra, whose protagonist is a Latina superheroine named Pearl Penalosa, explored the idolatry of celebrity by parodying superheroes. In 2019 this might seem blasé, but in 2004 it was borderline sacrilegious, particularly for a debut comic author. Not only did Image not push back, they loved it.
So when it comes to parodying superheroes, I guess you could say I’m just returning to my roots—only this time, with a Filipino American protagonist.
Puc: When were you told your work would be removed from digital platforms? Were you given a reason for why?
Luna: As I mentioned in my thread, two days after a heated exchange with the Image partner about AMERICANIZASIAN, I was notified that my bestselling series would be burned. Burning books is normal to reduce storage costs, but this notice was unusual in several ways. First, it was an automated email with no person attached, it was labeled “time sensitive” with burning scheduled to take place within 2 weeks, and it was set to happen whether I agreed to it or not. Also, for the first time, it said that after the books were destroyed, Image would remove the series from ComiXology, effectively ending digital sales of the series and my royalties.
When I asked Image [about it], I was told that the notice was just unfortunate timing and part of an ongoing process that had nothing to do with our separate conversation about my current project.
[Note: According to several reports, the notice Luna received was a form letter sent to several creators.]
Puc: What made you decide to open up about this on Twitter?
Luna: Being labeled as “angry” and “negative” so many times was very isolating, especially when both the cover and the book as a whole have been a source of joy and catharsis for me, and have helped me build an incredible community of supportive fans. I waited 30 years to talk about these thoughts and experiences, and it felt like I was being asked to retreat back into silence. The constant pushback over the course of two months made my world feel small.
But when I realized Image was not being forthcoming in moving my project forward (even after I promptly and thoroughly provided them a list of strips that may pose a legal problem) and the conversations were becoming increasingly contentious, I knew my career was already in jeopardy whether I stayed silent or chose to speak up. My options were dwindling.
Ultimately, I knew I couldn’t get help if I didn’t ask for it. I just had to believe that the community of people who’ve enjoyed my strips would be there for me, and they were. The outpouring of support over the past few days has been overwhelming. Image has been my home since 2004, but maybe I’d found a new kind of home without even realizing it.
Puc: What are you hoping for in a resolution to this issue?
Luna: Within hours of going public with what happened, I received an email from the partner describing my post as slander, libel and outright lying. So honestly, the first thing I’m hoping for is to not get sued for speaking truthfully about how I was mistreated.
The next thing I want is to not get blacklisted. I think comics and the media industry as a whole has been dragging its feet in acknowledging the history and severity of anti-Asian narratives and imagery, to the point where it’d rather kill the messenger than acknowledge the message.
I also don’t want to be discarded so that later on someone else who’s “less angry” gets the opportunity to tell my story, especially if that person has white heritage. That’d only add insult to injury.
Overall, what I want is what I’ve wanted from the start: searching for a home to publish AMERICANIZASIAN so that I can tell my story in my own words.
Puc: Do you have plans to publish AMERICANIZASIAN solo or through another company?
Luna: I have no firm plans yet, but I promised my fans long ago to get this book into their hands, and I’m still determined to make that happen. In the meantime, I’d really appreciate support through Patreon or donations through PayPal. I want to thank everyone who’s pledged or donated so that I can continue creating and making these comic strips. Your support means so much to me.
Puc: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Luna: It’s important to remember why these difficult conversations are so necessary. Anti-Asian content brings harm to Asian Americans in real life, such as bullying, poor mental health, and even violent domestic and foreign policy. And because positive Asian American media is so rare (especially for Southeast Asians, as East Asian representation is often the default for what little we’re given), many Asian Americans are forced to absorb this hate in silence and internalize it to the point of believing that it’s true. This leads to many Asian Americans erasing ourselves, even in our own stories, and that’s exactly what AMERICANIZASIAN seeks to examine and undo.
But I’m trying to get this book made in an industry where the first most likely Asian superhero protagonist we’ll see on the big screen is the son of one of the worst Asian caricatures in history, Fu Manchu. An industry where a white writer pretended to be Japanese for years, taking opportunities away from actual Asian writers, and was promoted to Editor-in-Chief anyway. An industry that has a deeply hurtful, deeply embedded anti-Asian problem both on the page and off.
The question is, is the industry ready to change? Or is it going to continue to silence Asians for being “angry”?
Luna’s cover for AMERICANIZASIAN is below, as well as preview pages from the collection. Luna notes that each of the strips below were completed before he pitched the book to Image Comics, and that they do not depict anyone specific.
Samantha Puc is an essayist and culture critic whose work has been featured on Bitch Media, The Mary Sue, Bustle, and elsewhere. She mostly writes intersectional pop culture analysis with a particular focus on representation of LGBTQ and fat characters in fiction. Samantha is the managing editor at The Beat, as well as the co-creator and editor-in-chief of Fatventure Mag, an outdoors zine for fat creators who are into being active, but not into toxic weight-loss culture. She lives in Montana with her partner and cats.