Home News Awards Larry Hama to receive inaugural Kiyama Award

Larry Hama to receive inaugural Kiyama Award


If you ask us, there is not a person more deserving of an award than Larry Hama. Also, dig into the press release for a bold historical claim.

The organizers of the First Annual Asian American ComiCon (AACC), a celebration of the unique contemporary role and historical legacy of Asians and Asian Americans in the world of graphic fiction, have announced the presentation of the Henry Y. Kiyama Award to comics pioneer Larry Hama at the event, to be held on Saturday, July 11, 2009 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Museum of Chinese in America (215 Centre Street in New York).

“We want this annual award to recognize the contribution of Asian and Asian Americans to U.S. comic book culture,” says Jeff Yang, co-chair of the event and editor-in-chief of the graphic novel collection Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology. “No one better exemplifies that contribution than Henry Kiyama, whose career represented the convergence of two worlds and industries, and whose work pointed the way to the future of graphic storytelling.”

Kiyama published his breakthrough book The Four Immigrants in 1931. A poignant collection of cartoon stories about life as a Japanese student expatriate in early 20th century San Francisco, it explores the issues these early immigrants faced in a world whose language, culture and traditions were new, strange and confusing. Originally intended for newspaper serialization, Kiyama’s stories were never published in that form; instead, they were ultimately released as a single book-length collection. This publication format, along with the fact that the stories in Four Immigrants featured a group of semiautobiographical characters (based on Kiyama and his friends) who grew, evolved and contended with real historical issues and events, has led some to advocate that it be recognized as the first original graphic novel published in America (arriving a decade before Virginia Lee Burton’s Calico the Wonder Horse in 1941 and nearly two decades before Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller’s It Rhymes with Lust in 1950). Since 1999, Kiyama’s landmark book has been made available by Berkeley, CA–based Stone Bridge Press.

Tickets for the nonprofit Asian American ComiCon are $15 for students, $25 for adults (18 and older), and $75 for a special VIP Pass, entitling the bearer to priority reserved seating at all panels and workshops, a complimentary Asian American graphic novel, signed by its creators, and an original sketch from one of the artists participating in the event’s Artists Alley. Registration will be limited, and is available in advance through the following link: https://www.nycharities.org/event/event.asp?CE_ID=4187  Note: All passes may sell out before the day of the event.

  1. An excellent book.

    “Calico” appears to be a picture book (words below the illustrations).

    Lynd Ward published “Gods’ Man”, a wordless woodcut novel, in 1929.

    My opinion, anything published as an original work before “Contract With God” is worthy of notice.

  2. The claim that Kiyama’s book is the first original graphic novel is a stretch, since Kiyama’s intent was to serialize the contents. Given that intent, the differences between Kiyama’s book and Toffler’s 1842 book, THE ADVENTURES OF OBADIAH OLDBUCK, seem to be trivial.


  3. RE: Synsidar

    Obviously I’m biased, as one of the organizers of the Asian American ComiCon (http://www.aacomicon.com), but one thing that’s compelling about translator Fred Schodt’s argument in favor of Kiyama is that the characters in the book have a definitive and rather sophisticated narrative; even though parts of it has the beats of a gag comic, the characters encounter and react to real-life events, grow and change, and have actual plot arcs–two of the four immigrants end up returning to Japan, frustrated by the restrictive government policies of the era.

    Schodt notes: “Its visual style resembles that of U.S. gag newspaper strips popular in the early twentieth century, but its content– a serious story of an autobiographical nature, using apparently ‘real’ characters, who mature and develop over time– is closer to a modern ‘graphic novel’ than it is to early comic strips or comic books.”

    “Obadiah Oldbuck” doesn’t strike me as having the same elements–it’s graphic, and bound as a book, but is it legitimately a “novel”?

    A mostly academic debate, certainly, but still sort of fun :)


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