It’s 1936 and Chinese-Hawaiian detective Edison Hark is enduring his tenth day at Angel Island, awaiting his release. He’s traveling to San Francisco to help the police there figure out the disappearance of a maid named Ivy Chen and it takes more than a week for the Angel Island jailors to figure out Hark’s importance.
Pornsak Pichetshote’s new comic series, The Good Asian, does not center around superheroes. It is instead a detective story with all the elements of a good noir: a disappearance, death, crooked cops and romance gone wrong. Alexandre Tefenkgi’s drawings in sepia, orange, gray and black enhance the dark ambiance of the story.
The language in the comic is true to the times, and Pichetshote doesn’t shy away from using derogatory terms for Chinese in America. When the white police in Chinatown start speaking among themselves about Hark’s Chinese heritage, but still within earshot of Hark, the latter thinks to himself, “Gweilos. White folk. Makes you wonder why any Oriental bothers…”
Hark’s character was inspired by Chang Apana, a Chinese-Hawaiian detective in late 19th century and early 20th century Honolulu. Chang was also the inspiration behind the Charlie Chan novels and films. Pichetshote writes in his author’s note how the Charlie Chan character also influenced his lead in The Good Asian.
And, sure, most of those movies had Chan played by Caucasians, and, fine, by today’s standards, the stories weren’t just racist, but … kinda boring? So I have no idea why they intrigued me so much. But I’d like to think maybe it was because I saw what they had the potential to be … Asian noir. Or more specifically, Asian-American noir.
The Good Asian will be a multi-issue series, the first two to be released this spring. The comic isn’t just well-crafted, but also true to the history, featuring as it does characters that came of age in the period following the Asian immigration ban of 1924.