19th century American novels
The graphic novel, which Stanford students researched, wrote and illustrated, focuses on the life and times of a Chinese American man who dedicated much of his life to improving the lives of Chinese immigrants in 19th-century America.
By Kathleen J. Sullivan
Video by Kurt Hickman
American Heathen focuses on the life and times of Wong Chin Foo, an advocate for Chinese immigrants in 19th-century America.
At a recent book launch on campus, six young Stanford artists sat at a long table in the Terrace Room of Margaret Jacks Hall with copies of American Heathen, the graphic novel they had written and illustrated, propped up in front of them.
The event marked the highly anticipated culmination of a two-quarter English course that began in September 2014, when the students met for the first time, and finished in March 2015, when they shipped their manuscript to the publisher.
It was the first time the students had seen their 160-page book about the life and times of Wong Chin Foo (1847-1898). Wong, an engaging speaker and a passionate advocate for the oppressed, dedicated much of his life to improving the station of Chinese immigrants living in 19th-century America.
One by one, the students stood up to talk about creating American Heathen, from choosing Wong as their subject through research, thumbnail sketches, drawing, inking and coloring, "cleaning" pages of stray marks, lettering, and editing.
Laura Zalles, a junior majoring in geology, talked about the importance of creating images that accurately reflected the historical period in which Wong lived. That required a lot of research into life in the late 1800s, not just in America but also in China.
In addition to reading a biography about Wong, the students researched clothing, sailing ships, slang, organized crime rings in American "Chinatowns, " U.S. laws that denied civil rights to Chinese immigrants and civil war in South China.