The Good Asian #1 is a strong opening chapter to a 1930s noir story dealing with subjects uncomfortably familiar relevant to our modern day. Hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States is on the rise, fueled by ghastly rhetoric tying the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic to China. This spate of violence might seem unexpected to the ignorant or naive, as Asian Americans are often considered a "model minority" in the United States and are often excluded when discussing the complicated impacts of race in American society. However, the United States' immigration policy was established specifically to discriminate against those of Asian descent and Asian Americans have regularly been singled out in abhorrent federal laws and policies, the most well-known of which included the forcible displacement of US citizens of Japanese descent into internment camps. Asian Americans have always been subjected to racism in the United States—its impact on Asian American communities has simply been ignored or brushed aside in many narratives about the American experience.
The Good Asian, created by writer Pornsak Pichetshote and artist Alexandre Tefenkgi, is a stirring reminder of just some of the racism that Chinese Americans have faced throughout American history. Set in San Francisco in the 1930s, The Good Asian features Edison Hark, a Chinese-American adopted by a White family who eventually becomes a police detective in Honolulu. Despite an unspecified falling-out with his adoptive father, Hark returns home to San Francisco to investigate the disappearance of his father's would-be paramour, a Chinese-American maid.
The title of the comic refers to Hark playing the part of the "model minority," as he is seen by cops and his own family in a non-threatening, harmless manner. As the adopted son of a prominent white family, Hark is privileged in a way that most Chinese-Americans are not, even if he's subjected to many of the same racism treatments and micro-aggressions. It's a clearly uncomfortable spot for Hark to be in, and it creates a fascinating tension throughout the comic. All noir detectives have some sort of haunting past, but few possess the organically complex internal conflict that Hark has. Coupled with the very personal nature of Hark's investigation, with his adoptive father in a coma related to the disappearance and Hark noting the similarities his quarry has with his own mother, The Good Asian #1 provides readers with a compelling look into its protagonist without relying too much on internal narration or other devices typically seen in noir detective stories.
Tefenkgi's artwork is phenomenal throughout the comic, providing additional atmosphere and mood to this lurid detective tale. The comic features a handful of very interesting layout designs but doesn't use them as a crutch or a distraction. Instead, they provide foreshadowing or set the tone for scenes in a manner that readers don't often see in grounded comics like this. Lee Loughridge's coloring is a perfect complement, often using monotones and dulled colors to really establish the noir tone of this comic. The coloring choices provide a visual link to the "black and white" noir movies of old, while still enhancing the art in its own way.
The Good Asian #1 is one of the strongest debuts of 2021 so far. Not only is the comic a poignant tale on its own, its subject and protagonist are especially striking given recent events. This comic is a reminder of how brutal and racist America has been to Chinese-Americans, while also delivering a great noir mystery that could become an instant classic when completed.
Published by Image Comics
On May 5, 2021
Written by Pornsak Pichetshote
Art by Alexandre Tefenkgi
Colors by Lee Loughridge
Letters by Jeff Powell
Cover by Dave Johnson