Single Asian Female
|Original review author:||Plarblman|
|Webcomic name:||Single Asian Female|
|Author:||Ethan Lee & Lanny Liu|
|End Date:||2008 (about the time the webcomic was taken down)|
|Genre:||Slice of Life/Political|
|Defining Flaw:||Spends less time talking about the Asian American community and more time on how evil White Men are.|
This comic is a somewhat infamous one. I say "somewhat" because, had it lasted longer and not taken down from the internet, more people would know about this obnoxious, hateful little slice of webcomic. So even though it had a pretty short run and not easily readable anymore, I thought it was worthwhile to review Single Asian Female for the sake of posterity. As far as I can tell, the comic started off in the College Newspaper circuit with good intentions, but it missed the mark pretty hard.
The comic's always sucked. But there's one strip in particular that everyone who's ever heard of this comic thinks of. I think it perfectly summarizes everything that's wrong with Single Asian Female. I'll just let it speak for itself since I'll cover it in more detail in the writing section.
Story and Plot
The comic is focused around the titular Single Asian Female, Jennie. There are a few story arcs, but overall the comic has no connective storyline. There's also a bunch of single strip stories. Instead I'll summarize a few of the different arcs presented:
This is only one strip long, and you already saw it. Need I say more?
A white person asks Jennie "what are you?" as in, "what ethnicity are you?" Despite knowing exactly what he means, Jennie toys with him before finally telling him off and then complaining about how white people try to "racialize" and interrogate them.
This might shock you, but Jennie actually does try going on a date with a white guy, much to the consternation of her traditionalist mother. Of course, once she finds out how much Rob sucks, she goes back to hating them, proving white men are inferior to Asian men indisputably.
Jennie's friend Jackie ended up marrying a white guy. At first they discuss how hard it is having to face the racial prejudice from Jackie's family, particularly towards her biracial daughter, but then veers right into how much her white husband sucks because he only married her because he's got Yellow Fever. Lucky for her though, she meets a Chinese man who's absolutely perfect.
Jennie and a friend talk about the Michael Richards racist joke. Now, despite the joke targeting black people, Jennie goes ahead and makes it about Asians; specifically, Asian women.
Jennie and friends talk about the real-life Nor Cal Rapist, who specifically targeted Asian Women. Ok, NOW we're getting somewhere close to a legitimate issue. But then Jennie calls it a Hate Crime, based on the justification that he's singling out a race and gender. Ok, I suppose (after a cursory glance at how Hate Crimes are defined) that maybe yes, this would fall under that category, but based on gender alone I don't think it'll work. After all, you don't see that many rapists also get charged with hate crimes despite specifically targeting women.
(I had to link to a youtube video because I couldn't find it in the archive.) This is the only comic that covers an issue unrelated to race, and they still find a way to make it about race. (By the way, I looked it up on NIMH, and it doesn't look like his claim that Asian women are the highest demographic for depression is true. Granted, this study was 6 years after the comic, but I doubt it changed much in that time. So thanks for the misinformation.)
The art is passable, but slightly boring. The anatomy and composition shows competency, but the coloring is flat and the characters are dull and lifeless. At least the color pallet matches the liveliness of the characters, as they have exactly two expressions: Angry, and Dull Surprise. It's also ironic that since the artist puts little effort into making each character look distinct, all the Asian characters really do look alike. For a comic trying to dismantle stereotypes, you'd think they'd put more effort into preventing this one.
Speaking of faces, the art has a quasi-anime look to it, especially with the way the eyes are drawn. This is more apparent in the older comics, particularly the black-and-white ones, but over time it vanishes and they look more like regular people.
This is the comic's biggest failing. From the story arcs above, I think you'll see a common thread. Most of the strips are primarily about how terrible white people are; some of them cover legitimate racial prejudice, but others are just about how they make terrible romantic partners/friends/random people on the street. Aside from that, the story arcs never have any kind of resolution, punchline, or denouement. They just simply peter out and cease to be. This is a bit frustrating since the comics never really delve into any particular issue, nor do they even attempt to resolve them. For example, in the Sellout strip, Jenny vents her frustrations on a man that I'd have to assume is a complete stranger. Not only does she not consider the possibility that he simply likes his girlfriend regardless of her race, she's also never called out on her behavior or do anything other than complain. It just goes completely nowhere. There's also the Jackie strip, where we never hear about Jackie's family ever again, so I guess for the rest of her daughter's life they're going to hate her half-breed ass. But that's ok, Jackie's got a perfect husband now, that's all that matters. It's not like her daughter's insecurities about being racially mixed or not being able to connect to her grandparents or her now-estranged father is important or anything. She'll be fine, that's what therapy is for.
Jennie has zero personality outside of hating people with low melanin levels and fantasizing about John Cho. Which I find kind of odd... this is "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle"/"MILF guy No. 2 in American Pie" John Cho we're talking about, right? I mean yeah, they guy's kind of attractive I suppose, but I would never imagine him to be the kind of person women drool over. Not to mention his most famous film roles make him appear a bit juvenile. Anyways, the only other thing we know about Jennie is that Asian American Studies is SERIOUS BUSINESS U GUIZ and that you can totally get a job with it. We're never told what kind of job, but "you can totally get a job with it like any other liberal arts degree." I guess this comic is showing it's age, since it's now common wisdom that a Liberal Arts degree will get you jack shit these days and you're better off throwing your money in the trash.
Now, I'm not suggesting that this comic shouldn't talk about heavy topics like racism; it's important that people try to openly discuss topics like this and bring to light issues so that they might be addressed and acknowledge. Comics aren't necessarily meant to be entertaining; they're just a medium, and it's up to the author how to use the medium to present their work. But you don't achieve any kind of social progress by focusing more on dehumanizing your "enemy" than working towards improving your lot in life.
Let's take the "What are You" comic, for example. Granted, it is rude and annoying for someone you barely know to walk up to you and ask your ethnicity, so there is a decent point buried in here. However, the way Jennie and her friends complain about how white people "racialize" them and that they don't need to explain themselves implies that asking about ethnicity regardless of situation is taboo. This is a poor way to handle the situation. Let's assume that the man in the comic is already friends with Jennie, and he's simply asking (in a polite and respectful manner) about her ethnicity. This wouldn't be so bad, as he's trying to make small talk and engage in discussion. After all, asking about ethnicity can be a gateway towards talking about family, favorite foods, culture, history, travel experiences, etc. So, immediately getting pissed at him for what is potentially a benign question would be detrimental to fostering any kind of understanding between them.
Even if you don't find a problem with that, you should find a problem with how the comic seems to hate racial mixing and Asians dating outside their race. If that's not blatant racism, I don't know what is. What's more is that I don't understand how all the news articles that report on it give it universal praise. Personally, I don't see Single Asian Female enjoying any popularity outside of the US simply because it reeks of First World Problems. There are token mentions to serious events such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, but in terms of the actual characters' lives, they can be summed up as "WAAAH, I had to deal with a person who mildly inconvenienced me today! And he happened to have a different skin color than me! THIS IS OPPRESSION!" Most people who have had to face real oppression, - such as... say, in China? - will not be amused.
There's a Wikipedia page on Single Asian Female, and surprisingly enough, it actually has a lot more information on the comic than I could glean from the website itself, such as the fact that Jennie's mother is a first-generation immigrant, specifically from Guangdong. I originally assumed it was written by Ethan Lee since it was first written in 2011 and only cites long-dead college newspaper articles, but after checking the article history, that doesn't seem to be the case. Still, that's some pretty hardcore dedication to digging up facts that bear no relevance to the actual comic strips. Makes you wonder why Ethan bothered to specify any of those details if they're never even mentioned.
Now, this may surprise you, but Single Asian Female, is not, in fact, written by a Single Asian Female. The author's name is Ethan Lee, and he came up with the idea for Single Asian Female back in 2003 when he attended UC Berkeley (getting his Asian American Studies degree, of course). Here's his reason for why he chose to make the protagonist a woman:
Note that there is no archived Breast Cancer strip, and he references a few other story arcs and characters that never appear in the comic. I assume that he never got around to them because he pulled his comic off the internet after the amount of backlash he received.
Ethan claims that he wanted the comic to be educational, especially for
people Asian people who never got to take an Asian American studies course. He references historical events like Chinese Exclusion Act, but assuming he would've eventually gotten to it in his comic, it would've been just as tactless as his other strips. Ethan also claims that the characters and stories are based on real life people he knows, but I would hope that those people would feel insulted for being turned into one-dimensional cyphers for his racist rants. I'm sure they would be doubly insulted if they found out how much he hates Asians for even considering talking to a white person of the opposite gender.
I tried finding more information on the guy, but he seems to have disappeared after Single Asian Female was taken down. I did manage to gleen from one comic that he plans on using his comics for lessons in his classes. Oh boy. The guy wants to be a teacher. If you see a bunch of ten-year-old Asian neo-Nazis pop up in California, you'll know where to find Ethan.
The artist is credited as Lanny Liu, but I can't find any more information than that other than her website. Her work is actually quite good nowadays, so I'm guessing back in 2006 she was just getting out of her amateur weeaboo phase.
This comic's premise would've been perfectly fine under normal circumstances; a commentary on the life of a particular ethnic minority in western society and addressing the issues therein is certainly an acceptable topic, even if it's intention is not to entertain like most webcomics. But when you're openly racist, not just to white people, but also to other Asians for daring to associate with white people, that's just petty. This comic is less about the struggles of Asian people in modern day America and more about how much white people suck. No matter what ethnicity you are, most people are going to be turned off by that kind of naked hatemongering unless they're just as hateful themselves. It also distracts from any kind of constructive actions that might actually fix any real problems you want to solve. The comic doesn't actually care that much about helping Asian Americans, it just cares about being morally superior. The fact that it never looks that deeply into real problems, while butting into other people's problems (as seen in the Michael Richards strip) shows how little the author actually cares about the suffering of others.
If Ethan Lee wanted to truly make this a comic about the Asian American Community and to educate people, he wouldn't have limited his audience to just Asian Americans. After all, if white people are the cause of all Asian people's problems, wouldn't it be helpful to educate them as well? Wouldn't directly addressing them, especially with an open hand, help change their attitudes and remove their prejudices? Wouldn't addressing Asian Americans' own prejudices, particularly to mixed race people, help as well? Wouldn't a more complete and honest look at the issues he brings up foster better discussion on race relations and work towards a better future?
But no. That's for people who aren't lazy or smug.