By Karin Chan
Author Sarah Kuhn’s latest book, Heroine Complex, features two Asian American superheroines who defeat demonic cupcakes and bring wrongdoers to justice in San Francisco. The first book in this trilogy was released this month and explores the dynamics of personal assistant Evie Tanaka and superheroine boss Aveda Jupiter.
Kuhn spoke with AsAmNews about why it is important to depict “Asian girls having fun” in fiction, such as childhood friends and crime-fighting duo Evie and Aveda.
Kuhn, who is half-Japanese, defeated some of her own demons to overcome the pressure she felt to write characters that represented Asian Americans in comics.
She will be featured in some panels at Comic Con, which runs July 21-24 in San Diego. She will be stopping in other cities such as New York City and Salt Lake City this summer and fall.
You’ve written on Angry Asian Man that your book is about “Asian Girls Having Fun.” What does that mean to you?
That means they are allowed to do things that protagonists are allowed to do. I felt like a lot of stories about women of color, in those stories, we do tend to be beat down and it’s usually not a super fun time. It’s important to show that Asian American women are worthy of love. They are worthy of being centered and get to do all the same things that white protagonists do.
What do you and your self-described Asian geek girl gang do for fun?
We do things like see Star Wars: The Force Awakens a million times. We get together and shop a lot for geeky fashion. Sometimes we do things like podcast together. My friend Jenn actually made cupcakes for my launch party. There is a scene with demonic cupcakes and I was dying to see what she would come up with. She also did these cupcakes that were tiny bowls of lucky charms and a frosting that simulated the milk, and said “Heroine Complex” on the handle.
What is the significance of Lucky Charms in the story?
There is something that happened in Evie’s life that had to do with her destructive power that made her realize she wanted control in her life. She starts eating Lucky Charms all her meals to find control.
How does your hapa identity relate to the stories you write?
The main character Evie is hapa, and has my racial identity—she is half Japanese. It comes in the little ways that your identity influences any experience. So growing up, I ate a lot of food that was the ideal “Asian American” food—like a teriyaki hot dog. It’s all very mixed up with different cultures together.
Part of the Japanese side of my family is based in Hawai’i. One of her childhood favorites foods is spam musubi. Spam musubi is one of those foods that is kind of influenced by several different cultures. It’s a classic food for Hawai’i and a lot of Asian Americans.
What are “rep sweats,” and how did you reconcile with them? (via The Toast)
You don’t know what that representation is going to be. It’s very nerve wracking since there aren’t a ton of Asian American properties. I had rep sweats from the creator side. There aren’t many Asian American superheroine starring properties. Other Asian American readers would get excited. I would be excited but still get that sick throw-up feeling because what if I didn’t give them the representation they wanted.
It’s OK to have “rep sweats.” You can’t let them consume you. It’s OK to let your work matter and think about the representation you’re putting out there.
Tell us about the “Difficult Female Friendship” you created for characters Evie Tanaka and superheroine boss Aveda Jupiter (Annie Chang). (via Mary Sue article)
The premise of the book is that Evie is a personal assistant. They have a Devil Wears Prada thing going on. They develop a symbiotic relationship. They are childhood friends. If you don’t work on your friendship, then it can become very unhealthy. They are stuck in the roles they have been in since childhood. Aveda is diva-ish and overpowers her a lot.
Evie has the stronger power, but her personality isn’t what you’d think of as a classic badass superheroine. How does someone grow into that power and use it for good?
What is special about the cover art?
It’s by an artist named Jason Chan. He’s done a lot of book covers. He’s an amazing artist. What I love about it is—he actually wanted to paint the demonic cupcakes scene. It’s exciting and comic-booky. It’s a cover with two Asian American women and they look different from each other. They look how they are described in the book and their personalities show through. It’s a perfect representation of what is inside.
Heroine Complex is the first book in a series. What do you hope to accomplish in the next few installments?
The second book is in the perspective of Aveda, who is the diva boss in the first book. The third book has a different perspective. I really like romance novels. Every book has a new arc, protagonist and couple. I want to explore different perspectives of Asian American women that exist in this world.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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