Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

WIN_20150608_183853I’d love to hear from someone who knows more about graphic novels than I do and from someone who knows more about China’s Boxer Rebellion.  Because I was frustrated by both issues in Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers.

I found the artwork and the writing to be overly simplistic, wooden.  The color palate is drab, browns and tans. The illustrations are very simple, far from the detailed scenes I remember from the comic books I used to read.  The text is  mostly dialogue with little narration, which is fine, but it’s so stilted that it begins to sound frankly amateurish pretty quickly.

But, like I said, I don’t have much to go on since I read only one or two graphic novels a year, if that.  I do recall that I had neither issue with Gene Luen Yang’s earlier novel American Born Chinese.  I was quickly caught up in the multiple story lines so I didn’t notice any issues with the writing or the artwork.  I recall enjoying the artwork in American Born Chinese.

As for my second big issue with Boxers…..

Boxers is the story of Little Bao, a young man who is caught up in the Boxer Rebellion against the foreign occupiers of China in 1898.  Little Bao receives visits and help from China’s gods, the rulers of past dynasties mainly from Qin Shi Huang the first emperor of a unified China. Qin Shi Huang was not a nice man to say the least, nor does Gene Luen Yang portray him so.  Qin Shi Huang united China by force, destroying entire kingdoms of people when needed, ruling with an iron fist that probably left over a million people dead through forced labor.  So it’s hard for me to accept him as an avenging hero.  It irritated me when he went on about foreign invaders when he basically was one himself.

Late in the book Little Boa takes part in an attack on a city  controlled by foreigners.  During the attack his group finds a church where a large number of women and children, Christians all, have taken refuge.  He bars the doors and sets fire to the church killing everyone inside.

That’s a war crime in anyone’s book.

That a rebellion which began with fairly righteous causes ends in war crimes may be the point, it’s probably something that happened all too often throughout history, but for reasons I can’t fully explain, it troubled me in Boxers.  There’s a similar scene in Bernhard Schlink’s book The Reader which was where I lost all sympathy for the book’s “misunderstood Nazi” character.  I guess I have certain lines the narrative dare not cross.  I’m not a fan of The Reader either.

So I confess that I was losing patience with the story by the end of the book and that I was not at all sad to see the main character come to a bad end.

But, I don’t really know enough about the Boxer Rebellion to judge.  However, after reading Gene Luen Yang’s Boxer, I am interested and I am planning on looking for a book about the Boxer Rebellion for my summer reading.  It’s a very interesting story.

I hope to have my review of Saints, Gene Luen Yang’s companion book to Boxers up sometime tomorrow.