Jamie Noguchi’s Yellow Peril: Capitalism with a Bored Face / by David Anderson


What's this? Another Asian influenced comic? It's like a two-fer or something!

I actually was vaguely aware of Jamie Noguchi, the creator of this next comic, from Connecticon, when my sister bought a horrifyingly adorable (Horridorable?) thing called Puppy Cow, which I figured was just a piece of "LOLRANDOM" internet culture at first. I don't really know the whole story behind it but when I found out this guy also wrote a comic, I gave him a listen.

Yellow Peril is his own attempt to, in his words, "correct that great imbalance in the world of entertainment" that has led to Asian-American themed media taking up a miniscule percentage of annual media consumption by the US audience. Or, maybe global audience? Doesn't matter, I guess. It's very possible to walk into a cafe in New Delhi or Khartoum and find an American movie playing, regardless of whether it's "The Godfather" or "Debby does Dallas", but ask an American to name three Chinese or Bollywood films and you'll be lucky to even hear "Slumdog Millionaire" (and to remember that name I googled 'that film where an Indian kid won a million dollars").

"YPcomics" takes its name from an old race-baiting pamphlet, and this fact helps set the tone for the comic, which something of an office romance comedy with a mostly Asian cast. Noguchi has been making comics like this since Keenspace/Comicgenesis, so he has plenty of experience in this kind of thing, but he's still in the process of tweaking and improving his style- like any serious artist with self-respect, of course. In this way the comic is also his workpad, and has been for almost two years now. More on that later obviously. Point is, he is very up front about his aim: to bring an Asian-American perspective into online comics.

The two main characters are a couple of office friends working in the creative department of Pedanticorp, trying to make a living without killing themselves from the sheer mundaneness of a corporate culture that is run by a group of shiny white people who look pretty much the same and feign cool professionalism while bluntly copying Fortune 100 company tactics with a half-baked understanding of their purposes. Kane is a starving artist who just wants to make money creating the things in his mind, and Toshiro Mifune Bodie is an aspiring starving artist who also has accounting skills thanks to work on a business degree that he switched to Design later on. They are joined by their new manager Ally, and Kane's childhood friend Julie, who runs an Asian restaurant. The story is basically the journey of these four through city life, corporate bureaucracy and impossible deadlines, with all the madness and hilarity it entails.

The characters are all well thought out in terms of their interactions, though we don't see a lot of Julie in the beginning so it takes longer to develop her; still, I liked how they acted. In spite of some occasional stilted dialogue, they felt real, talking about all the everyday stuff we deal with. It's just regular conversation a lot of the time, and I think it feels natural because the plot basically flies kind of by the seat of its pants-I don't know if Noguchi has a storyboard, but it doesn't feel like it, and I think that's for the better. Real life isn't scripted, and neither is this. Kane seems like a self-insert of Noguchi's, but he plays it smart and uses a combination of real flaws and personal life experiences to prevent Kane from becoming a fantasy ubermensch that could ruin the story.

Well, maybe the "too dense to notice when a girl wants him" flaw comes off as a bit Mary Sue-ish (don't we all wish our worst quality involved women wanting us) but I can forgive it, it's a real situation we've probably all been in.

There's a lot of cross-cultural name drops all over the place; you'll see Spider-Man jokes and Kamen Rider references in very close proximity. He never specifies a city for this comic, but it feels like a West Coast city. The weather is always great, the subway is crowded, there's high-tech stuff, people do weird things like Bouldering; this has to be California and I am not changing my opinion on this matter, even though Jamie lives here.

Oh yeah, and if at any point in this article I might have given you the impression that Noguchi has a grudge against whites, he's a pretty cool guy to talk to in person and I basically look like a polar bear in winter. The big reason he makes his cast so diverse is because of under-representation, so you can refrain from tweeting Lou Dobbs already. He never attacks whites, but looking at those dudes in the picture above, you can't help but just shrug and go "white people".

Really, we can be incredibly boring. Just own up to it already. Get over it.

I'm probably just proving the rule by pointing this out but here in New England we still freak out and make a huge deal out of it when a gay character is inserted into any form of media, in a "wow that's so edgy and you're so brave" kind of way. Even though Glee's gay character is a stereotype, we still acted like it was a huge victory for GLAAD. Noguchi's comic won't get that kind of press since it's so small (for now WINK WINK) but I like that he just casually inserts the character into the story instead of making a huge deal out of it. It becomes important later but it's not too often that you see a piece of media actually act like it's no big deal.

If you start from beginning to end, the art varies in quality. It's just as much an experiment for him as it is an actual regular project, and he admits as much in his posts beneath the strips. Poses and faces are awkward at first, but as time goes on he seems to find his place and characters look much better later on. I mean, it starts out great--he can make great facial expressions from a profile or face-on perspective but early in the strip you can see his characters taking some odd postures when it comes to angled shots. I checked out one of his previous projects, Angry Zen Master, and the art is remarkably different.

While Sarah O'Donnell's art is wholesale manga style, Noguchi's feels a bit more like a mix of American and Asian styles. On this monochrome set you'll see  more customization in the faces than you would see in a manga, more Americanized jawlines and hair etc etc, but you'll also see emotions expressed with exclamation points and icons, action and epic poses injected into everyday conversation, that sort of thing.

At first I was skeptical about the ability of a story like this to play out in four panel strips, since four panels is better suited to a setup and punchline, but I think he manages to make it work later on in the story. In case you hadn't noticed, the rough-draft nature of the first half of the strip is what will affect your perception of it. Just plug through and you'll see its quality improve. He's been doing this kind of stuff for years, and I think the adjustment has more to do with trying to find a new direction for the strip compared to previous work and branching into territory that he didn't normally tread.

Just a hunch, I've checked out AZM but owing to my schedule I can't do much more than that.

The comic has a very lighthearted tone most of the time and I like it for that. Sometimes the over the top antics feel cheesy but it doesn't kill it or anything. For the most part this is an office themed romantic comedy, but it isn't afraid to talk about touchy subjects.  Even when it gets serious, it still feels optimistic.

Anyway, let me sum it up below since I can't think of anything catchy right now.

TL;DR: Yellow Peril is a comic in which we get to see American office life through a different set of eyes, with great results in the long-term. And if I like it, you should like it too, because that's how reviews work. I think?

YPComic is written and illustrated by Jamie Noguchi. You can find it here, as well as buy it in print from the same website.