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14th December 2012

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Asians Struggle, Too - Fred Chao’s “Johnny Hiro”

Graphic novel cover to Fred Chao's "Johnny Hiro"

"Oh Hiro. You save me and real estate market."

For those who love manga and are interested in the world of graphic novels, here’s a special comic with a lot of Asian influence that’ll get your attention. Fred Chao’s "Johnny Hiro" chronicles the life of a young Japanese man named…well, Johnny as he tries to make ends meet in New York while experiencing wacky mishaps along the way. It’s also a quirky look at what makes New York one of the most mentally intense places to live in the world while providing commentary on Asians living in America.

So what wacky mishaps does Johnny encounter? For starters, he had to rescue his girlfriend, Mayumi Murakami, from a kaiju that looks like Godzilla. Then he went against a bunch of restaurant workers from a rival restaurant competing with the restaurant he works in. After that, an army of revenge-crazed IT workers dressed as samurai came to town. A Chinese fish market targeted Johnny next, thinking that he stole fish from them. Finally, both Johnny and Mayumi appeared on Judge Judy as defendants and were saved by NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg. While all of this is happening, Johnny is struggling to stay afloat as he is constantly living on a paycheck by paycheck basis. He’s just your average guy looking for his big break in a city that never ceases to make his life interesting.


Living in New York is often complicated. It is one of the craziest places in the world. The cost of living is high, the people are rude, and it can get pretty noisy at times. Yet people still come to New York. It’s the city of dreams. As the legendary Frank Sinatra would tell you about NY, "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere". You also get to meet a whole variety of people that can help get your life going if you know where to look. Oh yeah, the food’s pretty amazing too. You can compare New York to a love who has what you secretly desire. It’s psychologically reassuring to those that crave excitement in their lives.

Johnny Hiro working at his regular job as a busboy in a Japanese restaurant. Copyright Fred Chao.

What’s interesting about Johnny Hiro is that it portrays an Asian-American who isn’t the stereotypical Asian that’s usually poked fun of in mainstream media. Johnny is not considered to be a very bright person and he isn’t working at a job that revolves around math or science. It makes you think about young Asian-Americans being raised to live up to their immigrant parents’ expectations. Asian parents often don’t teach their kids what happens after college. Asian-American youth are supposed to be timid as well. Johnny is just a twist to Asian logic. He’s a complete slacker who will fight back and also just happens to have the greatest girlfriend in the world.

Johnny Hiro and his girlfriend, Mayumi Murakami.

Johnny’s immigrant girlfriend, Mayumi, is insanely smart and very witty. Yet she still prefers to be with him. No one knows why. There’s an interesting side plot involving an old friend of Johnny’s named Toshi Yamagato. Toshi is a very successful businessman in Japan. He runs into Johnny at the Metropolitan Opera House, where he catches a glimpse of Johnny and Mayumi together. Toshi becomes instantly jealous since he believes he should get the girl, not an idiot like Johnny. Makes you think about people who take things for granted and end up being lonely, huh? Or You can also argue about Asian culture playing a role (though it is reflective of many cultures) if it tells you that you will get whatever you desire if you have the look of success. 

If you’re Asian and wonder what life is like in the West or an Asian that’s trying to find out more about him/herself, Johnny Hiro is a cute story that radiates a sense of hope that the good can outweigh the bad. No matter how you grew up and regardless of whether you live in a big city, being an adult is a journey where we need that hope. 

You can visit Fred Chao via his website at http://www.fredchao.com or his blog at http://robotchao.wordpress.com/.


Tagged: Asians Struggle TooFred ChaoJohnny HiroMayumi MurakamiNew York CityToshi Yamagatocultural psychologygraphic novelsmangapsychologypsychology of Asian Americanspsychology of New Yorkindepedent comics

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