A/P/A Institute at NYU in collaboration with the NYU Fales Library & Special Collections presents
MARVELS & MONSTERS Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986
The William F. Wu Collection at the NYU Fales Library & Special Collections

A single image here or there seems innocent enough. But collected, concentrated, categorized — the visuals tell unmistakable stories about how “oriental” otherness formulates normative North American fantasies of whiteness and sexuality. In this escapist netherworld, slant-eyed “yellow” caricatures are the foil, the sideshow, the inhuman of the mainstream master narrative.

“Marvels and Monsters” pulls from the William F. Wu Collection at NYU’s Fales Library & Special Collections. This exhibition compresses “the Golden Age” of U.S. comics, over forty years and millions of representations, into a powerful, toxic, tasty dose. Perhaps this is enough to inoculate us. Perhaps this is enough to evoke a furtive, childhood fascination. This exhibit and this archive empower us to stop, to truly look, to unpack, to reconsider.

I first met Bill Wu when we were graduate students. He was at the University of Michigan and I was at Wisconsin. This was a strange, wonderful, and tough time to grow up as boys of Asian immigrant families in the Midwest. Post-WWII/Korean War prosperity, ticky-tacky suburbia, home washing machines, little league baseball, outdoor shopping malls... Most of our neighbors first encountered “orientals” in comics. We grew up watching the U.S. napalming and anti-personnel bombings over Vietnam on television. This was the context in which Bill was collecting his comic books and writng his dissertation, which becomes his book, Yellow Peril: Chinese Americans in American Fiction, 1850-1940.

When we reconnected 30 years later, he generously offered to donate his treasure trove to the A/P/A Institute at NYU. Combined with the Yoshio Kishi/Irene Yah-Ling Sun Collection and the Jack G. Shaheen Archive, researchers can now gain in-depth insights into 19th and 20th Century visual representations of East Asians, Muslims, Arabs, and various “yellow” and “brown” caricatures as generated by U.S. artists, academics, fiction writers, advertisers, and media-makers.

Through these Collections and the programs of the A/P/A Institute you can access the best scholarship deconstructing and challenging these systemic misrepresentations and engage with those who are creating new work, against this American grain, freeing us from these “marvels and monsters” of the past.

—John Kuo Wei Tchen, Director