The writing talents of Pornsak Pichetshote have not only allowed him to become a successful comic book writer, but have enabled him to write for television and short films. His comic book work as an editor for Daytripper and The Unwritten have received Eisner awards. He has also worked on Sweet Tooth, Unknown Soldier, Swamp Thing, The Sandman, and many more titles. His television work includes Cloak & Dagger, Two Sentence Horror Stories, and Light as a Feather. Since ScifiPulse last interviewed Pichetshote about his book Infidel, he has gone on to write The Good Asian (purchase here). Wanting to learn more about The Good Asian, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Yanes: I last spoke to you in 2019 when we talked about Infidel. How has life been for you? Have you developed any superpowers?
Pichetshote: The odd thing is, even though we spoke almost two years ago now, the pandemic makes it feels like one of those years don’t count, so it barely feels like a year. Or at least that’s how my pandemic is going. How’s yours? Who knows? Maybe I have developed superpowers, but I’ll only really know once I’m out in the world again. It’s hard to tell within the confines of my bubble.
But otherwise, things have been good. I wrote on a TV show called Two Sentence Horror Stories as well a show I’m not sure I can talk about yet for HBO Max. Comics-wise, I wrote a few short stories here and there for a bunch of different publishers, and of course, worked on The Good Asian.
One of the two episode Pichetshote wrote for Two Sentence Horror Stories was “Imposter”
Yanes: We’ve all been impacted by the pandemic. How have you handled it?
Pichetshote: As you can tell from my above answer, I’m… still waiting to find out? I feel like we’ll all only really know how we’ve handled it in hindsight, so ask me again in another year or two, and I’ll spill. That said, my family and I are healthy. Since I come from a medical family, I’m the only adult in my bubble not vaccinated which makes me really relieved, especially since my sister’s a doctor that interacts with Covid patients. And I’m really grateful I’ve had a lot of writing to focus on which has been my lifeline through this whole thing.
Yanes: Your latest project is a comic book series from Image called The Good Asian. What was the inspiration for this story?
Pichetshote: There were so many inspirations honestly. The Good Asian is Chinatown noir – a 1936 detective story featuring the first generation of Americans to grow up beneath an immigration ban of their people – the Chinese. So it blends a lot of classic noir gumshoes like Sam Spade, The Contiental Op, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, and Easy Rawlins with some of the Asian detectives of the 1930s and 40s like Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto and Mr. Wong, Detective. It’s set upon the backdrop of all the Asian-American history that isn’t really talked about like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Immigration Act of 1924, legislation that limited the number of Asians and Arabs that could enter America for decades. I’m hoping it’s a noir thriller that looks at mostly forgotten Asian-American history that hopefully gives context to where we are today, using the past to shine light on the present.
Yanes: While doing research for this story, what were some historical facts that shocked you?
Pichetshote: I mean, every issue’s filled with things that shocked me. The fact that the women who worked the Chinatown Telephone Exchange (the switchboard dispatching every call in and out of Chinatown) had every phone number and address in Chinatown memorized I thought was amazing. But really, the fact that as an Asian-American, I didn’t know anything about the Chinese Exclusion Act – America’s first immigration ban – and from there, the Immigration Act of 1924 that prohibited the number of Asians and Arabs entering America until it ended in 1965 – was really the inspiration for writing the series. In many ways, I found the way the Chinese responded and adapted to those laws to be so fundamental to the development of Asian-American culture and identity in America. And the fact that barely anyone seems aware of it motivated me to write the book.
And even though, I meant to look at the past to examine the present, I didn’t expect it to be so timely. I’m not sure how many readers will become aware of this by the time this interview runs, but anti-Asian hate crimes have skyrocketed this past year with a lot of them targeting the elderly, and the national news still is barely scratching the surface. In today’s headlines alone, a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles was set on fire; an explosive was set off outside the Nebraska Chinese Association; and stats have come in saying anti-Asian hate crimes have increased 717% in Vancouver, which sounds like a lot until you compare it to the estimated 1900% they’ve increased in New York City. By the way, if anyone’s further interested in those headlines, I encourage them to visit nextshark.com which does a great job reporting on it. But in that regard, I very much wish the book was less timely.
Yanes: The artwork is fantastic. When did you know that Alexandre Tefenkgi had picked the perfect style for it?
Pichetshote: My editor Will Dennis and I are both friends with Cliff Chiang who recommended Alex. And Cliff’s such an immense talent with immaculate taste that when he recommends someone, we were both kind of like, do we even need to look at his stuff before making him an offer? But of course, we did, and as you can see from the previews…it’s an honor. I feel so lucky to be working with him, and that we’ve become such friends. Alex has such a clean, precise, yet still emotive line. He’s just an incredible draftsman, and then you add his storytelling skills, the acting of his characters, his sense of collaboration. It’s been amazing working with him.
Yanes: In the process of writing The Good Asian what were some classic noir stories that influenced you?
Pichetshote: Oh god, so many. Part of the pleasure of doing books like this is getting to read and re-reread classic books. So the book was hugely influenced by Hammett’s Continental Op books, like The Dain Curse or Red Harvest, especially the short story “Dead Yellow Women.” Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels, especially Farewell, My Lovely; a bunch of Ross McDonald’s Lew Archer books; Walter Mosely’s Easy Rawlins mysteries. And then early Charlie Chan books like The House without a Key or The Chinese Parrot. I could go on and on.
Yanes: Who are some characters who unexpectedly came to life as you developed the story?
Pichetshote: This sounds like the political answer, but they all kind of did, to be honest. But we introduce a new character in issue 3, Lucy Fong, who’s our take on a Girl Friday and maybe because I’m writing some of her scenes as we speak, I’m honestly amazed by how incredibly multifaceted the character has grown to become.
Yanes: This might be getting too far ahead, but when The Good Asian becomes a show or film, who would you like to see cast?
Pichetshote: Oh, I am waaaaaaaay too superstitious to think like that. And I won’t lie, there are definitely people who seem interested and want to talk about it, but I tend not to trust that stuff until it’s completely done and dusted. Right now, I’m just focused on people hearing about and being entertained by the comic.
Yanes: When people finish reading The Good Asian, what do you hope they take from this experience?
Pichetshote: I hope they’re surprised and shocked and moved. But it would be great if they realized how much Asian-American history we’ve don’t teach in schools and as a result, have forgotten and feel inspired to explore some more about it. And given recent events, I’ve found it eye-opening how it’s been almost a hundred years since when the book takes place, we still don’t talk about blue-collar, working-class Asians in America.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Pichetshote: Comics-wise, I try to focus on one major project at a time, but like I mentioned, I’m also writing on a TV show for HBO MAX, and I think / hope people familiar with my work will be excited by it when I can finally talk about it publicly.