Category Archives: Inter.viewed

Inter.viewed | Giant Robot Magazine

Finals week at Cal is rolling along slowly, and I’m just all about ready for summer! I’ve got a checklist of things-to-buy do that I’m really excited about, and hopefully you do, too.

Schoolwork aside, I decided to follow up on one of my poster’s suggestions and try to interview the Asian American Pop Culture Mag Giant Robot! They were a pleasure to talk to, and  I got the chance to ask some really great questions about their mag and their own perspective on the developing Asian American social identity.

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kWould you mind telling us a brief history of Giant Robot and how it came be?
I met Eric through mutual friends after I graduated from UCLA and right when he had just transferred there. Eric and I were into punk rock, which was still kind of underground in the early ’90s, and we both contributed to stapled-and-folded music ‘zines. 

One day in 1994, he mentioned that he wanted to make a ‘zine about Asian culture. There was a ton of stuff going on back then— HK movies were hot, the Japanese die-cast and vinyl toy scene hadn’t been corrupted by eBay, Fil-Am turntablism was rising, there was a lot of interesting bands coming out of Asia, etc. – and no one was writing about it. I told him that I wanted to do that, too, and about a month later, it was done.

We started out with our magazine being really low-tech – literally made with glue sticks, scissors, and copy machines – but we took the writing part pretty seriously.

Since then, Eric has grown GR to include shops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. He comes from an entrepreneurial family, and really helped establish GR and diversify it so it can grow and last. Meanwhile, I stick to the magazine side.

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Asian American pop culture is a very strong and collective term—I feel like it can mean different things to different. What is your conception of the term and what it represents?
Culture from Asians in America is different from Asian pop culture, but there’s a lot of overlap. We cover both and don’t worry too much about differentiating them. By default, anything we write about becomes Asian American because that’s what we are. One thing about Asian American pop culture is that it’s very Pan Asian. By the time second and third generations evolve, the original languages and nuances don’t seem so important…I think distinctions between nationalities become less important for a lot of Asian Americans after leaving college, too. Without groups to cluster around, you realize that non-Asians see us as all the same, so you may as well band together!

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When it comes to source material, what type of stories does Giant Robot look for?
I think one difference between GR and a lot of other Asian American mags (past and present) is that we feel no obligation to cover anyone just because he or she is Asian.

Let’s say there are Asians on a reality show or a new romantic comedy. Chances are that we won’t cover that person – no matter how huge the show is – just because we’re really not into that mainstream stuff. Most of it really sucks! But we are more than happy to dedicate pages to arty, indie, or important stuff that most people don’t know about. In the end, we just cover stuff we like.

Also, if you look at a typical TOC (table of contents), Eric and I write about 75 percent of each issue. Probably more. Most founders of magazines retreat behind some big desk by the time 15 years rolls around, but we truly enjoy the culture we write about. And that’s the fun part, so why give it up?

 As an Asian-American, I really appreciate the resources and information you guys put out on a regular basis. I think the community really benefits from the exposure. In your opinion, have you seen any changes in how we are viewed in the United States since GR’s inception?
I think Asians are slightly less marginalized in mainstream American popular culture. Manga is pretty much mainstream. Asians are on TV shows like Lost and Heroes. Asian food is more common. Asian people might even be considered somewhat cool thanks to Hong Kong action movies, MMA (mixed martial arts), or anime. But in the end, I don’t know if Asian females have a less “exotic” image or Asian American men are seen as less dorky to the average dude in the Midwest. I don’t feel any hotter!

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We’ve seen instances in the past when mainstream media co-opted aspects of Asian culture and refit them to suit a more general taste of public opinion.  What are your thoughts on the role and influence of Asian-American pop culture in current society?
I think the popularity of anime, designer toys, sneaker culture, or anything else with Asian or Asian American roots gets blown out just like any other type of culture. But the genuine goods, the ones made with craft and heart, will survive and last. I think we do a good job with our bullshit detectors and associate ourselves with authentic participants and contributors to culture–and not just trendy parasites.

 I noticed that Giant Robot places a strong emphasis on the arts, something that Asian-Americans are assumed to not be predisposed to. While this mindset is slowly being overturned in recent years, I do want to ask you: what are your thoughts on how we can be relevant as artists?
I think that “low” culture is becoming closer to “high” culture by the minute. Look at what Takashi Murakami did, bringing mainstream anime artists and high fashion into a serious visual retrospective. This, combined with the globalization of awareness and communication between cultural peers around the world, give indie artists more influence than ever before.

The second part is that people are really trying. Years of little acceptance creates a drive and will to succeed. Hopefully, that includes our editorial work and writing. (I’ve been trying hard to reduce typos, which were really prominent for a couple issues.)

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On that note, do you think that our collective stories are becoming more pertinent to the greater society? I’d like to think that America places some level of relevance in our community and not just which country Angelina Jolie is getting her new child from…
We’ve always been pertinent! But as there are more us doing interesting things, stereotypes are slowly dissolving and we are gaining attention for our contributions to creative culture and making the world a more interesting – and in my opinion, cooler – place.

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Martin, what were, in your opinion, some of the more memorable stories that Giant Robot chronicled in its 15-year history? Are there any topics that are relevant to our community that you would like to tackle but have not?
To answer the first question, after I got laid off from my last “real” job in 2001, I bought a plane ticket to HK and stayed with my friend and GR contributor Daniel Wu. I cranked out about five or six articles from that one-week stay, going to Michael Lau’s studio/apartment, visiting the LMF studio/hangout pad, checking out designer Wing Shya’s office, and having dinner with the likes of Shu Qi and Willie Chan. Sadly, that’s the first, last, and only time I really traveled and wrote stories. You’d think I’d travel a lot, but I really can’t afford it.

As for the second part… I think the best part about editing your own mag is that I get to choose my own articles. Hopefully, you see the magazine topics grow as my interests grow and the culture evolves. For example, in film, we’ve seen the HK industry implode, Japanese cinema come back, and movies from Thailand and Korea take off, not to mention the rise of Pan-Asian projects. If you look over the issues, you’ll also see the rise and fall of designer toys, the introduction of Super Flat art, bubbling up of street art, and rise of indie art. And more recently, you even see some politics. One key to the longevity of GR is our staying curious and excited about new developments in the world. Yes, everyone says the world is going to hell, but we’re always finding new things to follow and get excited about, and hopefully that comes through our words.

Check out Giant Robot (http://www.giantrobot.com) and stop by their online store (http://secure.giantrobot.com/) for some of the coolest goods on both sides of the Pacific!

If this topic interests you, please give a shout out in the comments section of https://nojuanhere.wordpress.com and tell me what you think.

Inter.Viewed | Anamanaguchi

It’s been a rough couple of days on this side of the Pacific – I’ve been jumping from one place to another trying to make ends meet as UC Berkeley enters its finals week, and I’m still getting over my birthday weekend – and it’s only now that things are slowing down for yours truly that I have time to really post up my latest interview!

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Anamanaguchi (http://www.dawnmetropolis.com) is an 8-bit punk band based out of New York that plays some of the most innovative sounds you’ll ever hear from a NES. I got a chance to ask their lead guitarist and programmer Peter Berkman a couple of questions about the band:

anamanaguchibrick2So…Anamanaguchi. That is the most awesome name I’ve heard in a long while. Why Anamanaguchi?
Peter: It means nothing actually haha. When I started making music on the NES I just wanted to come up with something that fit and wasn’t gimmicky, so a nonsensical fake Japanese word served that purpose 100%.

 Can you tell us a little bit of how you guys got together? I’m just assuming it involves a NES…
Peter: I actually began it myself in 2003. I heard about this website 2A03 through my friend Jon Baken and we downloaded this software called Nerdtracker II that let you sequence music for the Nintendo. We would send songs back and forth to each other and get a little better at it each time. Earlier stuff sounded more like video games, but as I kept writing, my actual musical voice started to seep in and the compositions began to sound more like something influenced by the music I actually listen to. I decided to start putting guitar in it late 2004, since I played in bands all throughout high school it only made sense. Eventually in order to play live I needed more musicians so I asked my friend James to play bass. Then when I got to college I met some other dudes and we became a full time kinda band. 

ANAMAGUCHI_cover_thumbAs an 8-bit punk band and part of 8bitpeoples, you have a really unique sound. Do you think the type of music you play caters to a really select audience?
Peter: I would say that a lot of 8 bit music caters to a very specific niche audience; but while we cater to them as well, we also have fans that have nothing to do with the 8 bit world that just enjoy fast, high energy pop music. We never want the technology to be the focus, certain people do and that’s cool too. For me though, I’m much more interested in conveying this idea of epic adventure through composition – and simple idea that brings about a pretty wide audience from different worlds.

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Your music is an eclectic yet very accomplished mix of genres. I’m really interested to hear what your answer to this question would be, since it’s not obvious off the bat: who are your favorite artists and influences?
Peter: My favorite artists are kind of all over the place haha. The ones that never seem to get switched out of rotation are The Beach Boys, Weezer and Goblin (an Italian horror soundtrack band from the 70’s). In general, I’m a fan of catchy simple melodies, anything that can create an atmosphere, old electronics and that kind of thing. I grew up listening to a lot of punk and pop-punk (the good kind), my tastes kind of evolved from then but the attitude remains a huge influence. The concept that I’m in love with is recontextualizing two totally disparate things in a way that on paper seems insane, but works (in this case; video games and pop music).

So what were your favorite NES games? I was a total fan of Pinball, Tetris, and B-Wing.
Peter: The obvious ones I suppose, Mega Man 2, Contra, Castlevania et al. It’s also interesting to look back and see what games had amazing music – Silver Surfer is an awesome one. It’s composed by Tim Follin and puts anything I’ve done to shame. It’s too bad the game is so hard most people would throw it out after 10 minutes haha.

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So if you’re going to introduce Anamanaguchi to someone, how you describe yourself in one sentence? And what song would you give them to listen to?
Peter: We make loud, fast, pop music with a Nintendo from 1985. RECOMMENDED LISTENIN’: Blackout City

Any last words to everybody? Any shows you guys are doing soon?
Peter: Thanks for reading I guess! We’re going to be on tour in August all across the country so we’ll be posting those dates up soon. In the meantime check out dawnmetropolis.com where you can stream the entire record for free with a bunch of rad videos made by our visualist friends in NYC.

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Check out Peter and co.’s music at  (http://www.myspace.com/anamanaguchi) or (http://anamanaguchi.muxtape.com) – whether you were a child of the 80’s or just a child a heart, I guarantee you’ll enjoy Anamanaguchi’s stereophonic videogame music!

product_shirtsgroupIf this topic interests you, please give a shout out in the comments section of https://nojuanhere.wordpress.com and tell me what you think as well as if you’d go watch Anamanaguchi if they come to San Francisco!

Keeping you posted!
Juan

News.worthy | “You can win a free t-shirt” Results!

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THE RESULTS ARE IN!

Thank you to everyone who participated in the nojuanhere + Bok Choy Apparel contest! Over 42 individuals commented on the shirts, and while I only promised that I would buy an extra two t-shirts if the blog reached at least 50 comments, I figured that everyone should get a A+ for effort and will just give out the extra two t-shirts anyway.

 

If these comment entries were written by you, then congratulations! You will be receiving an email with further details to clarify and map out delivery.

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“beautiful clean vector designs, love them all! Fav that jumped out at me was the black Katipun sun shirt – so vivid and urban. That said, I also love the cute lines of balut, boba, and the others. Great showing, good luck with the line!”

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“I love graphic Ts! I really like how the designs keep it simple. My favorites are the rainbow rice and tapioca ones. I would like to see the tapioca T in different colors (in addition). Bok Choy Apparel = cool.”

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“i like the melamine free (nostalgia) t-shirt. i’m not a big fan of eating bokchoy the vegetable, but i like the company and its mission statement. :)”

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“I LOooooooooooooooove the white rabbit one, but really, I’ll take anything that gives me arms like that model.”

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“Mmm hmm, I second the double-male signs as being generally awesome. While they are just t-shirts, I still think what Bok Choy is doing is really important to help carve out a positive cultural space for us Asian Americans. Thumbs up!

P.S. Juan you should try interviewing the guys at Giant Robot next–they’re super cool!”

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If your entry is not on the list, don’t worry! Keep updated with our latest contests and interviews on No Juan Here – you just might be the next big winner!

Please visit Bok Choy Apparel (http://www.bokchoyapparel.com) and vote on your favorite t-shirt. We’re not completely done working with them – you never know when the next big t-shirt contest might happen!

Inter.Viewed | My First Dictionary

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I recently had a quick Q&A with fellow blogger Ross Horsley, who manages My First Dictionary (http://myfirstdictionary.blogspot.com), one of the more subversively humorous sites I’ve found on the net in a while. If you like language as much as I do  or just enjoy a good laugh (or a self-repressed chuckle), check My First Dictionary out for a your daily dose of wordage!

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So, Ross, tell us a little bit about yourself and My First Dictionary.
I work in a library, surrounded all day by reference books, so it’s not a big leap to find me creating something like My First Dictionary. I deal in the written word, after all. People say a picture paints a thousand words, but I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of words in the way we communicate. They’re like the pixels that make up the picture. Look at the internet: it’s all words. Apart from the porn.
 
You’re probably the funniest librarian I’ve ever met. What it’s like to work at a library, and how does that play into you creating My First Dictionary?
 Well, thanks, although I’m not sure what that says about librarians! Working in a library is a strange job. Members of the public come in with all kinds of bizarre requests, and you want to help them without getting sucked too far into the craziness. Many of the people I work with have done completely different jobs in the past, which they’ve left for various reasons. I’m a former academic, for instance, while others I work with were once actors, nurses and teachers – so there’s this sort of air of failure hanging over the place, even though that’s not the case at all! It’s that sense of life never quite living up to your expectations that I think feeds into My First Dictionary.
 

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I really like how wholesome the pictures are…are they really from a “first dictionary”? Because I’m sure I had a flashback from my childhood just looking at them.
 Yes, they’re genuine illustrations from an old book. I’m expecting to get sued any day now! The truth is I can’t draw at all, so I have to rely on existing artwork. My plan is to use up all the pictures from this particular book, which seems to be from the 50s, then try and find one from the 70s and do an All-New My First Dictionary!
 
How do you pick out your words per day? Is there a systematic process like when Noah chose two of each animal, or does it involve random selection like when Jesus chose his disciples?
 I’m like Jesus. Although My First Dictionary is about words, it’s quite visual, really, so it’s usually an illustration that sets me off. The pictures I’m currently using are so evocative that just looking at one will give me an idea for what new word it might represent. In other cases, the original word will stay but I’ll twist its meaning a little, usually to make it darker. I wouldn’t say I’m a cynic, though… honestly! I actually think it takes a true optimist to see through to the dark heart of things. 
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I notice you have two other blogs, one for old print ads and gory Slasher movies— those are very divergent interests. Do you mind telling us about them?
 I’ve always been fascinated by horror films. Of all genres, I think horror is the one that places the most demands on you intellectually and emotionally: What would I do in this situation? How would I cope with it? Can I believe what I’m seeing… and can I force myself to look? Horror is all about facing up to your own fears. Some people do this with humour, some people with horror. I think I do both, and that’s where My First Dictionary springs from. Similarly, the relics of the past I blog about are interesting because of what they reveal about the society that created them. Looking at an old underwear ad might tell you more about a given time period than reading a historical study of it – at least on a level you’ll respond to. And, if you find it funny, that means you’ve understood something about the differences. For me, the humour in My First Dictionary comes from applying the logic of one situation to something quite different, to the extent that it becomes entirely inappropriate.

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Do you think you will eventually tackle enough words to start your own dictionary? What words do you think you would want to blog about but haven’t found the right context for?
 The way I see it, I’ve already started my own dictionary. I’m not running out of ideas yet – or words. The English language seems to have plenty and I’ve only covered about 30 so far. You’re spot-on when you talk about context, though. My First Dictionary is all about context – the idea being that a children’s book is completely the wrong context to address certain themes. In that respect, it’s the exact right context for everything I want to poke fun at!

Thanks so much to Ross and My First Dictionary for the really fun interview! Again, please check out My First Dictionary for a daily update!

If this topic interests you, please give a shout out in the comments section of https://nojuanhere.wordpress.com and tell me what you think!

Inter.viewed | Bok Choy Apparel

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So today I sat down and had a quick rap session with Brian Yee, Co-Founder of Bok Choy Apparel (http://www.bokchoyapparel.com), an up-and-coming clothing company with a focus on Asian-American-themed apparel. Brian was kind enough to give me his thoughts on the relevance of their apparel and how they plan on giving back to the community through them.

So, tell us a little bit about Bok Choy Apparel.
BRIAN YEE: Bok Choy Apparel was officially formed in February of 2008. At the time, we had one design that we produced for a shirt, and we envisioned seeing many more through the network of artists we know. We also wanted to help some of the Non-profits and causes we were involved with and found that there was a high level of overlap between the two communities.

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I noticed on the website that there is a focus on Asian-American artists and their work – was this a conscious choice on your part?
BRIAN: It was. We wanted to work with and provide for the Asian/Asian-American community to provide for the community and those who admire the culture. We have some great artists lined up whose designs strongly depict themes that people can identify with, as well as items and aspects unique to the Asian cultures.

You said that the designs would address themes that people identify with – does that mean you’re primarily targeting the Asian-American consumer?
BRIAN: Not exclusively, though I think people identify with things that are familiar to them.

What do you mean by familiar?
BRIAN: It’s hard to deny that our designs are specific to Asian culture. But Asian-Americans are individually dissimilar—we’re just providing images for which we can rally together for. Just the same, we want to our designs to be accessible to all groups. Our namesake Bok Choy is a vegetable that is supplied in grocery stores all across the United States. People regardless of race, ethnicity, or geographic location will recognize it.

There is another layer to it than its accessibility – there is also the meaning behind the name and the history of its recognition and prevalence in society that people can identify and appreciate. All of our designs exist like that; you don’t need to be from a specific group to enjoy the designs.

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Okay, let’s switch gears – I’m getting the feeling that the company does have some goals in terms of what it wants to achieve. Do you mind elaborating on them specifically?
BRIAN: Like any company we would like to succeed and have some market share! We do feel that the Asian-American community is neglected when it comes to apparel, and we do want to address that. We want to provide an outlet for artists to create designs that they and their peers can relate to and be empowered by. There have been, sadly, a fair amount of designs by major labels that depict Asians in an offensive or misconstrued manner, and it’s a shame that the most recognized Asian-themed apparel right now is that design featuring two Chinese laundry men striving to be white.

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A lot companies do promote “funny” tees, because they sell well. We see a lot of imagery making fun of things that are otherwise not politically correct in society. Would it different if Bok Choy were to sell tee-shirts with a similar type of humor targeted towards Asians?
BRIAN: It’s hard to say. It’s like comedians, who have to make jokes and make people laugh. You’re bound to upset people, no matter how good your intentions. What we do want is to have people be proud to wear our shirts, not just because they look good but also because it means something to them.

So your designs are meant to reflect a positive image of Asian-American culture, is that correct?
BRIAN: Definitely.

You spoke about helping out non-profits and causes earlier on – do you mind giving us an idea of what these are?
BRIAN: We currently work with Global Giving to provide earth quake relief for the Sichuan earthquake with sales from one of our shirts. The same goes for the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA), for whom we designed a shirt for their 20th anniversary. The Chinese Culture Foundation is a non-profit that I have a stake in – their mission statement resonates with me and what our goals are for Bok Choy.

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Thanks so much to Brian for taking time to answer my questions! For further inquiries, check out their website at http://www.bokchoyapparel.com, and vote on your favorite t-shirt designs.

If this topic interests you, please give a shout out in the comments section of https://nojuanhere.wordpress.com and tell me what you think as well as which Bok Choy shirt is your favorite! I will randomly pick one posters to receive their shirt of choice, and two others to receive an “I Heart China in American” shirt each. Promo ends on May 2, 2009. Multiple posts will be taken into consideration, so no spamming. Bonus karma points if “I Heart China in American” is your favorite!
Juan