Imagine: you could be whichever sort of girl you wish to be; you are not held by other people’s expectations of who you’re “supposed to be.” Not only that, you have a cute magical fox guiding you into your magical abilities. That is the situation brought forward to our protagonist, Ling.
Written by Marie Iida and Dennis Liu, and illustrated by Mariko Yamashin, LING features an everyday, normal Asian American girl who’s just trying to get through high school and all the complications therein. Except, she’s not normal; she’s extraordinarily special.
Without spoiling too much of the story, Ling is a high school student who’s not really excelling in life. Her sister is missing and there is something weird about the disappearance. Our heroine is then recruited by a magical three-legged fox named Kitsy and granted the power to transform into whichever girl Ling wants to be; she becomes a “which” girl.
If we look out into the entertainment industry nowadays, we are seeing more and more Asian/Pacific Islander representation onscreen. And there are no shortages, of books with diverse leads, especially when you look at young adult literature. At the very least, more and more stories reflecting a diverse range of people are being highlighted nowadays. And there is a strong power in that, especially for young readers of color, to feel represented in a book that they’re holding. That was a feeling I got when I read the first comic and watched the trailer for the short LING, an Asian American female superhero.
But first, some backstory on myself. I’m an Asian American woman who grew up in an America where much of the media I was exposed to didn’t really have a main character that looked like me or had my cultural experiences. In essence, I never felt like a “default” or “protagonist” in any story. So, I did as many people of color (especially women of color) did; I grew attached to any character of color in any media I consumed. Movies, shows, books, video games. I saw myself represented by tropes and stereotypes. Model minority myth, anyone? In Asian American culture, that complex nature of the diaspora we feel is unique; we’re faced with the multi-dimensional issues of balancing Western and Eastern values (i.e. pursuing what makes me happy, versus doing what’s best for the family). What that does is sometimes result in people, like myself, struggling to fit in both with their respective Asian heritages but also with American society. This is something we see in Ling.
Liu, one of the writers for LING, expressed his awareness about this–how Asian American issues are prevalent and that this story has a platform to address these issues. There is an awareness that this sort of exposure will hopefully spark an engaging and continuing discussion on issues like the Model Minority myth, assimilation, Asian male emasculation, and over-sexualization of Asian women. Not only that, with the short film project attached to this story, Liu and his team are dedicated to lifting other API creatives in the field, and highlighting their voices and talents.
In my read of the first comic, I felt and sensed all those things that Liu spoke of. It was easy to feel the passion that emanates from the story. There were subtleties in character choices and items in the background placements that made me think, “Oh. Someone like me could be the main character of a story.”
Of course, I can’t not talk about the art and the color palettes of this comic. There is a clear homage to a lot of shoujo manga. From the soft lines and the pastel colors, I was reminded of the beloved art from Sailor Moon to Cardcaptor Sakura. And all of that makes sense–these are pretty common for magical girl comics, and now LING joins those ranks of some of my beloved heroines.
My one critique of the comic is a some of the lore is very “on the nose,” such as the meaning of “Which” girl being whichever girl Ling wanted to be, and that she’s meant to be the defender of “Misfetz,” a clear parallel to the word “misfits.” But these are not big deal breakers for me, nor did it take away from the story. It made the intentions very clear as to the story trying to inspire and connect with its young readers.
LING is meant to subvert all sorts of Asian stereotypes: she’s not great at math, she’s not submissive, and she’s not the picture of model minority. Instead, she’s a multilayered heroine faced with struggles of insecurity and bullying that many high schoolers face. Not only that, the comic is an homage to the magical girls out there, from the color palette to the inspiring but ever-progressing protagonist leading the cause. Ultimately, this is a story and a heroine that I sorely needed when I was younger, and now, she’s someone that I hope resonates with young Asian American girls out there today knowing that this story and this protagonist was made with them in mind.
You can find out more about the comic and the short LING here and you can watch the trailer for the short film down below: