Gene Luen Yang always preferred comic books to sports. As a child, he would lose himself in fantastic conflicts between costumed heroes and villains rather than subject himself to the ridicule of his peers on the playing field. For his latest First Second graphic novel, Dragon Hoops, Yang uses his primary interest to dissect the one that always eluded him, exploring the history of basketball while telling the story of the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons, the basketball team at the high school where he works.
Yang is already having a very impressive 2020, wrapping up his poignant Superman Smashes The Klan miniseries and taking his The Terrifics run to new heights with an ambitious Choose Your Own Adventure-style 25th issue. The release of Dragon Hoops is especially notable because it is his first wholly autobiographical graphic novel. Yang has pulled from his personal experiences for stories like American Born Chinese, but in Dragon Hoops, he puts his full self into the story, tracing his own personal development alongside the coaches and players on the team.
This exclusive preview of Dragon Hoops, on sale March 18, explores how the world outside of basketball impacts everyone on the court when the Dragons have to play a game the day after a judge decides there is no probable cause to file any charge against Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown. These pages highlight how Yang keeps the story personal while exploring larger cultural and political ideas, specifically in how he shows Coach Lou’s response. There’s typically a lot of activity around the coach, and this solemn solo shot captures the weight of this responsibility and how it falls on his shoulders alone.
Yang’s cartooning skills have never been sharper, and the large cast of characters gives him the opportunity to flex his acting muscles and his ability to simplify faces and bodies while keeping distinct features. He adds dynamic energy to the basketball sequences with strong use of speed lines, sound effects, and cleverly uses the visual language of basketball play sheets as part of the sequential storytelling. As a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Yang has deep knowledge of what resonates with today’s young readers, and Dragon Hoops has a long life ahead of it in libraries and classrooms, bridging comics and sports in a story that offers plenty of opportunities for meaningful discussion.