American Born Chinese is a 2006 graphic novel by American comics artist Gene Yang, who both wrote and illustrated the work. It tells three separate and seemingly very different stories, which later weave into one another. The first arc tells a traditional Chinese folk tale, the second arc is about a Chinese boy, Jin, while the third is about an American boy, Danny.
Danny does, however, have a Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee. Through Jin and Chin-Kee, the reader experiences very different characters. Jin is a comparatively average boy, who can be timid and awkward at times. He often seems out of place because he was raised with a traditional Chinese cultural background. Chin-Kee, however, is the embodiment of American stereotypes toward the Chinese, and the difference between the two characters can be seen in their illustrations. Chin-Kee is drawn as a stereotypical Chinese man, and his diction mirrors that as well.
A running theme with which Yang grapples is the lens of perception. Chin-Kee is seen the way he is, because he is seen through the protagonist of that story arc, Danny, an average white American jock. Jin, however, is seen as more accepted, relatively, because he is seen through his own perspective, in his own story, so to speak. But this lens of perception does not make life better for Jin.
In addition to the overt racism that is obvious between Danny and Chin-Kee, Yang explores the subtle racism experienced by Jin. The reader can easily overlook this, due to the imminence of Chin-Kee's treatment, and this was likely the goal of Yang: to illustrate a society that is teeming with under-pinned racism. Jin is treated differently, for example, in an important scene in the novel that includes him going on a date with an American girl. Furthermore, he is influenced by the views of his peers, possibly subconsciously, in the way that he is nervous and wary of the date.
Interestingly, the published format of the comic, which has received much acclaim, is rooted in a web comic, which I have not seen. I would presume, though, that web culture and racism there could have been explored in the web comic. Colour plays an obvious role in the work, both in terms of race and in terms of the actual art. These two realms overlap, creating a multimodal experience. The illustrations are very linear and crisp, with clear gutters on every page, and this can serve to elucidate the racial gap that is unfortunately apparent, but even more unfortunately, sometimes very unapparent.