Sayonara, Nate… Aloha, Sam!


POSTED: Sunday, September 06, 2009

The financial concerns newspapers face today have been equally tough on comic strip creators, the proof being the departure of another strip and the introduction of its replacement in our comics section today.

If you're a loyal fan of comics, you'll find Nate Creekmore's “;Maintaining”; is no more. We'll miss Creekmore's hip-hop-inspired art and the weekly musings of his biracial high school character Marcus. “;Maintaining,”; unfortunately, was carried in only about 40 papers nationwide, according to Universal Press Syndicate, which marketed the comic strip.

So, Creekmore said via e-mail, “;Universal Press decided to opt out of its contract with my strip and I've decided to stop production.”; (Thankfully, his Web site, www.creekification.com, is a good way to keep tabs on the talented young man.)

While we wish Creekmore all the best in his future endeavors, we turn to say aloha to Tak Toyoshima and “;Secret Asian Man.”; Even though Toyoshima's daily strip, ironically, will be dropped by United Features Syndicate (you know, the economy ...) in a couple of weeks, Toyoshima has decided to take on the task of self-marketing to keep his Sunday strip going.




Editor's note (print edition only):There will also be repositioning of some of our comic strips Mondays through Saturdays. Starting tomorrow, “;Sherman's Lagoon”; moves from the index page back to the comic strip pages of our Today section. In its place, “;Garfleld”; moves from the puzzle page to the index page, and “;Agnes”; moves from the comic strip pages to the puzzle page.



The title of the strip is a play on “;Secret Agent Man,”; the swingin' 1966 hit single by Johnny Rivers. But there's nothing hush-hush about how art imitates life between 38-year-old creator Toyoshima and his main character, Osamu “;Sam”; Takahashi, whom he describes as a “;mild-mannered Japanese-American dad.”; Both men are art directors at a local newspaper (Toyoshima works for the Boston alternative Weekly Dig), married to Caucasian women, have a young son and are expecting a second child.

Other than that, “;Secret Asian Man”; is Toyoshima's vehicle for commenting on life as filtered through his Asian-American viewpoint.

THE COMIC STRIP marked its 10th anniversary in January. Toyoshima said via e-mail that “;the plan is to produce SAM for as long as I can.”; He said that his father, retired neo-Dadaist artist Soroku Toyoshima, believes in the idea of a life work, “;a continuous piece that you execute throughout your life. The goal is to look over the span of years and see how your work, as well as yourself, has changed, evolved and progressed.

“;A lot of the earlier strips were one-shot observation strips, so there was no character development. Most of them dealt directly with Asian-American issues. But after a few years of such a narrow focus, you begin to run out of material. How many times can one complain about the stereotyping of Asians in movies?

“;Once I started to broaden my topics to include any group that we find ourselves belonging to (race, religion, sexual orientation, lefty, dog people, etc.), a whole new world of material was available to me.”;

The new perspective made “;Secret Asian Man”; “;more refined and focused.”;

“;There's a part of me that misses the older strips, mostly the part that loved dishing out strips that really got under people's skin and generated a lot of hate mail. There was a lot more anger in the earlier strips. This is largely why I created the character Simon. He represents an earlier version of me.”;

THE CHARACTERS that surround Sam in “;Secret Asian Man”; include his wife, Marie, “;an editor in publishing who loves knitting and has a near addiction to social networking.

“;Their son, Shin, is a preschooler with an eye for justice who calls it like he sees it. Sam's best friend is Charlie Rutherford, a mellow African-American IT technician whose imposing 7-foot frame usually causes people to cross the street. He is an avid tinkerer who loves to come up with ideas worthy of the cheesiest TV infomercial.

“;Richie is Shin's preschool teacher whose bright red hair makes him look like a love child of Carrot Top and Ronald McDonald (in states where that's legal),”; joked Toyoshima. “;Richie is politically correct to a fault and often finds himself the only white person at all-black social justice demonstrations.




        Secret Asian Man



“;And finally, there's Simon, Sam's college-aged cousin and resident angry Asian man. Quick to cry 'racism' and not afraid of a fight, Simon is a brash, young rebel who could stand to hold his tongue every now and then.”;

Toyoshima is hoping his view as a Japanese-American from the mainland will translate to our readers here in the islands.

“;Over the years, I've been able to travel across the country, speaking to college students about 'Secret Asian Man.' (I've found out that) the East Coast is different from the West Coast, the Midwest is different from the South, and I hear Hawaii is different than any of them.

“;It's been great to see the diversity within our own (Asian-American) culture, and it only gives me more drive to keep exploring. I'm looking very forward to hearing the feedback from SAM's Hawaii readers.

“;In terms of incorporating racial issues, I like to mirror my own life,”; Toyoshima said. “;Usually things happen when you least expect them. You could be coming back from grabbing some lunch and someone in the elevator could ask, 'Mmm, what floor are you delivering that to?'

“;Racial politics is extremely complicated but, to me, endlessly fascinating. It's a dynamic that involves feelings of superiority/inferiority, history, language, entitlement, guilt, popular culture, etc. The purpose of my comic is not to stand on a soapbox and tell people what they should think. My job is to ask questions and get people to think about them and encourage discussion. It's a fine line between wanting to be appreciated as different but not wanting to be treated differently.”;