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Yellow Pages - Interview with the Editors of Giant
Interview, Satellite, Vol. 1, Iss. 5 - April
It started hand-copied and hand-stapled with Hello Kitty
on the cover and Sumo inside; and now, seventeen issues later, Giant Robot
remains the most interesting Asian Pop culture magazine, a slick glossy,
with Sumo on the inside. Though GR always delivers the big names (in interviews
with Jet Li (first interview in America), Chow Yun Fat, and Hayao Miyazaki),
what often seems more interesting in the magazine is the quirky, more
alternative coverage about a girl taking a bath in Ramen or Chinatowns
in Mexicali. Also known for their graphic design ("crazy" to
use desktop publishing terms), GR explodes on the page, mixing both Asian
visual styles with stereotypes of them. In a country where MTV is trying
as hard as it can to look Japanese, GR realized that Asian is cool a long
Eric Nakamura - Giant Robot co-editor, publisher
Satellite: Why is it called
Eric Nakamura: 'Cause we like big robots (laughs). Seriously,
its based on a show called "Giant Robo," which is like a live
action show from the 60s in Japan about a kid who has a watch that he
speaks into to tell the robot what to do. The robot fights monsters. There's
corporate monsters out there and we're fighting the corporate monsters
with our magazine. Since we're small, we can control what we want to do,
so we have a bigger voice. That's where the title comes from. Plus, we
like robots and toys.
S: Why do you think Asian pop-culture
has such a strong association w/ technology?
Eric Nakamura: I think technology in Japan is so far
ahead, like they probably had cell phones back in the '50s or something,
it's so far ahead that people look to it and that's why it works. I think
that's what makes it so powerful and interesting because so much people
here in America don't get to see. It really blows people away here because
once it shows up, they're like, "Wow!" And then you find out
it was in Japan for 6 months or a year already before. Take Playstation
2, for example, it was already out over there and we don't even have it
yet. There's just tons of other things as well. And designs are, like,
well, their culture's so different and they support so many odd-ball things,
or what we would call odd-ball. Everything has mascots and characters,
things are just designed differently and I think that's why once it comes
here people just get blown away.
S: How do you think the Asian
American cultural experience is different from the mainstream White America?
Eric Nakamura: Well, I think it depends, there are a
lot of Asian-Americans who are pretty mainstream as well, so I think it
basically depends on the person or whatever they're into.
S: What kind of person would
pick up Giant Robot, or why should people read Giant Robot? Why?
Eric Nakamura: I think everybody should pick our magazine
up. I think our articles are written well, I think we do good research
and I think our topics can reach anybody. That's why half of our audience
are non-Asian. I think that's a reflection of the balance in our writing,
that we are able to appeal to a broad audience and I think that's why
the magazine works so well.
S: I feel like there's an association
between Asian-American youth culture and Black culture, do you see that?
Where do you think it comes from?
Eric Nakamura: I think it comes from urban lifestyle,
plus so much of it is commercial. There's so much coming in on MTV and
stuff. I think that's the reason why, commercialism. You can choose Brittney
Spears or you can choose something else, like Puff Daddy. I think there's
a fusion and there's nothing wrong with that. I think it's just a part
of urban lifestyle. Plus it's just imagery; it's what people think is
S: How does your magazine work?
How is it set up, editorially?
Eric Nakamura: We get everything done last minute. Well,
last minute for us might be two weeks, but we're pushing hard for two
weeks. Martin (Wong, the other editor) and I share editing duties, we
have to agree on what sucks and leave that out and what's good and leave
that in. The only problems we have are advertisers who fake on us. It's
not like a student magazine, where if you don't get ads, you can find
money from a grant or something. If we don't get ads, we're screwed. This
is our job, so we work pretty hard to solicit ads from businesses. When
we first started out, the magazine was a bunch of papers stapled together
without any ads, but people liked us so much that they offered us ads.
Now we have to go out and work for them.
S: What's your favorite Giant
Robot TV series or cartoon?
Eric Nakamura: I grew up watching Go Ranger, which is
kind of like Power Rangers, but very first series from like, '75. I used
to be into that and I like UltraMan: Always cool, always awesome, Robocon,
the Giant Robot, there's thousands, I could go on and on, but I think
UltraMan is ultimately the best. Speed Racer from way back is good too.
S: Do you have a favorite Transformer?
Eric Nakamura: Optimus Prime. Is there anybody else?
Martin Wong -Giant Robot co-editor
Satellite: How is your experience
w/ Giant Robot different from when you started, now that you're a little
Martin Wong: You know you'd think it would get a lot
easier because you have computers and printers to do stuff for you, but
actually there's a thousand more ways things can get fucked up-way more
levels people can foul up for you cause you're less in control. You have
to count on advertisers being in on time, you have to count on people
giving you good photos, you have to count on the printer doing stuff right,
and on every single one of those levels something bad happens. So, actually
it's harder now than it was before.
S: What's your technique for
planning out what kind of stories you're going to run?
Martin Wong: It's easy, Eric and I sit down and start
spewing out our story ideas while, watching TV. We have a lot of energy
and talk a lot, so it's easy.
S: What's your favorite story
that you've done?
Martin Wong: For the next issue, we went to Mexicali
and found a Chinatown in Mexico. I'm kinda proud of that. It follows off
of my Chinese-Jamaican thing I did last issue. Chinese people go all over
the place. It's kinda fun to uncover that because no one thinks about
S: What do you think is the appeal
of Chinese pop music?
Martin Wong: For me, I'm third generation Chinese-American
so I don't speak Mandarin or Cantonese, but I listen to it because I think
it's great. I think part of the appeal is that since I don't understand
what they're saying, I don't know how cheesy the lyrics are. I couldn't
listen to Celine Dion because I think her lyrics are dumb and I don't
like her style but if it's Faye Wong, I think, she looks great, she sounds
great and since I don't know what she's saying, it's cool. She's great
S: What do you think most people
think of when they hear Asian pop-culture? Do you think there are a lot
of bad associations, like with kung-fu, for instance?
Martin Wong: No way. I think there are a lot of Asian
groups who are offended because they feel they're being compared to Bruce
Lee and they feel hurt. But, they're just in denial. Just because it's
popular now doesn't mean the people who are into it have less of a right
than you or me. I think they're being selfish and uptight about culture.
Who's to say who owns culture? No one does. It's there for everyone to
enjoy and check out.
S: What are your letters usually
Martin Wong: We don't get enough of them. Usually they're
like, "Dude, you rock!" or "Dude, you suck!" But every
now and then, we'll get an interesting one. We get letters from people
in jail, girl stalkers.
S: What do girl stalkers write?
Martin Wong: I don't know. I've been getting ones from
a woman who keeps telling me I have to write an article on Tiger Bomb
Gardens. There's one in Singapore and one in Hong Kong. She sends these
really big post cards that are really ornate and they're like trimmed
and painted and really blown up. They're bigger than my head. That's kinda
cool, I guess.
S: What's Giant Robot fashion
Martin Wong: We want to make people look good. If you're
wearing a Bruce Lee Dj shirt, people are going to look at you and know
you appreciate vinyl and Bruce Lee. I wear my fighting shirt all the time
and I feel great. No one's challenged me to a fight yet. If they did,
I'd run cause I'm not a fighter.
Satellite: What do you think the current
Asian-American political situation is?
Martin Wong: I think the vast majority out there don't
care. They just want to watch Friends and read Details, they just want
to fit in and be mainstream. That sucks. The worst thing is there are
people who are just happy whenever there is an Asian-American in the mainstream
like in a shitty role in a B-movie or sitcom they celebrated like it's
great. If the show sucks or the movie's bad, then they should say so and
not celebrate it like a victory for Asian-Americans. They need to raise
their standards. Just because a person's Asian doesn't mean that's a great