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Yellow Pages - Interview with the Editors of Giant Robot
Interview, Satellite, Vol. 1, Iss. 5 - April 2001

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 time ago.


Eric Nakamura - Giant Robot co-editor, publisher

Satellite: Why is it called Giant Robot?

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 cool.


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 more slicker?

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 it.


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 packaging.


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 like?

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 all about?

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 thing.

 

All content, unless otherwise noted, (c) Ken Chen, 1998-2006. Ken Chen can be reached by email.

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