“Welcome to Chinatown” by Wesley Sun
“Do you want to see the devil?”
That was the first line of dialogue I read on my computer screen … and I was hooked. My brother and I had been kicking around ideas for a graphic novel for years. We had some characters fleshed out, the skeleton of a plot, and some design ideas floating around, but we hadn’t started writing any actual scenes. Then one day Brad sends me a manuscript for our opening. It was short, just a few paragraphs—two Chinese girls sitting in a bedroom talking about the devil. The girls didn’t even have names yet. But the scene was gripping. And when I finished reading it, I wanted to read more. And then I realized this book needed to be written.
Deep in its guts, Chinatown is a haunted house story. But in Chinatown you won’t find a rickety old mansion or a cabin in the woods. Instead, we’ve got flower shops with lucky cats and BBQ joints with hanging ducks. The well-worn streets and back alleys are home to latchkey kids, struggling families, super ancient old-timers, and a few wandering, lumbering tourists. It’s a community on its last legs, and totally unsuspecting that its simple life might change.
Change, it seems to me, often threatens tradition but rarely injures superstition. So for a town steeped so heavily in both, a sudden, traumatic change to the order of things is ruinous enough to destroy it. And for our story, it all begins when a young girl goes missing.
As I kept writing, the line between superstition and belief, along with the thin divides between healthy fear, gross paranoia, and abject horror started to blur. Even though this tiny, immigrant community had planted longstanding roots, I got the distinct sense that they barely knew their own homeland. Like a new family moving into an old mansion (did anyone else just love American Horror Story?), our characters never seemed quite sure what sort of world they lived in, or what rules they had to play by.
On the streets of Chinatown, there was always something old, ancient, and established in the air, but also something else—something that invoked the horrible, unexpected newness of uncovering the unknown (or the unacknowledged).
As we worked through multiple drafts, Brad and I kept asking ourselves—what kind of story is this? There were times I was certain it was a mystery. Other times, I was convinced it was really a modern day Western. But as we penned scene after scene and kept reworking the narrative, the tale always found itself bending toward the supernatural, the trippy, and the bizarre. The storytelling became less linear, and we found that the unraveling of our community paralleled the unraveling of traditional plot devices.
Soon, I started to feel like the story was writing itself and was pushing us—the writers—where it wanted us to go. So be it. Chinatown had taken on a life of its own.
In the end, we brought together strong elements of magical realism, mixed in some super cool horror tropes, and finished it off with contributions from our own cultural experience. The book was co-written pretty evenly by the Sun Bros, with Brad handling the illustrations and me—Wesley—taking the lead on communications and promotions.
Chinatown will be in print by the end of the year, but in the meantime you can check out our slideshow sneak peak here at the blog and our image gallery on Facebook to take a look at some work in progress.
Keep checking back, as we’ll be regularly posting up more sketches, panels, and finished pages. We’re always looking for feedback, so when you come by, feel free to let us know what you think!