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9 of 1: Interview by ComicCon's The Pulse
BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
December 11, 2003
The Pulse: 9 of 1
Just how did the youth of today deal with what happened on September 11, 2001? It was a horrible day that had lasting repercussions. That thought inspired Oliver Chin to create a story in 9 of 1 that showcases an average high school class and their reaction to what happened then and next. Each member of the class has to interview a stranger and the stories may surprise you.
THE PULSE: Where were you when 9/11 happened? How did you find out about the terrorist attack?
OLIVER CHIN: I was in San Francisco, and my alarm clock woke me with the news and then I saw the footage on TV with my wife.
THE PULSE: What inspired you to create 9 of 1: A Window to the World?
CHIN: As world events continued to go in a direction that I was uneasy about, I had a lot of personal opinions about the matter, but wanted to channel and express them in a constructive way. Since there has been a deluge of commentary from every believable angle (especially around the anniversary dates), I didn't want to just produce another conventional book that would
be lost in the crowd. Therefore, I felt I had to create a unique way to incorporate perspectives that were being ignored or shortchanged by the mainstream media while addressing an audience that was being underserved. I also wanted to see if I could stretch the comics form and apply it in a way that would speak to our current real-life situation.
THE PULSE: Why did you think it was important to show the after effects of 9/11 through the eyes of an average high school class?
CHIN: Aside from the cliche that the "next generation has to inherit the problems of their parents" (whether it is social security, the environment, the national debt, or global prejudices), I do think that students bear a big responsibility to fix things. They have idealism, energy, and creativity but are burdened with very large communal challenges and the conflicting tension of just catering to themselves in consumer culture that promotes instant gratification.
But young people are more open to change and accepting others, and provide an ideal context to show a how a truly multi-cultural dialogue can exist and produce benefits that our political leadership is either unwilling or unmotivated to engage in.
THE PULSE: Why 11th grade?
CHIN: It is a formative year, since 11th graders typically take US history in school. Also they are on the cusp of learning more about their country and themselves, as they plan to apply to college. They are on the verge of becoming adults but still have so much to learn.
THE PULSE: How long has it been since you were in high school? How much of the actions/nuances are from personal memory?
CHIN: I graduated from high school in 1987. Definitely I infused some of the atmosphere from my own experience, but I know that kids are growing up faster and faster. The flavor of school has changed to be more negative by and large (more academic pressure, more threats of violence and punishment, and a general disapproval of public school by parents). I wanted to acknowledge these trends but also provide some glimmer of hope of what shape real education and learning can take.
THE PULSE: How else did you get insight into the minds of today's teens? Did you go to schools and talk with students?
CHIN: I have talked with students, but I also drew from my experiences dealing with people from different ethnicities and backgrounds. I have been conducting college admissions interviews for seniors in high school for the past decade, and evaluating their careers goals and personal growth - so that has given me good practice in weaving coherent narratives together from one-on-one talks.
THE PULSE: Who or what did you base the teacher on?
CHIN: The teacher is not based on any one actual person. In some sense, the teacher can be seen as a surrogate of the author or of the adult reader who would harbor good intentions of trying to point others toward a path of investigating alternative viewpoints and seeking a larger truth.
THE PULSE: Why do you think interviewing strangers was important for these eleventh graders?
CHIN: It is crucial to acknowledge that one person (me, you, a stranger) does not
know everything and cannot be content with what they do know. It is also vital to recognize that people must not segregate themselves from others in an "us vs. them" mentality, which promises some short term security but produces long-term hostility which actually worsens the situation.
Students and adults have to be willing to take chances in order to grow and foster a more healthy, trusting, and open community. That is a way that conflict can truly be resolved, and peace achieved.
THE PULSE: Why do you think getting to know others in your community well is better for EVERYONE?
CHIN: Sometimes it isn't - since not everyone can be friends or agree. But I do think it can be the basis of mutual respect or tolerance which are baby steps toward a more mature society. Civil rights didn't happen overnight from the Civil War - it took a century and then some. But without incremental changes, larger improvements cannot be accomplished.
THE PULSE: How'd you come up with the melting pot of students and subjects?
CHIN: I wanted to pack in as much diversity (gender, race, religion, opinion) as realistically possible. Therefore I created a matrix where I could create as many interesting pairs/matchups to cover the most ideological bases. The Bay Area is an ideal place to set the story since it does have all these types of people in close proximity with one another, and makes this variety of juxtapositions plausible (especially since diverse people have learned to live with each other in a way that is atypical of the rest of the country where populations are more homogenous).
THE PULSE: What were some of the toughest parts about creating this story?
CHIN: The toughest part was trying to keep up with current events and stay relevant to the changing international situation. The US invaded Iraq right before I finished the graphic novel, so that is why I added the Epilogue - which actually serves as an appropriate bookend. However, unfortunately, the headlines continue to relate in most every way to the stories in 9 of 1, so I'm afraid that my graphic novel will remain very germane to these many conflicts that continue around the world.
THE PULSE: What do you find as the greatest rewards?
CHIN: Though I know that the book has not reached its destined audience yet (either in terms of numbers or demographics) of teachers and students nationwide, I have gotten great feedback from reviewers who have recognized its value:
Here are a few reviews
THE PULSE: Are there any schools who have requested copies of this? How many libraries have you gotten 9 of 1 into?
CHIN: So far, strangely San Francisco Public School's social studies teachers have been unresponsive to my email proposals to speak to their classes, but I chalk this up to a lack of awareness.
Libraries are incrementally starting to hear of it, especially since I recently got a great recommendation from the magazine Library Journal. But there are many more ways that they could learn about it, and I have to continue to try to reach them.
THE PULSE: How can readers get their own copy of this book?
CHIN: Details are here
THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on?
CHIN: My second book was published last month:
The Tao of Yao: Insights from Basketball's Brightest Big Man.
Details here: taoofyao.us.