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Giant Robot, Launch!

Giant Robot
Ride the Chungking Express: A recent 'Giant Robot' cover image.

All things Asian and more crop up in the pages of 'Giant Robot'

By Todd S. Inoue

NOT TOO MANY magazines with a large Asian American readership would turn down an interview with Jackie Chan. Giant Robot did. "Jackie was offered, and I said, 'Forget it,' " explains publisher Eric Nakamura by phone from his L.A. home/office. "It was so lame because he was everywhere. So I just said no."

Instead, Giant Robot opts for lower-profile Hong Kong stars like Chow Yun-Fat, Anita Yuen and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. The magazine writes devotedly about Ultraman toys, Ultimate Fighting championships, sumo wrestling, punk rock, skateboarding and strange Asian candies. For Nakamura and his collaborators--Martin Wong and Nate Shimizu--publishing is all about putting out a product they can be proud of.

Giant Robot began in 1994 as a folded and stapled zine. The team investigated subjects that interested them: filmmaker John Moritsugu, the Boredoms, cartoonist Alfredo Alcala. They paraded in a Hello Kitty costume at a Sanrio store for a day. They crashed media events and kept hilarious notes. Today, the magazine is full-size and has a full-color cover.

The authors are real people who communicate real knowledge: Margaret Cho talking about white guys who like Asian girls; a waiter in a Japanese restaurant breaking down the three levels of annoyances (putting shrimp tails at the end of your chopsticks, for instance); a Beijing tour guide explaining why you shouldn't feel sorry for her. It's funny without the navel-gazing "am I Asian, or am I an American?" performance-artiness that pervades many Asian American magazines.

Giant Robot is often lumped in the same category as A. and Yolk because many of its subjects are Asian or Asian American. Nakamura maintains, however, that he is content to choose topics that make good reading. In a recent issue, Giant Robot ran a tasteful connoisseur's guide to Asian pornography, a who's who and what's what syllabus that included a first-person search for the Sickest Asian Porn Video in the World (Guinea Pig video took the prize).

Not one negative letter was received. "I got a bunch of letters [from readers] who said it was written in an interesting way," Nakamura says. "I knew we would lose distribution if we went balls out. I was hoping that people would see around it. There's 88 pages of magazine and only 12 pages of porn, which makes 76 pages of non-porno-related material. The issue made it into Singapore; so if it makes it there, it can make it anywhere."

So far, the magazine has made it as far as Australia and Mexico City. Nakamura recently got a letter from a 47-year-old non-Asian woman from Oklahoma praising Giant Robot's noncondescending attitude. "We don't want to exclude anybody," Nakamura says. "I want more people to read it. I'd like the Asians in lowered Hondas to be reading it. That's a market I'd really like to get."

Giant Robot will take part in the Alternative Press Expo, noon­4pm, Saturday (Feb. 1) at the San Jose Convention Center, Market and San Carlos streets, San Jose.

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From the January 30-February 5, 1997 issue of Metro

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