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Graphic Novels

Ruth Asawa: An
Artist Takes Shape

Brave, unconventional, and determined, Ruth Asawa let nothing stop her from living a life intertwined with art. 

Renowned for her innovative wire sculptures, Japanese American artist Ruth Asawa (1926–2013) was a teenager in Southern California when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. Japanese Americans on the West Coast were forced into camps. Asawa’s family had to abandon their farm, her father was incarcerated, and she and the rest of her family were sent to a detention center, and later to a concentration camp in Arkansas. Asawa nurtured her dreams of becoming an artist while imprisoned and eventually made her way to the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

This graphic biography and publishing debut by Sam Nakahira, developed in consultation with Ruth Asawa’s youngest daughter, Addie Lanier, chronicles the genesis of Asawa as an artist—from the horror of Pearl Harbor to her transformative education at Black Mountain College to building her life in San Francisco, where she would further develop and refine her groundbreaking wire sculptures.

Asawa never sought fame, preferring to work on her own terms: for her, art and life were one. Featuring lively illustrations and a dozen photographs of Asawa’s artwork, this graphic retelling of her young adult years demonstrates the transformative power of making art.

“A tender and thoughtful rendering of an important artist’s life. Sam Nakahira uses the power and beauty of comics to its fullest to immerse you in the mind and genius of Ruth Asawa. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again!”
—Tillie Walden, Eisner Award-winning cartoonist and illustrator

"An Artist Takes Shape is a significant new publication—similar in a way to Faith Ringgold’s 1991 book Tar Beach—in that it allows children, especially Asian girls, to dream big about the power of art, even in the most ghastly of times."

—Maximilíano Durón, Art in America

“A lovingly crafted story about the early, formative years of a great sculptor—covering both the hardships and the joys that helped shape Ruth Asawa into the artist we remember her as today.”
—Melanie Gillman, author of As the Crow Flies

“A beautiful tribute to a groundbreaking artist that highlights the intimate humanity of Asawa’s work. Nakahira’s masterful cartooning takes readers on Asawa’s lifelong journey from a childhood behind barbed wire fences to adulthood transforming wire into art, a parallel impossible to ignore.”
—Kiku Hughes, author of Displacement

"Ruth Asawa: An Artist Takes Shape is a richly detailed recounting of the artist's life. It's so full of clearly conveyed scenes and stories that even those who are familiar with Asawa are sure to learn more. Obviously a labor of love, the book is true to the spirit of the woman who inspired it."
—Andrea D'Aquino, author of A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa

“A first purchase; this detailed visual biography illustrates the story of an important Japanese American artist emerging from one of the most ­atrocious violations of American civil rights in the 20th century—the incarceration of Japanese ­Americans.”—Anna Ching-Yu Wong, School Library Journal

Bill Fujimoto's Quiet Revolution (2019)

out-of-print (May 2022) ~

I worked on this graphic novel during my last year of undergrad—it was one of my first experiences playing with the comics medium. I want to make more comics that document and tell the lives and stories of Asian Americans and other people of color in a way that incorporates oral histories. Hopefully, one day, I can republish this comic in a larger anthology of historical comics.

Bill Fujimoto, a Berkeley-based Japanese-American food retailer, played a pivotal role in the development of 1970s California cuisine. Today, Americans are more aware of their food choices—where the food comes from, its locality, how it was produced, and its health quotient. But back in the 1970s, local food movements were largely nonexistent. People became disconnected from the people who grew their produce. 


However, Fujimoto ran a market where he supported small farmers and organic, local farming and farm-to-table eating in a time when corporate farming and supermarket chains were dominant. He followed and carried out an ideology that is more than just the taste of the food but encompasses what eating locally produced, seasonal food means. Thus, he has helped others in their communities to imagine a radical, more equitable, community centered world where food production is healthier, more sustainable, and controlled by small farmers. 


Bill was the first person to source produce for Alice Waters’ restaurant Chez Panisse when it opened. Over time, the Bay Area chefs who were a part of igniting California cuisine all went to Bill’s shop to buy their produce. He created a community of chefs, local farmers, and eaters who cared about seasonality, taste, and unconventional produce.

Threads That Connect Us (2020)


In 2020, Sam was Editor-in-Chief of a comics anthology for Asian and Asian American people. Threads that Connect Us collects various stories about what it means to be an Asian artist and person.  The anthology features work by artists including Mari Naomi, Rumi Hara, Meg O'Shea, Eunsoo Jeong (Koreangry), Teresa Wong, Angela Pan, Lee Truman, Kaitlin Chan, Jessica Jiang, Ashley Topacio, Shirley Pesto, Kyla Smith, and Filipa Estrela. Andie Nakahira made the cover for the anthology and Nhi Luu was the book designer/co-editor.

Limited print run.

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