Marvel Comics promoted CB Cebulski to Editor-in-Chief, but not without controversy. With news of his promotion, it has come out that from 2004-2005 he wrote comics for Marvel under the pen name Akira Yoshida. Given that Cebulski is white and was writing manga-style stories under a Japanese name, this has drawn ire from the comics community.
A statement from Cebulski responding to the controversy was given to IGN from Marvel.
“I stopped writing under the pseudonym Akira Yoshida after about a year. It wasn’t transparent, but it taught me a lot about writing, communication and pressure. I was young and naïve and had a lot to learn back then. But this is all old news that has been dealt with, and now as Marvel’s new Editor-in-Chief, I’m turning a new page and am excited to start sharing all my Marvel experiences with up and coming talent around the globe,” Cebulski said.
The name “Akira Yoshida” likely came from combining name of the popular manga series Akira, and either the last name of Japanese X-Men member Sunfire or the name of the Japanese family that plays a part in Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s Wolverine classic. [Editor’s Note: Akira Yoshida isn’t an uncommon Asian name, it’s the name of a popular Japanese ruby player, but within the context of this story, it very much looks like two popular Asian comic book names were put together, not unlike an American comic enthusiast coming up with the name “Bruce Parker” or “Archie Kent.”)
Before accepting the position as Editor-in-Chief, Cebulski was living in Shanghai working as the VP of Marvel Brand Management and Development in Asia. He has a background in international relations and once held a talent contest to travel the world to find 12 new Marvel artists. He got his start at Marvel writing and developing the Marvel Mangaverse before becoming an editor.
Cebulski was still a Marvel editor when he wrote under the pen name, even though at that time editors were not allowed to also write comics. His credits under “Akira Yoshida” include several manga-inspired comics like X-Men: Kitty Pryde – Shadow & Flame (where Kitty goes to Japan for an adventure involving ninjas, dragons, and spies) and Wolverine: Soultaker (where Logan goes to Japan to fight ninjas and zombies). He also wrote a pair of comics for Dark Horse Comics as “Akira Yoshida,” Hellboy: Weird Tales and Conan and the Demons of Khitai.
Pen names aren’t unheard of in the comic book industry, but they are usually done to alter one’s given name — like Stanley Martin Lieber changing his name to Stan Lee — rather than take on the identity of a completely new person of a different ethnicity.
Cebulski went as far as to create a full backstory for “Akira Yoshida,” which he shared in a 2005 interview with Comic Book Resources while staying in character. “Akira” explained how his father was an international businessman who brought him to the U.S. “where he learned English by reading superhero comics and watching TV and movies.” The interview goes on to describe how he eventually found work at a small Japanese comic publisher called Fujimi Shobo, which is where he met manga icons like Ryo Mizuno and Kia Asamiya, and then in 2002 he attended a few U.S. conventions where they introduced him to some American editors and he landed his first gig. It’s unclear whether Cebulski actually met the named manga creators or not. Requests for comment from the writer of the CBR piece and the named manga writers were not returned by time of publication.
This false life story is perhaps the best example of why Cebulski’s secret pen name is controversial, and why those in the comics community are casting doubt on his new role as Marvel EiC. The tale of a young Japanese person with aspirations of writing for a big comics publisher in the U.S. is no doubt a common one, so by writing manga-inspired Marvel comics that include elements of Japanese culture himself, he effectively took the opportunity for work, money, and a career away from an actual Japanese writer.
The mainstream comic book industry has long been a place where diverse comic creators are hard to come by. While there are popular Asian artists and writers that do work for the Big Two — like Greg Pak, Cliff Chiang, Mariko Tamaki and Marjorie Liu — they still make up a disproportionate minority.
This isn’t the first time Cebulski’s pen name has come to light. A report by Rich Johnston on Bleeding Cool recalls multiple instances over the years where it was brought to the forefront, only for Cebulski to deny it. There were even others at Marvel who claimed to have met “Akira Yoshida” and had lunch with him, despite not having any proof. According to the report, “Cebulski had been planning to leave Marvel, but set up a writing career first — and Akira Yoshida was a fiction he created to get his first writing gig on Darkstalkers for Dreamwave and then Conan for Dark Horse. And it was from that gig that his fictional pseudonym was approached by another Marvel editor, quite unaware that Cebulski was Akira, and Cebulski found himself hired by his own company. And kept the lie going.” Marvel had been wanting to break into the Asian book market with manga-inspired versions of their characters, but given that “Akira Yoshida” was actually Cebulski, all of his work is now colored with, as Johnston puts it, “allegations of appropriation, yellowface, and playing up an authenticity that wasn’t there.”