What happens when two Vietnamese American graphic artists get together? A battle to tell the story of the Vietnamese American experience through the medium of the graphic memoir. diaCRITIC Jade Hidle is on the front lines and reports on the interesting turn of events and introduces us to Thi Bui, an up and coming comic book artist.
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Back in February, I wrote a diaCRITICS review of GB Tran ’s graphic memoir, VIETNAMERICA, which traces his parents’ escape from Việt Nam and his first visit to the country. (If you haven’t read Tran’s memoir yet, you MUST pick up a copy now!) Since reading and reviewing Tran’s book, I have been looking forward to seeing how Vietnamese Americans will continue to contribute to the comic genre and how that art form will open up possibilities for remembering and articulating our histories. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long.
On newsstands now, Hyphen magazine’s Bittersweet Issue features a collaborative graphic essay, “Double Crossings,” by Tran and Thi Bui, whose graphic epic, The Best We Could Do, is currently in the works.
Tran and Bui’s collaborative essay offers a glimpse into both artists’ storytelling talents, visual and verbal, as well as their perspectives on, and processes of, representing their families’ histories in an art form that, though diversifying, is still commonly associated with fictional tales of superheroes and other worlds. For more on Tran’s and Bui’s challenges and catharses in writing about real family experiences in this world, check out Hyphen’s web exclusive in which the artists interview each other.
After getting a taste of Bui’s work, I was eager to learn more about her project, so I promptly ordered the first chapter of her forthcoming graphic novel, available here. In Labor, Bui narrates giving birth to her son in 2005, a visceral bodily experience that is layered with memories of her mother. This powerful connection between the body and memory collapses the divide between past and present, and is suggestive of how history-making is a continual process. Speaking to this point, upon the birth of her son, Bui writes, “family is now something I have created—and not just something I was born into.”
At a visual level, Bui’s illustrations are comprised of stark black lines that capture the stand-out images of birth—the placenta hanging from the doctor’s hands, for one, and the psychedelically exaggerated size of the doctor’s head when Bui gets hooked up to the drugs to induce her labor and dull her pain. Bui’s humor comes through, too, when she candidly illustrates herself learning to change diapers and breastfeed, the latter panel featuring drawings of large breasts that crowd around Bui and her newborn son.
The opening chapter of Bui’s comic book only makes me want to read more, and I eagerly await the release of the full text. If you’re like me, you can keep track of Bui’s progress at her blog, This is a Place to Think in Pictures, where she consistently updates the status of her work, complete with images of her sketches, drafts, and rewrites.
For all of you fanboys and girls out there, how do you feel about the role of Asian Americans, as artists and as characters, in comic books and films today? Who are some of your favorites? What are some of the problems and potentials of Asian Americans in the comics industry? Let us know in the “Comments” section below!
Also, don’t forget to check out the current issue of Hyphen, not only for Tran and Bui’s collaborative graphic essay but also Baii Nguyen’s photograph of environmental activist Nobuko Miyamoto, along with articles on everything from Asian American spoken word poetry to post-birth traditions, the trials and tribulations of college admissions, and the magazine’s regular film and music reviews.
Jade Hidle is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Literature at UC San Diego. She aims to write her dissertation on Vietnamese-American literature, with a focus on how narrative structures map struggles of the body–miscegenation, disfigurement, skin color–and identity.
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