Comic Book Artist Thi Bui Battles GB Tran & Remembers Home

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.

A peek at "Double Crossings" from hyphenmagazine.com.

In her portion of the essay, Bui humorously illustrates how, upon reading VIETNAMERICA, she declared Tran her arch-nemesis for beating her to the punch of writing the first Vietnamese American graphic memoir. One of her panels in the essay imagines “challenging him to a duel on the rocky Scottish highlands.” But, then she realizes that her frustration with Tran parallels and perpetuates the long history of hostility among Vietnamese, that collaboration should trump competition. Tran’s half of the essay, like Bui, celebrates being able to share with her the complicated process of telling histories of war and immigration through the comic book genre.

"A duel on the Scottish highlands" from thibui.com.

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.

Tran and Bui interview each other. Image from hyphenmagazine.com.

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.”

The cover of Thi Bui's "Labor." Image from thibui.com.

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!

The Bittersweet Issue at hyphenmagazine.com

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

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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4 Responses to Comic Book Artist Thi Bui Battles GB Tran & Remembers Home

  1. Dan Duffy says:

    Neat. Will go read these authors and eventually get them covered at Wikivietlit. As ever, my attention has been drawn rather by Vietnamese writing from their lives, within history, rather than speaking for and about Vietnamese America to the general population.

    So my hit list includes Vink, the Belgian “Mad Monk” guy, and Jon Hill. Jon, a graduate of the sequential art program at Savannah School of Art & Design, has done fabulous strips on VNLP authors, which you may find at our site or via Jon’s. I would like very much to make the Vietnamese tradition of cartooning more readily available.

    Vietnamese literature is a modern, urbanizing, newspapering one, like its coevals in France and the US. City newspapers always have cartoonists but few make it into university curricula.

    However, most Vietnamese studies scholars love the drawings we find in the print archive and try to reproduce them in our publications. See for example the Tu Luc Van Doan (Self Reliance Literary Movement) drawings in the Greg Lockhart articles at the VNLP site.

    Dan

  2. Thao Wakefield says:

    I just received GB Tran’s graphic novel as a gift. So far it is very engaging. I would love to read Bui’s when hers is released, being a mom myself. . I think it’s great that Vietnamese Americans are emerging onto the scene of graphic novels since they are becoming a popular medium. I’m glad these two are collaborating and not competing b/c there’s plenty of room in the market for these graphic novels. Congrats to both of them for being featured.

  3. Jade says:

    Dan, Thank you for the recommendations and for incorporating these authors into Wikivietlit!

    Thao, I agree with you and am glad you are enjoying GB’s book.

  4. Pingback: On Thi Bui | ENGL 391W: Asian American Graphic Narratives

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