The bits and pieces that make up the texture of everyday life.
James Lloyd is a fellow cartoonist who I consider a friend. Oh, but it’s been many years since I can say that I’ve seen Mr. Lloyd in person. James Lloyd is from Vancouver, BC. I’m from Seattle. So, we do need to properly meet up one of these days. Here’s a James Lloyd comic that was slated to debut at this year’s annual Vancouver Comic Arts Festival (VanCAF), which had to become a virtual event this year. It’s entitled, Black Sunday, and is a beautiful work full of local color, all the bits and pieces that add up to the texture of everyday life. But keep with it as this comic unfolds into a look back at the Fall of Saigon. Yes, that’s the Black Sunday that’s being referred to here. Keep going and you’ll discover a story of searching for family roots and confronting the gentrified Little Saigon in Vancouver. Lloyd makes a comparison between the South Vietnamese forced out of their homeland in 1975 and the more recent squeeze that the Vancouver South Vietnamese business community has experienced from developers. How often can one be pushed out after doing everything to play by the rules?
From the Fall of Saigon to the gentrified Little Saigon.
James Lloyd is an excellent artist and he is not someone to sit on his hands and is ready to offer up praise and support to a colleague. Praise and support means everything within the comics community which is made up of a lot of loners who would love nothing more than to go back to their drawing board. Well, let’s hope we can all do our part to keep shedding some light on remarkable labors of love.
Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63 by Marcelino Truong
Here is one family’s unique experience with the Vietnam War byway of the diplomatic corps: Such a Lovely Little War, written and drawn by Marcelino Truong, published by Arsenal Pulp Press. As a cartoonist and writer, I’m attracted to the more idiosyncratic works in comics and this led me to the work of Marcelino Truong.
A family terrorized.
These deeply personal comics resonate the most with me. Add to it the fact that the author is dealing with being bi-racial, and feeling out of place, and that gets my genuine attention. Truong’s mother, Yvette, is French and his father, Khánh, is Vietnamese. It is circa 1961 and the family has left Washington, D.C, the home they’ve known. Khánh, as cultural attaché at the Vietnamese embassy, has been called back to Saigon where he will become the personal interpreter to the new president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem . Thus, our narrative unfolds. It’s quite a perspective, one that is up close and encased in a bubble, in step with the cheeky title to this graphic memoir.
One boy’s adventure is another boy’s horror.
Truong’s story is triggered by a need to come clean with as many facts as possible. The Vietnam War is many things. One boy’s adventure is another boy’s horror. A boy safely tucked within the circles of affairs of state will witness one thing. A boy who is part of a family in the killing fields will witness another thing. Obviously, little Marco and his brother Domi have got a lot to learn if they’re thrilled to see napalm bombs on the wings of a plane upon their family’s arrival in Vietnam. Of course, Marco and his family are in for an education. Truong goes to great lengths to lay out as many pertinent details as possible, the sort of details that can get lost in, well, the fog of war. This is a story of relative safety, even at the most privileged levels, slipping away. It’s up to everyone to know when to jump before reaching that boiling point.
One family’s experience of the Vietnam War.
Truong’s work is another exquisite example of the auteur cartoonist. As I’ve said many times, it is the auteur cartoonist who meets the full definition of a cartoonist: the creator who does it all: the writing, drawing, and even coloring when applicable. These are the three main roles, along with editing and layout, that are often taken up by a creative team. It’s fascinating to study work where you have one creator basically calling all the shots. It can result in a work that weaves together script and art to an uncanny level. It is a tradition favored in indie circles in the States and even more ingrained in Europe. You can even take this auteur profile one step further and say it involves creating work by hand, as opposed to digital, as much as possible. A lot of artist-cartoonists, with Truong being a leading example, prefer to engage with their comics within a painter-cartoonist mindset. You’ll find here in Truong’s art that you can break it down into a series of watercolors, a complex network of watercolors. Truong does an exceptional job of modulating his use of color. This is a delicate balance, a shifting between duo-tone to full color, whatever fits best. It all adds up and enhances the immersive quality of Truong’s exceptional memoir.
Siagon Calling: London 1963-75 by Marcelino Truong
And there is a sequel. If you’re inspired to pursue further, then you will want to read Saigon Calling: London 1963-75. The irony is as front and center on the cover as it could be as you have the main characters strolling down a crosswalk, ala Beatles, with a napalm blast in the background.
Both Such a Lovely War and Saigon Calling are published by Arsenal Pulp Press. And be sure to visit Marcelino Truong at his website right here.
THE DEAD EYE AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by Vannak Anan Prum
There are more slaves today, well over 40 million, than at any time in human history. A new book, a graphic memoir, by Vannak Anan Prum provides a most vivid and compelling testimony, through luscious watercolors and the author’s honest oral account, transcribed and composed to meld with Prum’s artwork. The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a 256-page hardcover, in full color, published by Seven Stories Press.
First and foremost, this is a unique and remarkable book that readers will quickly find themselves immersed in. Human trafficking is not an obvious subject matter for the casual reader but Mr. Prum handles the subject with great dignity, never delivering a false note, and even maintaining a sense of hope throughout.
Teamwork equals survival.
This is not a conventional graphic novel/memoir. But, in the process of reading it, I found myself open to seeing this book as functioning as comics–even if it forgoes many of the building blocks of the comics medium. Was Prum ever really intending to create a work in comics, per se? I think Prum is working on a pure level, one that takes the tools required to get a job done. So, given his background and his harrowing experience, I’m sure that he wasn’t mulling over whether he might end up creating a book that would be deemed one of the hippest graphic novels of the year by the A.V. Club, The Comics Journal, etc. No, this man was in dire straits, as serious as a heart attack, and he was most interested in documenting his experience. Surely, he was thinking of working as an artist in some general sense but, even more so, Prum required his work to align with the accuracy of a top notch courtroom sketch artist. Get the facts out, first. Then take care of the artistry and poetry.
Death on a slave owner’s whim.
Even after the experience and with time for contemplation, Prum is driven to document, much in the artist tradition of, say, Albert Bierstadt, Winslow Homer, or Charles Fritz. And, I believe, the initial collection of Prum watercolors gave way, somewhere in the process (through the translating and transcribing of his oral testimony) to having this all adhere more to a graphic novel/memoir framework. And, as you progress from page to page, alternating between artwork and text, you can’t help but totally empathize with Prum, from his stumbling into danger to his dogged perseverance. So, yes, ultimately it does feel and read like a work of comics.
Prum begins his journey as a newlywed with a child on the way living in a tiny poverty-stricken village in Cambodia. Without any prospects, no education, no employment opportunities to speak of, Prum is one very desperate and vulnerable young man. Like so many others like him in similar situations, Prum is lured into a too-good-to-be-true offer of a good job with good money. It is just a matter of one footstep into a truck, and overwhelming desperation, that leads Prum and a band of other victims onto a fishing vessel–followed by years of toil and torture, at the mercy of his overseers.
“I want everyone to know about this. Through my pictures, I want to warn all cross-border migrant workers to be careful. Even if they do not keep my own story in mind, they will at least have an idea of what life is like for people trafficked onto boats for forced labor.” Vannak Anan Prum is an artist who was held captive as a slave for four years on a Thai fishing boat before being sold into slavery on a Malaysian plantation for another year. He has since escaped and now lives with his family in Cambodia. Read his story here: http://tiny.cc/deadeye Vannak’s store is run by a handful of English speaking friends. 100% of the royalties earned from this store go directly to Vannak. Feel free to email us if you have any questions or would like to commission a work directly from Vannak.
–from Vannak Anan Prum’s Twitter
It is to the credit of Prum’s own natural artistic and poetic inclinations that his story never turns maudlin. It is also to Prum’s credit that, despite the grim circumstances, his narrative never grows too dark, as if the reader can rely upon Prum to find a way, to rise above, while also not suggesting he was some sort of hero. What Prum turned out to be is an authentic artist/journalist. While I’ve stressed that Prum’s main goal is accuracy, there is no denying that he also managed to remain faithful to artistry. He has a keen sense for pacing, composition, and for color. Life is back to the normal for him now, back with his wife and little daughter. While he continues to heal from his past, Prum can take solace that his voice has been heard and that his contributions are greatly appreciated. No doubt, this book will have readers wondering about where their last seafood meal came from.
A tattoo artist emerges.
As I say, this is a tough subject to deal with, but it is essential that we educate ourselves on human trafficking and this book is invaluable in that process. Personally, I am very inspired by Prum’s story, made up of so many nuanced moments. I wondered, as I read, how he would make a life for himself after having been forced into slavery. What will freedom look like for him? I think this book will make a difference, not only to educate others but, hopefully, to help Prum and his family rise up to where they belong. I can see him developing further as a fine artist. And, as the book demonstrates, I can also see him doing quite well as a renowned tattoo artist. I look forward to whatever he does next.
Prum’s artwork saves his family.
The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a 256-page hardcover, in full color, published by Seven Stories Press. To learn more about Vannak Anan Prum, and purchase his art, visit him here.
THE BEST WE COULD DO, by Thi Bui and published by Abrams ComicArts, is one of those rare graphic novels with an in depth family theme. This sort of book belongs in the select group of titles like PERSEPOLIS and FUN HOME. In fact, you usually need to turn to the superhero genre, with all its universes and lineages, to find a story in comics that focuses on anything remotely to do with family. I say this tongue-in-cheek but it’s fairly true. Anyway, anytime you add family, you are likely adding something interesting to your story. What happens in Bui’s graphic novel is thoughtful, funny, and totally interesting. When was the last time you read an epic saga about a Vietnamese family? Well, this fills that void in a very compelling way.
Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO
Thi Bui studied art and law, thought about becoming a civil rights lawyer, but became a public school teacher instead. Someone with that kind of background is just the sort of cerebral and sensitive type of person who gravitates to creating comics. Bui was born in Vietnam and arrived in America with her family as a refugee from the Vietnam War. Her immigrant experience, without a doubt, is part of a continuum that will outlive our current political machinations. This is a story that goes beyond that and addresses the struggles that any family will confront as one generation must come to terms with another. It is also a story about finding one’s self both within and outside the context of family. As Bui discovers, close proximity to family does not necessary mean close ties to family.
Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO
Overall, Bui has adopted a solid alt-comics approach to her work. It has that intimacy and spontaneity that evokes work coming out of a sketchbook. While Bui is not a career cartoonist who has honed years of experimentation with comics, she provides an engaging and polished style. It will be interesting to see if she chooses to further develop her work in the comics medium. She has created a beautiful book.
Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO
“The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” is a 336-page hardcover available as of March 7th. For more details, visit Abrams ComicArts right here. You can purchase through Amazon right here.
Roy and I were just hanging out at the offices of Comics Grinder when we began to consider the current crisis in the Middle East. I had told Roy that Hillary Clinton was talking, actually warning, about the possibility of an Islamist state emerging from Syria and Iraq. This brought to Roy’s mind an essay by Isaiah Berlin, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” The Hedgehog represents Plato and Big Ideas. The Fox represents Aristotle and Small Ideas. It is a classic that explains the virtues of knowing many small things as opposed to knowing, embracing, being blinded by, only one big thing.
“Vietnam Journal,” by Vietnam veteran, Don Lomax, is one of the great examples of what can be done with comics beyond superheroes. Thanks to dedicated supporters, like Gary Reed, the publisher of Caliber Comics, this is a comic that has secured its place in history. But there are always new readers to reach and new ways to reach them. Caliber Comics is releasing the entire run of this Harvey Award nominated series starting with “Vietnam Journal Vol. 1: Indian Country” With a very special thanks to comiXology, this work will reach an even bigger audience. You can find the first volume of Vietnam Journal at comiXology here.