Flipping through the pages of GB Tran’s novel, Vietnamerica (2010) You’ll see colorful spreads and complex panels, layers of images one over the other, creating an epic illustration of one man’s life. These busy and bright pages, are separated by single pages of smoke. Large illustrations of smoke rising from incense or a cigarette. Within the billowing plumes Tran illustrates, he encapsulates memories within in them, in small panels inside these plumes. Indicating a flashback to the reader, and highlighting the lingering and fleeting nature of memories – like smoke.
Tran first introduces this element when reimagining Gia Boa’s parents in their youth. He illustrates their young and smiling faces between images of their current selves and even younger, frightened versions of themselves. The bright colors of the in the panels depicting their happy young selves, overpower the darker colors around it, and signify the fondness and the clarity of these memories. In rendering these memories from the smoke on incense, Tran connotes the sweetness and fondness of these memories, as he associates the reflection of these happy moments, with the sweet smell of incense. In using smoke to encapsulate these memories Tran highlights how distant they are as smoke will linger but eventually disappear only leaving the sweet smell of incense behind, like the sweetness of distant memories.
Tran also encapsulates darker moments from the past within plumes of cigarette smoke. In using the smoke that billows off the tip of Gia Bao’s father’s cigarette to depict and encapsulate his memories of post war Vietnam, Tran connotes a sense of bitterness. These memories linger like cigarette smoke, as they are potent and pungent and linger much longer that the sweetness left by incense.
In combining illustrations of memories within plumes of smoke from incense and cigarettes, Tran indicates flashbacks to readers in a repeated format. Furthermore, Tran also combines the power of sight and smell by connecting the images from the characters memories to the sweet and bitter sent of incense and tobacco. These sensory oriented elements enhance the text as it gives multiple layers of meaning to the captions, and highlights the complexity of these memories and the impact that they have on Tran’s characters.
Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010
Blog Post 4