If a picture tells 1,000 words, then many pictures paired with actual text must be worth a million. In GB Tran’s graphic memoir Vietnamerica (2010), the usage of partially-legible text combines with images to produce an overarching effect of familial enthusiasm that overwhelms Tran.
On page 63 of the memoir, Tran is visiting his family in Vungtau for a meal on his last night visiting them. In the first panel, Tran is shown eating food with chopsticks, completely surrounded by an array of overlapping speech bubbles, each with only a few to no words visible to the reader. The flurry of speech that all blurs together is a visual representation of the unfamiliar Tran is experiencing on his visit to an area that is overwhelming and new to him, having grown up in the United States. The fact that he is not adding to the mass of speech is also indicative of his sense of feeling outcast from a family who is in on a history he knows very little about.
On the following page, the concept of partially-legible text is repeated when Tran goes on a “joyride” on mopeds with some of his relatives (Tran 64). In each of four page-wide panels on much of this page, speech bubbles, appearing like ribbons, stream from Tran’s mother as she points at the various sites they pass by. In this example, the lack of legibility of most of what his mother says portrays how all of the words thrown Tran’s way goes right over his head. No matter how much his family tries to explain to him the contextual significance of certain landmarks to their family, at this point in the memoir Tran seems as though he is too far behind to catch up. The repetition of speech bubbles the reader cannot understand in this section then emulates the idea that Tran too has trouble processing all that is being said.
Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010.