Layers to Life

Picture this, your mom introducing you to family and friends as her artist son living in New York City, and then finding out that your father was himself a painter. GB Tran only begins to dissect the memories that tell his story by the act of drawing and writing. The author takes this a step further by incorporating art into his art. I’m Vietnamerica, GB Tran presents readers with a compilation of layered history in his graphic novel, uncovering his experience learning about himself and his family. He highlights what is erased, forgotten and remembered by pulling it into the present.

When GB Tran finds his father’s painting in his grandfather’s home, Tri immediately tries to avoid further conversation by leaving the house. What GB does between pages 23-4 is show himself and his father interacting with art. After being denied an explanation from his father, the next three panels on page 23 show a close-up panel of GB’s face in between panels of his father’s painting also close up. This creates a sense that he is observing the art intensely, and trying to make sense of what just unfolded before his eyes.

The first half of the next page is filled with square panels describing Tri’s art, his success and the eventual destruction of it. The text narrates how his paintings were left behind and destroyed after fleeing Vietnam. The bottom half of the page continues in square panels but appears to show a backward progression of GB father’s life, followed by a forward progression of his mother’s life. The narration begins with “Sometimes doing what’s right means leaving things behind.” (24) In his father’s three panels, a watercolor impression of what appears to be Huu Nghiep is in the background. There is a clear distinction in the artistic depiction of GB’s father and grandfather, illuminating the continued absence of Huu Nghiep in Tri’s life. When Tri left Vietnam, he was not only leaving his art behind but also leaving a wider gap between him and his father. The narration on the rest of the page introduces a Vietnamese saying: “Our parents care for us as our teeth sharpen… So we care for them as theirs dull” (24). This gives light to Tri’s seemingly apathetic behavior towards his father. Huu Nghiep was not there to raise Tri as he vanished from Tri’s life very early on. Through the painting and GB’s artistic styles, we begin to see why Tri claims he didn’t reach out to his father for over 50 years.

GB Tran pairs words and art to tell a story of his experience visiting Vietnam. At age 30, he is only looking at his father’s painting, but by uncovering Tri’s past, he can observe what isn’t seen on the surface, all that his father does not tell him. Vietnamerica is like looking at a time-lapse of a mixed media painting. But while this graphic novel does not follow a linear trajectory, viewers are still able to see what it took to get to the present day. We see what has been erased, painted or drawn over, just like the memories of characters GB Tran navigates throughout this body of work.

Works Cited

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. Villiard, New York, 2010.

 

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Shouty Words B4

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In Vietnamerica the author GB Tran uses dramatic words to illustrate when Tri Huu Tran was arrested and held in a jail cell, until he revealed where his father was. Tri Huu Tran could not tell them where his father was hiding because he was not in contact with him. His father left him and his mother when he was a kid and ever since he has not seen him. Regardless of this, he was held there against his will.

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On pages 69-70 GB Tran uses words that are not part of the text  bubbles to set the scene. Such as, “chuga, chuga, chuga,” to illustrate the car transporting Tri Huu Tran to the jail. The words are huge white block letters that do not have a straight line edge to them instead it is slightly crooked, demonstrating the momentum of the vehicle, these words also get covered up by the cars engine that’s blowing out smoke. There is also the expression, “CCREE,” it has all capital letters and its font is slightly italicized and regular but the size of it is also slightly small. This makes me feel wary of what’s going to happen next because the format of that expression seems to be eerily.

The word, “Shove,” is in all capital letters and there is a symbol that demonstrates the force of the shove the officer enacts on Tri Huu Tran. The other expression is, “Chk, Chk,” which was the sound of one of the officers lighting his cigarette. I noticed that each of these words and expressions was the recollection of what Tri Huu Tran remembered  and the dramatic way it is written and formatted in the book is to demonstrate the way GB Tran’s father felt in that moment, he was frightened and confused, he was innocent but accused of being guilty for not revealing the location of where his father was hiding.

The words on page 70 were made bigger and because of that it was cut off. Also, a thought bubble is shown but with no words, it was just dots and that was a demonstration of an officer that spoke but was not heard by Tri Huu Tran. With all the commotion and interrogation being thrown at him these words on Page 70 depict Tri Huu Tran not hearing everything clearly. Everything in his past life that was bad was because of his father.

Works Cited

Tran, Gia-Boa. Vietnamerica. Villard Books, 2010.  

Words As Image

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.

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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.

Works Cited

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010.

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Flashbacks of Brightness and Darkness

Have you ever watched a series that didn’t show events in chronological order? It confusing right, you’ll be sitting and watching only to have the episode suddenly change to a flashback or fast forward into the future. In GB Tran’s 2010 graphic novel Vietnamerica, Tran channels this use of “mixed up timelines” to tell the story of his father, Tri Huu Tran. Readers are taken through an erratic mix of bright and dull colors while being transported back and forth from his early life to period of detainment. 

The story opens on page 68 where we see a two dark pages filled with various shades of purple. Tri is being taken into questioning where he is asked about his fathers whereabouts. The story then jumps back to when he was a child talking to his friend about the French Vietmihn. The pages are loaded with bright colors of blues, yellows, reds and greens. Despite the bright colors, we are still made aware of the violence in the streets. This pattern of childhood flashbacks to the time of his detainment reoccur throughout the chapter. It finally ends on page 90 where Tri’s world of color and darkness collide. The top left corner of the page is white, showing a continuation of the happy memories of his engagement shown on page 89. The reality then fades to black as it is revealed to all be a dream Tri is suddenly woken up from as guards throw him out of a moving truck to be a “good Vietnamese citizen”(91). 

GB Tran’s use flashbacks to the colorful fathers childhood is meant to represent a more vibrant time in his life. But can it really be considered a better time? Despite all the pleasant colors we see violence between the authorities and the citizens as well as Tri consistently being ridiculed by his mother for wanting to pursue art. However, none of this compares to the torture he has to endure in captivity. The constant jumping back and forth from sad to sadder is incredibly depressing for the reader. It makes us feel sorry for Tri as he can’t seem to catch a break. 

Reading the dark pages made me want to return to the bright pages, only to receive an equally disheartening story line. But maybe that was Tran’s intention. This is an incredibly powerful representation of what it was like living in Vietnam during the time of war. You can go through the struggles of everyday living under subjugation of the French or face capture to even worse living conditions. Tran shows the reader through his use of flashbacks the reality of a lose-lose situation. 

Works Cited:

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010

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The Color of Family

The wisdom of market psychology tells us that colors affect how we feel about the world around use— for example, McDonalds’ signature red and yellow make people feel hungry and happy. Whether or not this pop psych explanation is true (do people also feel hungry and happy when they see China’s flag?), it points to the significance we assign to colors as conveyors of emotion. In the graphic memoir Vietnamerica (2010), G.B. Tran also makes use of the emotional significances attached to colors by selecting particular colors in conjunction with specific characters, settings, and types of scenes.

Between pages 5 and 39 of his graphic novel, Tran depicts his family arriving in Vietnam for his grandmother’s funeral, then flashes back into his mother’s memories and depicts the lives of his two grandmothers, Thi Mot and Le Nhi. During Tran’s reunion with his extended family, the sky, the ocean, and sometimes peoples’ clothes are light but vibrant shades of blue. This color evokes a sense of peace and carefree joy, like the sky on a day free of worrisome clouds. The blue is complemented by the delicate yellows of buildings, some clothing, food, and incense smoke. The yellow in these scenes, like the sun in the blue sky, communicates straightforward warmth. In combination, these colors suggest a happy and loving atmosphere among Tran’s family.

When Tran’s father, Tri Huu, visits his own father’s widow, Tran complicates the color palette to reveal the pain and conflict of family. In these scenes the yellow darkens and shifts to the sky, while buildings and clothing become gray. Only the sweater of Tri Huu Tran’s father’s widow remains yellow, and this yellow echoes the only other yellow in the room, the star on the Vietnamese flag. The flag evokes the fact that Tri Huu’s father abandoned him to fight for the Vietminh, and the widow becomes a reminder of this. The continuation of yellow in this scene reminds us that the widow is family, but works to emphasize conflict rather than warmth.

Finally, Tran reveals that the family’s blues and yellows represent the confluence of two women’s lives and choices. When he flashes back to the stories of Thi Mot and Le Nhi, Tran depicts Thi Mot’s experiences in blue and Le Nhi’s in yellow. These colors not highlight the personality differences between the two—bold yellow shows how Le Nhi “wasn’t the type to give up without a fight” (37) and calm blues represent Thi Mot’s peacekeeping nature (33) — and represent the women as the family’s origins.

 

Works Cited

Tran, G.B. Vietnamerica. Villard, 2010.

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Visual Pattern of Recurring Trees

America is a multicultural society that composes of many individuals and families with binary identities and races. Sometimes this is through heritage, other times it stems from living within multiple cultures and communities that a person feels tied to, or makes up who they are. In the graphic novel, Vietnamerica (2010) by GB Tran, is a family story of Tran’s journey to reconnect with his Vietnamese identity and family after having fled to America with his parents during the Vietnamese war. The choice of a graphic novel allows Tran to tell his story through comic style writing and visuals. One visual I found compelling was the recurring images of trees, often of dark blue and black coloring that can be seen in the background of many of the scenes in the pages.

     Cover of Vietnamerica graphic novelThe visual representation of the recurring black and dark blue color trees within the graphic novel is started after the images of the Vietnamese war that opens up the novel. The recurring dark color trees is the first image we see when Tran’s family escapes to America. This is then followed by the quote on the next page from his father which says, “A man without history is a tree without roots,-Confucius.” This pattern of recurring trees then produces the effect of having the reader’s constantly remember the quote and question what is Tran’s history. It also makes the reader more aware of the dark trees rather than it just being a normal scenery, it stands out as important to the story and the colors makes us question, is the history of Tran’s family dark as well? The quote causes the trees to be re-imagined as history that has to be rooted in something, and for Tran that is Vietnam. The recurring trees also connects the life he had in America to Vietnam because trees are general parts of nature and are seen and reproduced in the scenes of when he is in both places. It then allows us to connect that Tran has history in both countries, and he is traveling to Vietnam to get in touch with his roots here because he has been gone for so long. The quote combined with the recurring trees shows the pathway or journey that Tran must embark on to find his history, his roots.

Being someone in a binary race or culture identity can make you feel like you’re having to find both your identities. It is often a journey to connect to lost family, history, and your roots. Tran is trying to find his history and roots within his multicultural identity, and the importance of history and remembering it acts as his father’s push to remind him of that.

 

Works Cited

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010.

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The Impacts of Text Fonts Within Vietnamerica

 

The graphic novel Vietnamerica (2010) by GB Tran depicts tones, sounds, and emotions not only through the text itself, but also through different color schemes of pages in certain scenarios, along with different fonts throughout the text which convey different sensory emotions. One of the stronger techniques would be Tran’s use of fonts, that the trained eye is not used to reading.

For example in one chapter of the text Tran had used  fonts that looked as if they were erased and squished which made it difficult to comprehend. This technique helped readers to feel the emotions Tran was trying to evoke for relationships between characters within the scenes that were meant to be confusing, chaotic, and disconnected. An example of this technique within the text would be when a character named Tri attempts to eavesdrop on another persons conversation, the font of this scene had looked like parts of the words were erased. By doing this Tran makes it hard for the reader to understand what Tri is hearing, but at the same time the text was clear enough for the reader to piece together ultimately what Tri hears. This technique establishes a sense of confusion throughout the scene because of the breaks in the text, causing the reader to become puzzled by what they are reading; just as how Tri has trouble understanding what the person in the distance was saying.

Tran’s use of different fonts throughout the text is a fun and creative way of keeping readers engaged. The different fonts cause readers to figure out what words they are reading by making the the text itself a bit challenging to read, while also establishing emotions, speeds of conversations, distances between characters and helping readers to interpret how the characters sensory emotions such as hearing are reacting within that scene of the text.

Works Cited

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010.

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Color Palette of the Interrogation Room

Vietnamerica (2011) by G.B. Tran describes the journey of a Vietnamese-American man in returning to Vietnam with his family. Throughout his travels, his relatives share their experiences of wartime Vietnam. The graphic novel is characterized by its use of color. Specifically, each page or spread tends to make use of a specific palette of colors, which unifies each page and scene.

In the scenes where Tran Huu Tri is in the interrogation room, a recurring dark maroon color palette can be seen. This pattern begins on page 69 when Tri is first apprehended and placed into the cell. The palette of these pages is characterized with dark maroon as a primary color and a pale yellow accent. Behind the panels, the background of the page is black. The linework on these pages is heavy, dark, and sketchy, indicating the darkness of the room where Tri is imprisoned. This pattern is reproduced in all of the interrogation room scenes.

This palette produces several noticeable effects in the interrogation room scenes. First, it provides the reader with a recognizable sense of setting. When seeing these colors together on the page, the reader will instantly be aware that the scene is taking place within the interrogation room. Secondly, the darkness of this palette provides graphic weight to the speech bubbles due to the contrast between the dark maroon and the white of the speech bubbles. This effect draws the eye to the dialogue between the Vietminh and Tri.

Works Cited

Tran, Gia-Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Random House Inc, 2011.

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