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.

B4

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.

B4

Colorful Transitions in Vietnamerica

Cover of Vietnamerica graphic novel
What better way to tell your story than by the creative use of drawings, color, and free-flow structure? From the first few pages, G.B. Tran’s Vietnamerica (2010) emits layers of meanings through its structure, colors, form, and language. One of the noticeable structures is the many blank single-colored pages that act as a separator for different sections/eras of the novel. They have little to no other content on the page and function as a transition for different time periods (past and present).

The pages range in color from maroon, to white, to semi-pitch black, to bright blue, to dark navy blue, and to bright red. The maroon page comes before GB’s trip to Vietnam for his grandmother’s funeral. The white page comes after a portrait of Tran outlined in black with outlines of his parent in blue and red overlapping. The semi-pitch black page comes after the all-white page and appears before a section in which Tri’s family is forced to make the decision to move to a village outside of Mytho. The dark navy-blue page comes before the section that begins with GB packing his stuff in New York. The bright red pages come after a section where Tri is getting tortured for information.

This pattern of using different colored blank pages as transitions from past events to present day allows the readers to get a hint of the tone of the next section and gives reader a chance to read the next section with a blank slate (without thinking too much about previous information they were just given in prior sections). These blank pages remind me of clean slates, which is significant considering the narrative is bouncing back and forth from past and present. It allows readers to digest what they’ve just read and prepare for the next section. The choices of colors themselves also provide some sort of indication of the tone for the following section. For example, the dark navy blue page indicates that the tone of the next section is one of dreariness, routine, or lackluster.

In providing these plain, colorful blank pages, the graphic novel takes readers on a rollercoaster of an emotional narrative. They allow readers to empathize in some way with Tran’s experience, which gives the novel more meaning that just pictures and colors on a page.

 

Works Cited
Tran, Gia-Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010.

B4.