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.

Image result for gb tran vietnamerica joyride

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.


2 thoughts on “Words As Image

  1. Thank you for your post, Caroline!

    In my blog entry, I wrote on the layers of semiotics hidden within contrasting color scheme of the image/page you displayed in your post. I love and appreciate how we can both identify distinct narratives in this single page of the memoir. Regarding the ribbon-like illustration of the speech bubbles you references, I also found the variation in font style as particularly revealing. In the introduction of the memoir, when GB’s family waits in close quarters among a tight crowd of Vietnamese families also fleeing the country, the bubbles are in cursive and the lettering is barely legible. If this artistic choice speaks to the discomfort experienced in the journey of the van I would not be surprised. But, I could also understand how these speech bubbles could be interpreted in a multitude of ways I have yet to consider. Lastly, it’s interesting to note how in the image of GB escaping the confined frames in the graphic novel, he is depicted with no words to match the mental and physical discomfort he is experiencing.

  2. I found it interesting how you connected the blurbs of speech that were difficult to read with the feeling of unfamiliarity. I would have associated it as creating barrier between the reader and the text, just as there is a metaphorical barrier between Trans and his Vietnamese culture. In the scene you described Trans was not able to fully connect with his Vietnamese culture since he ad not been immersed in it his entire life. Similarly in my post i had described how certain texts throughout the book were hard to read, such as the texts that appeared erased. These blurbs of unreadable text were used as a tool that evoked confusion within the scene; readers were not fully able to follow what characters throughout the text were hearing in other characters’ conversations, which complicates the scene.

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