Vietnamerica & The Artistry of Graphic Memoirs

In my experience, graphic memoirs are some of the most informative mediums of cultural text. The illustration, dialogue, framing and colors within a graphic memoir work in cohesive fashion to intensify patterns, emotions, and narrative themes. I find the artistry of how an author uses these creative tools entertaining and at times more helpful than a traditional novel to read from

In Vietnamerica, GB Tran’s use of color, shading, and spacing within his illustrations work successfully to exaggerate the frustrations GB feels after arriving in Vietnam with his family. On page 49, GB Tran depicts himself annoyed at his mother for coddling him over what to pack for their family trip to Vietnam. The neutral shading in this set of frames consists of neutral blues, blacks and whites. Pacing around his home in New York GB disregards his mother’s sentiments.

In the last frame of the page, GB paints himself engulfed in a chaotic blend of orange and black smoke. Suggesting an out of body experience, GB looks as if he is in an illusion where his head is floating into thin air, above his body. The frame transports the audience in an unfamiliar place which one could assume is Vietnam. Given the expression of his face, it is clear GB recognizes he should have listened to the wisdom of his mother.

On the following page, GB is depicted with spinning wheels for eyes, going mad. The unfamiliar streets of Vietnam are now roaring with trucks, food vendors, children, families, store fronts and exhaust. Within these frames, distinct hues of red and orange direct the gaze of the audience to the communist star depicted near the center of the illustration. Through the overt application of bright orange and reds hues covering communist symbolism, GB suggests the disruptive nature of these frames as resultative of the destructive aftermath of communism.

In these frames GB is stripped of his Western comforts and familiarity back in New York. He is framed in harsh juxtaposition against aspects of the Vietnamese culture he is one generation removed from.

All of his interactions within these frames are short,and dismissive. While trying to purchase Pho from a street vendor, his language capabilities are shattered. Nothing he says or does seems to resonate within this space which his family nostalgically roots themselves. GB depicts himself almost escaping the 2-dimensionality if the page to exaggerate the alienation he feels. There is simply no space for him. The singular illustration symbolic of the American culture he grew up around is the red and yellow McDonalds brand presented in the background of a smaller frame. Even this is drowned out behind an excess collection of dust and exhaust.

Works Cited

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