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

Blog Post 4

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.