Graphic novels with history
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 23:10
Gia Bao Tran, author of the award-winning graphic memoir Vietnamerica, shared an inside look with students and faculty about how his book came to be through a series of decisive events.
After a brief introduction by the Director of the Asian American Studies Institute, Cathy Schlund-Vials, Tran explained that his presentation would address why he decided to pursue the creation of Vietnamerica.
“It wasn’t like I woke up one day and rolled out of bed and was like, ‘Oh! I’m gonna draw a 300 page comic about my parents’ lives,” said Tran. “There was a series of events that, at the time that they were happening, I didn’t realize it would lead to this ultimately, but were all integral in basically getting to this point.”
He said his journey to connect to his roots began when he first started drawing comics at the age of ten. While his parents went out of their way to tell him stories in hopes of instilling pride in his heritage, including enrolling him in a Vietnamese language school and only allowing him to play with other Vietnamese kids, their efforts were lost on Tran. He went to the University of Arizona as an astrophysics major, mostly to satisfy his parents’ wishes. In order to make room for fine arts classes during the school year, Tran took astrophysics classes in the summer before switching his major to fine arts at the end of his junior year. This was the first out of three stages of the “story before the story.”
The second stage began when he went to Vietnam after college. It was the first time he accepted his parents’ offer to travel and this time he observed his parents’ interactions with the people they met in Vietnam. Overhearing interesting conversations, Tran realized a lot he didn’t know about his parents’ lives in Vietnam. Though he knew the history of Vietnam, hearing these personal stories added to the human side of the past. The final part of his presentation revolved around the family legacy. After the 2001 trip to Vietnam, one of his grandmothers passed away. It wasn’t until then that he realized that the stories she had were now inaccessible. This made him think about all that he didn’t know.
“To better understand who I am, I need to better understand who my parents were,” he said.
After discovering that he had a brain hemorrhage in 2004, Tran had an epiphany. He decided that there would never be enough time in his life for him to do everything that he wanted, but there would be enough time for the important things. He decided to finally ask his parents about their pasts in Vietnam.
He completed the book in 2010 and it has already won awards for the Top 10 Graphic Memoirs of All Time by Time, Gold Medal in Sequential Art by the Society of Illustrators, Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2011 by the Library Journal, and more.
Sampling Literature by Asian Americans (SLAAm) book club features the work of Asian American writers. The club reads and discusses a book chosen by a club member each semester and hosts a private discussion and dinner with the authors. SLAAm, along with the Asian American Cultural Center and the Asian American Studies Institute sponsored the event. After a question and answer session, Tran spoke to fans, autographed books and joined the book club for dinner.