Today on the site, Michael Tisserand interviews Thi Bui’s about her memoir The Best We Could Do.
At any point did you encounter resistance to your decision to tell your story in a comic, due to old ideas about comics not being serious?
Sure, but I didn’t listen to it. I kind of like the low-brow reputation that comics have. It’s not unlike the experience of being underestimated because I’m a woman, a minority, a short person, or I look younger than my age. I enjoy the sweet revenge of surprising people. I have to, or else I would walk around in a rage all the time.
With the Ken Burns’ documentary The Vietnam War recently concluded on PBS, I’m wondering what are the primary misconceptions that you feel Americans have about Viet Nam, its history, and our involvement there? How have popular movies or books led to misperceptions, and did you consciously consider how your work was countering these misperceptions?
The primary problem with American narratives about the war is the need to center American experiences in a conflict that was not all about America. So even when Americans go in with the intention of critically examining the United States’ involvement in Viet Nam, they continue to keep the focus on themselves — look how bad we were, the damage we did — not realizing that in continuing to talk over the voices of those who have been heard from less, they continue the damage and prevent people from healing. I was surprised and sad at how easily the Ken Burns documentary overshadowed the work of so many Vietnamese and Vietnamese American writers, filmmakers, and scholars.
Images we pick up from movies stick around for a long time. If your idea of what Vietnamese people look and sound like comes from movies like Full Metal Jacket and Platoon, then I have a lot of work to do to replace those caricatures with carefully observed characterizations of real Vietnamese people. Some people are able to do this entirely in prose; for me, drawing was in my arsenal, so I used it. My hope is that my images will stick around and influence people’s ideas of Vietnamese people for the better — not because I portrayed them all as model minorities, but because I showed them as fully formed human beings who can be wonderful, average, or total assholes, just like everybody else.
I’d like to hear from and help amplify voices even less heard than the Vietnamese. My family’s story doesn’t touch on the experiences of ethnic minorities in Viet Nam, or people in neighboring Laos and Cambodia who were impacted by the war.
Frank pointed me to this Flickr album of photos of the David Mazzucchelli show I curated some years back. His work looks as great as ever.
This is a decent overview of Samuel R. Delany's work, including some comics.
The Karasik/Newgarden How to Read Nancy is the best book ever written about comics. I'll have an interview with them soon. Meanwhile, here is something that uses Nancy in all the off-brand ways, but worth your time regardless: