Photographs and Memory in Thi Bui’s “The Best We Could Do”: Part II

In my previous post, I started writing about photographs and constructions of memory in Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do. Over the past year, I’ve been drawn to the ways that graphic memoirists use actual photographs within their work. Occasionally, they use actual copies of the photographs, but for the majority of the texts that I have looked at, creators reproduce the photographs, using the conventions of sequential art to both remember and comment on the past. They take the photographs and the “truth” they display and highlight that the “truth” that we attribute to photographs is not necessarily “truth”; rather, it is merely a constructed moment that shifts meanings each time we return to it, similar to rereading a book years after you first read it. Today, I want to focus on two more sequences in Bui’s graphic memoir where photographs do exactly this.

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Photographs and Memories in Thi Bui’s “The Best We Could Do”: Part I

In my last post, I looked at the role of photographs in Malaka Gharib’s I Was Their American Dream. Today, I want to continue that discussion by looking at the ways that Thi Bui depicts and deploys photographs in The Best We Could Do, a graphic memoir about her family’s escape from South Vietnam and immigration to the United States in 1970s. On the surface, Gharib’s and Bui’s visual style differ dramatically. Gharib’s is more cartoony while Bui’s is more photorealistic and abstract, even though it is not as photorealistic as Kristen Radtke’s style in Imagine Wanting Only This. Even with these differences in visual style, Bui’s use of photographs plays a similar role in the narrative structure of The Best We Could Do.   

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Photographs and Memory in Malaka Gharib’s “I Was Their American Dream”

A few weeks ago, I read Malaka Gharib’s I Was Their American Dream. Gharib’s graphic memoir details coming of age as a first generation American immigrant, the daughter of a Filipino mother and Egyptian father. She explores the ways that she struggled with her identity, and the ways that she felt pulled, a lot of the time, in at least three directions in this regard: her mother’s culture, her father’s culture, and white American culture. All of these aspects are important to discuss, and they are topics that I will talk about with students when I teach Gharib’s text next fall. However, today I want to focus on chapter one where Gharib narrates her parents’ lives before the immigrated to America, their meeting in America, and their divorce.

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Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” and “Hardware” #1

In the last post, I wrote about the metaphor of the caged bird in Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan’s Hardware #1. The metaphor recurs throughout the series; however, I won’t get into those reoccurrences in this post. Instead, I want to look at the allusions to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man that McDuffie and Cowan deploy in Hardware #1. These types of allusions are nothing new for McDuffie and Cowan’s work. They incorporated allusions to W.E.B. DuBois and more into their Deathlok series from the early 1990s, a few years before the start of Hardware.

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The Caged Bird in “Hardware” #1

Recently on Twitter, Joseph Illidge posted the following about Hardware #1 (1993). He said, “One of the best first issues of a superhero comic book series ever produced in the American Direct Market.” As a fan of Milestone Comics and Hardware, I’d have to agree. I’ve been meaning to write about Hardware #1 for a while, and now is the time, specifically because I am teaching the first few issues of the series this semester. For me, this issue tops other inagural issues such as G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel #1 (2014) and even Christopher Priest and Mark Teixera’s Black Panther #1 (1998), two of my all-time favorite issues. There is a lot that makes Hardware #1 a masterpiece, and today I want to look a just a few of those components.

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