As an individual that enjoys pop culture, I actually don’t frequent many conventions (when I say I don’t frequent them I mean I don’t enjoy them much at all). There’s a myriad of reasons why, but that’s not what this is about. What it is about though is this amazing annual convention that I went to in Small Press Expo (SPX). Since its inaugural year in 1994, SPX has become well renowned as a longstanding festival for writers and artists from all over the world to share their own independent comics and artwork. The intimacy of the festival in addition to being an outlet for these artists to present and sell their works that aren’t accessible through more commercial means is what instantly piqued my interest. As I made my way through the small (but immensely crowded) venue, I made it to this small booth in the corner of the room and here is this young and charming indie artist by the name of Nguyen Khoi Nguyen. I walk up assuming to do the same thing I always do at these things (or the few I have been to); browse around, window shop a little… and walk away (I’m broke, sue me). But this time was different. It didn’t take long at all for him to ingratiate himself as opposed to simply shilling whatever he had on display. Our short conversation did inevitably (as it should have) lead to his current work and what I found out is that sometimes less really is more.
Now many want to try to share their vision with the world through the extraordinary. Fantasy
and fiction rule the world of comics and graphic novels with an iron fist. Buyers (like me) consume their fill of super-powered heroes struggling against whatever opposition floats the author’s boat. We all by our share of illustrations depicting people in extenuating circumstances whether it be a post-apocalyptic land of mutant people or a futuristic setting where the planet is taken over by a technologically advanced overlord. Tales of life, death, love, action, and adventure, get told over and over in these works and while always fun, can be overwhelming (or underwhelming). For a serene break from the norm, I suggest The Gulf (All You Can Eat).
This multimedia graphic novel illustrates the life (both past and present) of author, Nguyen Khoi Nguyen and his Vietnamese-American family. It may seem unassuming at first glance, but it is filled with interesting hidden gems of humor and captivates you in a fascinating way when you finish. Even the chapters themselves flip both between the author’s life as a young child growing up in Cape Coral, Florida in 1987 and a fairly interesting conversation had between his brother and sister in his current home of Washington D.C. Now as a hyper-exuberant kid whose family owns a Chinese buffet restaurant, one would expect the hi jinks to ensue a fair amount… and you’d be right. It is so funny to see these young siblings (his brother and sister are very prominent characters) and never fails to put a smile on my face as it resembles my own siblings a great deal. The art seems simple in the beginning, but the subtle use of music and traditional vernacular all help to bring life to the panels and the story in an original way. The dialogue is honest and endears you to the characters as if you know them yourself (or know people like them in your life).
In the scene of modern-day art (of any genre), ego reigns supreme and everyone is trying to make the biggest story alive in a thinly veiled attempt to make themselves a larger name. Sometimes, it’s creating the most convoluted piece you can, and sometimes it’s pandering to the lowest common denominator (and those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive). “Pretentious” can be a common word for me to use, but rarely could I use the word “humble” for a lot of works that I’ve seen. Fortunately for me, The Gulf is the embodiment of the term “humble”. So many times we pick up a book and use it to escape reality and whatever problems we have. While it can be fun and therapeutic, sometimes we become so disconnected from what reality is we lose sight of what is important. Nguyen Khoi Nguyen has created a piece of work in which its strongest asset and appeal isn’t the flash and flare of other comics or novels. It isn’t the grandiose and intimidating expansion of its world. It isn’t any of the common tropes of other written works (highly regarded or not). It is the intrinsic ability minimize the experience for the reader and relate to the common experiences of people through the life of the author and his family. It’s a reminder of the importance of love and family and that maybe the escape that people are looking for can be found in the catacombs of one’s fond memories of their youth (and we all have our fair share).It’s definitely what I would describe as a “colorful” autobiography shaped in the form of a graphic novel. The chapters (4 available, 10 total scheduled) are short in length, but gives you your fill of fun and a bit of introspection. It’s not an ambitious read at all, and why should it be? It’s fun stories about a guy and his family bound together by the business of food and personal experiences. It is reflective in its own right and for me, it’s got everything I need when I want to take a break from what I usually read. It’s a good read and I am happy that I got a chance to pick it up when I did. Nguyen Khoi Nguyen is an intriguing man. He’s a jazz musician and a filmmaker on top of his aptitude for comic art. If you want to purchase his work, you can find it on iBooks or tiny.cc/nguyenmade. To learn more, check out his website at ngknguyen.com. I think it’ll be worth anyone’s time.
Stephon W. is a contributing Editor for Teh Lunchbox Publications and sorry, he doesn’t do social media. But you can follow the team on facebook (Teh Lunchbox Publications), and on twitter @tehlunchboxpub