While BookExpo was unfortunately unable to be hosted at New York City’s Javits Center, as they had originally intended, they were still able to put on an entertaining and informative convention online. Last night , was their New Graphic Novels Showcase. For those of you who were unable to catch it, the segment’s line-up consisted of Mike Curato, author of Flamer, Kiki Hughes, author of Displacement, Trung Le Nguyen, author of The Magic Fish, James Romberger, author of Post York and Bishakh Som, author of Spellbound. Journalist Calvin Reid hosted the show, and facilitated discussion by asking the authors questions about their respective graphic novels.
Mike Curato was the first, and discussed his latest graphic novel Flamer, which is about a fourteen-year-old boy named Aiden and his journey of self-discovery while he’s at summer camp – specifically, his struggle to recognize his sexuality.
The Church and the Boy Scouts are both tremendous influences on his life, which is why he worries when he wonders if he might be gay. Mike Curato said that Aiden’s story is very personal to his own experiences, and that Flamer was based heavily on his life. While it does take place in 1995, he says that the message is timeless. Aiden is in contrast with what the Church and the Boy Scouts have taught him are acceptable, yet he needs to learn to accept himself for who he is and recognize what’s good and bad within his cultural upbringing.
Kiku Hughes was next, and she discussed her graphic novel Displacement, which is about a teenage version of herself who travels back in time with her grandmother to experience the Japanese incarceration camps during the 1940’s in the United States.
According to her, the comic is about exploring parts of the US Japanese incarceration that weren’t commonly talked about – the reality compared to the narrative found in the history books. She also said that whole communities could experience trauma, and that the mass Japanese incarceration still has lasting effects on the Japanese-American people to this day.
Next was Trung Le Nguyen, and his comic The Magic Fish, which is about a young Vietnamese immigrant boy trying to communicate with his parents through the use of fairytales.
As Tiến, the name of the boy, grew up in America, he knows how to speak English, yet his parents do not, making communication very difficult, so Tiến adapts the fairytales of Cinderella and the Little Mermaid as a way to tell his parents that he’s gay. As Trung Le Nguyen said, the same stories have been told for generations – they’re core premises are timeless – and can be interpreted to fit any age. These stories are about displacement and transition, making them allegorically not only immigrant stories, but gay stories, as well.
James Romberger, author of Post York, a graphic novel that is set after the melting of the polar ice caps has flooded the streets of New York.
The story follows a loner with only his cat to keep him company as he navigates the ruined city, struggling to survive another day. James Romberger said that the main character was based on his son, and the story serves as an apology to future generations for what he and those before him have done to the planet.
The last author that was mentioned was Bishakh Som, and her graphic novel Spellbound which serves as a look at her daily life as a transgender woman. It allows us to explore her thoughts on the themes of gender and sexuality. Memory, urbanism, love and lost are also explored in the graphic memoir.
She claimed during the session that the book served a therapeutic purpose for her, and she wrote it in hopes that it would helps others who share her experiences.
Each author shared with us just how important and influential graphic novels, a storytelling medium dismissed by most adults, can be.