This is Vietnam’s Renovation Generation. Sonic portraits of young minds re-shaping the country’s future.
Welcome to the second live recording of The Renovation Generation Episode 13. Our narrator Maia is going to interview our Xuân Lan, who is an illustrator and cartoonist.
We interviewed Xuân Lan at Manzi Art Space in Hanoi.
Our narrator Maia is going to interview Xuân Lan, who is an illustrator and cartoonist. She didn’t want to speak publicly so I promised her it would only be friendly faces and friends. I think we managed that.
Xuân Lan started drawing cartoons three years ago after a chat with her friend that she decided to share on Facebook. Writing it out sounded lame though, so she decided to illustrate it instead. And that’s where it all began. We asked her to describe her cartooning process…
All the ideas for my cartoons are from my real life experience so I do not set up any schedule for when or what to draw. It just when the idea comes to me and when I have enough time and inspiration and there is no class to prepare for the next day. I will just do it, I draw. Oh and I wait until the right time to post it on Facebook
And what’s the prime time?
In my experience it’s nine pm.
You have a little bit of wordplay in both languages, English and Vietnamese, how do you choose which language to use?
You can see most of my cartoons are in Vietnamese. Firstly because I use my mother tongue better than English, secondly because many of them involve Vietnamese cultural features. I did translate a lot of them into English, but you can notice considerable differences between the two versions and some people think I mistranslate the sentences, but I not, I have to choose different ways to express the same idea.
What is the best thing that’s ever happened to you online?
I had the chance to get closer to my idols. You guys know Joseph Gordon-Levitt? The guy who plays Robin? In the Dark Knight? … yeah thank you. So he established an art community named Hit Record. I post some of my cartoon there and I was surprised that the response was so well, and he noticed me and he left a comment on my cartoon and even featured one of my cartoons on his official fan page, that’s the greatest thing until now.
Do you see yourself working full time as a cartoonist?
I do see the potential in the comic industry, but I prefer to keep it a side career only. There was one time, I worked for a entertainment website and my task was to produce like one cartoon each week. I managed to keep up with the pace, but when I look back at what I draw the story are just bland and there is nothing humorous in it and yes I disappointed with myself for creating such trashy products so I stopped after a month. So what I mean here is when you try to turn, try to make money out of a hobby, it may be profitable but it can ruin the fun.
You use your cartoon as a medium to express your opinion on social issues, such as the hashtag 6500 for the tress being cut in Hanoi and the hashtag I choose fish for the fish issue in central Vietnam or once in a while it’s just the sharks biting the Internet cable. How did you choose which social issues to talk about?
I choose the one that directly affect me and my daily life. Like the shark and the cable is one thing, right? I am interested in environmental issue, so it really bugs me when I see people mistreat nature. So I choose cartoon as a way to just express my feeling, I don’t want to send any big messages.
Do you ever think that you can use your cartoon as a way to contribute to raising awareness?
Well, raising people awareness is not my purpose. As I said, drawing cartoon is just a way of telling my story, it’s like keeping a visual diary. If people can see themselves in the cartoon, or they can resonate with the, what I deliver, then I feel lucky, that I somehow I automatically contributed to society.
I was taken to Hanoi Rock City, to see this band Gỗ Lim, to play and that was the very first time I heard of Gỗ Lim, and I think it’s safe to say Gỗ Lim was one of the very first female punk rock band in Hanoi.
A quick interjection here, she is talking about Gỗ Lim, who made this kind of music:
[MUSIC by Gỗ Lim]
At that time I failed the university entrance exam and I was quite depressed so my dad was afraid that I would commit suicide or something so he sent me to a class. It is the class of his friend and he taught drum. And I started playing drum, and he introduced me to a girl group who is looking for a drummer, so I was Gỗ Lim, member since then.
Would you say that Gỗ Lim, had a certain amount of influence on your life?
Yeah, definitely, because before Gỗ Lim, I didn’t think I have anything to do with music. At school I was a shy kid, and I believe that music and performances were just for those active, and dynamic and charming and popular boys and girls at school, but on the first performances with Gỗ Lim on stage, I was like ‘am I really doing this? It’s me in a rock band on stage? I have fantasised about that for years, and now I am realising it.’ So yes, music gave me a lot of confidence, awesome friends and another belief that if you don’t try something you would not know what would happen.
You just said that you failed the entrance exam to university, was that for our university? Our major was English teacher training
My first choice was Foreign Trade University. Because it was the trend at that time. I was 18 and I didn’t know what to do with my life. So everybody go to FTU I go too. But I failed. But now looking back at that time, I feel quite lucky, because if I got into FTU, maybe now I am working in a bank or sitting in an office, typing and feeling miserable. But now I am drawing and playing music and I am happy with that.
This podcast is about people born after Đổi Mới,, so 1986. If you had to live before Đổi Mới, what would you like to take back with you? From modern time to Đổi Mới.
Ok, I guess it’s the camera, because people in this generation look back, look back at the past, and we feel melancholy, just because of the vintage effect that created by the camera at that time, I am really curious if we look back at that past in a more high resolution view how different would it be?
Now that you have lived in the time before Đổi Mới, and you come back to the modern life, what would you bring with you that we no longer have?
I think it’s the bicycles. Not THE bicycle, but the way people use more bicycle at that time. And also the bicycle bells, I love the sound.
I think you can still buy it on Phố Huế.
Not the same thing.
What kind of future would you envision for yourself?
Well right now, I could just imagine myself as the teacher who use cartoon to attract her students. I think it’s a good way to combine the two things I do best.
We’re gonna now do a Q&A session. Does anyone wanna go first?
What is the best cartoon of all time?
The one I like most is from Japan and it’s Doraemon, the first one I ever read when I was a kid and I still liking it now. Inspiring cartoons that I read recently, they are the ones, by Grant Snider series of Incidental Comics and Zen Pencil.
What kind of cartoons, what topics work best?
From the number of likes on each cartoons, the best one that are the one involving cats and dogs and at the second position are the hot issues at that time.
How does your process work? Like the actual physical path that you go through.
For some first cartoons, I draw them totally by hand, and I didn’t even have a scanner, so I took photos of it and edit the lighting a little bit with photo shop and then I got a tablet so I start sketching on paper and then do the lining and colour on computer.
I work in the printing industry and my question is have you ever think about another way to make money out of art, without publishing?
Yes I think a lot about it. So that’s why I said I just want to keep this a side career, I do not want to turn it into a serious business, because I know that when I have to follow the audience’s wants and the publisher’s wants I lose the pure desire to draw for myself.
Thank you Lan, Thank you all for being her tonight, and I hope you enjoyed yourself.
It is produced by Eliza Lomas and Fabiola Buchele, our production assistants are Trang Nghiem and Trang Ngo.
Jacques Smit is our photographer and the narration is done by me Maia Do.
An & Of Other Things production.
For episode 14 we visited Hoàng Đức Minh and talked to the social activist and entrepreneur about his start up Wake It Up, how seeing people cry has decided his career path and his utopia of a village where he can live with all his friends and do nothing.
Be sure to listen!