APP CULTURE

Capture Vietnam in drawings

Four talented artists bring local history and culture to life through art.

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Since its debut in 2018, Vietnamese comics app Comi has been a favourite among legions of comic and webtoon fans. On top of that, it’s also become a hub for local artists to share their work, together with its sister crowdfunding platform, Comicola.

Thanks to Comi and Comicola, four Vietnamese artists have been able to publish their own interpretations of Vietnamese culture and history through elegant drawings and vibrant colours, all created on iPad. Here’s how they capture different slices of Vietnam through their art.

Ngô Thụy Khả Tú – Tale of Kiều Tarot (Tarot Kiều)

Long considered Vietnam’s Shakespeare, Nguyễn Du and his magnum opus, The Tale of Kiều (Truyện Kiều), elevated Vietnamese literature to new heights. Many of Kiều’s words and expressions have become part of daily Vietnamese vocabulary, and the story has been adapted into numerous different media, from traditional Vietnamese drama to Western classical opera.

Ngô Thụy Khả Tú has long been fascinated by Vietnamese culture, and she tries to bring it into contemporary forms. Through her project, which was initially created on iPad and then crowdfunded via Comicola, Kiều gets another adaptation – this time in the form of tarot cards. Each card quotes and depicts a different part of the tale: for example, the King of Swords is rebel commander Từ Hải, while the Queen of Cups is Thúy Kiều herself.

This combination of a Vietnamese classic and a Western art form is also deeper than it looks: it’s a local tradition to use The Tale of Kiều for fortune telling, by randomly quoting a passage then trying to divine what it means.

Hoàng Tường Vy – Master Tường, Master Vũ is here to see you (Bẩm Thầy Tường, có Thầy Vũ đến tìm)

As Vietnam undergoes relentless modernisation and urbanisation, many of the country’s villages and their traditions slowly fade away. And yet, young urban Vietnamese are increasingly discovering the joys of rural life, seeking to understand the old ways and preserving the best of them.

Driven by such passions, Germany–based artist Hoàng Tường Vy has created the comic series “Master Tường, Master Vũ is here to see you”. It depicts an idyllic corner of old Vietnamese countryside, where a budding romance grows between teacher Tường and apothecary Vũ. To Vy’s surprise, the very first chapter, published in Comi in 2020, almost immediately attracted thousands of fans and soon landed her an interview on national radio.

Now, the first printed volume of the series has already been reprinted. The comics were drawn with Vy’s iPad and Apple Pencil, and she loves being able to work outside of home all day without the need to recharge.

Nguyễn Hoàng Tấn – Touring Musical Troupes (Gánh Hát Lưu Diễn Muôn Phương)

In a nation of over 50 different ethnicities and vibrant regional cultures, it’s no surprise that Vietnam enjoys an incredible diversity of musical traditions. Some of them have even been recognised on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list including North Vietnam’s Ca Trù, Central Vietnam’s Nhã Nhạc and South Vietnam’s Đờn Ca Tài Tử.

Through his colourful illustrations, Nguyễn Hoàng Tấn has brought to life 36 different forms of traditional music and stage arts in Vietnam. Crowdfunded as a book project on Comicola, these drawings are the culmination of over a year of painstaking research, during which time Tấn tried to capture the smallest details of the musicians’ costumes, as well as the protocols of elaborate performances.

To bring the project to fruition, Tấn used his iPad to capture his sparks of inspiration; he also found the calibrated display of great help with accurate colour reproduction for both printing and web distribution.

Nguyễn Hoàng Dương – The Story of Chiêu Hoàng (Chiêu Hoàng Kỷ)

Lý Chiêu Hoàng was the last Empress of Vietnam’s Lý Dynasty, whose marriage paved the way for the eventual rise of the Trần Dynasty. A time of conspiracies and political machinations that involved two of Vietnam’s most important dynasties, this period has sparked both debate among historians and imagination among writers for centuries. To this day, the tragic story of Chiêu Hoàng still inspires a new generation of Vietnamese artists, such as Nguyễn Hoàng Dương and his comic series.

While his drawings may bring to mind the look of classical ink brush paintings, Dương’s inspiration also comes from a more recent art form: the Vietnamese cinema classics of Kiếp Phù Du (Fleeting Life) and Đêm Hội Long Trì (A Night of Long Trì Festival), which are still considered some of the finest local period dramas.

He creates his comics on his iPad, citing the importance of capturing and sketching out the ideas and inspiration that can come to him at any time.

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