When I first started reading comics in the summer of 2010, I was expecting comics to possess the same quality that most popular media in my life did: a lack of diversity. Despite the abundance of color in life, and the varied axes on which people live, it seems that popular media seems to cater to only one type of person: the straight, white, middle-to-upper class cisgender neurotypical individual. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a combination of any or all of these qualities–individuals are born or grow into these qualities naturally. But when those qualities are the color of the month every month, the interior decoration becomes a little bland.
Unfortunately, comics do prescribe to that same palette of the month. Despite that setback, however, I discovered someone amazing while reading the new solicits for Bryan Q. Miller’s Batgirl comics: Dustin Nguyen.
Prior to my discovery of Dustin Nguyen, I had started to believe that I would never find a modern Vietnamese artist in popular media. So when I heard the announcement that Dustin Nguyen was drawing for Batgirl, one of my favorite comics of the time, I jumped at the chance to read his other work, specifically his work on Detective Comics, such as Heart of Hush.
Since then, I have been hooked on Nguyen’s artwork as a whole, not just in comics. He works so many beautiful wonders–like the beautiful contours, the dark inks, the subtle watercolors–into his art that a normal comic book takes me twice as long to read because I want to burn the image of each panel into my mind’s eye.
When I had a chance to speak with Nguyen a couple weeks ago, however, we spent much less time talking about the technicalities of his art and process and much more time talking about his personal life. I found myself charmed by Nguyen’s jokes: “Thirty-five is the new forty-five,” he said, when I told him that middle age was actually around forty or forty-five.
Nguyen charmed me most when we discussed what he did with comic books. Every month, Nguyen receives a box delivered to his doorstep. In this box, DC places every trade paperback and hardcover they have published that month for Nguyen’s perusal.
Although this may seem like a comic book artist’s dream box, Nguyen says that after seven years, having so many comic books becomes a hassle. First, he lets his two kids, who are eight and five, look through the box and pick out the books that they want to read.
Then, with the rest of the books, Nguyen employs an interesting sales tactic: he gives his trade paperbacks and hardcover comic books away. “I leave them at laundromats for people to pick up to read,” Nguyen said. “You leave it, they read one issue, and they’re like, ‘Aw yeah, now I have to read the next issue!’ So come back to this laundromat a month from now and take your chances, or go out and buy the next issue.”
In regards to his personal taste for Robins, Nguyen’s favorite Robin is Tim Drake, the third Robin. “Obviously, [he has] the better costume, has nicer hair,” Nguyen joked. “No, I mean, he’s the one I grew up with on [Batman: The Animated Series]. Also, I think he’s one of the few Robins who wanted to be a sidekick. I think everyone else [Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Stephanie Brown] wanted to do their own thing and used Robin as a kind of stepping stone. Tim Drake–he knows his role and does it well.”
I feel that Nguyen, like Tim Drake, also does his job well. His art possesses such a dynamic, stylized quality so flexible that it complements any style, whether it be a serious book–such as Paul Dini’s Heart of Hush or Derek Fridolfs’s Streets of Gotham–or even a playful book–as in Bryan Q. Miller’s Batgirl. Every time I see his name in new comic book solicits, I feel a surge of joy, not just for the chance to be charmed by Nguyen’s wonderful art, but because someone who shares my culture made it happen for me.
Despite my excitement for diversity in all media, Nguyen reminded me that the approach for media must be handled with care and caution. He recounted the story of his experience with a local newspaper: “The first thing they asked me, ‘Were your parents really disappointed in you [when you wanted to become an artist?’ . . . . Didn’t [they] give you a hard time because you didn’t want to be like other people?”
Even the most well meaning people and media can make mistakes in this regard. Not all parents or support figures adhere to a certain stereotype; lives exist along a spectrum. Nguyen’s story is no exception.
Currently, Nguyen is working on Justice League Beyond with Derek Fridolfs , which will begin publishing digitally in February 2012. You can read more about Justice League Beyond here at Comics Alliance.
All art featured on this page was pulled directly from duss005.com, Dustin Nguyen’s personal site.