A Ghost of a Chance: An Interview with Hien Pham About Gothic Tales of Haunted Love
Hien Pham brings a new twist to an old genre in his story for Bedside Press’ anthology Gothic Tales of Haunted Love — an anthology and Kickstarter that you can find more information on in this previous article.
Pham’s story, “Minefield”, concerns “a young ghost in love with a young farmer whose home is under attack by a foreign troop during the later stages of the Vietnam war.”
Part of what makes this story unique, however, is that it draws on stories Pham’s parents–who grew up in Vietnam–would tell him. According to Pham, “This is the first time I have directly tapped into my parents’ war stories I grew up on. There has always been some sort of war-like, bigger forces and conflicts in my stories, but I haven’t done anything so close to the source material.“
Pham elaborates on this inspiration for “Minefield”:
“The story that inspired Minefield was actually a precautionary myth of sorts: back then, if you weren’t conscripted into the American army in the day, and you weren’t conscripted into the Vietnamese army in the night, the next morning you’ll find your head on a spike. ‘Minefield’ originally was written to directly reference this ‘rock and a hard place’ position Vietnamese folks had to live through. After rewrites, the comic has lost some of this resemblance, but hopefully it’s still a good gothic romance nonetheless!”
Gothic Tales of Haunted Love draws inspiration from 1970s gothic romance comics, but Pham “wasn’t too familiar with the genre until [he] did [his] research to write [his] anthology submission!”
But perhaps this lack of familiarity is what led Pham to take such a personal and unique approach with his story:
“The stories from that era that I’m used to are simply horror stories from my parents who lived through the war. These stories are always human stories, myths, rumours, and precautions that were either passed down to my parents or actual life experiences they have lived through. Growing up in the Vietnamese culture has made me entirely too aware of the pain and horror their generation suffered. I wanted to take this chance to put a sweeter slightly-less-bitter spin to that.”
In creating this story and trying to make it as authentic as possible, Pham decided to use Vietnamese instead of English (as seen in the above image).
To explain this choice–telling a story in a different language than the one the target audience speaks and reads–Pham said,
“This is a Vietnamese story. These are Vietnamese characters and for them to speak Vietnamese just rings true to me. In the process of writing the story. I made two different scripts: one with the dialogues in Vietnamese and one in English. There are tiny subtleties and nuances in the way they speak that scream Southern Vietnamese that are lost in translation. Some parts of the story change ever so slightly and feel less interesting when I have them speak English. To me, there’s just something that’s slightly more genuine and authentic when I let them speak Vietnamese.”
Pham adds in his trademark self-deprecating way, however, that he has “no idea if it works better or worse on the comic page, ahaha! That’s my challenge to solve!”
He elaborates on these concerns–and the second guessing almost any artist experiences in creating something new and personal:
“I am downright terrified, ahaha! I’m quite afraid of the fact that the readers can’t understand what the characters are saying which might put them off finishing the story altogether. I’m afraid that they can’t connect to the characters and find the story boorish and boring. I’m afraid that Vietnamese readers might read it and say I didn’t do it justice and they would rather read it in English anyway! I’m quite the paranoid person so I have millions and millions of worries in my head.”
Despite all these worries, though, Pham insists he is making the right choice:
“What makes it worth it is that it might just work as I intend it to. The language barrier emphasizes that this is specifically a Vietnamese story, not a romanticized vision told by anyone who hasn’t been on excursions to actual prisons where people were tortured and murdered since first grade. I wanted these Vietnamese characters to speak Vietnamese as a way to reclaim a tiny bit of my culture from everything that’s used it as exotic backdrop or tragedy porn. I’m hoping the the audience would be firmly aware of the cultural differences, yet still be able to emotionally invest in these characters, and find love, lost, hope, and dreams within them.”
Another benefit, he adds, is that creating the story this way presents a unique artistic challenge: “the classic ‘show don’t tell’. The story is practically wordless, so I will need to flex my storytelling muscles to get the emotive language across. I’m very excited to give it a good shot!”
Pham expressed his working relationship with Hope Nicholson and Sam Beiko the editors of the Gothic Tales anthology as very rewarding:
“I am a new face to the comic-making community in general and haven’t had much experience working with editors. They were very open to my ideas and gave me great advice and direction to go with the story. I wholly appreciate their trust in letting me do a foreign-language story and believing that I’ll have the skill to deliver it.”
Nicholson is also well known for working with diverse creators on diverse stories, and there is one more part of Pham’s “Minefield” that aligns with this diversity: “Minefield” is also a love story between two men, something not frequently seen in mainstream comics.
And this focus on homosexuality is something Pham is looking to explore more of with Pham’s future work, It Will Be Hard, which has no release date yet–Pham says it will be coming out soon though. Pham describes it is as a “lite choose-your-own gentle smut adventure about two men’s relationships with their bodies and with each other.”
He adds that he’s “still got a long way to go with [his] drawing skills and drawing this comics has been practically doing anatomy aerobatics!”
Other than improving his anatomy skills, Pham has found that working on It Will Be Hard has carried other benefits: “Making this comic has also made me look more into my own sexuality and the different ways I feel about my body and myself. It’s given me a lot to think about and a lot still to process but I can feel myself being more confident in my own skin the more I work on the comic.”
CJ Standal is no stranger to Kickstarter, having run a successful Kickstarter for his comic Rebirth of the Gangster, for sale as a print copy or an ebook now! Find out more about him at cjstandalproductions.com.