Luke Tsai, a friend of Thien’s and mine, writes about Level Up for the East Bay Express:
For Pham, who is of Vietnamese descent, his parents seemed to give up on the idea of him becoming some kind of doctor or whatever by the time he got to high school. But for years after that he was still plagued by guilt that he wasn’t adequately repaying their sacrifices.
“Because Asian parents, if you took away the guilt, they have no power,” he said. “That was all it was — it was all about the Asian guilt.”
Overall, the article is great. Read it here. Luke gives a good overview of all the issues that Thien and I try to address in Level Up. However, there is one quote that I wish I’d phrased differently:
“I think this is true for both Thien and me, that in a lot of ways, even though we are both pursuing the arts, I think we want to do it in a much more thoughtful and practical way than maybe we see in some of our peers.”
First, I shouldn’t have used the word “thoughtful.” Clearly, if you look at our lives – much less our graphic novel – Thien and I are pretty middle-of-the-road when it comes to thoughtfulness.
Second, I think it sounds as if I’m condemning those who pursue art at the expense of all else. Clearly, many of the masterpieces that enrich our lives today were created by women and men who were like that, who sacrificed everything they had, including their own happiness, for their art. If I were condemning their choices, I would also be condemning the art that was produced as a result of those choices. That wasn’t what I meant at all.
I was simply trying to say this: I am not suited to that way of being an artist. Possibly because of my upbringing, possibly because I’m genetically predisposed to paranoia, I can’t help but worry about the practical side of life. A lot. Way more than normal. I find a regular paycheck, no matter how small, soothing.
I’ve also discovered that the dichotomy I struggled with when I was younger – the dichotomy between the artistic and the practical — isn’t a necessary one. Many creative people are able to juggle day jobs with our art. It’s chaotic and frustrating at times, but it’s doable. Not for everyone. But many, many of us can integrate the desires of our hearts (the artistic) with the wisdom of our parents (the practical). You don’t have to give up your day job to be successful creatively.
That’s why I find Harvey Pekar’s life and work so compelling. He not only integrated the artistic with the practical in his life, he integrated them in his art. His stories bleed with his practical, day-to-day concerns. I think I’ll go read a couple of his comics right now.