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Young Vietnamese comic artist illustrates 4,000 years of history

Friday, December 25, 2020, 13:04 GMT+7
Young Vietnamese comic artist illustrates 4,000 years of history
Dang Thanh Huyen draws with watercolors in a supplied photo.

Concerned over the growing number of young Vietnamese who seem uninterested in their nation’s past, a young artist hopes to help history come to life through an epic comic book.

'Viet Su Dien Hoa (Illustrated Book of Vietnamese History)' is a 208-page comic written and illustrated by young artist Dang Thanh Huyen, 28, a Hanoian whose dream is to spark a curiosity in Vietnamese history amongst local youth.

Bringing history to life

Huyen has been a history aficionado for as long as she can remember, devouring classic Vietnamese historical literature by famed authors such as Le Van Huu, Phan Huy Chu, and Le Quy Don. 

She is also a member of Dai Viet Co Phong – a history and culture club for young Vietnamese. 

It is through these experiences that Huyen developed such a keen understanding of Vietnam’s 4,000-year history that she was able to compact it into a 208-page comic book.

“Today’s readers are afraid of reading long books and seem to prefer pictures. That’s why I thought a comic book would be a great way to tell the country’s history,” Huyen explained, adding that she specifically illustrated the book in a Western style with bright colors in order to attract children. 

“I would love my book to reach young readers,” she said.

A king in ancient costume in Thanh Huyen’s history book in a supplied photo

This supplied photo shows a king in ancient costume in Dang Thanh Huyen’s history book.

Condensing 4,000 years of history into just over 200 pages was no easy task. Over the course of her work, Huyen found herself picking and choosing which events to omit.

“I decided to choose the events that could explain the rise and fall of each dynasty,” Huyen explained.

“Choosing historical characters was done in the same way.

"I couldn’t mention everyone, so I had to be careful in choosing the most prominent."

A summarized chart of Vietnamese feudal dynasties in Thanh Huyen’s illustrated history book

A chart of Vietnamese feudal dynasties in Dang Thanh Huyen’s illustrated history book

Six kings of Vietnam with their respective royal costumes drawn in Huyen’s illustration style

Six kings of Vietnam with their respective royal costumes drawn in Dang Thanh Huyen’s illustration style

A devotion to history

The idea to produce an epic comic first occurred to Huyen in October 2019, but it was not until March 2020 that she was able to turn it into a reality when the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to stay home for several months.

Between March and June, Huyen spent up to 12 hours each day writing and illustrating the draft of her comic book.  

“My friends and fans asked me nearly every day when the book would finally be finished. It really motivated me to work harder and faster,” Huyen shared.  

Dang Thanh Huyen next to a computer screen showing a cartoon in a supplied photo

Dang Thanh Huyen works next to a computer screen showing a cartoon in this supplied photo.

After graduating from university, Huyen worked as a graphic designer for five years, yet making a living off her passion for history remained her dream.

“If I could choose any job, I would choose one related to Vietnamese culture and history,” she told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

“I’m not just making this book for others, I’m also making it for myself.”

In the future, Huyen hopes to develop a computer game based on Vietnamese culture and history.

“Many young people like to take photos in traditional dresses from countries like China, South Korea, and Japan. They seem to forget that Vietnam’s traditional dress is beautiful, too. I want to reintroduce them to that beauty,” Huyen said.  

Young artist Dang Thanh Huyen draws a character in an ancient costume in a supplied photo

Dang Thanh Huyen draws a character in an ancient costume in a supplied photo.

Valuable support from Comicola

Huyen’s comic has been fortunate enough to receive support form Comicola, a local company “trying their best to realize creative works of the Vietnamese.”

Comicola gives priority to Vietnamese authors in its publishing program, especially those who have produced works related to Vietnam's history and culture.

According to Nguyen Khanh Duong, director of Comicola, the company decided to throw its support behind Huyen due to her book’s high quality in both content and design.

As part of its support, Comicola handled the book’s printing, marketing, and distribution.

“We have received positive feedback from readers in the three weeks since the book was launched. We printed 3,000 copies and 1,000 have already been sold," said Duong.

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Duong Kim Thoa / Tuoi Tre News

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