Thi Bui’s Responses (2018)

My Visual Story: Q & A with Thi Bui

As part of our 2018 fall My Visual Story class discussions, and assigned ‘Discussion Journals’, the My Visual Story students came up with a list of questions they wanted to ask Thi Bui, the author of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir.  As part of the University of Oregon’s 2018-19 Common Reading programs, The Best We Could Do was selected to be the central text to be read across campus.  All First-Year students were given a copy of this graphic novel.

For our class we used The Best We Could Do to explore personal and political narratives the graphic novel brought forward, as well as learn about Asian history and heritage, and finally for each student to use Thi Bui’s work as a model for creating their own artistic personal stories in a comic book/zine term long project.  The Best We Could Do was additionally used to help us bridge the two other courses connected with the First-Year Interest Group (FIG), ENG 280: Introduction to Comic Studies and ARH 210 Contemporary Asian Art and Architecture.

Specifically for the Q & A with Thi Bui, the students went through an activity where each individual student wrote up questions they would like to ask Thi Bui.  These questions were then collected on this page (see bottom of the page).  The students then identified two to three keywords for each question posted, and categorized this list of keywords into five to six main themes (the most reoccurring keywords).  We took these lists and brought them into an in class discussion session, in which the students worked together to come up with a collective set of questions that were sent through a student representative to Thi Bui’s agent.

Below are Thi Bui’s responses to the student questions!

-Robert Voelker-Morris, Instructor, College Connections: My Visual Story

Thi Bui portrait photographQ & A with Thi Bui

1. Why did you choose to utilize a minimal color palette of sepia, black, and white?

Thi Bui: It was cheap! Offset printing black and white plus one spot color fit in the publisher’s budget that was originally created for a black and white book and allowed me to use tones to create an emotional warmth and more nuanced aesthetic.

2. What was your artistic process when drafting? How much time did you spend sketching and developing each page?

Thi Bui: I edit and rewrite as much as any writer, except it’s more labor intensive because rewriting in comics means redrawing entire pages. So while I’m still editing the story, I draw rough sketches called thumbnails. These went back and forth between myself, my parents, my editor Clarissa Wong, and the editorial director at Abrams, Charlie Kochman. It’s hard to say how much time I spent sketching and developing each page because it’s a holistic process for me, not a linear production line. Once I got to the final stage of inking and coloring the art, I’d give myself about two weeks to ink each chapter. Those were 10-14 hour days chained to my desk, listening to music, podcasts, audiobooks, anything to keep me at the grind.

3.  Did you have any specific inspirations to your art style? Perhaps other artists who influenced or inspired you?

Thi Bui: I try to eat a wide diet. For inky inspiration, I looked at Paul Pope, Gipi, Jillian Tamaki, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, Bastien Vives, Eleanor Davis, Aristophane, Taiyo Matsumoto…but in the end, how you draw comics needs to be a form of handwriting, because the drawing is in service to the storytelling.

4.  Why did you choose not to format the plot chronologically?

Thi Bui: Oral history isn’t neat. Memory is rarely chronological. I was peeling back layers of family stories like an onion, trying to get at some truths, not retelling an already known family mythology.

5.  Did the publishing of the book change your relationship with your parents?

Thi Bui: Not really, but working on the book did. I treated it as a collaboration, and sneaky way to spend quality time with each of them, learning more about them.

6.  Do you have any opinion on the Syrian crisis?

Thi Bui: As someone who comes from a country that no longer exists, I understand the pain of civil war, as well as the pain of navigating a world that has no idea what is really going on in your country. I feel for the civilians caught between sides and I see my three year old self in the little boy in the photograph. The piece I did for PEN America in January 2017 references the refugees trying to escape that horror. I believe my country (the US) and other wealthy nations should be doing much more to resettle refugees from this crisis. The brunt of the responsibility has fallen on neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. I’m making plans to travel to the Moria refugee camp in Greece this summer to write about the bottleneck of refugees there.

Original Individual Student Questions

Below are questions from Discussion Journal prompts for October 5th.

We will be using these to help inform our future discussions.

I wonder why Thi didn’t spend more time analyzing why her parents fell in love besides the fact that they seemed uneasy about the subject?  Wasn’t she more curious about it then she let on?

Why didn’t Thi explore how it felt to be Americanized as a refugee child?  She didn’t touch on it as much as I thought she did [would], were her parents more important?

Beginning with her birth was interesting, why do you think Thi did that?


I just really want to talk about why the author decided to do a graphic novel.  I really like the idea and its super cool, but why?


I’d like to know more about the war and why there was so much conflict, also some of Thi’s dad’s history was confusing?


I’d like to see everyone else’s thoughts on the art style.


How has this book changed or confirmed your attitude on family and more specifically parents?

Pg 21 “Family is now something I have created and not just something I was born into.” What does this mean to you?

Why do you think Bui jumped around in the story a lot?


The most confusing part of the novel was being able to tell who’s story was being told during flashbacks as well as telling characters apart because they were drawn very simplistically.

-Samantha C.

Where does the derogatory term “gook” originate from?


Why does the front cover not extend to the edge of the book?


The most confusing aspect of the graphic novel was the order in which the author wrote about the births of her siblings.  Why do you think it was done that way?


Why didn’t the author include stories about her learning the history of her family?


This is more about the story, but Thi confused as to why her mom didn’t want to be there for her daughter in childbirth, was it just too hard for her because of what shes gone through when it comes to birth?


Why does the author choose the birth of her son as a flashback in the first scene and other scenes?


What does “home” really mean to you?  What does it mean to Thi? Her parents?  (house vs. home?)


Why did Thi Bui focus more on her family’s experience rather than her own?


I do think the coloring is interesting but I just don’t know why she chose that color.  I also would like to learn more about first generation people and their stories so I can really understand.


There doesn’t seem to be an arc, or any climax/falling action.  It all felt like small stories in her life.  Why did she choose the stories she did?


Why did the author decide to develop an illustrated graphic novel rather than a regular novel telling her story?

-Sam Z.

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