You might best know Trung Le Nguyen as Trungles, their social media pseudonym for posting gorgeous, magical art—but now the artist is making their graphic novel debut with the likewise spellbinding The Magic Fish—and io9 has a sneak peek inside.
The Magic Fish, published by Penguin Random House, follows a young Vietnamese boy named Tien, who’s struggling to fit in after his family emigrated to the West. Still trying to learn English and fit in at school, Tien also finds himself unable to be open with his parents about his sexuality. That is, until the fantastical fairytale worlds he bonds over with his mother provides a window to both escape his hardships and embrace his true self as he navigates those feelings.
“The Magic Fish was originally conceived as a few different projects. I was interested in exploring the ways a fairy tale could change depending on where it’s found, and I especially wanted to take a closer look at Tam Cám, a Vietnamese story that has a lot of similarities to Cinderella,” Nguyen said in a statement provided over email to io9. “I eventually found that I had a special interest in fairy stories about transitions, about characters moving into a new life and leaving an old one behind. I’m so nervous and excited about my first graphic novel! I didn’t think it was something I’d ever be able to do. It’s such a new process to me that I really don’t even know how to manage my expectations around it. I hope The Magic Fish strikes a chord with someone out there!”
As well as sharing a tale about families and the power stories have to connect us, The Magic Fish gave Nguyen a chance to tell a queer story about immigrants in a time when these narratives are still both incredibly important, but also thankfully normalized, with their own work the latest in a long line of LGBTQ-themed fiction for YA readers.
“I feel incredibly fortunate that I have the freedom of not doing anything groundbreaking in my new graphic novel,” Nguyen noted of the book’s diverse storytelling. “There have already been so many fantastic comics by and about people of color, immigrants, and queer people. Over a decade ago now, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke about the danger of a single story, that a dearth of stories creates stereotypes. For people creating work from the margins who are breaking ground, there seems to be this unfair additional burden foisted upon them to be an authority on experiences beyond the scope of their personal experiences.”
“They’re expected to represent broad swaths of people like them, and to edify the public about themselves,” they continued. “They have to explain themselves. Now that ground has been broken before me, I am grateful to be able to just tell my queer, immigrant stories. I can make books that warrant a reader’s empathy instead of just their curiosity. And once the burden of educating a readership is lifted, I can have fun. I can indulge in fairy tales, stories that never feel the need to explain themselves.”
Check out a passage from The Magic Fish that sees Tien do just that—embracing the fantasy of a princess dancing with her true love at a magical ball, as he tries to reconcile his own secret feelings for a boy in his class at school—in this exclusive excerpt.
The Magic Fish isn’t just Nguyen treading new ground in their graphic novel debut, but also incorporating more longform digital art into their repertoire. “I started out drawing the book traditionally, which was my comfort zone. I realized about a third of the way through the book that my traditional process was better geared toward short comics. It turns out drawing, cleaning, scanning, and then formatting every single page really adds up after a couple hundred of them,” Nguyen said of the process. “I needed to figure out how to best adjust my process to meet my deadlines. My editors were incredibly patient with me, but I still felt some guilt that my traditional process was so slow.”
“I was always super unfamiliar with drawing digitally! I’m still very new to it. I never went to art school, and didn’t get a tablet until long after I’d already graduated from college. I had to teach myself how to use Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint from the ground up. Thankfully, there are so many artists who’ve made incredibly thorough tutorials all over the internet these days. It actually felt really manageable to cobble together some new skills by hunting and gathering different art tutorials online. I wanted people to know that this book was a work in progress the entire way through, and I hope including that helps dispel any barriers of quality or perfectionism a new cartoonist or comic artist might have. In comics, it doesn’t matter so much that it’s done perfectly so long as it gets done!”
The Magic Fish hits shelves tomorrow, October 13.
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