“How lucky are we?”- A question that is so important yet so ignorable in current society- has successfully communicated to people through ‘The Boat’. ‘The Boat’ is an interactive graphic novel based on Nam Le’s short story and adapted by Matt Huynh- a US-base Australian illustrator in 2015. The story follows the tragic life of a 16-year-old Vietnamese diaspora Mai sent alone to Australia after the fall of Saigon. She was adrift on the sea for more than 13 days with 200 other refugees in a medium-sized boat, facing illness and the scarcity of food, drink. By using color, sound, and camera angles, ‘The Boat’ has clearly defined the luck of people through the story of refugees.
The very first thing that the audience notices when reading a comic is the colors. By covering the whole story with symbolic colors- black and white, the illustrator has created a feeling of history and a dangerous place. However, the intended aim for using gloomy color is to reveal the deepest part of humanity- the soul. Black and white colors force readers to concentrate not on the graphic but the emotional aspect. For instance, the black color which dominates the screen in the first chapter is the representation of frightening and lonely feelings of Mai while facing a perilous situation. Moreover, by using the two extremely opposite colors has posed a metaphor for the life of diaspora and reader. While the diasporas suffer from the danger, illness, and desperation in the dark side, the readers, in contrast, live in a life filled with light, plenty, and privilege. In short, the color of the comic has clearly emphasized the foundation distinct between them and simultaneously describes the feelings of the refugees.
The sound or the background music of the novel also has a significant contribution to the story message. As scrolling down the story, the audience can hear a different sound in each specific scene. And each of which has an individual way to help the audience reach closer to the feelings of refugees. In the first chapter, the producer uses the sound of thunder, heavy rain, blustering wind, and waves as the presence of a hazardous situation the refugees face. It brings up the implication of readers’ luck as sitting inland with the roof over their head and concrete walls surrounding them. Moving to chapter 2, the Vietnamese folk song starts playing in the background as Mai remembered the embrace of her mom. By using the folk song, which symbolizes a mother’s love, the reader can feel the nostalgia of family and see themself within separated families. Regardless of the different expressed methods, the sound has extended the interaction of the story in one way or another. It puts the audience in the refugees’ shoes and makes them realize how lucky they are to not be in that miserable situation.
The camera angle is a special technique the illustrator uses to deliver the message. The camera canted each time something bad happens is not just making the novel more interactive, it is also a way to draw a picture of danger and uncertainty. Secondly, the close-up frame is also a vital part of ‘The Boat’. The easiest way to understand one’s feelings in a comic is through facial expression. And ‘The Boat’ succeeds in expressing the emotional side by using many close-ups of the characters’ faces. Take an example in the second chapter, when she says goodbye to her parents, she looks sad, which expressed by the crying face, or Mai shows her love to Truong through the gentle and sweet looking in the last scenes of chapter 4. By using the oblique angel and the close-up frame, the readers do not just feel and understand the feelings but have compassion toward the most vulnerable and desperate people in the boat.
To conclude, ‘The Boat’ successfully makes the audience realized how lucky they are to live in adequate living conditions nowadays. With the clarified stylistic features- color, sound, and camera angle, the graphic novel has grasped attention from many social classes for its unique and powerful topic. ‘The Boat’ has opened the diaspora’s world through the eyes of Matt Huynh, whose parents are refugees. The harsh reality and the desperate plight that many refugees in the past or the current world suffer may haunt us forever after, but it is a good way to remind us of the obligation and compassion toward today’s asylum seekers.