When King Lac Long Quan (also known as “Dragon Lord of the Seas”–where you at, Daenerys Targaryen?) married a fairy princess named Princess Au Co, she bore him 100 eggs that would hatch into the first 100 people of Vietnamese origin. And that's how Vietnam was born–at least according to the historical Vietnamese legend.
Tales like this one are the premise of Brilliant Bookworm Comics, a comic series about Vietnamese mythological stories and legends by Placentia-based engineer and artist Huey Nguyenhuu. “If you're familiar with Vietnamese history, you know we use a lot of mythology to explain things… it's very similar to Greek mythology,” Nguyenhuu explains. Brilliant Bookworm Comics started as a way to teach Nguyenhuu's 7-year-old daughter Hailey and 10-year-old son Hendrick about Vietnamese culture. The first set of comics were created on a computer and printed for kids at Hailey and Hendrick's school three years ago. Today, two of Brilliant Bookworm's comics are published by Viet Toons.
Rewind forty years, and the first scene that'd represent Nguyenhuu's life would be drastically different from today. Saigon had fallen, and Nguyenhuu–then 14 years old–had jumped on a tiny boat that'd sail through the South China Sea to the United States. Because his parents had stayed in the homeland, he and his brother raised themselves by working full-time while going to school. When his dad was finally able to come to the United States in 1991, Nguyenhuu, who had enlisted in the Navy, wasn't able to spend much time with him before he passed in 2000.
Nguyenhuu says Brilliant Bookworm Comics is, really, for himself. It's something he wishes he could have done with his father the way he does with Hailey and Hendrick. After all, his dad was the first artist he ever knew. “I started drawing quite young because my dad was very artistic,” Nguyenhuu says. “He had a home studio and I'd come in and mess around with oil paints.”
Though the backbone of Brilliant Bookworm Comics is certainly family, Nguyenhuu's goal is to introduce Vietnamese mythological stories to the American community at large. “It's fantastic because we live in Placentia, and we have a lot of diversity here,” Nguyenhuu says. “We can introduce Vietnamese culture to the world.”
If there's one story Nguyenhuu recommends for first-time readers, it's The Awesome She-Kings (called “Trung Nu Vuong” in Vietnamese), which is about the first female Vietnamese kings–specifically called “she-kings” and not “queens,” Nguyenhuu interjects–who rebelled against Chinese rule for three years, succeeded, and are considered national heroines in Vietnam. “We–especially women–should be proud of them [the She-Kings]. I want to empower little girls, and especially because I have Hailey,” Nguyenhuu says.