Interview with Duachaka Her
This is an ongoing series where I interview API comic writers and artists with questions that dig a little deeper into who they are, how they got into comics, and what their thoughts are on API identity in the comic book industry.
Quick Bio: Duachaka Her is a talented artist who infuses her experiences growing up in Hmong and American culture, into comics. A graduate of University of Wisconsin-Stout with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Entertainment Design and concentration in Comics and Sequential Art, Duachaka has led a successful kickstarter campaign to create her own comic The Collection, has written/drawn such touching tales as Then and Now, and has some hilarious comics to share over here as well.
Who/What inspired you to choose a career in comics? Once you decided, how did you make this a reality?
I think my love for comics started when I was first introduced to Japanese manga around my early teenage years. The manga that got me particularly hooked was Reiko Yoshida and Mia Ikumi’s Tokyo Mew Mew series. From there, I kept going to the bookstore and discovering new stories such as Naruto and Cardcaptor Sakura. Of course after reading these comics and many others, I just so happened to come up with story ideas that I wanted to create. I also had an older sister and brother who were into comics and anime, so on the weekends we would spend most of our day drawing together. Being around them made me want to get better at drawing because their work at that time were better than mine! Over the years I have made a ton of random comics, but none of them were ever really refined or finished.
I did not seriously invest in making comics until I attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. When I went there I knew I wanted to do something art or storytelling-related. As a result, I enrolled in the Entertainment Design major with a concentration in Comics and Sequential Art. From there, I took traditional art and design classes and eventually got into a comics class where I learned about comics history and the different inking and storytelling techniques. Not only did the class teach me how to make comics, but it also introduced me to American and European comics and creators, which I was never interested in before. After taking several semesters of that course, my skills were more refined and I got into the habit of making comics.
Hmong history, culture, and traditions have a role in your works. As a Hmong-American, How did you learn about these? As is a struggle with many Asian Americans, what are your thoughts of how we can keep passing our history/culture/traditions to the next generation?
I did not start incorporating aspects of the Hmong culture into my work until a few years ago. Growing up in a mainly Caucasian community, I never thought my culture mattered, was interesting, or that anybody would listen to my stories.
I knew there was more to my culture that needed to be seen and heard, so I started creating work that featured Hmong characters and experiences.
It was not until I realized that my culture was what made me unique that I started exploring the topic. I realized there were not a lot of Hmong-American artists and storytellers at that time, and I felt there was a need for it. The only time I saw anything about my culture was in the History textbooks in class. I knew there was more to my culture that needed to be seen and heard, so I started creating work that featured Hmong characters and experiences.
It’s funny because sometimes when I am creating these characters and stories I, too, am discovering more about my culture. Sometimes I would have to look up how they traditionally dressed or ask my parents how certain customs worked. I think it is important to not only educate readers about the culture, but also to be able to capture and pass on what I believe is important.
Comics like The Collection cover the experience of not quite being fully Hmong, and not quite being fully American. What’s it like to be a Hmong American woman working in art and comics? How much of the stories you tell are autobiographical?
It is a bit lonely for now because I feel like there are not a lot of us out there putting our work up. We either tell ourselves we are not good enough or others tell us we would never make any money off our work. It was difficult growing up in a Hmong home because art was not something familiar to my parents. They immigrated to the United States and went through many hardships to be able to provide for my family. When they saw my siblings and I draw, they thought it was something we did for fun and that we would not be able to get a job or career out of it. However, over the years they eased into the idea and actually supported us because they saw that we can draw really well and that we took it seriously.
I feel there is a need for diversity and representation in comics and I believe that we have the ability to make that happen. There are probably a lot of us out there; it’s just there are not enough of us putting our work up, and we need to. If we don’t nobody will know that we exist because they had never seen nor heard of us. I get excited nowadays when I see a Hmong-American making art and comics; it shows that we are making progress. It also feels rewarding when I show my work and someone says, “We need more work like this out there!” Most of my stories nowadays are based off events or moments that happened to me in real life. I take a bit of what I think is meaningful, funny, or relevant and create stories out of it.
Can you share more of how you came up with the name The Collection?
The title for my book came about when I was near the finishing stages of creating the comic. I wanted a title the could piece the story together. There was a part in the story when the main character’s mom showed her a collection of traditional Hmong clothes. The collection of clothes was what inspired the main character to see the value in her culture, and I knew I had to make that the title.
What inspired you to create this comic? What do you hope children/parents/and others get out of this comic?
The Collection was my capstone graduation project, and I wanted to make it meaningful and possibly a work that was different from other comics out there. I was inspired to create the story after reading Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese. Both of these stories featured characters of color who were not sure where they fitted in their everyday surroundings. I connected with these characters and I felt that I should share my experiences growing up as a Hmong-American kid.
It is okay to feel insecure about your identity…you will eventually grow to accept who you are.
With this book I wanted the story to stay true to how I felt growing up and some of the feelings and events I had to go through. I guess my message to the readers is that it is okay to feel insecure about your identity, and that you will eventually grow to accept who you are.
The artwork in The Collection is different from your previous comics, such as Afterlife, Then and Now, and Rinna. Can you share about how you came up with the look of your characters and sets?
My choice in artwork varies from story to story. The art of my other comics were more experimental where I played around with different styles. With The Collection being a more light-hearted story it needed something simple, yet expressive. I wanted to be able to show and convey the actions and emotions of each character, so I felt this art style was most appropriate for the story. As for the environments, I based most of them off the town I grew up in since this story was somewhat autobiographical.