Cartoonist and author of the recently published Vietnamese Wife, Western Husband Club, David Perry, talks to Brett Davis about his new book and putting his cross-cultural married life down on paper.
Why did you start doing the strip, and was it always with a book in mind?
I had the idea from sharing about the common idiosyncrasies of our wives – us Western husbands would be corralled by our Vietnamese wives so they could hang out together and not feel guilty. We have absolutely nothing in common, and our wives were the only topic we could laugh about. What was interesting was how we could all relate to each situation. The stories would make for a great sitcom, but I had to settle for short cartoons. Of course, I started by posting them on Facebook and then a blog, but it’s nice to own a real object like a book.
You’re very up-front about the material for the strip being reflective of your real life. Is it sometimes difficult to be that honest?
Honesty is the basis of our relationship. One of the reasons I first fell in love with Jenny was the fact that I could really be myself. She didn’t go for the bait-and-ignore game that runs the dating scene here. She knew about my shortcomings and was interested in me anyway … I never fail to appreciate this. The downside is that I’m subjected to a daily list of things she doesn’t like: your face is too small, you’re not tall, you hunch your back, etc. Maybe the cartoons are a way of coping with this brutal honesty.
How does your wife respond to some of the subject matter?
She loves it. She’s a good gauge for whether or not Vietnamese will understand the cartoons. Her main criticism is that the situations are exaggerated – too much exaggeration will go over people’s heads. I rarely offend her. She understands that the characters are not necessarily us, but could be our friends, acquaintances or just totally made up.
The humour is based on differences in culture — do you think there is something unique to the Vietnamese/Western combination or do you think it would apply across any two different cultures?
Actually, the humour is almost entirely Vietnamese-based. Vietnamese women identify with themselves, and men (Western or Vietnamese) recognise their partners. Vietnamese women have the healthy ability to laugh at themselves. They know when they are crazy, and they either don’t care or appreciate the absurdity. The cartoon wouldn’t be possible if they didn’t make up all these crazy, illogical rules. At home, we have one kind of soy sauce for cooking and another for dipping. Why? No reason, but I’m quickly chastised for using the wrong one. We’ve had positive feedback from women with different Asian backgrounds, and they seem to identify with the cartoons or at least enjoy them. I think anyone would find them entertaining.
What kind of a reaction have you had from other members of the ‘club’?
The Western husbands obviously find that the book is extremely accurate. They’re my secondary source of inspiration (Jenny being the first, of course). Some have jokingly accused me of stalking them or installing hidden cameras in their homes. The women are my biggest fans by far — they seem to really enjoy seeing themselves captured on paper. Sadly, I have not been able to balance the book with the wives’ perspectives of the husbands. This is because, first of all, there isn’t really any commonality among us Westerners (women, please correct me if I’m wrong!), and secondly because the Vietnamese did not understand the cartoons at all.
You are now working on a second book — is it becoming more difficult to come up with material?
I wish! The ideas never stop. Sometimes I panic when I can’t find some paper to take notes. The second book is more of a risk. A two- or three- panel cartoon is simple enough for anyone to understand, but to up the game I’m going to tell whole stories using as many panels as I need. This will be like a collection of Sunday comics that take over the entire page. It will also be faintly autobiographical, with three stages of our lives: Part I is where we meet, Part II is our life together in Vietnam and Part III will be the present in New York. I’m also using a combination of Vietnamese and English, so people who speak one of either language will get the gist, better if they have a partner who can translate. I’m quite excited — the cover and several pages are already finished and it’s going to be beautiful. The first book is on Amazon and Kindle, but I want to try and publish the second book in Vietnam for my larger Vietnamese base.
You can read David Perry’s blog at Vwwhc.blogspot.com.