National Museum of Women in the Arts hosts virtual talk with graphic novelist Robin Ha
The museum highlights a new artist every month
Graphic novelist Robin Ha makes cooking complex recipes look easy. What started as expressing her passion for cooking by posting one recipe comic a week on her Tumblr blog became a New York Times best selling graphic novel cookbook.
Ha discussed her stories, novels and creative process during NMWA xChange, a free virtual talk that dives deep into artists’ creative processes and backgrounds.
In her first graphic novel, “Cook Korean! A Comic Book with Recipes,” the bright-colored ingredients seem to hop off the page and encourage readers to cook Ha’s family recipes highlighted in the novel.
“I realized cooking can be kind of like another method of expressing my creativity and nourishing myself,” Ha said. The cookbook also includes stories, geography and history showing that a cookbook can be educational and interactive.
Ha immigrated to the U.S. at 14 from Seoul, South Korea. Her second graphic novel is a memoir titled “Almost American Girl.” The novel mirrors Ha’s own story of immigrating to the U.S. as a teenager with her mom. Both of Ha’s graphic novels are featured in the NMWA’s libraries.
Ha first discovered the world of comics in Seoul. Her mom was a hairdresser and would often send her to art school as a kid. She taught her how to read comics when she was a toddler. While her mom worked in the mall, Ha would go to comic rental stores and spend hours reading comics.
“I completely fell in love with it. So I couldn’t think of anything else to do with my life other than reading and drawing comics,” Ha said.
Although “Almost American Girl” is a memoir, one of the novel’s main tropes puts a spin on a superhero story. Ha draws herself as a superhero throughout the novel and even had a classic hero moment where she chose a new name.
Ha never liked her birth name; in Korea, it was considered “old fashioned” and she would get made fun of in school for her name. After moving to the U.S, she used an old school yearbook to pick a new name. “I did eenie meenie meenie mo because I didn’t know which one to choose,” said Ha.
As a teenager, she felt like the “main character of a comic book” because of the excitement of moving to a new place. Featuring a superhero protagonist may reflect the real bravery people show when moving to a new country not knowing the language or culture.
“I wanted people to feel hopeful, in general, you know, like, I remember feeling really hopeless at that age. I think people who read, especially if they're teenagers going through a similar experience, I want them to know that things will get better,” Ha said.
Ha’s upcoming graphic novel takes a new direction. With a working title, “The Fox Maidens,” it contains fantasy, action, thriller and romance. The main character is loosely based on the popular Korean folklore character Gumiho, but takes a new spin on a common character.
Ha feels most novels with a woman lead end the same way and wanted to write and draw something more relatable.
“I wanted to show how this character goes through their environment and how they end up, not with everything that they hope to have, but still making some kind of sense with their identity and their life and still finding some kind of happiness in it. Because that's what I'm struggling with. I'm sure that's what everybody is struggling with. Right?” Ha said.