College Essay: The art of storytelling

Tony Vue
Tony Vue, St. Paul Harding High School

“Ahlao, do you want to hear a story?” said Dad, addressing me by my childhood name more than 10 years ago in our living room.

“But I want to play with my toys!” I replied.

“Now now, come on,” my dad insisted. “You’re going to love it.”

He brought me to the small kitchen table, sat down on a chair and pushed away the books on the tabletop, replacing them with some pieces of paper and a pencil. What he did next with the pencil and paper would change me forever.

He steadily started illustrating out his history while telling his story. This way of telling his story managed to get me to listen.

“So there’s me and my family,” Dad said as he sketched out a few more stick figures. “We live in a village in Laos.”

As his story went on, his happy, slow-toned voice narrated the story while his hands swept across the fibers of the paper with the pencil, leaving traces of various lines, shapes and marks. Even though what he drew was just a collection of stick figures and poorly drawn houses, they grabbed my attention and I stared in awe as he doodled, and I thought to myself, “Hey, I can do that too.”

“After avoiding soldiers, crossing the Mekong River, living in a refugee camp, and getting ready to move to America, we’re now here,” Dad said, his lips curved slightly upward to form a small dimpled grin.

Once my dad ended his story, I grabbed the pencil he placed on the stacks of paper and right away started scribbling some shapes, animals and stick figures. I started to draw a house with grass on the ground, clouds in the sky and a sun peeking out on the left corner of the paper.

I lifted up the drawing to get a full view of it. Smiling, I could say that I was in love with drawing. I might cringe if I looked at it today, but it was the best piece of art that I had made up to that point. My dad’s passion for visual storytelling inspired me, and his doodles that day sparked my interest in art.

Since then, my art has evolved from stick figures and random doodles to video game fan art. In 2012, I started to take my interest in drawing more seriously. And video games became a big influence on my art. Video games can tell stories as well, and getting involved in the story as the main character and listening to it while I’m constantly pressing the system controller’s buttons gave me the inspiration to draw the characters in the game. I’ve drawn characters mostly from the Nintendo franchise, such as the Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and, mostly, Pokémon. Without these video games, my art probably wouldn’t be the same as it is today.

Drawing is now an embraced hobby. I love telling stories, and just like my dad, I want to tell those tales visually to everyone. While I have many dreams and careers that I’d like to reach, such as becoming an animator, graphic designer, computer engineer or concept designer, one career I’m most interested in is being a Mangaka, which is a Japanese-style comic creator.

From making money out of my art to gaining more skills and techniques to improve my artistic ability, I’ve been making a path of my own to get to where I’d like to go. My dad, who was my first artistic inspiration, supports my dream to become an artist. Besides my dad, there are several other artists and illustrators that I really look up to, such as Wenqing Yan, Allexis Kristedja and Mikiko Ponczeck, as they also tell stories visually. Currently, I’m creating my own story, which is a web comic that I hope to publish when I’m older.

I know as I develop my talent and my art gets more mature, I’ll never forget that it all started with my father telling me his story with simple stick figures.