Grace Lin and Aree Chung are first generation children of immigrants who grew up not quite feeling like they belonged. However, their art styles differ to a great extent; Lin’s style shows more Chinese influence, while Chung relies more on a cartoonish relatability, perhaps influenced by his time at Pixar.
Lin describes her experience studying European art and making the conscience decision to move towards a style more reflective of her heritage in the following exchange from a 2010 interview with Julia Yates Walton, “While I was in school we studied the great European artists, but I started feeling really strange about the art that I was doing. I started to realize that I did not really know any Asian art at all. When I started looking at it on my own, what I really liked was Chinese folk art, which is very bright colors, a lot of pattern, very flat, not paying too much attention to perspective. At the same time, we were studying Matisse who was doing a similar thing, but in a different way. I tried to mix those two together to make my own style, kind of Asian-American. I wanted my style to reflect the mix that I felt that I was.” Looking at Lin’s art, this tendency towards bright colors, use of pattern, and flat style is easy to spot, as is her dedication to featuring distinctly Asian looking characters. Chung, on the other hand, describes his art and character design process thusly, “When designing the characters, I didn’t want them to look like specific kids; I wanted them to look cartoony so that every kid could relate to them. I still wanted to make specific enough; finding the right balance can be a little tricky” (Beecher 2014).
This difference can possibly be ascribed to the difference in the type of communities they grew up in; while Lin was one of the only minority families in a small town in upstate New York, Chung grew up in the much more diverse northern California. While both experienced life as children of immigrants, and as Chinese-Americans in white American culture, the way each describes their childhood experiences is indicative of their later divergence in artistic style. While Lin describes growing up as a “Twinkie––yellow on the outside, white on the inside” because “where I grew up in upstate New York there were no other minorities, so I kind of forgot that I was Asian” (Yates Walton 2010), Chung, on the other hand, describes his experiences as having grown up as an “ABC (American Born Chinese”, going on to say that he “didn’t feel completely American nor Chinese” (Teut 2016). Lin’s illustration focus on creating characters she could have related to and seen herself in that were missing in her childhood, while Chung, who may have been bereft of reflective media but not other children of color to relate to, prefers to focus on characters who are mixed, who represent diversity, and wanting everyone to be able to relate to his stories and images.