“For my mother and her mother,” reads the dedication for Tessa Hulls’ moving nonfiction work Feeding Ghosts: A Graphic Memoir. The book to be released on March 5, 2024 tells the story of these women, as well as Hulls herself, and delves into her family’s past in an effort to understand their fraught and often painful relationships.

The resulting narrative illuminates both the deeply personal and the broadly historical. 

Hulls begins her memoir with a timeline to help the reader see how her family’s story fits into the rise and fall of communism in China. For Hulls, a first generation mixed-race child of immigrants, it’s a history that haunts her grandmother and mother, obscuring the roots of their shared trauma, but then becoming the lens through which the author eventually finds clarity.

Hulls lays out a compassionate yet unflinching examination of the trauma and mental illness that forged the bond between her grandmother and mother, and the fractured connection between the author and her own mother. She sifts through layers of stories and memories, seeking truth amidst conflicting reports, half-remembered impressions, and censored documents.

Who is her grandmother beyond the broken shell Hulls has become acquainted with? 

Who is her mother outside of the fear that threatens to destroy her? 

Who is Hulls if she stops running away from those relationships?

The book is 400 pages of complicated history and heavy topics. Though it could have easily been too dense, Hulls manages to confidently guide the reader through its pages nonetheless. The comic medium is incredible in this way, combining words and images to become more than the sum of their parts. Here, Hulls makes the most of her craft to fully engage the audience.

The author draws people in with simple, emotive lines, each framed by intricately textured mark-making which seethe with the invisible anxieties and horrors that underpin the narrative itself. Her black-and-white art is fluid, meticulous, and intense; deftly mixing carefully referenced details and evocative, dreamlike imagery to powerful effect. 

Hulls’ skill at visualizing metaphor and emotion is phenomenal, sweeping the reader into the beautiful, terrible world she depicts.

It’s a harrowing experience. This is a history rife with suffering, loss, death. 

But it’s not all a tragedy. Hulls tells a story about real people and their real lives, so there are moments of gentleness, joy, and humor throughout. Despite the confusion and hurt she’s lived through, her memoir unfolds with remarkable empathy. 

She searches not for revenge or apology, but for understanding. 

Researching this history ultimately gives Hulls the context to begin figuring out what happened to her family, and reconnecting with her mother helps her explore it all in a more intimate way.

There are no perfect answers or easy solutions for Hulls and her family. Though ghosts of their past remain ever-present, through creating this book, the author eventually learns how to keep them from devouring her entirely. It’s an astonishing work of art and a true labor of love.

Tessa Hulls, who recently curated Nobody Lives Here at the Wing Luke Museum, has been working steadfastly for years to unravel her family’s complex history on her mother’s side of the family. She will discuss ‘Feeding Ghosts: A Graphic Memoir’ with fellow local writer Pusata Reang at The Wyncote NW Forum on March 6, 2024 at 7:30 p.m

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