Trung Le Nguyen is a name you probably know if you know a lot about LGBTQ+ friendly tarot, are consistently searching for self-published comics, or hang out around the Light Grey Art Lab near MCAD. If you don’t know Le Nguyen, he is an incredible raw talent with a really unique eye for what makes a visual story interesting. I was first acquainted with his work upon acquiring a Cosmos Tarot and Oracle deck from the Light Grey Art Lab, and quickly saw his name and tarot drawings popping up on queer friendly tarot blogs too. Additionally, Le Nguyen works extensively as a comic artist and regularly shows prints of his work. I’ve been hoping to connect with him for awhile, and he was happy to sit down and talk about the art side of his work.
First things first! Introduce yourself.
My name is Trung Le Nguyen, and I go by Trungles pretty much everywhere. I use he/him/his pronouns, and I draw stories.
Can you talk to us a little bit about your interest in art and how it became a career for you?
I’m nominally a comic book artist. I like to tell stories with pictures. I’ve always drawn, but I never really thought to make it a career. It always seemed like this fluffy way for me to pass the time. I used to make these terribly drawn comics in middle school and high school, and pretty much stopped in college. I went about doing other things I thought I should be pursuing when I was in that self-serious headspace. I studied painting and art history, thinking I’d go into arts administration. I started idly making comics again after graduating from college, and I started getting work. It was a pretty organic process.
What do you think attracts you specifically to visual art?
I am drawn to visual art because its consumption and its creation are incredibly accessible to me personally. Performance art typically centers the artist’s physicality and space-taking, the written word presumes literacy, and place-making requires public access. I love comic books in particular because they’re all my favorite parts of books and images. The book format is fantastic because it’s intimate, takes up very little space, and requires permission. You can pick it up, open it, linger over pages, skip over some, return to them later, close it, and set it down at your own permittance. No matter the content, you can ultimately guide the pace of the journey. Comic books, along with picture books, are fantastic for this sort of reading because it warmly welcomes re-reading. I just like pictures, honestly!
What do you like to create or say with your work?
I enjoy telling and retelling fairy stories with pictures. My favorite thing about them is that every iteration comes from a different time and place, which tells you more about who tells the story. I always like asking why. Why is this story being told? Why does goodness look like this? Why does love look like this? Why does beauty look like this? Why does wickedness look like this? Old stories make for a great way to interrogate the status quo. I think that’s also why I enjoy tarot reading so much too. It’s introspective, dynamic storytelling that asks you to thread different pieces of your personal context together. Storytelling and weaving narratives helps make sense of things that we have maybe taken for granted.
Has any piece of that former question shifted or changed as our society and its shape seems to be changing?
I’m a queer Asian American immigrant and refugee. I’ve been existing in a liminal space. While certainly, the world is changing and becoming more dangerous for many people from marginalized or historically aggrieved backgrounds, none of the bigoted attitudes or the systems that cultivate them are new. Exploring who tells which stories and why is my way of making sense of those systems. It’s still pertinent.
How would you describe your work to someone who’s never seen it before?
There are lots of lines, and expect to see many mermaids.
Who do you look up to artistically, and how has that influenced or shaped your work?
My favorite illustrators are turn-of-the-century folks like Rose O’Neill, Heinrich Lefler, and Harry Clarke. I take a lot of cues from children’s books, advertisements, and ephemera from the early 20th century. It’s not uncommon for illustrators to look at a lot of these folks, I think, but it does put me in a weird spot in terms of comic work. Am I indie? Do I make work amenable to cape comics? Can romance comics come back? There are a lot of odd style-identity questions tied to an artist’s facture as though our visual parentage determines where we will go. Since I skipped the art school step, I missed out on that whole conversation when it would have truly informed my work. Maybe that’s for the best.
What do you know now about the art world that you wish you could tell a younger version of yourself?
I’d tell myself that there are a lot of different ideas about what is or isn’t art, and not a lot of that is pertinent to what I want to do. I would remind myself that a strong foundation is necessary, but after that it’s great to indulge in all the stuff I love. Try not to mistake cynicism for cleverness. It’s okay to be sincere, and it’s okay enjoy things without irony.
How do you hope to grow or evolve as an artist over the next couple of years?
Most of the growing I hope to do is technical. I didn’t go to art school, and I don’t have any academic background in comics, which is the work I’m doing. While I’m satisfied with my work so far, I’m also trying to figure how to bridge those little gaps in experience when it comes to more technical skills.
What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve done, or shows you’ve shown your work in?
I’ve been having the most fun with my tarot illustrations. It started out as an exercise in illustration, but I’m finding them to be really engrossing. I did a short comic for the New Frontiers summer exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles recently. I still rather like that piece.
What are you working on right now?
I’m still wrapping up those tarot illustrations. They’re so challenging, but very rewarding. I’m also doing a few comic book projects slated for release sometime early next year. I’ll be in a show coming up in late September at the Light Grey Art Lab.
Great! Thanks so much for talking to us about yourself and your work. Where and how can we support your art?
The Parallel show opens at the Light Grey Art Lab on September 22nd, and I’ve got a release party for a coloring book I did for Limerence Press at the Smitten Kitten planned for sometime in October. The Coloring Book is called Fauns and Fairies, and will be in stores this fall. I’m really active on Patreon (patreon.com/trungles), making two webcomics and updating folks with illustrations I’m not prepared to share anywhere else. I’m also on Instagram (Instagram.com/trungles). My website is trungles.com.