Pratt BFA Communications Design Thesis

Emily Goto Illustration

Hi Grandma


Last semester I finished a wordless illustrated book about my dog. I wanted to expand my storytelling skills, playing with sequence and memory, allowing events to merge in unexpected ways. The subject matter was fairly straight forward, but pulling details and references from my childhood, I attempted to construct dynamic and mysterious scenes from this period of my life and hers.

This semester, I want to continue to develop my visual language in narrative, pushing myself to consider more complex content: my relationship with my late grandmother and generational disconnect.

Even my dad knows very little about his mother’s childhood because she didn't talk about it, not that I’m sure he asked. We know she was born in Korea in 1934. One of the only events from her childhood I remember her describing was running barefoot from a battlefield (a story family members are skeptical of for reasons not given). When I knew her, she always wore panty hoes, sensible heels, pant suits with feminine cardigans; she sold jewellery at department stores, and she never let her hair go gray or unpermed.

I never had a relationship with my grandmother, because her value system, based largely on money and outward beauty, was completely alien to me, especially as a child. I had no good way of processing what her expectations were of me and so rejected them, and her, almost entirely. I held unjustifiable resentment for her most of my life, until her death, and have recently had to address that this wasn’t entirely her fault. There should have been a time when I tried to understand her, when I asked her questions, when I accepted something even when I didn’t want or need it. Her language of caring was so unnatural to me, that I never interpreted it as caring. My attempts to communicate caring were also ignored by her at an early age, so perhaps we were never going to make sense to each other.

We only ever had two types of conversations: discussion about my body/weight/figure, or her pushing her huge diamond ring onto my finger and telling me it was going to be mine someday (I was supposed to be excited about this, but thinking about it makes me nauseous). I don’t know if there was room in her world for the conversations I wish I could have with her now, but there might be in fiction.

The final platforms for the project will be an unusual and multi-layered graphic novel, inked and then digitally colored and riso printed, and a related animated project, more loose in its narrative structuring and utilizing the assets I develop for the book.

I want to have a fictionalized narrative conversation with my grandmother, I want to use my own life experience to try to understand hers, even though it's something I will never truly know. I will pull details and information into where they do not belong; pulling from real things that have happened in my family, and from purely imagined scenarios populated with my own visual references. The final forms will serve as documentation of our new fictional relationship.