Creator Matt Huynh has a gift for storytelling; a vast majority of this gift resides in his artwork as he’s able to capture the human form in a realistic way with body language and facial expressions. Another part of this talent is that he’s able to say very little within a story and yet still say a lot. The thing about Ma is that it’s easy to sum up, but that’s not what Huynh is going for. He hasn’t created Ma in a three part structure in which the payoff comes from the narration. Instead the payoff comes from the emotional journey that the characters are on.
The story takes place in Malaysia and begins in the ocean. A boat of refugees is arriving in the midst of a storm which ends up dumping them just off of the shore. We meet our family a father and mother and their two children. The bulk of the story is of course focused on the mother. Her struggles to protect her children feed her husband and keep their family together. It’s emotional as you watch them endure a situation that’s only supposed to be temporary, but far surpasses that.
Now my interpretation could be a little off since it’s not spelled out for you in the pages; even though it seems to be about Huynh’s own family, he still leaves some aspects open for the reader to either get or not. Personally I like when a story is clear cut, but only if you see it that way.
As I said, this book is all about the emotional journey. Obviously I’m not a mother, but I could understand the characters struggle. I could understand why she would cry alone when she had a moment to do so. It was a touching and painful story to read at times, but Huynh does a wonderful job of making it relatable on the human level with his storytelling.
Huynh’s artwork is magnificent. His brush work on this story is some of his best, but what’s more impressive is that you can almost follow each stroke he takes and see the creation of each panel. A simple panel can offer so much more when you take this into account. Since the book is in all black and white ink work, Huynh works with the contrasts at time. Sometimes the light is the most important part of the scene, whereas other times the darkness is the focal point.
Additionally his breakdowns and panel layout is very impressive and different from a lot of comic books. Again though, this plays into the contrast; at times Huynh uses the full page and other times he leaves it mostly blank for the impact of a particular panel. This is particularly apparent when an old man begs for what little food the family has left and the mother is forced to ignore the pleading man for the sake of her own children.
Ma is a powerful story with amazing artwork to compliment it. While the story itself is incomparable to other comics, the feeling and vibe is something that I have experienced in other self-published work. It’s a style that I would love to see more and hopefully Huynh himself will be back with stories of a similar nature as well.