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Illustrator creates Vietnamese slashing superheroine

Fred Serra’s comic-book character is a superheroine for the ages

Glen MacDonald

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Fred Serra Covid Illustration

Sharply dressed in a yellow-and-black ao dai and brandishing a katana, Nữ Anh Hùng (NAH) casually leans on her motorbike, unbothered by the giant coronaviruses floating throughout the air. An inky bloodstain drips on the ground. In the next panel, NAH dons a red facemask and fiercely slashes a cartoon virus in half with her country’s famous conical hats. Captain America uses a shield, NAH wields a non la.

The NAH character is the creation of Fred Serra, who is very much one of Ho Chi Minh City’s Renaissance men. Receiving early acclaim for his design work on the beloved Oggy and the Cockroaches cartoon, the animator has kept himself busy since arriving in Vietnam in his early thirties. Originally employed by the French-owned Xilam Animation to establish animation studios in Korea and Vietnam, Serra gained enough experience in Asia to create his own print shop in 2016.

Nu Anh Hung Covid

Dubbed “Ruby Soho,” the space doubles as a friendly, red-painted pub filled with a wild array of images including portraits of psychedelic rock stars, moody black and white photography, and stills of martial arts films. A year later, Serra set up an animation class for both children and adults, continuing to mentor Vietnam’s rapidly growing arts industry. On top of everything else, Serra also launched an online radio station, filling Vietnam’s airwaves with groovy classic rock. With all of these creative ventures, the French artist kept himself busy… until coronavirus struck, leaving Serra’s businesses in a state of limbo.

Fred Serra Artist Vietnam
Fred Serra in Ruby Soho. Photography by TheBureauAsia/BAO ZOAN.

Although the lockdowns were bleak, Serra found himself with a lot of time on his hands to complete a project eluding him for years- the creation of his own character.

“The character displays western hero characteristics while integrating a distinctive Vietnamese ethos,” Serra says. “But in this situation, I see her as a symbol of the courage of the country.”

“I’ve created a lot of characters for companies in my life, but not for me yet,” Serra said in an interview with The Bureau. “I have a superhero in mind, a girl, but I want her to represent the essence of this country, someone that has a combination of the traditional, historical, and the energy of now. She has to be someone that would make the Vietnamese proud.”

Vietnam Vo DIch

Resembling a Tarantino heroine, Serra says the design for NAH is actually inspired by old Japanese movies like “Lady Snowblood.” The NAH character has long been gestating with Serra, who says he was working on her design for more than a year. “[During the lockdowns] I had more time to develop the character and adapt it to this situation,” Serra told ​Chào’ via email.

“The character displays western hero characteristics while integrating a distinctive Vietnamese ethos,” Serra says. “But in this situation, I see her as a symbol of the courage of the country.”

Indeed, as larger nations suffer from the pandemic, NAH symbolizes Vietnam’s fantastic strides against the coronavirus. The thrill of NAH’s blade ripping through the deadly disease echoes the jubilation felt amongst the doctors and patients celebrating the defeat of coronavirus in Bach Mai hospital, Vietnam’s former most-infected area. “I hope Vietnam will continue to manage this well as they did since the start,” Serra says. “I’m very proud about the Vietnamese way at the moment.”

Nu Anh Hung Coronavirus

Currently, this superhero has no origin story but that will change soon. “I have a precise idea about her story but at the moment I try to find a storyteller to work with me on the development for an online comic,” Serra says.

In addition to a future comic, NAH will also make an appearance at Serra’s upcoming art exhibit, launching once Ho Chi Minh City returns to normality. The exhibit, taking place in Serra’s NAH Studio, offers an outlet for Vietnamese and expat artists to create works dealing with the pandemic. A full 100% of the purchase price of the artwork will benefit Vietnam’s artists, many of whom are currently out of work.

In the meantime, NAH is now available on t-shirts. Serra is selling them on his studio’s Facebook page.

Nu Anh Hung Tshirts

While many struggle with the boredom of quarantine, the ever-busy Serra has allowed the situation to revitalize his inspiration.

“Most just hope for the end of the crisis,” Serra says. “But the artists always have something to do.”

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