Kiku Hughes’s Graphic Novels Expand Historical Understanding

Today is the third anniversary of the release of Displacement, a graphic novel exploring the ramifications of Japanese-American incarceration camps from the perspective of a young girl. It is an important narrative with a charming protagonist and beautiful graphics, created by Kiku Hughes.

Kiku Hughes is a cartoonist and illustrator based in Seattle, whose work often features sci-fi themes and queer and Asian-American characters and stories. Her work has been featured in both the first and second volumes of The Beyond Anthology, a collection of black-and-white, queer, sci-fi comics. She is also featured in Avatar: The Last Airbender – Team Avatar Tales, an anthology of stories from the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe. She was also the assistant editor of Alloy: Electrum, labeled an “all-ages mixed-race anthology,” that also featured her work.

Following this series of anthologies, Kiku came out with her debut graphic novel, Displacement. The novel follows a thirteen-year-old girl, named after and loosely based on Kiku herself, who finds herself traveling back in time to see her late grandmother in a Japanese-American internment camp in the World War II era. 

Kiku’s use of color in the novel is deliberate. In a livestream, which FF2 contributor Joycelyn Ghansah covered, Kiku explained that “[her] reasons for choosing dark blues and brown represent the past and the solemn experience and environment in the camps.” The colors, along with the expressions of the characters (which are heart-wrenching, especially considering the medium), make for a sci-fi story with huge emotion and depth. 

Creating Displacement not only allowed Kiku to explore her own identity and family history, but it also brought awareness to this devastating moment in the past and its ramifications. The visual imagery of the medium was important in this pursuit. 

In the livestream, Kiku stated that “the lack of visual representation helped erase the community’s identity. The lack of imagery is why Kiku and many others were unaware of the history of the incarceration camps. So much critical insight and information was lost during that period.” Displacement is, in this way, quite radical, and a very important addition to Japanese-American history. 

We are in a pivotal moment in the world of graphic novels, as they begin to center queer and otherwise underrepresented narratives. It is clear that Kiku Hughes is an important figure in this shift. From the colors she uses to the characters she creates to the stories that she tells, every decision that Kiku makes comes from the heart. 

© Julia Lasker (8/18/2023) FF2 Media


Read Joycelyn Ghansah’s overview of Kiku’s livestream with the Japanese American Citizens League here. 

Learn more about Kiku here.

Learn more about the Manzanar War Relocation Center, the barren location in California that has become the symbol of the Japanese-American incarceration during World War II.


Featured Photo of the entrance to the Manzanar War Relocation Center: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, [LC-DIG-highsm-23298]

Kiku’s author photo and a page from Displacement (“Memories are powerful things.”) courtesy of Kiku Hughes and used by FF2 with her permission. All Rights Reserved.

Tags: Alloy: Electrum, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Avatar: The Last Airbender - Team Avatar Tales, Displacement, female cartoonist, Graphic Novel, Japanese-Amerian cartoonist, Japanese-Amerian illustrator, Kiku Hughes, Kiku Hughes' Displacement, queer cartoonist, Sci-Fi, The Beyond Anthology

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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