When Los Angeles film producer Greg Cahill embarked on a graphic novel project to document the life of legendary Cambodian singer Ros Serey Sothea, he struggled for months to find an illustrator who could bring his vision to life. .
He finally found her – Kat Baumann – 1,800 miles from Mankato.
More on Kat in a moment. To understand why she’s involved in a graphic novel called “The Golden Voice” about a 1970s Cambodian singer written by a Los Angeles film producer, some context is in order.
Ros Serey Sothea’s story means a lot to Cahill.
“It really goes back to my childhood,” he said. “When I was 2 or 3 years old, my parents were involved in helping a large group of Cambodian refugees who had just arrived in the United States.”
They had come because of the Khmer Rouge, the short-lived but brutal communist regime in Cambodia that executed over a million people. Artists were particularly targeted. Singer Ros Serey Sothea, one of the most beloved, was among the victims.
Cahill’s parents were part of a group that helped refugees.
“When I was 3 years old, my parents used to organize this big party in our garden for all the refugees who had just arrived from Cambodia,” he said. “It made a big impression on me.”
Several years ago he made a short film about the singer. But he had always thought his story deserved a wider audience and more notoriety. So he decided to try telling his story via a graphic novel.
Cahill isn’t an artist, so he started looking for one.
Enter Kat Baumann.
“I spent a lot of time trying to find the right artists for this project. And it was months and months of standoffs with different artists,” he said. “I finally contacted someone I knew in LA and said, ‘Hey, do you know anyone who would be good for this graphic novel?’ He was kind enough to post a blast on Twitter. And I got responses from about 100 artists at that time. And at the top of the list was Kat Baumann.
Baumann is quite well known in southern Minnesota. His illustrated article “Community Draws” appears monthly in Mankato Magazine. She is regularly asked to design pledge campaign t-shirt logos for Minnesota State University’s public radio station, KMSU 89.7-FM. She did a T-shirt design for last year’s Mankato River Ramble. She also sings in various bands.
But it was his first graphic novel. And even though Cahill was nearly 2,000 miles away, she said the collaboration process went smoothly.
What was good for Baumann was that Cahill had already done all the research and had come up with rough sketches of how he wanted many of the models to look. She would take his ideas, come up with his own rough sketches, send them back for edits, and then produce color versions.
In total, the project lasted about two years. And in the end, Baumann and Cahill say they were extremely happy with how it turned out.
“When I decided to do a graphic novel, I had an expectation, but it just blew it out of the water and really elevated the story,” he said. “And every time I show someone his work, you just see his face light up and he’s like, ‘Oh, my God! So I was very lucky to cross paths with Kat.
Research on Ros
Little is known about the death of Ros Serey Sothea. Her death, in fact, has never been confirmed, but according to her Wikipedia entry, many believe she was executed shortly after the Khmer Rouge came to power; it was said that the regime hated artists.
Mystery, however, surrounds his death. Several stories offer alternate endings. One says that when the Khmer Rouge took over, the outgoing government took her away to protect her. Yet another says that Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge dictator, captured her and forced her to perform for a while before she was finally executed.
Cahill’s interest, however, is the impact she had on the Cambodian people as a performer. She is said to have recorded hundreds of songs, although many of her recordings were lost in the tumult of regime change and genocide.
Cahill first heard Ros Serey Sothea in a movie called “City of Ghosts,” written and directed by Matt Dillon. The film, the first to be shot on location in Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge regime, is packed with images of Cambodian music from the 1970s.
“It’s sung in the Khmer language,” he said. “And my favorite singer on the soundtrack was Ros Serey Sothea. I loved her music, but I didn’t know anything about her. So when I started learning how all the musicians in that music scene at the time had been killed in the genocide, it seemed that not only was this music amazing, but there was a very important story behind it.
He started researching her in 2006 and produced a short film about her. This movie, however, only made him want to do something more to educate people about Ros Serey Sothea.
Like Cahill, Baumann was pleased not only with the result, but also with the collaborative nature of the work.
“I was really excited about how a lot of this book turned out,” she said. “I feel like I’m really finding my visual style by drawing a little better with the medium.”
The novel was completed within the last few months. Cahill is selling the book to publishers, but he says it’s not a question of if it will be published, but when.