Images of desperate escapes across borders are tragic jolts to the senses delivered on the news each day, online and on broadcast television. Graphic artists are producing graphic novels and works of graphic nonfiction on the human suffering taking place around the world. Comics artists are documenting the plight of migrant workers desperate for a new life, refugees fleeing political persecution and relentless warfare, and those trapped in the brutal realities of human trafficking. Alongside the nonfiction are several graphic novels—works of fiction by authors who use the creative process to vividly recreate the desperation and statelessness experienced by migrants and refugees that the nonfiction works document so well. Here’s a wide-ranging selection of recent and forthcoming graphic works on forced migration.
The story: At the height of the Syrian Civil War, a young Syrian woman sets up a makeshift hospital in the heart of a city controlled by the Assad regime and, with a friend, shuttles back and forth across the Turkish border in a risky effort to support the hospital’s work.
The author: Sulaiman was born in Syria, escaped to Egypt, and now lives in France.
The story: In moody watercolors, Barroux illustrates Alpha’s hair-raising journey from the Ivory Coast to Paris after he is refused a French visa. Along the way, Alpha collects a stand-in family that includes two young boys and a sex worker in this fictional recreation of a harrowing African migration experience.
The authors: Bessora is a prize-winning French writer and Barroux is a French graphic artist.
The story: In this extraordinary tale, Prum, a Cambodian, draws the story of his enslavement on a fishing boat for four terrifying and brutal years after he was kidnapped on the Thai border while looking for work. He escaped only to be imprisoned by his rescuers before finally returning to his family with the help of a human rights organization.
The author: Prum’s ability to draw and create crude tattoos for captors and fellow slaves helped him survive his ordeal and later enabled him to create this graphic memoir.
The story: Using anthropomorphic animals, Ruillier recreates the undocumented immigrant experience in a work of fiction about an unnamed hero whose passage into a new and unwelcoming country and culture is told through the points of view—both sympathetic and brutally unforgiving—of those who encounter him.
The author: Ruillier was a children’s book illustrator but switched to graphic novels and focused on the theme of immigrant experience in France.
The story: In a desperate attempt to find a sister who left Africa for Europe, Ebo and Kwame, two Ghanian brothers, embark on a harrowing journey across the desert and sea in this richly illustrated fictional narration of a very real migrant experience.
The authors: Coauthors Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin have worked on five graphic adaptations of Colfer’s acclaimed novels, along with the artist Giovanni Rigano.
Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight
The story: In an accordion-style folded comic with drawings inspired by pre-Columbian art, Tonatiuh tells a fictional story of a Mexican laborer who enters the U.S. illegally and finds work as an underpaid and exploited busboy. He then tries to organize his coworkers demand better working conditions.
The author: Tonatiuh is an acclaimed children’s book illustrator
The story: Commissioned by Doctors Without Borders, Kugler’s book offers moving, rich portraits of Syrian refugees in camps in Kurdistan and Europe. Kugler uses dazzling, cluttered layouts with color drawings overlaid with notes, sketches, and lettering that produce a vivid narrative outline of his subjects’ lives.
The author: Kugler is an award-winning reportage illustrator.