A picture tells a thousand words. It also conveys meaning when words fall down on the job. And words fail frequently when stories are raw and emotional, and when they involve crossing boundaries - national ones in times of war, and cultural and linguistic ones in refugee camps. Therein lies the power of the graphic novel.
Canadian artist Jean Bradbury, a frequent visitor to Jordan, started a small non-profit called Studio Syria to raise funds for art and educational supplies for refugees in Zaatari camp and in centers serving Syrian refugees across the kingdom. Her last trip to Zaatari centered on workshops teaching how to create a graphic novel. Bradbury shared drawing techniques and described how to build a narrative – essential tools for telling stories with pictures.
There were a few bumps. Like guys going silent when considering their journey to Jordan. Also cultural hiccups, as when she urged them to include women in their stories, and discovered their discomfit at drawing the female form.
Western comic books creeped towards serious storytelling in the mid 19th Century, rising to critical success in the 1980’s with publications such as Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (which influenced Batman films that followed) and Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus (which recounted his father’s experiences as a Polish Jew during World War II).
In 1996, Joe Sacco published his graphic novel Palestine, based on his extended visit to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a two-volume set that won an American Book Award. Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi published Persepolis, her coming-of-age tale set during the Iranian revolution, which was adapted for film in 2007.
Perhaps one of these giants in the genre will now turn their sights to the Syrians, or one of these amateur artists will continue with his work with continued support from people like Bradbury, and those who support her cause. These potent pictures guarantee a bestseller.