Threads: From the Refugee Crisis: Kate Evans discusses her latest graphic novel

Evans touched on the refugee crisis, climate change, and the state of migration

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Kate Evans’ work seeks to emphasize the human side of every situation. (Image courtesy of cartoonkate.co.uk)

The Peak sat down with UK-based graphic novelist, Kate Evans to discuss the inspiration behind her new book Threads: From the Refugee Crisis. It is a graphic novel about the stories of the many people who have been forced to seek refuge in Europe and elsewhere due to events such as the ongoing situation in Syria. Kate doesn’t fully consider herself a journalist, although she has worked on what has been called graphic reportage. As she explains it, it walks a line between simple reporting and art that is suggestive or brings to light a specific message.

      Evans started as an activist with a healthy skepticism of journalism and, as she put it, “[the] extreme lines that are often presented by British newspapers.” She writes graphic novels, which give her the freedom to structure her stories in order to “take the reader on a journey, similar to how a film . . . or a novel would.” While she does make sure to depict the events she witnesses accurately, the way that she tells them allows for artistic license. She emphasized that this allows humour to be injected into stories in a way that wouldn’t be possible in other storytelling forms.

The Peak: I understand that you volunteered in the Calais Jungle refugee camp?

Kate: Yeah . . . [It was] a very brief amount of time that [I] spent there. There are other people who, you know, have dedicated their lives to this project. Basically, the entire graphic novel describes 10 days of activism [over] three trips . . . By writing a graphic novel, I can bear witness to events, even though I can’t claim to have given [them] a huge amount of practical support.

P: You mentioned in an interview on your website that the book would almost be a historical document by the time you finished it, so what would you say is your role as an artist and a journalist in history, and how does this fit into [today’s] journalism?

K: It is a historical document already, but I was panicking when I was writing it because news events were overtaking my representation of what was happening in the book, and my husband just went, “Look, there’s still going to be refugees when this book is finished.” So it is a historical document [on] an ongoing situation which is only going to get worse . . . [There will be] more and more pressing and extreme reasons for us to reevaluate the way that we think about migration . . . Given the impact that climate change is gonna have on people’s ability to live across large swathes of the planet, we’re going to have to [m]ake a philosophical and economically humane, and pragmatic decision about national borders because the current system we have [is going to become] unsustainable.

P: I hate to be the guy to bring up Brexit, but how do you think that it connects to the events in your book and the strategies Europe is adopting?

K: . . .At the moment, the British border is effectively on French soil. So British border guards are standing around in ports at Dunkirk and Calais and preventing refugees from [getting] onto lorries [trucks]. If we crash out of the European Union, France is not going to continue with that arrangement and there will not be refugees at Calais. France will wave them onto the boats, they will get out in Dover and then the Brits can actually deal with their own problem . . . it’s quite ironic . . . that the xenophobia that fueled the leave vote could then backfire and result in a large influx of refugees.

P: Speaking of the role of government in these kinds of situations, you had your phone searched by border guards [at Calais]?

K: Yeah, they made me delete photos from [my] phone, which I thought . . . was quite funny because I can remember what everything looks like in my head so I don’t need photos . . .

P: What do the changes [in journalism that has been occurring] mean for people who are telling these stories through less conventional means, like you are?

K: It means good things . . . but we’ll still be poor.

P: Of course it’s not as simple as just one idea, but what was the main message you were trying to get across with your latest graphic novel, Threads: From the Refugee Crisis?

K: Something that applies to this work that applies to quite a bit of my work . . . [is] the old adage of the person as political, and you flip it on its head when you look at my work. I try to make personal stories out of political events . . . People read about refugees, certainly in Britain, [and] the tabloid press presents this — frankly rabid — image of the [Calais Jungle] . . . I think David Cameron used the word “swarm. It’s a very dehumanizing other. Yet if you read a comic about a real person, doing real things, showing actual examples of honesty, integrity, vulnerability, and generosity . . . That explodes the myth of the other, the migrant, the invading horde, the dangerous terrorist, or the African savage. [It explodes] all those racist tropes that are used to keep people out because they are from poorer countries. I hope that that can . . . literally break down borders.

P: Social activism is prominent in your work . . . what would be your advice to a student that wants to get into activism in a meaningful way?

K: That’s a very good question . . . it depends on what kind of activism you feel inspired by . . . All I can say is just start. If you feel like you want to actively get together to do something to change the world, get off your smartphone and have a conversation with somebody else today — in real life — about how to change the world for the better . . . We can all do something to help.

Kate Evans spoke at the Chan Centre on September 29, about her new graphic novel, which is available through her website, Amazon, Verso Books, and elsewhere.

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