From Fall 2015 to Spring 2016, British graphic artist Kate Evans spent periods of time volunteering at the (in)famous refugee camp in Calais, France. If you heard anything on the news about the French government bulldozing a refugee camp, that was Calais, though there were and are others. The one in Calais formed because it’s close to the ‘Chunnel,’ the tunnel that goes over (or, under) to England, where many refugees would like to seek asylum, and a new life. The problem is, of course, that the British government, and many Brits, don’t want them.
Threads From The Refugee Crisis is Evans’ series of autobiographical sketches and stories from her time spent in the camp, where mainly she offered a place and space for refugees, mostly men, though many parentless boys, to create art, as a form of therapy.
Evans is the author/artist of RED ROSA: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg (which I reviewed for Comics Bulletin) and Funny Weather: Everything You Didn’t Want To Know About Climate Change But Probably Should. And maybe the sub-title of Threads should be, Everything You Didn’t Want To Know About The Refugee Crisis But Probably Should, except Evans makes clear in a short statement at the beginning that her book is “a very small part of their story.”
For contrast, and a bigger picture, Evans does include scenes from events happening in Syria at the same time as her visits, as in bombings of civilians by the government and tortures by Daesh (the so-called Islamic State)—reminders that this crisis didn’t come from nowhere, and in fact was caused by the British (and French) (and yes, above all American) bombing and invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan (and Libya, and Yemen, et cetera) though you could trace these causes back even further, a couple hundred years or so, to colonialism itself.
The artwork here is a bit more raw than in RED ROSA, which seems fitting, reflecting the lives of those in the Calais camp, as well as Evans’ emotions, because the situation in the camp is not easy, for anyone, and there are no simple answers, and sometimes, to her (and to we readers) the act of even volunteering seems futile. Nor does everyone in the camp behave well, though most seem to. The people who behave the worst are the French police, who seem to go out of their way to be assholes, like when they forbid people from bringing bread into the camp (?!). Though doesn’t compare to coming in in full riot gear (when there is no riot) to beat and fire tear gas at helpless people. So yeah, it doesn’t just happen in America.
Part of Evans’ rawness comes from the criticism she receives back in England, and she intersperses actual quotes, tweets or conversation threads, from people/trolls critical of her attempts to bring actual faces to the refugee crisis, and for her even volunteering at the Calais camp. Hard to decide which ignorant comment to include as an example, but how about this one:
This cartoon could not be better propaganda for battlefield veteran Islamic militant males invading Northern Europe if Lenin himself produced it. The situation would not exist if they [sic] very people breaking laws in Calais did not ruin their homelands with ethnic religious hated, intolerance, and war. You are importing death.
You might wonder if including quotes like this is worth the space they take up, but they do provide a necessary contrast. That is, those opinions are driving government policy. And/or being driven by government policy. I’d like to think that Evans would have included more rational criticisms, if they existed. They probably do, just not in online threads, nor even in the MSM it seems. Threads is an answer to these trolls.
Still, the overwhelming feel of the troll comments (and of trolls in general, everywhere) is that of fear. In this case, some kind of fear that immigrants will change English life, for the worse. What kind of changes might the people Evans meet in Calais bring to England? Well, how about an overwhelming hospitality? Every person she meets invites her into their homes, whether those homes be tents or wooden shacks. And all, all, provide her with tea, and food that they sorely need for themselves and their families. I can’t imagine the trolls quoted in the book, who probably think of themselves are good upstanding Brits, being half as hospitable.
Evans leaves us at the end of Threads with us with some facts, in words, no images, towards a formal argument about why letting in immigrants would be a good thing:
Immigrants didn’t take your job. Immigrants create jobs. Immigration leads to economic growth. Immigrants are disproportionately young, motivated, and hard working, and they are statistically less likely to claim state benefits than the native population….Germany is accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees. This isn’t a charitable act—it’s happening because the German government can see it makes economic sense.
The problem is, as The Oatmeal, among others, has pointed out, facts don’t necessarily change people’s opinions. Which is why a book like THREADS is helpful, and even necessary: as existentialists like Camus and Sartre pointed out, we really feel compassion and empathy when we see the suffering of others. Which makes visual-oriented journalism, like this ‘comics journalism’ so powerful: we ‘see’ the people Evans saw and met. And, we hear their stories.
Which is what I would add, though I’m not new in saying it: Stories change people’s minds. Which is what comics also give us, and is their power: we see people, read their words and hear their voices.
Have your local comic or book store order Threads From The Refugee Crisis, or order through VERSO Books here.