Olivier Kugler’s compelling series of evocative drawings documents the experiences of Syrian refugees he met in Iraqi Kurdistan, Greece, France, Germany, Switzerland and England, mostly on assignment for Médecins Sans Frontières.
Based on many interviews, and hundreds of reference photos, Kugler’s beautifully observed drawings of his interviewees bring to life their location – a room, a camp, on the road. His reporting of their stories is peppered with snatches of conversation and images of the objects that have become such a significant part of their lives.
Kugler’s intense graphic reportage drawings have been commissioned by Médecins Sans Frontières and published in The Guardian, Port, Le Monde Diplomatique and many other publications. A portfolio, ‘Waiting State’, published in Harpers, portraying Syrians Kugler met in Iraqi Kurdistan, was the overall winner of the Association of Illustrators World Illustration Awards in 2015. Drawings from Escaping Wars and Waves have been exhibited at Somerset House in London and the Fumetto International Comix Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland, as well as at the Helsinki Comics Festival and, most recently, at the Rich Mix Gallery in London.
Simon Chadwick, The Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain18 July 2018
Olivier Kugler is a German journalist and cartoonist who combines his talents to tell the stories of those he interviews. Escaping Wars And Waves is a collection of the individuals and families he met who were fleeing from the Syrian conflict. Travelling to Iraqi Kurdistan, the Greek island of Kos and the Calais camp known as the Jungle, as well as visiting refugees now living in the UK and Germany, he steadily builds a picture of tragedy, desperation and hope, of people just wanting to live a normal life and give their children a fighting chance.
Many of the stories show extreme hardship and detail difficult and deadly journeys across land and sea, as well as hostility, hunger and helplessness. But at the heart of every page is an individual’s testimony, a snapshot of their existence and experience that is extremely effective in showing the human anguish and resilience of those displaced.
The key to the effectiveness of Kugler’s reporting is that he gets permission from his interviewees to photograph them and their surroundings, then builds an illustration around those pictures that is peppered with the finer details of their often meagre lives, and overlaid with the subject’s words and Kugler’s notes. At first glance the pages can look jumbled and complicated, but there is always a narrative to follow as you read across the page, revealing a gifted eye for design and storytelling.
The apparent unfinished nature of Kugler’s illustrations, coupled with their snapshots of the surrounding minutiae, contrive to make the interviews feel more immediate and real – a snatched moment in time, which of course they are.
Our experiences of the Syrian conflict is so often through our television or phone screens, and in that way it’s too easy to dismiss the suffering of the populace as they are presented as distance faces huddled in camps, boats and beaches. This book helps show that they’re all individuals with the same hopes and needs as you and I, fleeing a war they didn’t create as they try to find that elusive replacement for what was their home. It then becomes all to easy to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what you would do, what lengths you would go to give your family a chance.
This is a brilliant example of the power and versatility of the medium – engaging, informative, shocking and even heart-warming. A book we should all take the time to read.View source
Joe Gordon, Forbidden Planet International Blog17 July 2018
That’s what Kugler does so well, he enables us to see these people not as a news story, not as statistics, not as demonised figures, but to show us people, people we can see ourselves in, we can empathise with. And from empathy comes compassion and more understanding, and god knows our world desperately needs those right now. This is not an easy read, it’s emotionally hard-going, but very worth making that effort; it’s a much-needed riposte to the demonising and hatred we see poured at some refugees, and a reminder of that old saying, there but for the grace of God go I. How swiftly could everything we think is normal be destroyed just as it was for these people? Home, work, school, going to a restaurant, the movies, day out with the kids? Suddenly all gone. And how desperate would we be, how much would we rely on our fellow humans to show kindness if it were us in such a situation? No, this is not an easy read, but it is, I would say, a very important read.View source
Josh Franks12 July 2018
Comics journalism and reportage continues to be one of the most evocative means of documenting the refugee crisis happening all across Europe. In Threads: From the Refugee Crisis
, Kate Evans traveled to Calais to record the stories of the people who risked their lives to escape almost-certain death in Syria and other countries, only to be stranded in a port-town purgatory.
Other creators such as Brick (East of Aleppo
), Reinhard Kleist (An Olympic Dream
) and Hamid Sulaiman (Freedom Hospital
) have blended fact and fiction to illuminate the plight of refugees, as well as make sense of the political turmoil in the countries from which they have fled.
From 2013-2016, comics journalist Olivier Kugler traveled to towns in Kurdistan and Greece, as well as Calais, Kos and his hometown of Simmozheim, Germany, to interview Syrian refugees. Accompanied by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) workers, Kugler spoke to families and people living alone, recording their stories and sketching them and their environment.
The project became Escaping Wars and Waves
, which was exhibited at London’s Rich Mix in December 2016 and has now been collected into a graphic novel by Myriad Editions, adding yet another vital book to their canon. The Syrian refugee crisis—effectively a diaspora now—has proven to be one of the defining humanitarian issues of the modern era. We are blessed to have creators like Kugler making sure that these people’s lives are not forgotten.
“I miss my parents. I miss my friends,” says a young man in a Kurdish barbershop. There are moments of simple, aching grief dotted throughout Kugler’s interviews as his subjects describe the complexities of their situations. So many of them are torn between borders: staying in Iraqi Kurdistan means safety and financial security, but their loved ones are still in Syria.
“I think a lot about about my family and the woman I want to marry. I miss sharing meals with them… It made me feel very comfortable,” says another refugee. Their lives are in stasis; Kugler wants to show us the long-term effects of displacement and how that manifests in stress and anxiety. One of the things we as outsiders are able to take solace in is that MSF are providing people with access to mental healthcare. The care workers accompanying Kuger appear in many of the interviews offering support and guidance that is so desperately needed.
Kugler splashes each account over double-page spreads, embedding sketches within larger, full-colour portraits of his subjects, as if rendering their lives in real time. Speeches and captions are littered across the pages that require reading and re-reading to fully grasp the narrative of each person’s journey. His depictions of their struggles are a fraught and chaotic reflection of the harrowing experiences they’ve endured.
Escaping Wars and Waves is
, quite literally, a challenging read. Kugler directs us through most of the interviews, but the pages are dense, his figures and words spread over and among each other. It can be overwhelming at times: with so much happening on each corner of the page, it’s hard to know exactly where to focus, which risks robbing each narrative of its rhythm. However, every interview is worth persevering through; it’s likely that Kugler had precious little time to record their stories before having to move on. They each deserve to be told.
Andy Oliver, Broken Frontier10 July 2018
If you were in London last December then you would have had the chance to see Olivier Kugler’s work exhibited at Rich Mix and, as we did at Broken Frontier, found yourself in awe of the power of his graphic reportage. We first came across his work a few years back in the pages of small press “graphic newspaper” Modern Times
and there’s no doubting that his evocative portrayal of the plight of Syrian refugees captures the pure humanity of one of the greatest international crises of our time.
Technically this book isn’t released until Thursday but it’s near enough to add it to weekly round-up of must-buy releases. Mostly documenting his time with Médecins Sans Frontières this is an unforgettable record of Kugler’s meetings with both individuals and families in Iraqi Kurdistan, Kos and the jungle camp at Calais. We have long been huge fans of Myriad Editions here at BF but this has been a truly outstanding year of important releases from them.
Read the full review here
Jo Good, BBC Radio London9 July 2018
These messages are really powerful but in a form that we’re not used to seeing them in. Each page is chaos, there’s no order in anything, there’s no order in these people’s lives, because they haven't don’t have the luxury of order and what comes across is that they have no idea how it is going to end.
These stories really resonate because of the way it is displayed. The people that you've put here, their true stories really live between the covers.
Olivier was interviewed by Jo Good for BBC Radio London. You can listen to the entire interview here
Joe Sacco13 April 2018
Olivier Kugler is an extraordinarily skilled journalist and cartoonist who is taking comics journalism to a new level. These potent profiles from the migration front lines will leave an indelible impression on your brain and heart.