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.
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.