Of all formats I have encountered in personal memoir, the one I least expected to see on the theme of the child refugee was the comic book. But yesterday I discovered just such a memoir about a fifteen year old Syrian named Eprhaim. Produced by the British Red Cross, the book is a blue/black/white toned graphic novel titled Over, Under Sideways, written and illustrated by the award winning Karrie Fransman . In the tradition of great illustrator/satirists like Art Spiegelman, there is nothing superficial in Ephraim’s odyssey, nothing aggrandizing or superficial. Fransman’s text reveals a child’s account of flight from war and abusive, survival under the control of cruel traffickers, and ultimate arrival in the U.K. Even after reaching safe haven, Eprhaim endures four more years of torment, having lost his documents and having no one in the West to turn to for help or protection.
The humanity in Over, Under, Sideways strikes the reader almost physically. Fransman’s comic style is the perfect vehicle for a survival story, with lines that seem to have leaped directly from Ephraim’s own scratches on the prison wall. This is you in the traveler’s ragged jacket, Fransman shows us, in the pining for his lost mother.
I hope one day to collaborate with a comic artist and produce my own adventure tale for a troubling time. Like the earliest cave drawings, illustrative story telling is one of the most compassionate ways for a viewer to understand crisis. The choice to do so on a theme as devastating as child trafficking should be celebrated. So many more readers will listen, now, and listen better to the countless tragedies of displaced people from Syrian, Iraq and Afghanistan. Thank you Ms. Fransman. What an epic journey.