Plaza Voices: Refugee Experience in Comics

As of 2016, over 65 million individuals have been forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide. This includes approximately 22.5 million refugees, people who have fled their country because of persecution, war, or violence. It is the largest global migration since World War II, and one need only look at a TV or computer screen to see the latest news of the refugee crisis. With so much information coming at us every day, it’s easy to forget the real and human faces behind the stories.

We’ve shared graphic novel recommendations before at Plaza Voices, and for good reason. A great comic, like a great film, has the ability to transcend language barriers and immerse readers in an experience, place, or time more than a text-only novel. So far, we’ve explored comics from around the world, as well as comics’ portrayal of the immigrant experience. A number of releases in the last year have also given insight into the daily struggles and triumphs of refugees throughout the world and history--here are just a few favorites:

The Best We Could Do: Thi Bui’s tale of coming to the United States from Vietnam is one of my favorite new graphic novel releases of 2017. Spanning multiple generations, Bui tells the story of her parents’ sacrifices and the challenges they faced during their relocation from South Vietnam in 1978. Describing her family’s narrow escape by boat to the United States, their difficulties establishing a new life, and Bui’s contemplation of where her own son fits into the story, The Best We Could Do is a beautiful and relevant release.

Poppies of Iraq: Brigitte Findakly’s experience growing up in Iraq comes to life through illustrations by her husband, cartoonist Lewis Trondheim. Much of the story looks at Findakly’s day-to-day life and the insidious ways that an oppressive regime begins to appear, such as pages torn from magazines, public warnings at the end of films, and banning of the color red. What was supposed to be a temporary retreat to Paris becomes indefinite for Findakly and her family, who find themselves unable to completely adjust to the new culture. 

Threads: From the Refugee Crisis: Artist Kate Evans carefully illustrates in detail the lives of individuals she encountered during her time in an encampment in Calais, France (a.k.a. “The Jungle”). Refugees from Syria, Africa, and elsewhere share their personal stories in this humanizing collection, including those of injustice at the hands of police, encounters with racist gangs, and the struggle to acquire food and blankets. Interspersed are comments from politicians and online forums, shedding new light on opinions of those outside the camps.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq: Similar to Threads, this title from cartoonist Sarah Glidden tells individual stories of refugees displaced by the Iraq war. The book was compiled from notes taken when a number of civilians, refugees and officials were all asked the same question: “Who are you?” Among the individuals responding are a taxi driver, an Iraqi refugee deported from the U.S., a United Nations administrator, a U.S. Marine, an Iranian blogger, and more.

Can you think of any others to recommend? Please share them with us below!

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Written by Desiree on October 2, 2017


Kenneth on October 7, 2017


Great selections. I will check them out!

Amy D on October 9, 2017


Thanks so much for this post, Desiree. I will definitely check these books out and recommend them to the students at my school, where they are studying refugees right now.