Tuesday, November 9, 2010

OBMag #2 preview: Review of "Borderland"

Seven Lives. Seven Stories.
As Told by Victims of Human Trafficking.
by Dan Archer and Olga Trusova
published by Archcomix

    In what artist Dan Archer describes as a "comics journalism project", he collaborates with Fulbright Fellow Olga Trusova to tell the stories of seven of the 12.3 million adults and children forced into bonded labor and prostitution around the world.
    Trusova traveled to the Ukraine in 2009 to study human trafficking and returned with stories of the desperate and risky lives of people in a country ravaged by economic collapse. Archer transforms these stories into stark, monochromatic graphics, highlighted in sepia to convey the gray, eastern European atmosphere. At times the drawings almost feel like Soviet Era agit-prop, yet the heroic workers have become grimly ill-defined and the crimson backgrounds has faded to the color of clay, as the hammer and sickle has disappeared from view. The workers paradise has become the workers purgatory.
    The introductions to each of the seven stories convey the hard facts and statistics about the situation in the Ukraine. For instance, over 14% of the victims of trafficking have university level degrees. One story tells of an educated, middle aged woman who, desperate for money, took a construction job in Russia and ended up chained in a shed, forced to milk cows until she was too weak to work.  Luckily, she escaped, and through the kindness of strangers, made it back home.
    Comics have a long tradition as a serious story-telling and news medium in other parts of the world, and Borderland is a fine example of how a serious subject can be addressed in an engaging and graphic format for an English-reading audience.  The stories are tightly packed, with interludes with statistics, references, and links to the websites of NGOs working to stop the abuse.
    Borderlands is a cautionary tale for those of us in countries with our own "dirty little secrets" and stories of worker exploitation. It's an eye-opening read.