For a generation that has come to distrust traditional media, graphic non-fiction offers a way into important, issue-based stories
By Dee Farrugia
Anat Rabkin understands what it is like to leave everything you know behind and start a new life in another country.
Rabkin, illustrator and writer of Nasrin’s Journey, was born in Israel and immigrated to Canada when she was 21. She has resided in Canada for 17 ½ years.
Nasrin’s Journey tells the story of a fictional Yazidi family who flee from war-torn Iraq to Canada. The story is inspired by the refugee experiences of several students from Byrne Creek Secondary School in Burnaby.
Rabkin relates to the family in regard to the fear and stress of moving to a new country.
“It was scary because even in the first year or two that I was in Canada, I had so much more here than I ever had at home. In terms of friendships and hope and fulfillment, and an idea of who I am.”
She expressed that the culture shock and isolation from people was another fear of hers despite knowing that immigrating to Canada ultimately a better life was the right call.
“I was looking forward, first and foremost, to living in peace. I grew up in Israel and so never really knew what it was like to go to the movies without fear of bombs, going to crowded places without security guards, entering malls without a bag search,” she said.
Although the story is fictional, the very real stories of the people who inspired it allow it to be both easily absorbed by audiences, as well as bring awareness to serious issues. In a time where the news cycle may be overwhelming to some, journalists, educators, and illustrators are finding new ways to tell stories.
More and more journalists and artists are opting for non-fiction storytelling instead of traditional reporting/writing. Marrying visuals with written words enables the reader to get the entire picture without having to picture it for themselves. This style of graphic news reporting has been done for years This method can be seen in satirical political comics in newspapers, often which accompany stories of serious issues.
With new beginnings comes brighter futures and Rabkin certainly found home in comic illustration and writing. She found a voice that she could give to people who struggled and to shed light on serious issues that needed to be told in a way that traditional news and journalism cannot capture.
According to the Government of Canada website as of 2020, 30,000 people have sought refuge in Canada. With protests that resulted in war, thousands of people have died consequently, and those who haven’t fled to Canada, often times leaving loved ones behind.
Nasrin’s Journey was an inception of these experiences as well as a project assigned to Rabkin by British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF). The project was meaningful with her as an immigrant to Canada. She could relate and wanted to bring to life the real-life issues and experiences that refugees go through.
“I wanted an opportunity to work on a project like this because I don’t usually illustrate things that happen in real life,” said Rabkin, “This is my second story about immigration and refugees. It’s a lot harder to do real stuff, you have to be a lot more conscientious, careful, mindful, respectful. It’s scary when I’m approached with these things, but in both cases, it really resonated with me.”
The increase in comics that feature serious issues are flourishing and it’s easy to understand why. People have low attention spans and the way we consume news is ever changing, it’s all about how people can absorb information faster and how it can entertain them at the same time. Comics offer an approachable method of conveying serious issues to mainstream consumers.
Although a challenging task to illustrate real news and events, it can certainly be done. Rabkin hopes that her part in writing and illustrating these stories can be impactful to her readers.
“I’m proud that I can tell a serious story and tell it visually with the minimum amount of dialogue, and hopefully impact people. It helped me feel like this hobby of mine is more than just me doodling, I can affect meaningful stories as well.”