Still Alive is my first graphic novel. You can pre-order a copy now from Twelve Panels Press.
Small parts of this graphic novel began as a web-comic which went online in 2015 called ‘Villawood: Notes from an immigration detention centre’. That comic was made for the progressive media organisation GetUp!, with support from a crowdsourcing venture aimed at funding alternative journalism on the refugee issue. Later that year the lovely people at 12 Panels Press asked if I would adapt it for print publication and it’s since taken over five years of solid work.
However the actual genesis of this book goes back a decade, when I started visiting the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre with some friends. That saw the beginning of my activities with the small, not-for-profit community art organisation Refugee Art Project which my friends and I helped to found, and for which I still volunteer. Some of that experience is depicted in this book, including artworks made in the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre by refugees who were then detained. Refugee Art Project has fostered some wonderful friendships and a strong sense of community over many years, which is the wellspring of the stories and collaborations that make up the work.
I dedicate this to my dear friend, Ahmad Ali Jafari, who died of a heart attack inside the Villawood detention centre in June 2013. I commit it to everyone who has suffered as a result of Australia’s cruel border policies, their families, friends and communities. Ahmad was a lovely man and a cherished friend. I recently unearthed this watercolour sketch of him drawing in the visitors area of the detention centre.
Here also are some scans of Urdu ghazals which he wrote down on napkins in the centre.
Being an Afghan refugee who had lived for many years in Quetta, Pakistan, he spoke fluent Urdu alongside his mother tongue of Hazaragi. I translated some his poems in collaboration with his Urdu speaking friends in the visitors area of the Villawood Detention Centre sometime in 2013. Here they are with English transliteration of the original Urdu.
You can read a little more about Ahmad and the circumstances surrounding his death in a eulogy that I wrote for him in Overland magazine.
Below are some blog entries and notes which help to give context and explanation to the some of the themes and imagery found in the book.
The Horror Aesthetic
These pages are from final part of my graphic novel in which I ruminate over the pessimism and moral despondency that Australia’s deeply cruel border policies can inspire. Visually it recalls the scene from Hellraiser in which Frank Cotton escapes hell by lifting himself through the floorboards of his brother’s house. (I’ve removed text from the second of these pages so you get the idea.) I think it’s fair to say that for me, the aesthetic language, tropes and quirks of the horror genre helps mediate subjects which feel almost too difficult to confront or even represent on their own. Also, I’m not sure if it’s possible to adore a movie as much as I do Hellraiser, making it an automatic reference and visual resource.