Last week saw the launch of Over Under Sideways Down – a comic book by Karrie Fransman for the Red Cross that charts the highs and lows of a young refugee’s journey to the UK.
The comic, created for Refugee Week (16-22nd June), tells the true and moving life story of Ebrahim Esmail, who fled Iran in fear of his life aged just 15 years old after his father was murdered.
The comic describes some incredible moments in his moving life story – from his harrowing flight across Europe, at the mercy of brutal ‘agents’ handling his passage, to winning a place on his dream course at London’s Brunel University and being cast in Leave to Remain – a film about asylum seekers by BAFTA-winning director Bruce Goodison.
The comic details the painful lows of Ebrahim’s own experiences – from travelling on foot to Turkey with no food or water, to being carried for 15 days in the back of a lorry to the UK.
Ebrahim, who is now 19 and starting university in September, said: “It is incredible to see my life recreated in this comic. The experiences I’ve had are not always easy for me to talk about but I wanted people to be able to understand what it means to be forced from your home and made to start all over again.”
Karrie Fransman who teamed up with the British Red Cross to take on the project after meeting Syrian refugees at a book festival in Lebanon last year.
“Ebrahim and I talked for hours about his experiences,” she says. “The intense pain he felt at being separated from his mother, the confusion, the fear. But through all of that he has gone on to achieve amazing things and I felt honoured to be telling his story.”
After finally being granted permission stay in the UK and setting up home London, Ebrahim is preparing to start a course in international business. He also volunteers for the Red Cross and Refugee Council, mentoring other young refugees as they arrive in the UK.
And although Ebrahim is proud of his achievements, the pain of not being able to share them with his mother remains. “Leaving the closest person to me, without any warning, has been the hardest experience of my life. I wish I knew where my mother is now, whether she is alive and well,” he said. “But I don’t know where she is or what she is doing and I miss her every day.”
Ebrahim, now aged 19, said: “It is incredible to see my life recreated in this comic.
The British Red Cross celebrates Refugee Week with a coalition of charities across the country. This year’s focus is on children and young people, and there a huge range of arts, cultural and educational events and activities have been organised, celebrating the contribution of refugees to the UK. The aim of the Week is to promote a better understanding of why people seek sanctuary.
“Ebrahim’s story is indicative of the strength and determination of many young refugees in this country and around the world.” says Andrew Hewett from the organisation. “This year we want to celebrate that incredible resilience as well as recognise the role Britain has played in keeping children safe – one we still keep up to this day.”
• Over under sideways down is free and available in print from the Gosh! comic book store in London. You can also read it on the Red Cross website (http://webapps.redcross.org.uk/RefugeeWeekComic/) and it will be available soon on the Apple Newsstand app. There are also special educational resources available
The trailer for Leave to Remain, released in 2010. Official site: http://leave2remainthefilm.com
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.