Can Borders Connect Us?
I recently sat down with writer Thanos Kyratzis (also one of our contributors!) and artist Abriele Skaite to discuss their latest project, Borders. Borders is a non-fiction comic which explores the issue of borders from many different perspectives, and Thanos and Abriele are in the home run of a Kickstarter to pay for the printing and shipping of their work (link at the bottom!). After our interview, I was left with many thoughts, but I was most struck by the evolution of the project, which changed in ways the creators did not expect. In particular, we ended the interview with the question: “can borders connect us?”
This wasn’t the question which the creators of Borderswere trying to answer when they began the project. Originally, they were trying to investigate the concept of borders themselves. Thanos prepared three questions for each of the 15 participants, all of whom have experience with crossing borders. He asked what their immediate association was with the word “borders”, whether they had experienced any troubles while travelling, and how they thought the concept of borders would change in the future. Abriele then took these interviews and translated them into a visual medium, with a double page for each participant. Much emerged from these interviews that they were not expecting. The most surprising for Thanos was that the project had become about “how borders impacted people”, rather than interrogating the concept itself.
The concept of borders had been percolating for Thanos since 2018 when, having lived outside his homeland of Greece for some time, he was startled to realise that he himself was now an immigrant. Initially unsure how he wanted to explore the concept, he was inspired by his time studying comics at the University of Dundee to approach the idea from a non-fiction perspective, a departure from his usual work. Although Thanos’ own studies focused on comics as an academic subject, he spent much of his time working in the studio for the artists on the course. This allowed him to see the benefits of creative people working together and helping one another, prompting him to reach out to others, and bring many different perspectives on what borders are to his work.
He also reached out to Abriele Skaite, to provide the artwork for his vision. Skaite, herself an immigrant from Lithuania with family ties all over the world, was enthusiastic about the concept. For her, immigrants were presented far too often as monolith, whether as a bogeyman or a helpless victim. She explains that she wanted to undermine the common stereotypes about immigrants: “I wanted to give voices to individual people, to give them the time that they deserved. When people read Borders, they will give each person’s page five or ten minutes of attention. And the next time they see an immigrant, maybe they will remember that they are a real person.”
Both creators, however, found more than they anticipated when they began the project. Thanos explains that although he felt he knew some of the participants well, he received many answers that he would never have expected. He gained new perspectives on borders, despite believing going in that it was a subject he was already well acquainted with. For Abriele, who often feels isolated, and describes herself as a lone wolf, the project brought her an unlooked-for feeling of connection to the participants, despite having never met some of them. “They each have such different styles,” she described. “Some of them are very intellectual, and it’s hard to find a visual hook I can use to begin creating. Others use very visual language, and it’s easy to turn that into artwork. I’ve examined their words so much I feel like in some ways I know them very well.” One surprise to both of them was that it was their mothers who brought the project together – why, in fact, there are now 15 entries instead of the planned 14. The eldest of the participants, two women have seen borders shift and perceptions change. Abriele’s mother was born in a country which no longer exists. In sharing this knowledge with their world-travelling children, they bring perspective and balance to the comic.
However, while there is an exploration of the past and present, Borders takes those experiences and focuses on the future, and what borders could and will come to mean. Immigrants and refugees are othered and negatively stereotyped by many people, as Abriele and Thanos were unfortunately reminded when Facebook adverts for Borders Kickstarter drew angry reactions and Islamophobic responses. One phrase which stood out was “globalist traitors”, a reminder that too many people believe that borders should be impermeable walls. There have been many other positive responses to their work, however, and their Kickstarter is on its way to being fully funded. Abriele and Thanos set out to explore what borders mean, but found unexpected connections and commonalities along the way. The existence of the comic posits that borders can connect as well as divide us, and asks that we as readers of these individual experiences consider how to move towards that possible future. You can see here what some of the participants have to say.
If you would like to read the comic for yourself, or support Thanos and Abriele’s vision, please visit their Kickstarter here: https://tinyurl.com/rpufejc.
Update: Borders has been fully funded on Kickstarter, and recently won The John Byrne Award! If you still want a copy and haven't got one, a link will be up for pre-orders soon, and posted here.