A Picture Of Inequality
Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes takes a look at Humanoids’ A House Without Windows, out now…
Writer: Marc Ellison
Artist: Didier Kassai
Marc Ellison and Didier Kassai’s book about life in the Central African Republic makes it clear just how hard that life is, especially for children. The consequences of poverty, rampant malaria, murderous factional fighting and under-resourced education affect everyone in the book and everyone in the country one way or another, but inevitably it’s the young who end up suffering the most and need the most protection, while facing a future that might treat them no better. The book lets the children and those trying to help them tell their own stories, an exercise in comics documentary reportage as well as a political effort in its own right.
Kasai is a comic book artist from the Central African Republic while Ellison is a British-Canadian photographer and videographer, and A House Without Windows combines all three of those arts in the same project. Kasai’s comics pages record his own meetings and conversations with children and adults as he journeys around the country, drawn in a soft fluid watercolour line. Ellison’s still photos of the interviewees or snapshots of the environment appear at regular intervals, and a QR code printed in the book brings up 360-degree video to accompany those photos and give a more immersive sense of the same atmosphere. Since 2017 the book’s pages have been viewable online via Huffington Post as a web comic, a form which can integrate the video segments more seamlessly into the overall work than this physical book from Humanoids can quite achieve; but pulling three different visual arts into alignment for documentary purposes still roots these stories in the real world as you read them. Several young boys tell common stories of parental abuse, of fathers readily willing to beat and abuse and torture their children, and the process of reading these reports as a comic and then turning the page to see the real person testifying connects reader and subject automatically.
Comics reportage is a proven field, with Joe Sacco maybe the most established practitioner but no shortage of artists applying sequential art to depictions of real-world social and political struggles. Kasai’s art is less angry on the surface than some of those, sticking to interpretation rather than emphasis; his topic is the grinding lives and everyday horrors of the people he draws and he trusts that their stories will make the point for him, which they do. Ellison’s photos are calm and observational too, although there’s a sly visual pun when talk of eye disease accompanies some fish-eye distortion. Only towards the end, while talking to the local Doctors Without Borders field coordinator, does the comics version of Kasai say “my country” – “why doesn’t my country get more attention in the media” – and a personal authorial anger pokes explicitly through. It rumbles implicitly behind every panel of the book from page one onwards.