By David Lester

British graphic novelist, Kate Evans demonstrated that single images, one voice and a lone percussionist can create an eloquently profound live experience. It was as simple as that when she appeared at The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia on Friday, September 28.

Kate’s graphic novel, THREADS: From the Refugee Crisis (Verso Books) chronicles her experiences while volunteering at the Calais refugee camp in France. Images from her book were projected onto a large screen while Kate read the text and Iranian-Canadian percussionist Hamin Honari responded to the text and images.

The projected images told just a part of the relationship between aid workers and refugees, from the mundane to the heartbreaking. The pages in THREADS are exquisitely designed and drawn with a visual motif of lace used throughout (Calais was known as a centre of lace making). Evans’ humour and succinct use of language and political smarts propel the memoir.

The performance of Evans and Honari was very much like watching a band work together as the rhythm of the words, visuals and sound coalesced. It is a lesson as to what can be accomplished by graphic novelists in presenting their work in a live setting.

One particularly compelling moment came when the screen remained static on a drawing of a kettle boiling — tea was being made in a windowless cramped structure inhabited by refugees — as the fingers of the percussionist sustained a building tension on a Daf drum, slowly getting louder, the crescendo seemed to become a scream at the cruelty of life in the camps. This moment ended in a thundering silence that showed how the power of art and politics can bear witness to the world we live in and create empathy during tragic times.

David Lester is the guitarist in Mecca Normal and he is the writer/illustrator of a chapter in Drawn To Change: Graphic Histories of Working Class Struggle, which won the 2017 Wilson Prize for the best book that “succeeds in making Canadian historical scholarship accessible to a wide and transnational audience”. The book also won the Canadian Historical Association’s Public History Prize.