In 1994, in the aftermath of the Rwandan Civil War, young Alice Cyuzuzo and her family were forced to flee the country and make their way to what was then known as Zaire. After the genocide of the Tutsi people, which claimed the best part of a million lives, the Hutu refugees were pursued across borders and subjected to atrocities in reprisal. It’s a horrific story and one that is brought to vivid life in Alice on the Run: One Child’s Journey through the Rwandan Civil War, published by Humanoids through their Life, Drawn imprint.
Recounted by artist Gaspard Talmasse from the experiences of his now life partner Cyuzuzo, Alice on the Run is told entirely from a child’s perspective and covers a near-decade from 1994 to 2003. This is its great narrative strength; rather than analysing or directly commenting on this particular period in African history what it does instead is to immerse us in it, connecting us to the terror and displacement on an immediate level through the eyes of someone whose relatively carefree and peaceful existence suddenly collapsed around them.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a harrowing account. Over the course of years Alice and her family move from refugee camp to refugee camp, with hunger and disease constant companions. They’re forced to witness the worst brutality imaginable as they and their travelling group are subjected to levels of violence that culminates in a massacre. Eventually separated from the rest of their family, Alice and her younger sister Adeline are forced to fend for themselves and face challenges that no child should ever have to endure.
Talmasse is careful throughout to emphasise that we are witnessing events from the viewpoint of a young child; their bewilderment, their limited comprehension of the wider picture, and their naiver interactions with the world around them. Visually this is achieved via each chapter being captured from either a child’s perspective, or as children being observed from the vantage point of an adult. That sense of awe and fear is also poignantly captured by Talmasse in his visual characterisation of Alice and her sisters. Another important resource to add to our Broken Frontier list of comics work dealing with the lived experiences of refugees here.
Gaspard Talmasse (W/A) • Humanoids, £17.99/$22.99
Review by Andy Oliver