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Sarah Glidden’s ‘The Waiting Room’ Documents Iraqi Refugees in Syria

Creator of the excellent Vertigo graphic novel How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, Sarah Glidden is back with a new webcomic depicting the struggle of Iraqi refugees in Syria. Called The Waiting Room, the 20-page story continues the calm and considered documentarian style she employed in How to Understand Israel… and presents an incredibly depressing but touching portrait of what life has been like for Iraqis who’ve been living in Syria since the American invasion of 2003.Produced in collaboration with the human rights-based journalistic enterprise The Common Language Project, Glidden’s The Waiting Room is reminiscent of American Widow, the graphic novel memoir of 9/11 widow Alissa Torres (illustrated by Sungyoon Choi), in that it depicts the very real struggles of ordinary people in need as they run up against a gauntlet of brutal bureaucracies that are devised to help but really do almost anything but. The Waiting Room shows that despite whatever professional skills they may possess, Iraqi refugees are not allowed to join Syria’s workforce and they cannot qualify for college scholarships. The plight of the Iraqis in Syria is compounded by the belief in America that the war is over, endangering the funding needed by the refugees to survive.

Glidden discussed the process of creating The Waiting Room on Graphic Journos.

When the Cartoon Movement asked me if I would do a comic for the site on an issue I had looked into with the CLP during our stay in the Middle East, I didn’t have to think twice about what to focus the piece on. The situation facing Iraqi refugees is critical right now and it’s something that is incredibly underreported. Part of this is due to the fact that most of these refugees are in Syria, which is a very difficult country to be a journalist in. With permission from the CLP (who I really see as partners in this piece) I began work on the piece using the interviews they had conducted and I had been tagging along for.

If the writing part of this made me anxious and tormented (see, I am learning how to be a journalist by doing), the art-making part of it was pure enjoyment. With this piece I wanted to try some new watercolor techniques that I hadn’t been able to experiment with while working on a long book for the previous two years. Being able to try new things with the paint was like stretching my legs after being on a 12 hour flight. I use a lot of reference photos because I want to be as accurate as possible when portraying settings, but I also want the work to be expressive and for the human-ness of the characters to come through as much as possible.

The Beat reports that Sarah Glidden intends to complete a new graphic novel about her latest travels in the Middle East, but for now you can enjoy this preview of The Waiting Room or read the entire 20-page comic for free at Cartoon Movement.



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