Personal displacement leads to powerful graphic novel

Friday 19 August 2016

Francisco Lora discusses his Masters project with supervisor, Dr Caroline Campbell, lecturer from Massey University’s School of Design.

A Colombian student at Massey University’s College of Creative Arts has produced a graphic novel about the impact of his country’s longstanding armed conflict. His work seeks to build understanding, reconciliation and forgiveness over long-term strife in the South American country.

Francisco Lora, whose own family has experienced loss and displacement, has produced a series of stories about the impact of the conflict on hundreds of thousands of displaced victims in Colombia for a Master of Design degree.  He hopes to have the graphic novel published in New Zealand to raise awareness among English speaking countries and also in his home country of Colombia so that people will gain some understanding of those affected by the decades long conflict involving outlawed armed groups.

Mr Lora explains that most of the fighting has happened in rural areas where land is seized for illegal drug production. “My target audience is young urban people who are not aware of our history. In the cities there are localised attacks - I have experienced two bombs close to my house.  We talked about it for a week and then life had to carry on but many towns in the rural areas have been destroyed.  People displaced from the countryside escape to the cities but face prejudice from city folk.

“My mother has always worked with displaced people but it wasn’t until I was doing my undergraduate studies in Colombia that I realized we had been displaced. When I was three, my older brother who was 21 was killed - he was about to begin his career in medicine and was also a talented pianist. We had to move to another city on the very same day.” Mr Lora says.

The graphic novel is presented in three supplements, with each featuring a poster when unfolded. “I wanted to do a poster which I would like to see displayed in schools, universities and around cities.  To make it easier to transport, I folded the poster and used the other side to tell the story in more detail.

“I tell the same story from the point of view of different characters. For example, the fighter talks about nightmares caused by the terrible things he did. He wants his nightmares to end and is asking for forgiveness. There is also a backstory explaining why he became part of the illegal group. The fighters pass through the towns and start by giving children money or toys for running errands.  Sometimes they blackmail them and say they will kill their parents to force them to be part of their illegal group.”

The other two supplements are about the victims and how they show resilience after fleeing their homes and striving not to become homeless. Mr Lora would like to do a fourth section from the point of view of a child.

He has approached publishers in Colombia, with Cohete Cómics very interested in publishing some of the work in a graphic novel supplement.  In the meantime, he is awaiting a New Zealand work visa as his dream is to work for Weta.

 “I am interested in graphic narrative and concept art. This Masters’ project is quite independent from my immediate career goals but I feel it is important for me to help tell the stories of Colombia.  Displacement is an international story. There is always a reason why a person has to leave an area in this way,” Mr Lora says.

Mr Lora’s Massey supervisors Dr Caroline Campbell and Lee Jensen say it has been a pleasure supervising him during his Master of Design project.  “In my view, his personally informed recounting of internal forced displacement in Colombia adds another perspective and dimension to the conflicts which have been produced by master graphic storytellers,” Dr Campbell says.