Making a graphic novel 3: gulag ‘re-education camp’

Condensing the brutal reality of the Gulags, the Soviet ‘re-education camps’ into nine frames was ambitious. Fortunately I had some effective dialogue, based on survivor testimony, that had the quality of suggesting a lot in a few exchanges. All I had to do was give it a setting.

Since Tsarist times work-camps in Siberia had been used as a way of putting troublesome people out of circulation. Researching the background, it struck me as ironic that just across the sea in the far north of America, people were struggling and dying in quite similar conditions, also in the hunt for gold. The miners of the American gold-rush however, took themselves there, fleeing economic hardship, and in pursuit of the American Dream. The Siberian mines even imported American equipment and techniques, but their miners were slaves and political prisoners, sent there in pursuit of the Soviet Dream.

These pages were among those originally done in indian ink and brush, with toning added on computer. Because of the need for speed to meet the deadline for publication, I switched to all-computer artwork soon after. The heavier, darker style worked well however, as a way of contrasting the experience of the Gulags against the more upbeat parts of the story.

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