A new graphic nonfiction series is being released by Front Line Defenders (a group devoted to combating violence against human right advocates worldwide). The series debut is La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico and was released by Verso Books on May 29th of this year. Written and illustrated by Jon Sack with editor Adam Shapiro, the book is centered on gendered violence and murdered human rights workers in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
The narrative threads together the experiences of seven individual activists who have worked at the Center for Human Rights of Women in Chihuahua. The harassment, threats, and brutality experienced by each person is chronicled with clean, monochromatic drawings and engaging dialogue. The scenes depict real life conflicts from Chihuahua and Juarez, two cities with overwhelmingly violent statistics over the past ten years.
The situation for women in these areas is mostly bleak. There are few jobs in the surrounding areas and women often move to U.S. border towns for factory jobs in order to support themselves and their families. These maquiladoras largely employ young women, offer substandard working conditions, do not properly compensate the employees for their labor, refuse the option to unionize, and the majority are run by American Fortune 500 companies sidestepping U.S. tax sanctions. In short, women willingly enter the employ of companies that routinely exploit them, but this is often a preferable circumstance to absolute poverty in neighboring communities.
While the factories themselves are not complicit in the murder and disappearances of women workers, they are the primary reason why so many women voluntarily live within such hostile cities. This same area hosts what is commonly referred to as the “women’s dumping ground,” a.k.a. “the killing fields,” which are areas where hundreds of mutilated remains of women have been discovered. Proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border has created an absolute clusterfuck of police incompetence mixed with confusing border laws. Reported disappearances of women are disregarded by the authorities, murder investigations are botched, and evidence goes missing; it is a nightmare without an easy solution.
An ugly side effect of horrors like this is that at some point the pain and suffering become difficult to connect with. It is hard to imagine the torture and misery of thousands of people, and this is the point where many people will turn away from the news stories. Audiences will watch a 48 Hours or a Dateline episode detailing the murder of one person, but it is difficult to convince these same people to pay undivided attention to atrocities inflicted on larger groups. We are trained to handle statistics rather than human stories when it comes to widespread situations, and this attitude is toxic to the creation of a solution. Empathy is key to effective resolution.
Phoebe Gloeckner (author of Diary of a Teenage Girl and A Child’s Life) has been working on a project since 2003 that combats the othering of the victims. Through dozens of interviews, several trips to Juarez, and making new friends, Gloeckner has been doing her damndest to understand the victims, their families, and the forces they are up against. She is creating a graphic work that depicts the lives of the murdered and/or missing women and recreates the story of one through a non-traditional format. With dolls.
In an interview with Jorge Flores Gloeckner said:
“I didn’t draw the images as I almost always had in my past work. I found that drawing death made me feel too much a perpetrator of the murders I was depicting. Instead, I re-constructed the places where the events occurred, and made dolls to represent the people. I felt that I could ‘kill’ the dolls and not feel so bad about it, because after taking the pictures, I’d clean them off and resurrect them.“
By recreating living scenes as well as deaths through an unconventional method, readers will relate to the events rather than feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of rapes, mutilations, and killings. The project will be released both as a book and as an ebook, with most of the work rooted into the ebook version, which will include animated scenes and live action sequences. She plans to release both version of the book in both English and Spanish, but at this time a release date has not been announced.