• Eoin Colfer

    Eoin Colfer



    OCTOBER 2017

    Ireland's former children's laureate Eoin Colfer has turned to the plight of young economic migrants in his new graphic novel, ILLEGAL. Illegal was written by Colfer with Andrew Donkin and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano, the same team who wrote and illustrated Colfer's Artemis Fowl graphic novels.

    Illegal is a powerful story that takes an unwavering look at the journey of a young boy, Ebo, as he travels across north Africa and the Mediterranean, seeking safety and a future in Europe. Although focused one boy and his brother, Illegal tells the story of countless migrants who have made that same perilous journeys across the north of Africa and the Mediterranean.

    We spoke with Andrew Donkin and Eoin Colfer to find out what prompted them to write ILLEGAL and how books like these might help to change the discourse around economic migration and refugees.

    Q: Why did you decide to focus Illegal on the economic migrants coming to Europe from North Africa?

    A: The three of us started work on Illegal over four years ago when stories about boat sinkings in the Mediterranean Sea were often the size of a postage stamp in the back section of a few broadsheets. We thought it was extraordinary - in the worse possible sense of the word - that these events were happening. We wanted to write about it - which is what we do. The story of Illegal is for everyone from nine to ninety.

    Q: What can books like Illegal do to change the discourse around economic migrants?

    A: It's easy to get lost in the numbers when you read in a newspaper report that 134 people died or 212 people died or 17 people died. What we wanted to do was to focus on just one person on just one boat and make that person human and real.

    Q: Why did you decide to make Illegal a graphic novel?

    A: All three of us grew up reading comics and we all love them. We all felt that a graphic novel would be perfect for this story. Not only can it be visually stunning with its ever changing locations and dangers, but in a graphic novel you have to show and not tell. We really wanted to show the reader Ebo's journey and have them make up their own minds.

    Q: You have all worked together to create the Artemis Fowl series as graphic novels - how has that experience helped you to create Illegal?

    A: It was a huge help. We had already created over 900 pages of graphic novels together as a team over the last decade. We all enjoy working together and enjoy the very collaborative process that creates a graphic novel. We understand each other and we understand how we each work. After nearly a thousand pages, you develop a pretty good shorthand.

    Q: Illegal was a new text though, so did that make it harder or easier to create, and can you explain how you worked together on the text?

    A: Doing an original graphic novel was very exciting and the final book is an amazingly beautiful artefact, thanks to the lovely people at Hodder who have been brilliant throughout this whole creative process. As the two co-writers, we meet up whenever we can and work in person whenever we can. The rest of the work is done by sending drafts to each other via email and carrier pigeon.

    Q: Where did you go to research this book and which organisations did you speak to, to make the story accurate?

    A: Before we started writing Illegal we all did the most research that I think we did for any book ever. We read a lot, we attended conferences, we met and talked to aid workers and migrants. Charities like Migrant Voice and Women for Refugee Women were fantastic supporters and were a great help.

    We wanted to make the story as true as possible. While no one person had all the events in Illegal happen to them, all the events and incidents in Illegal happened to someone.

    Q: The focus of the story is the three siblings who are separated in their journey to Europe and a better life - is this something that often comes up in refugees' experiences?

    A: Sadly, yes. It's very very common for families to split up or get split up. Without an address or stable mobile number it can be next to impossible to trace people.

    Q: You describe a harrowing journey for Ebo, beginning in Agadez, Niger, and ending in a refugee centre in Italy; why did you follow this particular route?

    A: Ebo's journey in Illegal begins in his home village and passes through Agadez, Niger, before he crosses the Sahara Desert and finally the Mediterranean Sea. We chose this route because it was simply true to life. As incredible as it might be, thousands of human beings complete that dangerous, frightening journey each year.

    Q: The journey is also very harrowing, was that deliberate or was it simply hard to lighten Ebo's experiences?

    A: It is a serious book, but there are lots of touches of gentle, hopefully warm humour throughout it. You wouldn't get two boys together for that length of time without there being some uplifting and funny moments.

    Q: How did you work with the illustrator, Giovanni Rigano?

    A: Over the last decade we've written over 900 pages of graphic novels that we've been lucky enough to have drawn by Giovanni. He's fantastic.

    The process for creating a graphic novel is that we write a script that looks a lot like a film script. It describes the panel layouts on each page and explains what is happening in each panel along with the narration boxes and speech bubbles.

    Giovanni then uses his visual genius to draw a storyboard that he sends to us and our editor. When we've all agreed that we're happy, then Giovanni draws the final art.

    In the case of Illegal, Giovanni also created the amazing colours. The whole team is very happy with the final book. It's exactly as we wanted it to be - so if you don't like it, it's entirely our fault!

    Q: Do you have other graphic novels planned?

    A: We are busy working on another original graphic novel right now. We always have to say that, just in case our editor is reading this, but in this case it's actually true.