Drawing the European crack

The migration crisis is also Europe’s own, according to Spanish journalist Guillermo Abril and photographer Carlos Spottorno.

Interview by Sandra Lillebø

Meet Guillermo Abril and Carlos Spottorno in Images of Europe’s borders and in War refugees and economic migrants at the Bergen House of Literature on 17. February.


Your graphic reportage La grieta (The crack) can be described as a condensed version of contemporary European history. How did it all start?

All started as a regular assignment from the Chief Editor of El País Semanal. Guillermo was asked to prepare a story on the southern European borders. It was all about migration. This was several months before the Balkan exodus​. We weren’t using the word «refugees» very often at the time. Only a few Syrians were arriving to Europe. We produced a large multimedia display, videos, and a 20 pages cover story for the magazine.

The story was successful. We even got a World Press Photo award for the video, so this encouraged me to ask for a grant to travel to the eastern borders, and to the Arctic circle. I wanted to make a book putting all the reportages together. I got the grant, so this made things easier for El Pais Semanal to support this large project. We travelled together again, and I came up with the idea of making a graphic novel instead of a classic photobook.

Guillermo accepted the challenge, and we started to work together on this language without any direct references. It took about a year editing. We were lucky enough to find a brave graphic novel publisher.

The refugee crises touches almost all European countries in one way or another, but is perceived very differently by different countries. What do you consider as the most determinative for our way to understand and cope with this situation?

​I think all European countries are seeing this phenomenon with distress. Migration was already an issue for most European countries before the 2015 exodus peak, but since there, it has become the most relevant one.

The biggest step towards finding a durable way to address the matter has been the «Europezation» of the phenomenon. While for many years, many countries would consider this to be something relevant only to countries with external borders, today it is clear that there’s nowhere to look away. It is also clear that there are no national solutions. The answer will have to be as unitary as possible, and this will require to draw a far sighted European foreign strategy.

Europe will need to redesign the way it relates to the rest of the world, and how some people’s wealth can’t rely on other people’s acceptance of a life in misery. Europe could make a plan to decrease absurd consumption, a fairer relationship with countries producing raw materials and natural resources, a true plan for redistribution of wealth within and outside of its own borders. The sacralised idea that wellbeing is based on perpetual economic growth at any cost is especially destroying the planet and the people on it. When everybody can be safe and healthy at home, there will not be any need to go anywhere.

La grieta has been published in several European languages – Italian, French and German in addition to Spanish. What has surprised you the most in the reception in these different countries?

​I was surprised and very pleased in all countries by the instant positive reactions by a very large spectrum of readers. We have been presenting this book in comics, photography and literature festivals. It seems natural now, but we weren’t very sure about where this book most likely would end up. Some like it because of it’s particular form of narrative, while others find the topic and stories very timely and interesting. Teachers like it and students like it too. Apparently we have been able (and I need to confess that we tried very hard) to find a broad wave length.

I was surprised by the media attention this book is attracting. It’s clear that there were many people waiting for someone to summarize all the events that happened between 2014 and 2016 like the Balkan exodus and the Brexit. Many people in Europe are worried and Europeism has experimented an awakening. People were more than ready to read a book that talks straight forward about their fears.