Turning Immigration Politics (And Comics) On Its Head
Review: Barrier 1-5
Written by Bryan K. Vaughan. Pencilled by Marcos Martín. Inked by Munsta Vicente.
Months before Donald Trump announced his candidacy, Bryan K Vaughan (Saga, Y The Last Man) announced Barrier, a mini-series he was working on with Marcos Martín (The Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America). Available through Panel Sydnicate’s pay-what-you-like model for online comics, the series deals with immigration, racism, and hostility with a twist. Now available in print, Barrier is literally turning comics on their head and changing how they are read.
Unlike the vast majority of comics, Barrier is printed in landscape format, which makes its panels wider than usual (you’re going to need to turn the comic to read it). Marcos Martín’s layouts are compelling enough to take full advantage of this new way of reading.
It’s not only the way that you read this comic that is different: Barrier’s dialogue is a mixture of English and Spanish. This may seem jarring at first for anyone who’s a novice in Spanish. The artwork, however, manages to convey things to the point that it isn’t an issue and where it could be commended as a text to help those learning the language.
All of this by itself would be interesting gimmickry, but it is thankfully to fit a wider purpose.
Barrier tells a much-needed story about immigration, dealing with themes of alienation (literally and figuratively) and the experience of being a migrant in a strange land. Told over five discrete issues, it is set just north of the Mexican border. Barrier is the story of Liddy, a woman still grieving the loss of her husband. Liddy encounters Oscar, a Honduran man trying to make his way into the U.S. Their lives initially become intertwined when Oscar trespasses on Liddy’s land and she suspects that he is part of a local gang. Things then become weirder, as they are abducted by aliens.
For Christians, the themes of caring for the stranger and not oppressing the alien are nothing new. And yet in times when avowedly Christian leaders garner political capital through anti-immigration rhetoric, it is worth being reminded of these core values. Barrier manages to do so in a way that, consistent with Bryan K. Vaughan’s wider track record, is rarely preachy and never clichéd.
Speaking of Vaughan, his penchant for witty dialogue and strange stories is ever present throughout all of this, and Barrier stands alongside his better work. Martín’s pencil work manages to deliver this strange story in continually strange ways and yet constantly clear. Munsta Vicente’s inkwork perfectly accentuates this work.
Image comics (who are publishing Barrier’s physical editions) have suggested that the work will not be collected in a single volume, as each edition is intended as a durable, standalone artwork. As is this series’ wider theme, it’s a bold choice, but it works well.
Issues 1-5 of Barrier are available now in comics shops, or online at Panel Syndicate
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor