Meet Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan, creators of Welcome to the New World!
What initially drew you to comics?
Michael: I discovered the Tintin comics by Herge in our school library when I was in third grade. They really inspired me! I’d never seen long-form comics like that – the term graphic novel wasn’t used back then. I love the details in Tintin, and having spent some time as a child in Europe I was very attracted to the detailed backgrounds. I was also a big fan of the Peanuts comics by Charles Schultz. When I was in fifth grade our class had a writing assignment that spanned a few weeks over one spring, and my teacher, Steve Lewis, let me draw the assignment as a comic. This gave me a lot of confidence and was the first real comic that I ever created.
What was your inspiration behind Welcome to the New World?
Jake: In many ways, my goal was to reach a young audience. Kids, basically. For me, this book was meant to be an offering for my two sons. Like so many parents, I am a dad who tells or reads stories to my kids at night. Often, these are fantasy novels or sports tales, the kind of escapist yarns that kids love. Yet in the last few years, as the refugee crisis has worsened, I wanted to find a way to tell them that story too, but in a way that was accessible and human. Basically, I wanted my kids to care. I got my first clue, on how to do this, when I witnessed my older son, Sebastian — who was eleven at the time — read John Lewis’ graphic novel and memoir, March. Sebastian devoured the book. It turned him into a passionate student of the Civil Rights Movement. I was inspired.
What scene or panel sequence did you most enjoy drawing?
Michael: I especially like the artwork for when the family is back in Syria dealing with the outbreak of the Civil War. Jake’s reporting and the family’s story is so compelling. I think the panel showing the family walking along the sidewalk past a bombed out facade of a building is my favorite panel in the book. This was also the most difficult chapter for me to draw emotionally since what the family went through was so traumatic. I like drawing street scenes and landscapes and this chapter had a lot of that. I like drawing night time scenes with dramatic lights and a lot of black, and the three panel sequence in chapter 1 showing the family arriving at their new home in Connecticut is a good example of this. The opening full-page image showing Ibrahim sitting on a couch at the back of the house in Jordan is also one of my favorites.
About the Book
After escaping a Syrian prison, Ibrahim Aldabaan and his family fled the country to seek protection in America. Among the few refugees to receive visas, they finally landed in JFK airport on November 8, 2016, Election Day. The family had reached a safe harbor, but woke up to the world of Donald Trump and a Muslim ban that would sever them from the grandmother, brothers, sisters, and cousins stranded in exile in Jordan.
Welcome to the New World tells the Aldabaans’ story. Resettled in Connecticut with little English, few friends, and even less money, the family of seven strive to create something like home. As a blur of language classes, job-training programs, and the fearsome first days of high school (with hijab) give way to normalcy, the Aldabaans are lulled into a sense of security. A white van cruising slowly past the house prompts some unease, which erupts into full terror when the family receives a death threat and is forced to flee and start all over yet again. The America in which the Aldabaans must make their way is by turns kind and ignorant, generous and cruel, uplifting and heartbreaking.
Delivered with warmth and intimacy, Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan’s Welcome to the New World is a wholly original view of the immigrant experience, revealing not only the trials and successes of one family but showing the spirit of a town and a country, for good and bad.