Welcome to this month's File in Focus from... (drum roll, please)... the Sarah Garland Collection!

Azzi in Between (Frances Lincoln Ltd., 2012) is widely acknowledged to be an excellent book. It’s told from the point of view of Azzi, a refugee child who together with her mother and father flees a war torn state and moves to a new country. The story is told through a comic strip layout following Azzi as her and her family bravely build a new life for themselves.

Sarah Garland generously donated her work for Azzi in Between to Seven Stories in 2012. Her Archive includes storyboards, draft texts, dummy artwork as well as finished and alternative artwork. The draft texts offer interesting revelations – such as Azzi originally being named Amira, and clearly show the editing process through a series of changes and extensive notes. But for us, October’s ‘file in focus’ is SG/04/03, or in non-catalogue speak, reference photos and sketches.

Garland has described how the idea for the book developed during a trip to New Zealand, where she noticed many newly-arrived Burmese families and was saddened to see that there weren’t any books available that would have relevance to a child refugee and their situation. For over 50 years, prolonged conflict in Burma has resulted in hundreds of thousands of the country’s ethnic and minority groups fleeing persecution. During the period 2006-2009, New Zealand welcomed more refugees from Burma than from any other country.

Our ‘file in focus’ contains newspaper clippings of articles about refugees (shown below). It’s interesting to see that although Garland’s idea was developed with reference to her experience of Burmese refugees in New Zealand, her research becomes a more global consideration of refugee experience. Garland has written, “I decided to make Azzi's family of Persian origin, and for their home to be in an unnamed country.” (Sarah Garland, http://www.sarahgarland.co.uk/azzi.html) This is arguably why Azzi in Between has become such an important read - because it succeeds in addressing universal experiences of hope, fear and loss, and is based on real people.

Newspaper clippings used as research for 'Azzi in Between'
The item on the left depicts a Kurdish refugee who was the original inspiration for the character of Azzi
SG/04/03 f25, SG/04/03 f27 Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books

The Archive also holds many life sketches made by Garland at Victory School, Nelson, New Zealand. About her time there, she has said, “I saw how those children changed as they discovered new confidence, how their eyes brightened, how they began to join in the games and lessons.”

Sketches executed at Victory School, Nelson by Sarah Garland
SG/04/03 f10, SG/04/03 f9, SG/04/03 f6, SG/04/03 f8 Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books

These sketches are stunning. The quickness of the line captures the movement of the children in their learning and a moment in time during a transformative period in the children’s lives. Certainly for Azzi, her experience at school becomes an important element of settling in a new country.

Sarah Garland’s colour notes for Azzi in Between
SG/04/03 f18, SG/04/03 f19, SG/04/03 f17 Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books

A distinctive element to Garland’s style with Azzi are the bold colours used. The sheets above show Garland’s notes for colours – not only for characterisation, but also for the sofa, the floor, the leaves and bed edges. This indicates the attention to detail and meticulous thinking in Garland’s process. One particularly brilliant colour sheet shows the possible pinks and reds for Azzi’s distinctive coat.

Preliminary Sketches by Sarah Garland for Azzi in Between
SG/04/03 f12, SG/04/03 f31, SG/04/03 f36 Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books

Because the colours are so distinctive in the published book, it’s also interesting to see the early pencil roughs for the illustrations. The lines here have become more solid and smooth than the Victory School life sketches. This quality of line also differs from Garland’s earlier work, for example, Billy and Belle or Doing Christmas, instead mimicking more closely the conventional graphic novel style. “I also decided to give the book the format of a graphic novel, in order for it to appeal to as wide an age range as possible,” writes Garland, but perhaps this style also succeeds in visually emphasising the definite, hopeful and positive actions that Azzi makes in defiance of the unstable situation and fear her family faces.

See archival material for Sarah Garland’s Azzi in Between at our Archive or pop along to our current exhibition, Comics: Explore and Create Comic Art at Seven Stories.

If you’d like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collections, you can browse our catalogue, explore our archives online, email us via collections@sevenstories.org.uk or leave a comment below!