I’d been trying to write about Sudan for years, ever since my last visit in 2006.

NOTHING FELT RIGHT. Essays got mired in the historical complexities of the region, the moral complexities of aid work, the embarrassing complexities of my narrative self-centeredness. Fiction felt contrived; I couldn’t betray my actual memories by mutating them to serve the demands of a story.

Then, in the fall of 2009, during my first semester as an MFA student at Brooklyn College, Michael Cunningham (former director of the BC program) very casually mentioned graphic novels in a talk. Bing! Immediately, I thought of the two most powerful images from my time in Sudan: the tiny, delicate butterflies that swarmed the puddles in the road, and the heat lightning that raged over the valley sky on a few very memorable nights. The tension between those two images felt electric.

And why did graphic stories have to be fiction? I’d read Maus and Persepolis, both powerful combinations of cartoons and horror. Once I began laying out panels, my narrative seemed to present itself. I saw how much could be conveyed with so little writing. Finally I could say what I wanted without the words getting in the way.
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