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The Quest of Illegal: A Graphic Novel Review

Ebo’s older brother, Kwame, is gone—gone from their village in Ghana, out toward Europe, to seek a better life. First Ebo’s sister, now Kwame.

This time, young Ebo will not be left behind.

Ebo sets out on Kwame’s trail, scrounging and scraping to get through each leg of the journey. Through desert and disease and a perilous ocean voyage, Ebo must overcome merciless terrain and equally merciless people. But he clings to the hope that motivates anyone to make such a journey: the hope of new opportunities, finding a fresh start, and a reunion with loved ones—the hope of a better life.

Illegal is a fictional graphic novel based on the true stories of very real migrants seeking passage from Africa to Europe. The way is long and treacherous, and we experience it all through Ebo’s journey.

Authors Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin have captured a real-life crisis in a story that is a call to action, a powerful study on human empathy, and an epic journey against countless obstacles. There’s a delicate balance to Illegal: it’s inviting and kid-friendly, yet brutal and heart-rending with every dangerous, desperate, inhumane step of Ebo’s mythic quest.

A call to action, a powerful study on human empathy, and an epic journey against countless obstacles. Jonny Jimison

That balance is brought to the page in truly stunning fashion by the art of Giovanni Rigano. Rigano’s immaculately detailed illustrations have all the immersive beauty of the best European comics, delicious and inviting even as they vividly parch with the grainy coarseness of the desert and chill with the icy froth of the ocean.

As always, parents, use discretion. The horrors of Ebo’s journey are presented tactfully and tastefully, but they are still horrifying; a heavy weight to place on anyone, especially a young child. The back cover says “Ages 10 and up,” and I think that’s a good starting point.

Illegal is a joy to read. It’s also heartbreaking. Above all, it’s a journey I’m glad I took. In the words of the authors, “It’s not a journey to be undertaken lightly. Every person making the choice to embark on that journey has their own reasons for doing so. And every person is a human being.”


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