Davis and his God Complex

by Janine Braune

While reading Ghost Species, one character in particular caught my eye, Davis. Let me give you a short introduction, to who Davis is. Davis Hucken is a white male in his thirties with a slim figure and blond hair. He is a tech billionaire and the founder of Gather, a social media network. Davis likes to dress in jeans with band t-shirts or hoodies. So contrary to the typical image of a wealthy businessman, he likes to be comfortable. His parents are both psychiatrists.

I wish to analyze if he really is just a wealthy man with a scientific vision and a god complex, or if there is more to him. Therefore firstly, I need to identify how his god complex is expressed.

Davis plans to re-engineer the world’s relationship with nature, and he states to achieve this, we need to let go of the idea that we’re distinct, separate, and unique. He plans to de-extinct other species, while always stating that his mission is only to make the world a better place. He tries to justify his actions as if they are for the benefit of everyone. At the same time, he states that all humankind isn’t distinct from each other, but he declares himself a savior. It is clear that he sees himself as the messiah of the world, and only his vision can be the only solution.

His behavior from the perspective of other characters is often described as odd and as a mode of performing. Kate frequently explains that while talking to him, she feels like she is watching some sort of rehearsed performance. According to Kate, there is some awkwardness, as his reactions are not natural but somehow acquired. Davis seems like a different kind of being. On the one hand, his earlier statements show that he is trying to play God, but on the other hand, we could argue that Davis is only trying to portray the image of God. And he isn’t necessarily convinced of his own divinity. Davis is highly intelligent and totally understands which customs and conducts are expected from him. By making use of this knowledge, he tries to manipulate and control his external perception. However, as his behaviors aren’t always unforced, outsiders may perceive his behavior as odd or weird. Those cracks can be seen on many occasions. For instance, while holding a speech in the spotlight, Kate describes him as weirdly uncomfortable looking, like an animal caught in a trap. This is interesting because shouldn’t people with a god complex enjoy getting all the attention they can? We can see that maybe his true self doesn’t align with the image he is trying to portray. I wonder if in this particular instance he failed to uphold his mask because he isn’t receiving instant feedback from the faces of the audience? From personal experience, I know how hard it is to recognize anything while a bright light is shining on you. If we now speculate that Davis learned his social cues in conversation with people and always matched his performances based on their reactions, then in this situation the foundations for his manipulation would be missing.

Another interesting situation is his interaction with Eve as a newborn. Eve is the product of his vision and goals, the product of all the things he stands for, and yet he cannot hold or touch her. The question to ask is why? Is the reason that he simply is unbothered by ordinary human desires too long after closeness? Or could the reason be that in front of the child, he just cannot put on his mask, and his insecurities surface? One interpretation is that because of his intelligence, he may have considered the possibility of forming an emotional connection with Eve through physical touch and wanted to avoid risking forming a connection. When we consider all his actions in the novel, we may think this thesis is very unlikely, but if we regard all these actions simply as his mask, it would be possible.

The conclusion I came to is that Davis knows exactly how to act in social settings and to say the right things people want to hear. He clearly has a god complex, but there is an inconsistency between his image and his true self. Even if his public persona is totally fake, the fact that he believes he is capable of fooling the whole world testifies to his complex.

Impressions and Review of Safdar Ahmed’s Graphic Novel Still Alive: Notes from Australia’s Immigration Detention System

by Angela Agelopoulou

I decided to analyze Safdar Ahmed’s Still Alive: Notes from Australia’s Immigration Detention System for the class “Migration in Visual Narratives”, which deals with the migration journey portrayed in various types of visual narratives.


As I had already participated in a seminar that dealt with migration to Australia and the conditions in Australia’s detention centres, I was very interested to read Safdar Ahmed’s graphic novel. While the full graphic novel was published in 2021, a small part had already been published online as the webcomic Villawood: Notes from an immigration detention centre in 2015. I will make a close comparison between these two narratives in the following subpoint, however, I want to first summarize the plot of Still Alive briefly.  The graphic novel shows the stories and lives of refugees being kept in an immigration detention centre in Villawood, Sydney.  These people find themselves seeking asylum in Australia due to war and violence in their home countries. While it is the task of the Australian government to protect the refugees, the graphic novel shows the cruel reality of those needing protection: The refugees are faced with great challenges during their journey by boat but also upon arrival. All stories told in Still Alive are based on true events, as Ahmed ran art classes in Villawood and there met refugees willing to share their stories.


Even though I do have some knowledge about Australia’s detention centres, going through Still Alive was a very heartbreaking experience for me, as I felt deep sorrow while reading and seeing the stories of the refugees. I was overwhelmed by a sad and sickening feeling while going through both, the graphic novel and the webcomic. One thing I found especially shocking was the slogan of Serco, being “people are our business”. The slogan emphasizes that asylum seekers are not seen as human beings but as objects. Furthermore, it was also horrifying to read about the terrible treatment of the refugees (being physically and mentally abused and not being allowed to mourn their loved ones). The webcomic and the graphic novel do have some minor differences, for example, the graphic novel, unlike the webcomic, does not make use of colors, further emphasizing the hopelessness of the refugees. Moreover, the graphic novel has considerably more panels that are clustered together (emphasizing the feeling of being trapped) and uses a horror aesthetic, which should make it easier to talk about difficult topics, such as trauma. While these two narratives differ from one another, the effect they have on their readers stays the same: engaging with the graphic novel and the webcomic takes an emotional toll on the readers and shows the cruel reality of the world we are living in.

Art as a way of coping with trauma

The asylum seekers arriving in the detention centre knew that their migration journey would be long and dangerous. They knew that they decided to go on a journey, where they might be abused, experience loss, or even die. What they didn’t know was that their struggles would continue once arriving in the country that should keep them safe. The conditions in Australia’s detention centres are beyond cruel. The refugees are being controlled 24/7 and moving is heavily restricted. Detention centres resemble high-security prisons, where the guards abuse those detained for no reason. They are also the reason for self-harm, depression, and anxiety. Still Alive shows how the refugees deal with these feelings by drawing out their experiences, their situation, and also their migration journey. One refugee’s drawing for example shows a chessboard surrounded by barbed wire, while another shows a Taliban soldier holding four heads with the title of the drawing being “Death”. Especially in detention centres, where recordings are strictly prohibited, drawing is an effective way of expressing one’s feelings. Moreover, it is a way for the refugees to be in control and also to experience freedom. In the graphic novel, Ahmed describes the importance of art as followes: “Art and storytelling allow trauma to be visualized, externalized, and re-embedded in its context, which provides a greater feeling of safety and distance from it over time.” (22)


Still Alive by Safdar Ahmed gives a voice to the people who don’t often have one. The drawings and photographs portrayed in the graphic novel remind the readers of the lives being abused in Villawood, but also in other detention centres. It is a call to rise up and support the refugees and reject Australia’s detention centres that do not recognize the refugees’ lives. 

A Supernatural Family Drama

by Joshua Gormanns

The novel Ghost Species by James Bradley on the surface seems like your stereotypical science fiction novel, dealing with the dangers of climate change and how humanity caused the problems and now tries its best to preserve the species. However, diving deeper into the novel, there are times the reader can easily forget those topics and the novel almost seems like a family drama with the slight change that the main character is not a homo sapiens, but a Neanderthal.

In the beginning, we get to know Jay and Kate, two scientists who are recruited by rich mogul Davis Hucken to work on a project for his Foundation. Their task is to revive the lost species of the Neanderthals. They succeed and when the first Neanderthal baby Eve is born, Kate soon forms a bond with her. One night Kate, who has ethical problems with keeping Eve like a lab rat, decides to take the baby and leave her old life behind to live a secluded life with Eve while hiding from the foundation.

After Kate takes Eve the novel shifts in tone and topic. We only hear about scientific topics and the problems of the world through the news, while we basically read a family drama. We see the first years of Eve’s life through the eyes of Kate. We see how Kate struggles with the situation, always in fear of being caught by the foundation and getting Eve taken away from her.

Although not much really happens during this time, to me this is the most interesting part of the novel. I think the author manages to portray Kate’s character very well. We become familiar with her past trauma which shaped her and although she does not practice as a scientist anymore, we can still see the scientist in her. The way she observes every situation and how everything is described, the reader can see her scientistic approaches. This becomes very clear when Eve interacts with Sami, the son of a friend of Kate. Kate acts as an observer, comparing Eves and Sami’s physical attributes, psychological attributes, and the way they develop.

When Eve and Kate are taken by the foundation again the narrative does not return to scientific topics but rather keeps focus on Kate and Eve’s personal problems. After Eve is told about her real identity, the perspective shifts to her. We learn about her insecurities, about how she avoids other people due to her difference in appearance and her slow articulation. We witness her teenage years and eventually how she has to take care of her dying mother while the world around her seems to end.

All in all, I think that it was a good choice by the author to focus more on the two main characters instead of the science fiction plot. Especially focusing on Eve was a great choice because the reader gets to know her differences but also her similarities to homo sapiens. We get to know how she questions herself, feels insecure, and how she in the end can look after herself and go as far as to travel around the whole world finding other Neanderthals.

Voyeuristic Curiosity: Thoughts on Safdar Ahmed’s “Villawood”

Safdar Ahmed’s Villawood: Notes from an Immigration Detention Center depicts the treatment of immigrants in Australian detention center, Villawood. Through his webcomic, Ahmed shares the stories of several refugees while also showcasing the center’s cruel conditions and unfair treatment of its residents. 

Voyeuristic Curiosity

In a particular poignant panel set, a woman asks a refugee about his past, wondering why he left and the traumas he endured. Instead of answering, the man turns the tables and demands the woman spill her worst trauma. In three simple panels, Ahmed shows the danger of entitlement to someone’s life story. Migrants are more than stories to be read. They are real people affected by their past and living in the present. They are not here to satiate someone’s morbid curiosity. Even Ahmed notes that he feels “like a prick for being so voyeuristic in the first place.” 

Humanizing the Human

Ahmed, then, is tasked with a difficult objective: he must humanize the Villawood residents without turning them into palpable packages of trauma for the average reader to consume and feel good about themselves. He must skirt the line of “trauma-porn” while also showcasing the cruel realities these migrants are subjected to. A webcomic like his attracts the morbid voyeur, so how can he tell a story that doesn’t serve to satiate the sadist in us and instead serves as a platform for the Villawood residents to unearth their experiences? Ahmed does this in several ways that, as a reader, I found both impactful and respectful. Through the use of voice and perspective, Ahmed allows specific individuals to tell their own stories. As they narrate, he gives us information on who they are and formats their experiences in webcomic form. His own perspective sits on the sideline. In this way, Villawood becomes neither a feel-good story or an onslaught of oppression and trauma. It transcends to something higher: a true story about true people told to highlight the oppressive system and the specific people it affects.

The Story of Villawood: Told from the Inside

In the first chapter, “First Impressions,” Ahmed sets the scene of Villawood’s strict rules and regulations. Ahmed begins the comic by stating what’s not allowed in Villawood: no phones, cameras, cash, or sharp objects. After being searched, Ahmed is thrust under the watchful eye of a security camera. The center reads more prison than safe haven. Tall fences and barbed wire. Handcuffs and guard dogs. With such harsh imagery, it’s easy to imagine the people there must also be cold and hardened. Ruthless criminals rather than refugees seeking safety.

While the chapter begins with Ahmed’s first impressions and his own perspective, it ends with artwork created by people Ahmed met in Villawood. Pencil drawings of their life before. We see they fled the threat of death and oppression for a prison of a different variety. They tell us this through their art, and they begin to take control of the narrative. Ahmed’s thoughts quickly give way to the voices of the people inside Villawood.

The second chapter, “Ahmad,” focuses on the specific experiences of Ahmad Ali Jafari, a Hazara refugee. Ahmed humanizes him by sharing specific traits of Ahmad’s in the beginning of the chapter. He is not a faceless name or a blanket character for the whole of the refugee experience to be thrust upon. He is a real person with individual quirks. An artist, a poet, and a victim of Villawood’s cold cruelty. Ahmed even includes a photo of Ahmad in the webcomic, putting substance to the man besides pencil drawings and cartoons. One important thing to note is that Ahmed uses a photo that Villawood residents hung up as a form of protest and call to action. The residents themselves want the truth of Ahmad’s death to be spread. The story is shared, not appropriated. 

In the third chapter, Ahmed continues to share their story. He follows specific people as they speak about education, loneliness, and mistreatment. The residents speak for themselves while Ahmed illustrates their experiences, a trend that seems to fill the majority of the webcomic. The difference between the voyeuristic woman demanding to know a man’s trauma is that she demanded answers while the residents take control of their own voice. The reader must trust that Ahmed only tells what the residents wanted to tell and that he only shares the artwork they wished to share.

What Next?

The final set of panels in the webcomic is especially telling. Refugee Haider Ali is granted release from Villawood. He is ecstatic while his caseworker tells him he can leave while his claims proceed. The caseworker, however, laments the extra load of paperwork on her part. The comic ends with Ali staring open-mouthed and shell-shocked, the phone still to his ear. He has endured the cruel conditions of the detention center, yet he is met with complete apathy when his situation changes. If someone as close to the system as a case worker cannot recognize Ali’s humanity and joy of escape, then what does that say not only about the system itself but how the rest of society treats migrants? Isn’t the burden of paperwork and overtime worth the goal of basic human decency and humane treatment?

The last panel suggests that Ali’s journey is not over. As a refugee, he will also be tainted by the knowledge the society in which he lives does not welcome him. He’s seen as a burden, unfairly throwing paperwork on someone who chose to make filling out that very same paperwork her profession. He escaped the Taliban only to be thrust into the hold of Villawood. And he has escaped Villawood only to be treated with apathy, his celebration cut short before it truly starts. In this way, Ahmed challenges our own role within the “refugee crisis,” questioning our presuppositions while also maintaining we have no right to demand these stories from these people. Any story we listen to must be freely given, and we cannot listen to the stories until we learn to humanize people like Ali—people who experience joy and pain. People whose victories must be celebrated, no matter what may come next. And, ultimately, we must take up the burden of paperwork—doing what must be done to reform the system and help the people it was designed to hurt.

Ethics of De-extinction

by Anonymous

When reading the title Ghost Species, your first associations probably include the general image of ghosts or the novel could even be assumed to be some kind of ghost story. Instead, the reader learns, within the novel’s first few pages, that the term ghost species describes the extinct human species of the Neanderthals. The creation or resurrection of an individual of this species is the main goal of quasi-antagonist Davis. Aside from that goal, he also has big plans for the resurrection of extinct animals. The abundance of different animal species that went extinct in the past can be understood as ghost species as well. This second interpretation of the novel’s title is maybe even more unsettling as it is generally more realistic as well as highly relevant. The loss of species is an urgent problem with the global rate of species extinction being thousands of times higher than it should be. The effects this has on the world´s ecosystems are serious and devastating. Of course, humans are to blame, as we have been and are currently destroying habitats through, among other things, deforestation, and pollution.

Davis recognizes this and plans to not only resurrect lost species but also implement them into certain ecosystems to stabilize them to make amends for humanity’s failures. Specifically, one of his plans is to bring back large herbivores like Mammoths and reintroduce them to the tundra to stop the spreading of forests. Aside from whether this de-extinction is actually scientifically possible there is also the question of whether it should be done for ethical reasons and if it would really yield the results Davis wants.

The resurrection and reintroduction of extinct species into nature contain several unpredictable factors. One concern would be that these animals could carry deadly diseases. Additionally, as they are only artificial creations by humans, it is very likely that the resurrected animals would physically be the same but behave in different ways. Many of the behaviors needed for these animals to yield the expected results could potentially be learned behaviors that the resurrected versions of these animals are not able to obtain. Another aspect which ties in with this is the fact that the habitats these animals used to live in were very different from how they are today as the environments and food sources have changed.

These are just some of the reasons which make it apparent that the resurrection of extinct species would not have the benefits Davis is hoping for at the beginning of the novel. Ecosystems are simply much too intricate and unpredictable to just throw a species in there and hope for the best as these reintroductions can have immense impacts both positively and negatively. Throughout the novel, we actually get to see this play out as Davis is successful in resurrecting and reintroducing wooly rhinos and mammoths into the tundra. As predicted, it backfires and “Davis`s efforts seem to be making things worse rather than better” (Bradley 169). One aspect that also ties in with this, which I have not yet touched upon is the moral one. Especially in the case of Davis, it feels very much like he is playing God and displaying his power when he could use his influence in other more reliable ways. Instead of fulfilling his megalomaniac visions, he could have used his resources to save species that are still on the brink of extinction or invest in more reliable ways of disaster relief. During the events of the novel, it is already way too late to hope for the resurrection of animals to make a sufficient difference.

“Images of woolly rhino and mammoth roaming across the empty landscape are increasingly blotted out by videos of melting ice and fires sweeping through the grasslands” (Bradley 141).

All of this leads us to a third way in which the title Ghost Species can be interpreted. Bradley makes it very clear that there will come a point when it is too late for humans to engineer themselves out of their self-made problems. If people are not willing to change something now, they will in the foreseeable future, just like they did with so many others, turn themselves into a ghost species.


Sumner, Thomas and Carey, Bjorn. “The ethics of resurrecting extinct species.” Stanford University, ScienceDaily, 8 April 2013

Gerretsen, Isabella. “One million species threatened with extinction because of humans” CNN, 2019

Mommy Issues and Mommy‘s Issues

by Anonymous

“Families, she thinks, normality. Not something she ever knew, not something she can ever provide.”

The relationship between a mother and her child is special. It’s a big topic in shows like Gilmore Girls or Downton Abbey; but we also have the typical main character with a dead mother, like in Hamilton, Beauty and the Beast, or Batman. The absence of, or trauma due to, a mother figure seems to be a more common motive in fiction, it just adds a little bit of spice.

So also in James Bradley’s Ghost Species. The relationship between Kate and her mother is mentioned a few times, but only really discussed in one scene.

Before I go into that though, I would like to add a trigger warning for mentions of alcohol, childhood trauma, and abuse. Also, an obvious spoiler alert for Ghost Species, in case you haven’t read it.

During the majority of Ghost Species, we are following Kate, see her view of the world and get to know what she thinks. Whenever her mother, Claire, is mentioned, we get to know that she doesn’t have the best relationship with her. From the first time that Claire is mentioned, it is clear that she is an alcoholic, which resulted in her not being able to properly take care of Kate.

Only when Claire dies do we get more information on her. She seemed to have had a bunch of boyfriends during Kate’s childhood. One of those is discussed in more detail: A man named Paul, who made Kate deeply uncomfortable by staring at her and making dirty jokes. That makes you think: What if he wasn’t the only one? Claire might have had more boyfriends who were making Kate uncomfortable, maybe even more than that. And maybe these experiences made her trust men less. Maybe that is why she never seems to fully trust Jay.

During her childhood, Kate tried to spend as much time outside of the house as possible, doing homework at a friend’s house. This is not a surprise, since she had to deal with her mother’s hallucinations of men following her, her alcoholism, and her showing up with bruises all over her body with no explanation.

When Kate was finally old enough, she moved away from her mother, not only distancing herself geographically from her but also emotionally. Regardless of how hard she tried, growing up with her mother’s way of life influenced her. Everything she had seen, what she had to deal with, is still in her subconscious. This also shows in the way she never seems to be able to settle in one place, she never seems to have a home. Just a place to stay at, ready to leave it in case she has to. This is also portrayed when she flees with Eve. The way she lives with Eve for years is very similar to the way she spent her childhood. In a way, she became like her mother. She became more like the person responsible for her trauma, more like the person she never wanted to be.

“Eve is not an Experiment, she is a conscious being, she deserves the right to find her own path, to be her own person.“

Despite this, Kate has also managed to achieve what she strove for in the first place: to create a safe environment in which her daughter Eve can grow and learn. This desire seems to be one of the most, if not the most driving force behind the actions and decisions Kate takes throughout the course of the story.

There is an almost supernatural sense of certainty and confidence with which Kate upholds her belief in Eveˋs human (or neanderthal) rights. It is striking what measures she takes to fight for her daughter, even though she never had someone do the same for her. Kate speaks up and takes charge whenever her daughter’s well-being is at risk. This hero-esque behavior culminates when Kate abducts Eve from the specialized facility that is able to provide professional healthcare and security. Kate as a biologist knows firsthand that Eve’s development is unknown due to her different genetic makeup. One time her daughter gets sick with a high fever she is not even sure how Eve‘s body will react to Paracetamol. We get to see this other side of Kate. Taking her own upbringing into account, the fact that she has experienced how the selfishness of others can affect one’s own personal life for the worse points to behavior that is irresponsible and motivated by short-sighted self-interest. Like so many of us, Kate is living with what she has subconsciously learned along the way, and that’s how she carries the trauma with her.

During Eve’s childhood, the two are very closely bonded and remain so throughout her more rebellious and moody years. As she grows up and becomes her own person rather than a shy infant, conflict arises. Once, she gets in a fight with Kate after sneaking out at night to secretly meet some of her friends and accidentally pushes her over.  After Kate is diagnosed with a brain tumor and her health deteriorates rapidly, her roles as caregiver and dependent are gradually reversed. Just like her mother did years prior, Eve stands by her side and takes care of the other unconditionally. The two women are deeply bonded by the turbulent and unusual life that they share. When Kate dies shortly after, Eve cannot help but wonder how much she actually knew about her mother as a person. This feeling of distance and strangeness, of not knowing for certain what is going on in the other person’s mind, is a recurring motif. Of course, there is an obvious difference in species, in chemical makeup and genetics, but still: Kate and Eve show us that the mother-daughter connection is a complicated and intangible bond that can transcend those differences.

Human Connection – How a Neanderthal Inspires Homo Sapiens

by Robert Strate

If I had to choose one thing that all humans have in common, it would be our desire to connect with others. One of my favorite quotes is by a famed and iconic violinist, the late Isaac Stern. He said, “Music happens between the notes’’ and this quote was later turned into “Trust happens between the meetings’’ by guru Simon Sinek. I have been pretty infatuated with the concept of human connection for a while now and I always appreciate it when it finds its way into any art medium. Ghost Species is heavily focused on interpersonal relationships and does a great job of showing not only why these connections are important, how easily they can happen, and especially how characters in the story benefit from them. A prime example of this is the character of Eve in her relationships.

Eve is different. This aspect of her life is reinforced time and time again throughout the entire novel. Surface level observations aside though, Eve may not be that different from every other ‘regular’ cast member. It was often the case for me while reading that I forgot Eve was supposed to be the odd one out and it was not until I was reminded of her differences again that the thought re-entered my brain. A way in which Eve is made to feel more like every other human in the story is her desire for connection, which to me sits at the very core of her character. This desire is shown extremely well through her relationships with other members of the cast, mainly her friends Sami and Lukas. Her interactions with them are very human, very real. Eve is not against going to the party with Sami and Lukas despite being aware of how different she is, likely because she has fond memories of playing together with Sami as a child. She remembers and realizes how good it feels to share a moment with others, even at a fairly young age. It is here that she gets to know Lukas a bit better, who is of great help to her further into the novel when Eve fails to acquire the necessary medication for her mother. Towards the end of the novel, she chooses to stay with Lukas and accompanies him to the compound instead of staying on her own. Things do end up getting ugly, but Eve learns valuable lessons in trust from Sami’s betrayal and the importance of fighting for those dear to you when Drako threatens to kill Lukas. All these personal developments have those seemingly trivial playdates with Sami at their core. Such is the effect and power of connection. It might very well be because of these memories that she eventually takes the risks that come with venturing out into the desolate ruins of the world, searching for others like her in the hope of connecting with someone.

To me, Eve as a character and her being a Neanderthal symbolizes how the need for connection has always fueled humankind, but more importantly how essential it is for humans. Something as random as Kate and Yasemin’s encounter led to Eve, who had all the odds stacked against her, shaping her own future. I am certain that no one really wants to be alone, and it is precisely this desire that gives us the strength to move forward, exactly how it did for Eve.

Thoughts on the Wordless Graphic Novel The Arrival by Shaun Tan

by Johanna E. 

“My picture books are essentially an attempt to subversively reimagine everyday experience,” Shaun Tan says about his own work (Haber 23). His graphic novel The Arrival (2006) is a clear example for Tan’s usage of fantastic element to reimagine everyday occurences. In The Arrival, we a re dealing with the reimagined everyday experience of a refugee, starting a life in a new place far from home. In six chapters the graphic novel tells the story of a man who has to immigrate to a different country and leave his wife and daughter behind because of the dangers facing the family in their home country. Eventually, his family follows him after he has found a place to live and a place to work. His experiences are told without words so that the storytelling relies entirely on the illustrations. The subversion of the very common immigration themes of feeling displaced and overwhelmed in the new situation is especially present because realistic elements are juxtaposed with fantastical elements to depict the migrant experience.     

It becomes clear from the beginning that words are not necessary for Shaun Tan to convey the meaning of his story because the composition of panels, illustrations and icons makes it possible to be (almost) universally understood. This has the interesting effect that the story does not require anyone to either know English or any other language in particular. I liked this aspect of the story, especially because it reminded me of my own family member telling me about her migration story which was made a lot harder because of the language barrier and the loneliness that comes with that. The immigrant in the story also deals with language barriers as the new language system is completely foreign to him and it takes time until he is able to make sense of it. This is one of the reasons why the lack of words in the narrative works so well for an immigration story because understanding very often relies on knowing a certain language and the graphic novel removes this boundary for any of its potential readers. Additionally, using no words requires the reader to take a closer look at each and every panel and icon, which makes the reader engage with the illustrations more thoroughly.                

six panels showing the protagonist's hands as they carefully pack a family photograph

            The art style Shaun Tan uses is an interesting mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Generally, the panels and icons are drawn in a very realistic way, meaning the main characters, the refugee and his family, look similar to the way they might look in an old photograph. The entire book reads like an old document that is put together as a remembrance for the migrant´s experiences. Furthermore, Shaun Tan often “zooms” in and out of his panels or focuses on hand gestures which has a very humanizing effect amidst the many fantastical elements. In many instances, Tan shows the main character´s hand movements to symbolize his inner feelings and turmoil, like when his hand flexes in pain because he has to leave his family or when he holds on tight to his suitcase on the journey. Some pages zoom away from the small gestures to the characters as tiny specks in a city full of fantastical monsters which emphasizes the danger they are surrounded by in their home country.


In contrast to the rather realistic icons and panels we also have the fantastical elements the main character encounters as soon as he arrives in the new place. The more he explores the city, the more fantastical the elements like food, the buildings, the transportation, or the language system become. These fantastical elements are juxtaposed with the realistic art style Shaun Tan uses for the illustrations. The unidentifiable food, the strange animals or the unreadable language represent the newness of the place where the main characters immigrated to and how difficult it is to find your way around at first. Because these elements are not specific to any real culture, every reader is confronted with this strangeness in the same way. You do not really know what to make of the elements at first but they become more familiar with every chapter which connects the reader and the refugee as neither knows what the fantastical elements mean at first.                

four panels showing a newspaper boy with a newspaper in a strange language, a housewife with a strange pet, a strange vending wagon, and two people handling giant eggs

            One aspect concerning the realistic drawing of people reminded me of Scott McCloud´s discussion of comics and graphic novels as he states that “when you look at a photo or realistic drawing of a face, you see it as the face of another. But when you enter the world of the cartoon, you see yourself” (McCloud 36). For Tan´s work that would mean the realistic drawing of faces makes it more difficult to relate to the character´s experiences as you have a specific face you are confronted with. However, Shaun Tan seems to have a different view on relatability when it comes to drawing realistically which I thought was interesting to compare. He states that “The absence of any written description in The Arrival seemed to place the reader more firmly in the shoes of an anonymous protagonist.” (Arizpe et al. 161). Therefore, there seems to be a difference in approach as McCloud highlights the importance of abstraction for relatability whereas Shaun Tan does create a realistic-looking character but, because the story is told without words, there is more room for interpretation as different readers might make different connections between panels according to their own backgrounds. Furthermore, I think that a lot of the relatability of his work comes from the magical elements, which are jarring for all readers alike, and act as stand-ins for real life experiences of learning a new language, or not understanding the food, animals, or cities. I think that generally, McCloud and Tan have the same idea in mind though, because ultimately both play with the illusion of engaging the readers to feel represented and see themselves in the comic or graphic novel, just through different techniques.             

The importance of the lack of words, and the realism juxtaposed with the fantastical elements, is what the story lives off and what makes it compelling and new. There is a lot more you can say about The Arrival and the way meaning is constructed but for now, I think that the way the story is told is quite unique, especially in terms of the art style. This makes it possible for every kind of reader to connect with the story, especially people who have gone through similar experiences.


  • Arizpe, Evelyn, Teresa Colomer, and Carmen Martinez-Roldain. Visual Journey Through Wordless Narratives: An International Inquiry with Immigrant Children and The Arrival. Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.
  • Haber, Karen. Masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy Art: A Collection of the Most Inspiring         Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Gaming Illustrators in the world. Rockport Publishers, 2011.
  • McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: the Invisible Art. HarperPerennial, 1994.
  • Tan, Shaun. The Arrival. Hodder Children´s Books, 2007.                  

Trauma and Healing in Ghost Species

by Sevgi Osman

In James Bradley’s Ghost Species, Kate and Jay are recruited by billionaire Davis Hucken to recreate a different species of human being through engineering. After they find a surrogate, a neanderthal with human features named Eve is born, and Kate’s world changes. From an early age, Kate did not have a healthy and happy childhood. Her mother became an alcoholic when she was just thirteen. But thirteen was also the age when Kate began to take refuge in her own abilities, when she refused to meet up with friends because she had books, computers, and a lot to study for her tests. Growing up, she refused to register on any social media platforms, so her mother would not be able to find her anywhere. Kate left home and suddenly began to feel free again. When she met Jay at university, they instantly became friends and started dating soon after, but as they grew older, they wanted to try to have a baby. The aftermath of Kate’s pregnancy, the miscarriage, has shattered her in many ways. As a reader, we get the sense that Kate wanted to heal her inner child and trauma by being a great mother to her own child, something her mother was never able to do. So when Eve is born, Kate immediately asks Jay if she can take care of her. As soon as Jay explains to her that such a thing is not possible and that she has to be taken care of by specialists, Kate gets the feeling that Eve will always remain an experiment, which results in her running away with a very young Eve. It is clear that Kate does not want Eve to feel like an experiment or for Eve to have a bad childhood like she did. In those moments when Kate spends time with Eve, she begins to heal from her past. Eve and Kate complement one another: “(…) when Eve laughs Kate feels the dopamine rush of love.” (p.70). It seems as though Kate’s childhood affected how she treats her children when she’s a mother. Even if she’s not the biological mother of Eve, she sees her as her own daughter because she wants to help her be happy and feel appreciated.

Eve, from a young age, is taken care of by Kate. Although Kate takes good care of her and makes sure she stays hidden from the outside, Eve is very lonely and isolated. Her being hidden in Kate’s pram and having no social contact would worsen her behaviour towards other humans in the future. In the chapter “foundling,” Kate remembers her childhood when they spent a night at a motel, because it reminded her of when she used to stay there with her mother.

Eve has always been different from other human beings, but her childhood impacted her adult life as well. It is explained that “[h]er capacity to manage social relationships is similarly less developed” (p.122). As for her natural abilities, she is also a slow speaker since her expressive language is slower. When confronted by Cassie, Eve got angry really fast, but when Cassie did not give up talking to her and had patience, Eve eventually gave in (p.128). After her childhood, Eve thinks about her life again and even if she is used to the isolation she still ponders: “(…) what will happen when Eve is older. How will she find friends? Develop relationships?” (p.134), it is clear that Kate keeping her isolated for so long was not good for her. Throughout the book, it is explained that Eve might grow up physically, but not psychologically. She still remains playful and witty like a child and gets angry easily when she has to concentrate to behave rationally. For example, when Kate forgot to get her raspberry-flavoured jelly, Eve gets angry easily, showing that her mentality has not developed as fast as a normal human being would. Her angriness often leaves her with the thought that she is misunderstood, but Kate always forgives her and helps her out. As a teenager, she cannot help but feel ugly because she doesn’t look like the other kids: “Is she the creature she sees online? Ugly, hulking, misshapen?” (p.178). She can see how other teenagers live for example by going to parties, but she never attends one herself. When she sees Sami for the first time again, she is again confronted with the fact that she feels isolated and lonely. Only when she starts making new friends does Eve start to socialize more and feel like a normal human being. Her path of healing begins by socializing with new people. She feels especially close to Lukas, since he knows how her loneliness feels, which is probably also why she agrees to stay with him after her mother (Kate) dies.

Both Eve and Kate find a way to heal their respective trauma, but they will always carry a piece of their trauma with them and remember that part of their childhood. Kate succeeds at being a better mother than her own mother and Eve succeeds in finding people who accept her as she is and make her feel less lonely.

Comparing Davis & the Foundation with Dystopian Villains

by Eva Musat

How have controlling villains in dystopian literature changed over time and how have they stayed the same? This is the question that I immediately thought of when reading the first 100 pages of Ghost Species, specifically when reading about the character of Davis and his company.

When reading the book, many similarities to other works of literature come to mind, for example, Brave New World (1932), 1984 (1948),and Fahrenheit 451 (1953). In the novels mentioned above, the ruling power that poses a danger is the government, or some form of a political group. In these types of dystopias, governments were presented as controlling and totalitarian. The expression used is “ruling with an iron fist”.

Some notable similarities can be seen with the storyline regarding the surrogate, Marija, who carried Eve that is extremely similar to the novel The Handmaid´s Tale (1985). In The Handmaid´s Tale, fertile women are captured and used as surrogates to produce children and combat a falling birth rate, which could otherwise impact the economy and lead to a crisis. While an economic reason is not responsible in Ghost Species, it can be seen as similar, since Marija´s surrogacy is used to revive an extinct species, in the hope of saving the world from an impending climate crisis.

Another similarity to a dystopian novel is the fact that Davis´s company has the resources to find Kate and Eve so easily and rules over their area with authority. This can be seen as a parallel to totalitarian governments and can even be seen as a nod to the novel 1984. When Jay informs Kate that: “Davis found you within days. We’ve been monitoring you ever since.”, I think of the propaganda slogan “Big Brother is watching you”. This slogan is used to reinforce the idea of surveillance as power in a ruling totalitarian state, a power that Davis obviously has.

It is interesting to see that nowadays when writing dystopias, the “ruling power” is no longer a government or group, but it is usually a single individual who possesses extremely large financial means, i.e. a billionaire. This type of villain can be found in most James Bond movies, such as A View to a Kill (1985), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and more recently in Spectre (2015) and No Time to Die (2021). Further examples can be found in the movies Blade Runner (2017) and Ex Machina (2014). At this point in history, the dangerous and evil billionaire is just another trope.

In Ghost Species, we meet Davis Hucken, described as a “tech billionaire” with a massive facility built with “corporate money”. At first glance, Davis’s ideas of rebuilding an entire ecosystem seem very positive, just like the ideas of the villains mentioned above. It immediately becomes clear though, that because they are his ideas, he plans on being in charge.

The author, like many others, brings awareness to these kinds of powers, especially the ones fuelled by a large sum of money since they have become more prominent in our reality. Similarities between real-life “tech-billionaires” such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg and Davis Hucken’s character are made quite obvious by author James Bradley.

The “evil tech-billionaire” trope usually starts the same in every story. People believe that someone can save the world from ending, going into a climate crisis, or even solving world hunger. However, the story quickly develops and shows us that their plan is ruled by an ulterior motive such as world domination (in the examples above) or political gain, such as in the second season of The Politician (2019). Now even though Davis’s motives are not necessarily that extreme and villainous, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to ascribe similar motives.

Many people wonder why these types of tech-billionaire villains even want to “rule the world” and be in charge or have so much power over the people around them. This is partly answered by Davis when his motives are questioned: “Because we can”. This is what makes his character so haunting. He is so out of touch with reality that he believes he does not have to justify his actions. In the older literary novels, people simply followed the government because it gave them a sense of structure and security, nowadays people follow these tech-billionaires because they, in my opinion, believe that a greater good can be achieved with money.

As I see it, the main topic of the book is ethics. It is very closely connected to the main themes of the book, especially with Kate and Eve’s relationship, and the storyline of resurrecting Neanderthals. However, what I found most interesting was the fact that after a certain amount of money is involved ethics don’t matter anymore. This brings us back to the similarities of older villains in dystopias, who just like Davis and newer villains, disregard any moral or ethical implications of their plans. Lastly, I would like to mention that all the similarities I found between Ghost Species and the examples mentioned above bothered me a bit. If I recall correctly, it was not specified whether or not these examples exist in the world of the novel. So assuming that the stories of these works are known, after looking at all the examples above, one can begin to wonder why Kate, Jay, and even we in real life do not recognize these patterns and always fall for the same ploy. Where are the suspicion and doubt when looking at Davis´s plan? And why was Kate so upset after the birth of Eve, wasn’t the plan quite obviously implied? These are the questions that come to mind after comparing Ghost Species to all the other works of literature and films. Especially when realizing, that even though the villain is now an individual and not a group or government, the dystopian villains have quite a few things in common.