Lyon BD Festival: a refugee in France, the Burmese author Wooh recounts his fight against the dictatorship through drawing

Lyon BD Festival: a refugee in France, the Burmese author Wooh recounts his fight against the dictatorship through drawing

The drawing shows a man sleeping on a futon as dawn peeks through the apartment window. The clock says 5 a.m. In a few minutes, this February 1, 2021, a coup will wake up the Burmese. The character still immersed in sleep is Wooh. The designer, opponent of the military junta in power in Burma (also called Myanmar)recounts in a comic book not yet published his fight against the dictatorship.

His dozens of drawings posted on Facebook since the 2021 coup, which ended a fragile decade-long democratic parenthesis in this Southeast Asian country, have earned Wooh a list. black of opponents. More dangerous still, he has been working for a year with his wife Yu on The Green Dogsa graphic novel that tells the struggle of the people against the dictatorship. “I didn’t tell anyone that I’m writing this book, because it’s too dangerous in Burma”, says Wooh. He welcomes us with Yu to the premises of the Lyon BD Festival association, nestled on the banks of the Rhône at the foot of the Croix-Rousse hill. When working as a couple, Wooh and Yu split the work. He draws, she colors.

The cover of Wooh's novel graphy, which chronicles the civil struggle against the military junta in Burma since the February 2021 coup. (WOOH)

Wooh’s Burmese publisher couldn’t risk publishing the comic Tea Green Dogs in Burma. The military junta reportedly banned the book and threw its authors into prison. The activism of French diplomacy will change the fate of this book. In October 2021, the French Institute of Rangoun listed Wooh in its list of artists under duress. On the Signal encrypted messaging application, the French Institute offers Wooh to exfiltrate him from the country so that he can continue his work.

“The French Institute in Yangon contacted us to ask if we could do something for Wooh and Yu. We managed to find them accommodation paid for by a sponsor in Lyon from January 2022. The French Institute is busy with the papers and Wooh and Yu arrived in France last December”explains Nicolas Piccato, the director of the Lyon BD Festival.

The couple lands in December 2021 in France. The Lyon BD Festival (June 10-12, 2022) helps them find accommodation and introduces them to publishers. “Since the beginning, we have tried to highlight them. I asked Wooh for a book and presented his drawings to two publishers”, breathes Nicolas Piccato. Wooh and Yu can work on their work serenely The Green Dogs. The festival also commissioned a giant fresco from them around the statue of Louis XIV on Place Bellecour on the Lyon peninsula. Finally, Wooh’s drawings will be exhibited from June 1 to July 13 at the Lumière Lyon 2 University.

Wooh (left) and Yu (right), a Burmese cartoonist couple.  They took refuge in France to escape the military junta in power in Burma.  (FRANCEINFO / C.Belsoeur)

In the former canut workshop (the name given to silk weavers in Lyon in the 19th century) in which the Lyon BD Festival teams have set up their offices, Wooh is talkative. Yu, more discreet, listens to him speak and often nods his head to confirm his words.

Wooh looks back on his longstanding engagement against the military junta. “I have been involved in the movement against the military for a long time. In 1996, I was involved in the student movement against the dictatorship. I had been put in prison. A week later, I had been forced to sign a confession to be released”.

He takes up the fight again and then has to stay hidden in an attic for a month to escape the soldiers. “When I left the attic, I could no longer walk. For a month, I had remained immobile. When I wanted to go out, my legs were blocked”.

Wooh is currently working on a book called

Wooh sketches a portrait.  (FRANCEINFO / C.Belsoeur)

Since 1996, Wooh has regularly participated in civil protests against the military. He draws to convey his ideas. “Between 2003 and 2018, I participated in 300 series of comics as a cartoonist. Then in 2020, I published with Yu my first comic book named ‘Par-Joung’. It is about the student movement of 1988”. This book was listed in the best sales recorded in Myanmar.

The latest coup on February 1, 2021 sparked even deeper anger in Wooh. Ten years after the military partially gave way to a civilian power led by the National League for Democracy (LND) party of historic opponent Aung San Suu Kyi, the junta has not accepted the LND’s large victory in the November 2020 elections. On February 1, 2021, after three months of uncertainty, Aung San Suu Kyi is arrested by the army, which declares a state of emergency for one year. “In Burma, it’s not the first coup. But this time, there are a lot of young people taking part in the demonstrations. We had democracy for 10 years, so it’s not the same. People can’t take this anymore. I think we’re going to win in the end.” Wooh breath.

A Burmese protesting against the dictatorship and drawn by Wooh.  (wooh)

On a sheet of paper, Wooh sketches a sketch. Stern eyebrows and eyes appear. Perhaps the features of a Burmese general. In his drawings, the comic book author often represents protesters who raise three fingers in the air. It is the symbol of the fight against the dictatorship. He also immortalized the faces of civilians killed by the army, like this teenager. “She took a bullet in the head. He is the first victim of the repression which began in February 2021″.

Yu and Wooh have applied for political refugee status in France. After its collaboration with the Lyon comics festival, Wooh will begin a new six-month mission with the Angoulême festival. “We did not arrive in France with nothing. Everything was organized for us. We have accommodation, I have work. We are calm”.

The hardest thing for the couple is to witness from afar the atrocities of the army and the popular struggle against the dictatorial regime. “There are new videos every day on social networks. We see what is happening. But it’s hard to be far away. Our heart and our thoughts are there. We suffer from this, like all people uprooted for the same reason”.

The Lyon comic strip festival is held from June 10 to 12. The whole program is to be found on the event website. From June 1 to July 13, an exhibition is dedicated to Wooh’s work at the Lumière Lyon 2 University.

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