Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning strip, Welcome to the New World is a graphic novel detailing refugee life under Trump

Nearly two years in the making, the extensive graphic novel retells the experiences of brothers Jamil and Ammar, and their two families.

10 September 2020
Reading Time
2 minute read

Welcome to the New World: Waking Up in Trump’s America is a recently published non-fiction graphic novel, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning “true comic” by the US commentator and journalist Jake Halpern and illustrated by Michael Sloan. Published last week on 3 September 2020 by Bloomsbury, the graphic novel documents the experiences of Jamil and Ammar, two brother who fled Syria in 2012 with their wives and children.

After waiting four years in Jordan, the two brothers and their families received a visa to travel to the United States as refugees. They arrived on 8 November 2016 and just as this new chapter of their life overturned, Donald Trump won the presidential campaign. As the press release puts it: “It’s as if they arrived in one country, and woke up in another.”

Commentator Jake Halpern and illustrator Michael Sloan retold Jamil and Ammar’s story each week in a New York Times cartoon strip, keeping track of the family’s lives in real time. The strip went onto win a Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Cartooning for its candid record of an American life full of contradictions: “foreign yet familiar, cruel yet generous, ignorant but kind.”

Michael tells It’s Nice That on the depiction of the two families: “My aim was to show the families with as much humanity and dignity as possible. I really wanted to show that they are just like everyone else, with the same concerns, hopes and dreams for their children and their future. Jake and I really wanted to make sure that we were doing justice to the families and their story.”


Michael Sloan and Jake Halpern: Welcome to the New World: Waking Up in Trump's America (Copyright © Bloomsbury, 2020)

When it came to illustrating the book, Michael approached his drawing style differently. The project “put me in touch with humanity on a much deeper level than a traditional illustration assignment,” says Michael, and as a result, he wanted the work to look different too. The graphic novel took nearly two years to finish, requiring “a much greater level of investment” from Michael both physically and emotionally. “I felt a close connection to the family even thought I didn’t meet with them very often,” he adds.

In terms of the creative process for creating the graphic novel however, the process was similar to any other editorial commission. Once he’d landed on sketches he was happy with, he would send the work to an editor to be approved before proceeding to finalise the artwork. All in all, the book provided Michael and Jake with the chance to expand on Jamil and Ammar’s story in as much detail as possible.

Compared to the New York Times comic strip, “We had so much more time and freedom to expand on the story with the book, especially the chapter that shows the family during the Civil War in Syria.” With the inclusion of new material such as this back story, Welcome to the New World: Waking Up in Trump’s America is an emotive depiction of modern America and the impact Trump’s policies have on refugees.

GalleryMichael Sloan and Jake Halpern: Welcome to the New World: Waking Up in Trump's America (Copyright © Bloomsbury, 2020)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.

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