The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea (Hardcover)

A Graphic Memoir of Modern Slavery

By Vannak Anan Prum, Ben Pederick, Jocelyn Pederick (Text by)

Seven Stories Press, 9781609806026, 256pp.

Publication Date: June 26, 2018

List Price: 24.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Too poor to pay his pregnant wife's hospital bill, Vannak Anan Prum left his village in Cambodia to seek work in Thailand. Men who appeared to be employers on a fishing vessel promised to return him home after a few months at sea, but instead Vannak was hostaged on the vessel for four years of hard labor. Amid violence and cruelty, including frequent beheadings, Vannak survived in large part by honing his ability to tattoo his shipmates--a skill he possessed despite never having been trained in art or having had access to art supplies while growing up.  

As a means of escape, Vannak and a friend jumped into the water and, hugging empty fish-sauce containers because they could not swim, reached Malaysia in the dark of night. At the harbor, they were taken into a police station . . . then sold by their rescuers to work on a plantation. Vannak was kept as a laborer for over a year before an NGO could secure his return to Cambodia. After five years away, Vannak was finally reunited with his family. 

Vannak documented his ordeal in raw, colorful, detailed illustrations, first created because he believed that without them no one would believe his story. Indeed, very little is known about what happens to the men and boys who end up working on fishing boats in Asia, and these images are some of the first records. In regional Cambodia, many families still wait for men who have disappeared across the Thai border, and out to sea. The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a testament to the lives of these many fishermen who are trapped on boats in the Indian Ocean.

About the Author

VANNAK ANAN PRUM is a Cambodian survivor of human trafficking. While looking for work on the Thai–Cambodian border, he was detained as a slave on a fishing boat, enduring hard labor and hellish treatment for four grueling years. After making his escape by literally jumping ship, Vannak was sold by his ostensible rescuers on the Malaysian coast to a plantation owner and police official. After another year of hard labor and imprisonment, a human rights organization helped him finally return to his family. At home in Cambodia, he drew pictures of what he remembered to explain his whereabouts during the course of his years as a modern-day slave. Though never formally educated or trained in art, Vannak has loved drawing since childhood—from figures traced in the dirt, to tattoos etched into skin, to these pencil and ink illustrations detailing his personal odyssey. In 2012 Prum was given a State Department Human Rights Defender Award, presented to him directly by then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

To support Vannak and see more of his artwork, visit his online store,

JOCELYN PEDERICK and BEN PEDERICK are award-winning filmmakers and writers. Together they have directed and produced more than twenty films, and they are half of the four-member team that comprises the Australian film company goodmorningbeautiful. Ben is also an accomplished author and award-winning blogger.

Praise For The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea: A Graphic Memoir of Modern Slavery

"[A] grim, moving testimony." —Hillary Chute, New York Times Book Review

"Vannak Anan Prum provides a most vivid and compelling testimony, through luscious watercolors and the author’s honest oral account, transcribed and composed to meld with Prum’s artwork. ... This is a unique and remarkable book that readers will quickly find themselves immersed in. Human trafficking is not an obvious subject matter for the casual reader but Mr. Prum handles the subject with great dignity, never delivering a false note, and even maintaining a sense of hope throughout." —Comics Grinder

"A harrowing graphic memoir by a Cambodian survivor of human trafficking. As a boy, Prum loved drawing and showed obvious talent. 'One of my first memories is of drawing pictures of Bruce Lee in the dirt in front of our house,' he writes, a memory captured in finely etched detail toward the beginning of his powerful memoir. As a teenager, he had run away from his boyhood home, determined to escape the brutalities of his stepfather. Since there was no money in drawing, Prum became a soldier and then a monk. Discovering that life in the monastery didn't suit him, and realizing art alone could not support him, he found work harvesting crops. There he met his wife, and soon she became pregnant, forcing the author to find more reliable work to support his family. He learned about a better-paying opportunity within the Thai fishing industry, but by the time he boarded his ship, he realized that instead of finding the higher pay the middle man had promised, he had been sold into slavery. He wouldn't see his wife or even his native Cambodia again for five years: 'Three years and seven months on a boat, four months on the plantation, one month in the hospital, and eight months in Malaysian police stations and jails.' On the boat, he witnessed a decapitation and other slaves thrown overboard when they were too sick to work. His escape to Malaysia led him to corrupt police who resold him to work on the plantation, where the owner was protected by the legal system. He was incarcerated 'for illegal migration' before he agreed to lie to clear the plantation owner and returned home to a wife who didn't recognize or believe him-until he rendered this graphic account. 'And so I drew my way back into my family home,' he explains. Excellent drawing accompanies a remarkable story of persistence--and yet the artist still has trouble making a living in his native Cambodia, while human trafficking on land and sea continues to flourish." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Meet one of the 40 million people held in 21st-century slavery, worldwide. A Cambodian self-taught artist and laborer, Prum tried to enter Thailand to find work but was sold for slave labor into the Malaysian fishing industry. His chilling memoir shows step by step how easily free people can be exploited when the financial need is great—Prum’s wife was pregnant—and jobs are scarce. Injury, starvation, torture, and risk of murder became the lot of Prum and his fellow slaves. Only trading his art for cash and advantages kept him going, until after nearly five years, a Cambodian human rights organization helped him escape. Prum’s great skill with colorful pencils and inks makes his ordeal captivating in character detail, background, and folk art–style design. Each vivid, tapestry-like panel
fills a page, with small text blocks on the side, while accompanying essays provide additional context. This visually handsome work tells of great ugliness via a nail-biter tale of heroism. Explicit violence, nudity, and rape are depicted blatantly as normal and expected for enslaved people. VERDICT
An essential wake-up call for adults and high schoolers about the present-day misery lurking behind comfy, tech-enhanced modern life. Martha Cornog, Library Journal, starred review

"This firsthand account of modern slavery, told in powerful, detailed full-color drawings that feel as if they’ve been inscribed in blood, opens a window on a world rarely acknowledged. Cambodian artist Prum begins with his childhood and time studying in a monastery, then shares how he left his village and his pregnant wife in search of work, only to end up being captured and sold into slavery twice, first to a fishing boat, then a landowner. For five years, he was held captive along with others who had been deceived and trafficked from Cambodia and other countries. But his artistic talent, first noticed and encouraged by a Vietnamese soldier when Prum was a boy, proved to be an essential means of survival: Prum draws for food, for safety, and his own sanity. Drawings become his only way to explain his story to loved ones, upon his return home. This graphic memoir tells the urgent truth that slavery persists in contemporary times and asks readers to question their unknowing participation as consumers in the global trade systems that sustain it. Prum displays a great generosity of spirit in putting his pain to the page; as he says, he now 'has a wound that will never heal.' The seas teem with men like Prum; this book makes them visible, through his unique story." —Publishers Weekly

"His resonant panels become indelible testimony to prove his experiences, not just for his family but also for the rest of the world. In recognition of his work, he ultimately received a State Department Human Rights Defender Award. . . . This glimpse into the reality of modern-day slavery provides important lessons in empathetic humanity for mature teens." —Terry Hong, Booklist

"More than just a literary or artistic work, The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea documents an experience of modern slavery and offers a graphic, rare glimpse into that world, making Vannak Anan Prum's firsthand, true story a unique and highly recommended piece for a wide range of collections." —Donovan's Bookshelf

 "The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea
is a story that illustrates how art underwrites freedom. In telling how freedom and art operate together to work for mutual sustenance, Vannak tells a story that is larger than Thai fishing fleet slavery." --Souciant