Journalism will again become what it was more than a century ago – a form of art. –Chris Hedges
The teens did not bring Hedges’ words to fruition — mainstream journalism did not return to a golden age of revolutionary truth-telling, but quite the reverse, with our “post-truth” world, full of filter bubbles flowing with “fake news.” Yet, despite the grim state of contemporary journalism in general, Hedges prophecy has come true in the teens — for graphic journalism.
Hedges words also opened my 2011 Truthout report “Warning: This Article Contains Graphic Journalism“, a time when I found myself writing solely prose essays (the title is inspired by Rocco Versaci’s ground-breaking work of comics scholarship This Book Contains Graphic Language: Comics As Literature). Then, also, I was still making the case that comics are literature, an appropriate medium for study in college classroom. I interviewed the some of the key figures in the “new” wave of comics journalism: Sarah Glidden, who had just published the fantastic graphic memoir How to Understand Israel in 60 Days, Matt Bors (who had just published a remarkable comic on his travels in Afghanistan in a series “Afghan Life“, and hadn’t yet gone on to create The Nib), Ted Rall (who had already a long-track record of hard-hitting comics journalism), and Dan Archer who effectively defined the field in a comic and speech (click here). Indeed, graphic journalism was already heeding Hedges’ call — it was art, in every sense of the word.
And I wanted in.
A decade ago, I was a comics scholar, educator, and journalist — but what I really wanted to do was to make comics. And after meeting Dan Archer at San Francisco Zinefest, I got that first break, with our series for Truthout The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum (2012), a three part series exploring the privatization and standardization of education in the United States. I knew that as a pure-text essay, as I’d been writing for years, it would get a narrow audience of folks who already knew the issues and generally agreed. However, with this report, I hoped to broaden and diversify the audience involved in the education reform conversation.
At that time, few mainstream outlets seem to understand comics as a form of serious journalism — not only did I have to make the pitch for the story, but provide an explanation of comics as a legitimate medium (it was the same kind of argument I had made countless times in the academic setting). Truthout got it right out — thanks in large part to Anne Elizabeth Moore, co-editor of the first Best American Comics (with Harvey Pekar). Anne was also producing a fantastic series for Truthout “Ladydrawers,” and so Truthout understood comics as journalism. Thus, when we pitched the project, I didn’t have to explain why Dan and I were using comics — they were excited by the opportunity, and immediately grasped how such a project could drive active engagement over a wider and more diverse population.
Now, in 2020, you can find comics journalism in most major outlets — indeed, Wendy Macnaugthon found her “drawn journalism” (as she dubs it) on the cover of the New York Times recently. This rising tide of interest in non-fiction comics is also reflected by the popularity of graphic memoir — such as Raina Telgemeier’s immensely popular series, including most recently Guts. Further, and most personally as a cancer survivor, the emergence of Graphic Medicine has created space for patients like me to tell their stories in a vivid and humanizing form.
This comics movement of the teens — built by incredible, and often ill-compensated work by countless creators, editors and publishers, some of whom I’ve shouted out here — created the space that allowed me to not just write, but actually get a number of scripts produced and published in a wide variety of outlets, including The New Yorker, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, and The Nib (Matt Bors‘ outlet truly created a platform to usher in this new era of comics journalism). I feel immensely grateful to have been able to join the field during this exciting time, and be surrounded by such incredibly talented and hard-working artists, writers, and editors, who continue be driven to illustrate the truth in a dark time — and do so artfully.
As we move into the 20s, I’m optimistic about the state of non-fiction visual storytelling. I plan to continue my work with comics journalism. However, I’m focused on my memoir It’s All In Your Head, a book-length hybrid comics/prose story of my journey living with a brain tumor while balancing being a parent, partner, and professor.
Here are my ten of the teens (with links). For all my comics, click here
Notification: You’ve Got Cancer with Josh Neufeld, at The Boston Globe
Graphic Essay: Betsy DeVos’ ‘School Choice’ Movement Isn’t Social Justice. It’s a Return to Segregation. With Erik Thurman for Fusion (now Splinternews)
Philosophers at Theme Parks with Jason Novak in the New Yorker’s Daily Shouts
“No shame in staying alive: How medical marijuana helped save me from brain cancer,” with Marc Parteneau at Fusion (now Splinternews)
Children of the Code: Big Data, Little Kids with Dan Carino, at Truthout
The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum: The High Price of Education Reform (Episode 1) with Dan Archer, at Truthout
The Teacher Ghetto with Jason Novak, at The Atlantic
This School Is Not A Pipe with Josh Neufeld, at Truthout
The War on Everything with Jason Novak at The Los Angeles Times
Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer (with Dan Archer, and Medium’s The Nib)
Here are my current works of graphic journalism and memoir which have appeared in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, Pacific Standard, FUSION.NET, The Nib, Narrative.ly and Truthout. Thanks to all the wonderfully talented graphic journalists/artists I’ve worked with thus far: Josh Neufeld (cover image by Josh!), Jason Novak,Marc Parenteau, Dan Carino, Dan Archer and Arthur King. CLICK ON THE TITLE TO ACCESS THE COMIC!
No Shame in Staying Alive: How Medical Marijuana Helped Saved Me from Brain Cancer (with Marc Parenteau at Fusion)
A Scanner Constantly (with Josh Neufeld at Pacific Standard)
Notification: You’ve Got Cancer (with Josh Neufeld, at The Boston Globe)
Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer (with Dan Archer, and Medium’s The Nib)
Children of the Code: Big Data, Little Kids (with Dan Carino, at Truthout)
This School Is Not A Pipe (with Josh Neufeld, at Truthout)
The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum: The High Price of Education Reform (Episode 1) (with Dan Archer, at Truthout)
Murky Water: The Education Debate in New Orleans (with Dan Archer, at Truthout)
The Finnish Alternative: Reclaiming Public Education From Corporate Reform (with Dan Archer, at Truthout)
The Teacher Ghetto (with Jason Novak, at The Atlantic)
The Gates Education Reform Hype Machine and Bizzare Inequality Theory (with Dan Carino, at Truthout)
Automated Teaching Machine: A Graphic Introduction to the End of Human Teachers (with Arthur King, at Truthout)
From his offices at the Daily Planet, journalist Clark Kent stripped into spandex and saved the world outside his mahogany office doors. Now, it looks like the Daily Planet is in need of Superman’s help, as the Fourth Estate is under threat from dwindling sales and dwindling real news content.
“Journalism will survive, but it will reach a limited audience, as the sparsely attended productions of Aristophanes or Racine in small New York theaters are all that is left of great classical theater,” Former New York Times writer Chris Hedges worries, prognosticating a bleak future in which news is only for the elite, the rest of us left to fed on Kayne West and Kim Kardashian’s kerfuffles.
Could comics save the day? That’s right, comics – those immensely popular picture and word stories you always flipped past the real news to get to – can they bring real news back to the masses?
Graphic journalism – “real” journalism with pictures and words (and sometimes, interactive elements) – has pretty much nothing to do with Superman, except for the fact that he was a journalist in a comic. Graphic journalism are comics about reality, about our world – not fantasy, nor escapism. This medium is still in its infancy, but illustrates a clear path forward, one especially critical for students growing up in an media-satured world, in which it’s hard to tell Kayne from Kosovo, the kerfuffles from the real news.
My former collaborator on the graphic report “The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum” Dan Archer defines graphic journalism with elegance:
See him talk on BBC about his comic on human trafficking in Nepal which got ONE MILLION readers in a day: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22283856
See also Dan’s comic on comics journalism at Poytner.
Symbolia: A Tablet Magazine of Illustrated Journalism elaborates on Dan’s definition, using comics journalism itself:
Below is a brief overview to the emerging field of graphic journalism, including canonical works like Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Joe Sacco’s Palestine, new and emerging artist/journalists like Susie Cagle and Sarah Glidden, and publications like Cartoon Movement (which is free!). For more background, you can read my article for Truthout “Warning: This Article Contains Graphic Journalism,” which includes a history of this emerging medium, along with interviews with Pulitzer Prize cartoonist Ted Rall and graphic memorist/journalist Sarah Glidden (amongst others).
FINAL NOTE: This post is intended primarily for the participants in my presentation at The English Council of Two Year Colleges, but I hope will be useful for any educator interested in exploring graphic journalism and non-fiction comics in general as a powerful means to critically engage students in our media-saturated world. Links take you to more background/purchasing info.
Sacco, Joe. Palestine (1993)
Sacco with Chris Hedges. Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (2012)
Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. Pantheon. 2007
Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus 1996.
Delisle, Guy. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (2007)
Jacobson, Sid and Colon, Ernie. The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. 2006.
Nakazawa, Keiji. Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima (2004 – originally published in Japan 1973)
Glidden, Sarah. How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (2011)
Bors, Matt. Afghan Life (2010). Read for free at CARTOON MOVEMENT!
Archer, Dan. Check out his work on human trafficking in Nepal from Archcomix.
And “The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum: The High Price of Education,” with me (courtesy Truthout)
And of course, the comic which lent the title to this site: Automated Teaching Machine, with fellow community college professor Arthur King.
Cagle, Susie. Check out her excellent comics reporting at her blog.
Any comics journalists or graphic non-fiction you love? Please share with me in the comments.