You are on page 1of 23

1

COMICS JOURNALISM – SHORT HISTORY AND SOME EXAMPLES THROUGH MY OWN WORK Based on a lecture by Aleksandar Zograf We still don’t know for sure what Comics Journalism is – generally, it is a term used to define comics that are commenting on real world issues, instead of dealing with fantasy. In more recent times, there are also some other terms being used, such as non-fiction comics, political comics, reality comics, etc. I don’t care much about definitions, so let’s talk about some examples from the history of comics. First, we should say that real world issues, and non-fiction storytelling in general, were used as a topic for American newspaper comics and illustration very early on, in the beginning of the 20th Century, while in Europe there were only traces of it, mostly connected with political and satirical magazines. Just a sole example (as we would not have time to explore this topic much further) is a strip titled Telling Tommy, created by Paul Pim, and syndicated through American newspapers in the 1920s. It is basically an educational comic, and in each installment, we see a boy asking his father about some of the issues he is curious about (in this case, it’s production and distribution of fur!), next there’s a panel (drawn more elaborately) where the topic is explained, and then there’s a “punch line”
2

panel at the end, maybe to avoid sounding too dry. A much more refined rendering of real life issues came with Harvey Kurtzman, in the early 50s, shortly before he would found Mad (comics) magazine. Kurtzman, when asked by his publisher, E.C. (then known for its horror comics!) to start a line of war comics, came up with two series of comic books, titled Two Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, lasting from 1950 to 1955. In these series, Kurtzman would write well researched scripts about war events – he would spend a lot of time in the New York Library, searching through the documents and archives. His stories were then illustrated by some of the great cartoonists he was collaborating with – Will Elder, John Severin, Jack Davis, etc. At first, most of the stories were based on records from WW2. But, with the approach of the Korean war, an interesting development took place - Kurtzman’s comics have started following the actual events, without falling for heroic and patriotic pathos (which was really great!). Everyone would tell you that “comics journalism” was marked heavily by Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the first graphic novel to receive the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Maus speaks about Spiegelman’s parents surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp, and it was a milestone also because it enabled the wider audience to comprehend that comics are able to speak about such deep topics as the holocaust. Still, it is almost forgotten that there was an artist,
3

Horst Rosenthal, who was actually executed in the concentration camp in Auschwitz, and who created several comics while in the internment camp in Gurs, France. Gurs was built by NAZI collaborators in France. In Gurs, unlike in camps constructed by NAZI Germany, it was possible to create art, and Rosenthal created several handmade booklets which by today’s language, we would call mini comics. In one of the books, entitled “Mickey Mouse in the Gurs Internment Camp – Published without Walt Disney Permission”, Horst Rosenthal is presenting, yes, the most famous Disney character, as being arrested and sent to Gurs! In this story, Mickey was stopped on the street by a collaborationist policeman, who asked : “Your name?” “Mickey”. “Father’s name?” “Walt Disney”. “Mother’s name?” “I don’t have a

4

mother!” “No kidding! Never mind. You’re a Jew?” “Pardon me?” “I’m asking if you’re a Jew!” Shamefully, I confessed my complete ignorance on that subject”. After this, we see Mickey being transferred to the camp in Gurs… It is actually a shame that this little booklet didn’t attract more attention, even if it’s not really an example of comics journalism, but above all a brutal example of how an art form such as comics and reality of the holocaust could be matched together. Another artist who would often be mentioned in the comics journalism context is Joe Sacco, who made graphic novels and shorter stories speaking about the crisis areas of the world. Then, very influential was the work by Iranian artist, now living in Europe - Marjane Satrapi. Her comic books, named Persepolis, are speaking about her growing up in Iran. They brought to the Western readers a much needed glimpse into the everyday reality of that region. Persepolis was made into animated feature in 2007, which was seen by one million people in France alone. I also wanted to point to a more recent example of a well-researched biography in comics, dedicated to the American folk music heroes the Carter Family. “Don’t Forget That Song” was drawn by David Lasky (with script writer Frank M. Young). Lasky was an Artist in Residence of Elektrika, where we are just now, and he won the Eisner Award just some weeks after his return to
5

Seattle, for the book he was working on for the past 10 years. It’s a story of a music combo who were selling millions of records in the 1920s and 1930s, but who were also simple people, deciding in the 1940s to leave the music business and go back to living in their rural homes in Virginia. To make this book, the authors had to do a lot of research, and to find and talk with the remaining relatives of the family, with music experts, etc. As far as my own experience in comics journalism goes, I always felt like not completely fitting to it, also because I tried to present my musings, dreams, even hallucinations, as being equally important as “facts”. Anyway, I somehow jumped into this field in the early 90s, at the time when I was actually more interested in transferring my dream experiences into comics. When the war that would lead to the decomposition of Yugoslavia has started, I suddenly realized that it’s actually more phantasmagorical to make comics which depict the REALITY of life in the Balkans. That’s how my books such as Life Under Sanctions (originally published by Fantagraphics Books in 1994) came about. Then, in 1999, during the NATO campaign against Serbia, my hometown Pančevo and its industrial zone (where my apartment building is placed) became one of the most frequent targets of the NATO bombings. So, I became a “reporter”, who just had to stand in front of his window pane, to observe the “situation” - as described in my comics
6

remained anonymous (except for his first name, Radoslav), and it was made into an exhibition by Belgrade’s National Library. The exhibition toured the world, and reached even Washington’s Library of Congress! So I guess, possibilities are boundless.

series “Regards from Serbia”, published in several magazines in US and in Europe DURING the very bombing campaign, and later collected in books that came out in several countries. Since 2003, when I started to work on 2 page color weekly comics for Belgrade’s Vreme magazine, I tried a whole variety of stories that had to do with various journalistic forms – reports, travelogues, interviews, etc. So, for example, I conducted a talk with Kim Deitch, whom I met in his flat in New York City, and transformed our conversation into a comic. It turned out to be handy since, in a comic, I was able to present even Kim’s character, Waldo the Cat, entering the story – comics allow you to merge the “objective” and “subjective” realities, and still keep the form of the interview… I also did comics travelogues, based on my travels around the world and in Serbia. I even illustrated a diary from NAZI occupied Belgrade, found in a flea market, written by a person who
7 8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

SOME BASIC ELEMENTS OF SCRIPTWRITING THAT MIGHT MATTER BUT MAYBE NOT Vladimir Palibrk When it comes to graphic journalism, the elements of classical drama are maybe not 100% relevant, but it is always good to have them in mind while you work on your script. Whether you want to integrate results of your investigation in a more drama-like narrative, or just want to make your content more interesting by upgrading it with few tricks here and there, it is always good to have in mind the terms that are discussed in this text. Besides that, newspapers, television and radio are also transmitting to us the non-fictional information through some kind of drama-like forms. We as human beings also tend to perceive daily life and transmit it to each other through dramatic narratives. Our attention is perfectly trained to search for and react to drama, even if we are not conscious of it. A narrative that does not contain drama is usually considered as not-that-interesting-to-tell. In the following text, we will mostly rely on the knowledge found in the text Poetics, written by ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle – yes, although old, this text is still quite relevant. To start from somewhere, we can say that one of the basic elements of drama is the CHARACTERS. Usually, we get to know them in the EXPOSITION, the part of the narrative that normally
17

comes at the beginning of the story, although it is not a must – in case of various inversions, it might also come in the middle, or at the end of the story. During the exposition we recognize the psychological characteristics of a protagonist, his physical appearance, and we can maybe discover what kind of choices he makes – what does he like, do, love, or hate, and we also get to know more about the basic context that surrounds him. There is a nice list of elements that characterization depends on. The character’s COSTUME or the specific SCENERY wherein he appears can also provide us with valuable information about him. For example – a man in uniform standing on the beach is definitely not the same starting point for a movie, as a man in uniform sitting in an office. And vice versa – lady wearing a bikini on the beach might imply something completely opposite from a lady wearing a bikini in an office. In theater or movies, a character is also recognized by the way it TALKS or MOVES. It is sometimes good to have all these things on our mind when we need to sketch psychological and physical characteristics of a protagonist and make sure all this is also clearly transmitted to the reader. A complete and clear character usually has all these elements organized in a complementary way, so that they extend each other – a person of certain preferences would talk in a certain way, dress in a certain manner and live in a certain kind
18

Semantic importance and interactions between costume and scenery: naked man on the beach...

...is definetly not the same as a man on the beach wearing a medieval armor.

of environment… Characters are distinguished from each other by the choices they make in front of us as the story goes on. It is sometimes even more effective to group the characters by similarity, or by contrast – for example, an innocent and honest character may look even more idealistic if confronted with an evil and morally corrupted character, in some situation or dialogue. Example – innocent Cinderella surrounded by evil step-mother and step-sisters. According to Aristotle, each drama shall have a beginning (exposition), a middle part (in which events take a bit more intensive rhythm and important twist occurs) and an ending (conclusion, epilogue). We can add that it is not necessary that they appear in the order stated above, while some
19

avant-garde traditions even skip some of these parts, and still manage to tell good stories. It is always good to incorporate some kind of TWIST in your story. Or even more than one twist – more twists, more drama and suspense. Twists are turning points at which the main protagonist enters an unexpected change of circumstances. Although unexpected, this change should be logical. How many times have we seen this in thriller movies: The main hero gets knocked down, the villain is approaching with a big knife ready to finish him, but in the final moments our hero pulls out a gun, so we think “Huh ok, he is saved” as he aims at the villain, but alas, the gun is clicking empty...we close our eyes in fear and hear the shot – we open the eyes –
20

and we see that the villain is dead, shot from a fair distance by main hero’s friend..- this is an example of minor twists, while the story can also have at least one MAJOR TWIST that is influencing the main character’s destiny or a life path. Another important aspect through which drama interferes successfully with our lives is the fact that main protagonists are usually pictured in a way so that the reader can easily identify himself withthe character. This identification happens bothconsciously or unconsciously, but it always leads to certain amount of compassion with the protagonist’s troubles or successes, which further leads to feeling of happiness or sadness over his destiny. We can agree that in some cases journalism also tries to tell stories about simple everyday people facing unexpected or weird situations, which implies that in some sense, it could happen to anybody. PROPORTIONS – maybe another important element that can create or destroy the rhythm of your story. For example, an exposition that’s too long may exhaust the reader’s attention and spoil the motivation to read the rest of the story, while a twist that is coming too soon may not be perceived as an important turning point, because the reader is conditioned to expect the major twist a bit later in the story. So, keep in mind that you can always play with the parts and phases of the story, intentionally keeping their length and order under control, depending on which
21

effect you want to achieve. Having in mind that you are writing for comics, a certain amount of economy might also be quite useful – try not to repeat things by drawing what you already have written and vice versa. Now, dear reader, you can forget the whole text you just read, and create your own approaches and solutions – it is always important to feel free and to experiment, which might actually lead you to the best achievements ever. Good luck with your stories!

Characters grouped by contrast: Cinderella surrounded by her evil sisters.
22

23

29

30

BASIC INFO ON HOW TO WRITE A CLASSICAL NEWS REPORT Concept by Hanja Mićović One of the most common ways of news reporting is “The inverted pyramid” method - “Serving” the most important facts at the beginning. 1. Answering the 5W + 1H questions ( Who? Why? When? What? Where? How?) is The Lead of the story. George Orwell’s rule:“If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” 2. When reader gets the most important facts, he may stop reading, so under the lead are less important facts of the news report. 3. Background - clarifies the story (statement of a witness, an expert, an analyst). 4. When you first refer to someone who’s quoted in a story, use their full name and job title if applicable. On the second and all subsequent references, use just their last name. 5. Only use the important and meaningful quotes instead of using your own words. Don’t quote someone just because he/she is important. 6. Don’t start the lead with a question. Don’t put any comments or show personal attitude. There is no “I” in news report. 7. Sentences should be short, clear and precise. 8. After finishing the text, read it once again and if
35

there’s something to be cut out - cut it out. 9. Don’t use too many adjectives - use verbs instead. 10. Avoid formal/bureaucratic language. INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM vs. GONZO JOURNALISM Lecture concept by Hanja Mićović Investigative journalism: 1. Exploring something that tends to stay hidden but, not everything that tends to stay hidden can be a topic for investigative journalism. 2. Investigation of a certain pattern, not an isolated case. 3. It is important to study the terminology, and to consult with the experts in that area. 4. Make the main thesis of investigation. 5. Find as many trustful sources as you can, that will confirm your thesis. Protect confidential sources. 6. Revise the main thesis again. 7. Keep it secret. 8. Interview subjects involved in the story, when you gathered all the information. 9. Always consult a lawyer if you have any worries about the legality of what you are doing or writing. 10. Publishing the story.
36

Investigative journalists need all the skills of general reporting, but especially: 1. An alert mind to recognize story ideas and important facts which people are trying to hide. 2. An ordered mind to make notes, file information and fit lots of facts together. 3. Patience to keep digging for information. 4. Good contacts throughout society. 5. Courage to withstand threats from people you are investigating. Become familiar with all the different places you can get information, such as company registers and court records. As well as accumulating information, you must also gather supporting evidence, in case your story is challenged. Double-check everything you do, from the information you gather to the way you write your final story.

Hunter S. Thompson was an American journalist and author. Thompson became internationally known with the publication of “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs”, for which he had spent a year living and riding with the Angels, experiencing their lives and hearing their stories first hand. Previously a relatively conventional journalist, with the publication in 1970 of “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” he became a counter cultural figure, with his own brand of New Journalism he termed “Gonzo”, an experimental style of journalism where reporters involve themselves in the action to such a degree that they become central figures of their stories.
38

37

Gonzo is: -“a type of committed, subjective journalism characterized by factual distortion and exaggerated rhetorical style.” – Oxford dictionary -Gonzo journalist chooses subjects that are either ignored or misrepresented by the mainstream press (e.g.“Hell’s angels”) -Exposing of the author’s ME and subjective dimension of the described events. -Far from the journalist conventions, formats and rules. Presenting “what’s behind the curtains, background, giving important, less important and interesting details”. Looking beyond the “PR simulacrum” -“You become the story. That’s what Hunter always liked the idea of best. Don’t stand back and do it like an official bank clerk filling in a form. You’re actually creating the story as you go. There is no story, until you start one. That’s how we did it. That’s why it always was fun” – Ralph Steadman -“Gonzo journalism is a camera-eye technique of reporting in which the writer’s notes are published without supposedly editing. Objectivity, however, is not the ideal; the writer is expected to select details and interpret events…” Documenting his own personal reactions to the subject, Thompson discovered not just a literary style but a voice that rejected all the rules and conventions of traditional journalism. -“The fusion of reality and stark fantasy in a way that
39

amuses the author and outrages his audience” – Gonzo style, definition by John Filtireau

40

NOTES ON GRAPHIC JOURNALISM is a collection of materials, concepts, notes and sketches created during the workshop on graphic journalism that took place in ELEKTRIKA gallery, Pančevo, Serbia, between 21st and 27th of October, 2013. Workshop was aiming to provide most basic information on the history and possible techniques of graphic journalism, as the fundamentum for further education and exploration. Participants were: Aleksandar Zograf, Boris Stanić, Jenny Taravosh, Ester Vanhoutte, Vuk Palibrk, Vladimir Palibrk, Dejan Čančarević, Hanja Mićović, Jeff Ross. Proofreading: Ester Vanhoutte, Pat Moriarity Translation of “Diary of the year 1941”: Katie Woznicki Illustrations and comics /in order of appearance/: Horst Rosenthal /pg3/, Aleksandar Zograf /pgs 6-7/, Ester Vanhoutte /pgs 8-15, 18, 19, 21/, Vuk Palibrk /pgs 22 – 33/, Boris Stanić /pgs 37-39/ Cover: Boris Stanić Photos: Vladimir Palibrk Published by: Association for improvement of culture Elektrika, October 2013. Printed by Standard 2, Belgrade Printrun: 800

Project was funded by Municipality of Pančevo and Goethe Instiute Alexandria under the frame of Cultural Innovators Network Project, as a special contribution to the online comics magazine RISHA PROJECT: www.rishaproject.org
41

42

Related Interests