This summer (depending on a successful Kickstarter campaign), three students of the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London are launching Modern Times, a magazine full of graphic journalism. Each issue will take on a different social theme; the first one will focus on housing. We talk to Katherine Hearst, one of the students behind this initiative.
Tell us more about your initiative. How did it come about?
'We were inspired by US radio show This American Life. Each week, they feature a range of stories related to a particular theme. We wanted to do something similar, only not on the radio, but in a newspaper.'
Why choose graphic journalism?
'Objective journalism is hard to come by, especially in mainstream newspapers. So its not only about showcasing graphic journalism, it's also about providing a platform for stories that you would not find in the mainstream media. We think graphic journalism is a great medium for story-telling. We're not just talking about comics, but photography and video as well.'
'We want to provide a platform where emerging artists can exhibit their work alongside established artists. We want a real mix of types of work and different narratives, and that comes from a real mix of people. Also, including some known artists obviously boosts our profile.'
Assuming you reach your Kickstarter goal and your first issue is a success, what's your vision for the future of the magazine. Do you plan to fund every issue with a crowdfunding campaign?
'We'll have to see. I envision it to be both a printed and online publication. There’s lots of beautifully designed printed publications out there, but they're expensive to produce and not as far-reaching as a site. The main reason we want an online alternative, however, is that for the next issue, we want to feature film and sound documentaries as well as photography, writing and illustration.'
When do you plan to come out with the first issue?
'Once we get our funding, copies will be available at a number of comics and art fairs. We are also hoping to get them stocked in the best comic shops, art bookshops and even galleries around London.’
This week we published the first chapter of A Century of Silent Helpers, a 50-page comic about the history of development aid. The comic chronicles the history of Dutch aid organization Cordaid, within the broader context of the rise of international development aid in the 20th century.
Part 1 is set in 1914, as Dutch families take in Belgian children who have lost their parents because of the outbreak of the First World War. Other chapters will focus on missionary workers, the rise of government funded programs, and the future of development aid as public support for using tax money to fund NGOs sharply declines.
Within the context of these broad developments, the comic tells the stories of individuals wherever possible. Our perspective on aid may change, but helping is in our nature.
Next month we publish part 2, telling the story of Jos van Mackelenbergh, a deeply religious man, but also a silent helper that played a crucial role in the lives of two Jewish children during the Second World War. Here is a preview:
By Tjeerd Royaards
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Fumetto International Comix Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland. Fumetto has been around for 23 years, and has established itself as one of the leading comics events in Europe. It was the first time I was there, and I must say that I was impressed. In all honesty, it is the best and most professional event focused on comics I have visited so far (and I have been to quite a few in the past several years).
Photos by Tjeerd Royaards (top) and monicatarocco.com (bottom)
What I was most impressed by was the way comics were presented as a serious form of art. Comic events in the Netherlands tend to focus on collectors markets; stalls with lots of boxes filled with old (mostly children's) comics. There is some attention for adult graphic novels, but barely any for non-fiction comics or comics journalism. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these types of events, but they do perpetuate the image of comics as something for children and geeks, not to be taken seriously if you're a normal adult member of society.
The great thing about Fumetto is that it focuses on exhibitions. Throughout Lucerne various comics artists from multiple countries display their work. One of the highlights for me was the work of Danish artist Kellie Strøm, who has the best skill with a fineliner I have ever seen:
Another exhibition that stood out was Motion Comics, which showcased a number of comics that use the possibilities of the digital realm to create a different user experience. Our Dutch colleagues from Submarine showcased 'The Art of Pho', a motion comic based on a graphic novel by Julian Hanshaw. Other interactive comics on display here were CIA: Operation Ajax and NAWLS. All great examples of what's possible, and a definite inspiration for our future comics journalism productions.
I was invited to be in a panel about comics reporting, and the question whether or not this form of reporting is actually journalism. Other panel members included comics artist Olivier Kugler, who works for the Guarian and Medecins Sans Frontières (among others), the editor-in-chief of Swiss magazine Reportagen, and a documentary photographer. Probably not surprisingly, In my opinion cartoons and comics journalism are both form of art and journalism. The panel was quite unanimous, and the audience agreed as well, in that comics can indeed be journalism. The core of good journalism is telling a compelling story, and you can tell that story with words, video, photos or indeed drawings.
Left to right: artist Olivier Kugler, Editor-in-Chief of Reportagen, Daniel Puntas, hotographer Meinrad Schade and CM editor Tjeerd Royaards.
Foto: Lars von Törne/Tagesspiegel
Chances are I will become a regular visitor of Fumetto. We need to have more of these kinds of events to show a broader audience the potential of cartoons and comics. For a more comprehensive photo impression of the festival, check out Fumetto's Facebook page.
Fumetto Comix Festival is an annual international event focusing on comics and art, taking place in Lucerne, Switzerland. For those attending this year, be sure to check out the panel on comics journalism on Sunday April 13:
From Joe Sacco to Patrick Chappatte or Olivier Kugler, comic reportage has become an increasingly esteemed genre in the last decade for both artists and readers. Comic-reporters have used drawing to relay war experiences, societal injustice or autobiography. There are no formal boundaries for artists in this genre, and yet still it comes into question: when is and how far can Comic-Reportage really be considered journalism? Is it only dependent on how one defines journalism itself? And at what point does Comic-Reportage become literature or art?
Panel speakers will be Olivier Kugler (artist), Daniel Puntas (Editor-in-Chief - Reportagen), Tjeerd Royaards (Editor-in-Chief - Cartoon Movement), Meinrad Schade (Documentary photographer), Aino Sutinen (comic artist)
For more information, go here: http://www.fumetto.ch/de/festivalprogramm/agenda/event/100-comic-reportage-und-journalismus.html
We've started a new project for Cordaid, one of the largest development organizations in the Netherlands. Cordaid has a network of 634 partner organizations in more than thirty countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
On February 6, Cordaid launched a new platform to celebrate their 100th birthday by sharing the stories of silent helpers. Silent helpers are people who move mountains, just because they are needed. They do this without asking for reward or recognition. They get their satisfaction from the fact that they make a difference. Cartoon Movement is contributing to this new platform with cartoons; not only cartoons that are meant as a tribute to silent helpers, but also with cartoons that ask questions about the nature of helping, and on how society deals with groups of people that might need our help, such as the disabled and immigrants. You can check out all the newsroom (and all the cartoons that have come in) here:
In addition to the cartoons, we've also been asked to do a comic about the history of helping. Cordaid's history starts in the First World War. The brutalities of war left many Belgian children orphaned, and these children found refuge in the Netherlands.
In close to 50 pages, the comic tells the story of silent helpers in different periods in history. Their stories show that helping is something not bound to time and place, but bound to our humanity. The comic shows the past, present and future of helping. In each period, we see that helping is about making connections. These connections give meaning to our own life, and that of others. The comic is written by CM editor Tjeerd Royaards, and is drawn by Tom Humberstone; it will be published online chapter by chapter in the coming months.
Today we run 'Meet the Somalis - The illustrated stories of Somalis in seven cities in Europe' on Cartoon Movement. The comic was made for the Open Society Foundations by writer Benjamin Dix and artist Lindsay Pollock. We talk to them about this impressive project.
Why did you choose the Somalis in Europe as a topic for this comic?
Open Society Foundations’ At Home in Europe project were developing a series of research reports on Somalis in Europe and wanted to find new ways to introduce the findings to a broader audience. At Home in Europe commissioned us to undertake this work with the Somali community. Our comic is an adjunct to their fascinating reports, intended to introduce the topics accessibly through individual stories.
A beautiful aspect of the project is that the Somali migrant story has parallels with the stories and experiences of any migrant community. Issues of identity relating to first and following generations; the positives and negatives of cultural change and interaction; the practicalities of language and cultural barriers. Migrant communities can share all these experiences in common.
At present the Somali community is particularly scrutinised and frequently demonised. This, sadly, is also a common experience for migrant communities - perhaps Muslims in particular at the moment.
Because Somalis are presently suffering mistrust particularly acutely, they are an ideal community to collaborate with in a project that de-mystifies 'the alien within' by candid and relatable story telling. If people can be helped to scrutinise their assumptions about Somalis, by extension they may think more deeply about Pakistanis, Poles - or any of the nationalities who have joined us, and who lend their colours to the tapestry of our European identity.
Is this a story that is best told in comic form? And why?
We love comics. They are a highly accessible and immediate medium. They welcome all readers - and even non-readers!
But this outward simplicity - skillfully executed - can bely a great complexity of expression. To read a comic is to be transported swiftly to any conceivable place or time, and directly into the mind of any sort of character.
Comics can function with remarkable flexibility. They might be diagrammatic, conveying complex information more clearly than text. They can harness the power of illustration, and all the wonderment or empathy that skilled drawing can convey. Naturally they are literary, exhibiting the qualities of allusion, symbolism and metaphor found in writing. And from film and theatre they borrow the techniques of mise en scene, conveying meaning and emotion through arrangement and design.
Once on the page however, all these qualities greet the reader in the simplest way. Before your mind even begins to read the first speech bubble, a character and a place has imprinted on your mind through the pictures. Comics are a form that explodes with creative and expressive potential, and in the present day, we're only beginning to explore the possibilities for journalism, memoir, and subjects that hew to the real world and lived experiences.
What were the challenges of the project? Was it difficult to get people to tell their stories?
We were blessed in our work by the collaboration of very knowledgeable fixers, in the person of Open Society Foundations’ researchers, in the various cities covered by "Meet The Somalis". From those contacts our luck redoubled, as we met countless Somalis from all walks of life who kindly sat with us and spoke candidly about their experiences. Those interviews were intimate, moving, often funny or sad. All the respondents should be commended for taking a chance on two strangers, trusting us with their stories, philosophies and thoughts.
As with many migrant communities, in media and political dialogue, Somalis are more often spoken about than with. Many of our respondents were glad of the chance to address the wider community, to redress some common misconceptions, and in optimism of initiating positive dialogue in the future.
It was important to us to represent the diversity of Somali identity. The anonymity afforded by comics meant that people could be open. They would not have to suffer the awkwardness of family, friends, or the community knowing, for example, their personal relationship to traditional Somali values. Additionally, interviewees could be explicit about issues like poverty, or about disagreements.
This allowed us to show some of the contrasts and contradictions found within the Somali community - as within any community.
Our biggest problem was managing the wealth of material we gathered in the field research. Stories had to be edited down to the bone, to achieve thematic focus and clarity about often quite complex situations.
The characterization of our protagonists was a pleasure. We could draw from the vivid and varied personalities of the Somalis we had encountered. Coming from a totally different background however, we were concerned about making errors in our representation of the Somalis - whether in some aspect of cultural practice, or the simple nuance of how we rendered behaviour or voice.
However, we were greatly assisted by a few Somalis who checked over our work and gave invaluable suggestions and corrections.
How did your collaboration come about? Did you have this idea in mind and were you looking for a particular style of drawing, our did you and Lindsay come up with this concept together?
We have been working together for two years, principally on a graphic novel (currently in progress) about the 2009 civil war in Sri Lanka. This work is also fictionalised from first-hand testimony - this time from Tamil survivors of the brutal conflict. A preview of that project can be viewed at www.thevanni.co.uk. When Open Society Foundations saw this work they suggested a collaboration about Somalis, following the same testimony-led model of writing.
Lindsay draws great inspiration from Raymond Briggs for his illustrations.
“When The Wind Blows” is a comic of devastating power, telling the story of an elderly, ordinary English couple, cut off alone in their suburban home, in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. It's a forbidding subject, but the gentle humanity of Brigg's loving drawing draws you in. When the most upsetting scenes of the story arrive, the simple warmth of Brigg's style almost puts an arm around the reader to carry them through.
Following Briggs, Lindsay tried his best to depict the world - houses, streets, parks, mosques, villages - in a way that was truthful but softened. This was not vivid, clear-eyed photojournalism. We were writing from conversations - full of digression, memory and warmth. Lindsay's intention was that a gentle, story-book style would capture something of the warm human voices we had listened to at kitchen tables, on the streets and in cafes.
The artist is always somehow present when you view an illustration. The reader looks down at the page from the same perspective as the one who drew it; essentially on the very page the reader holds. Your eyes are where theirs were at the moment of drawing. This effect links the moments of drawing and reading. The illustrator is invisibly present with the reader, looking down at the same page.
This is different from text in a book, which is type-set and edited. A novel might be scrawled in red biro, but it will arrive at the reader's eye in a smart type-script. In this way, comics are more intimate. And when an artist draws as humanely as Briggs, his invisible, unconscious 'presence' with the reader, and the page, is warm, and sympathetic. That's the quality that Briggs brings to his work.
Do you have any plans for future comic projects?
As outlined above, we are continuing to work on a large project on the Sri Lankan conflict – www.thevanni.co.uk - and are also currently in the initial stages of a serialised project on the Syrian refugee crises.
All images from 'Meet the Somalis' - © Benjamin Dix & Lindsay Pollock
On Friday December 6, the platform femalesuperheroes.nl launched. Female Superheroes tells the inspiring stories of ordinary women. These women become heroes, because they choose to take risks to make life (for themselves and for others) better in the face of oppression.
Cartoon Movement and New Statesman comic artist Tom Humberstone supplied all the artwork for the platform, which has a focus on education. In an interactive environment, high school students are encouraged to put themselves in the shoes of these women, and face the same choices these women have faced. Would they make the same choices?
We're very proud of this project, because it showcases how comics journalism can be combined with a game-like interface, 360 photography and video to create an immersive experience. One of the stories is available in English, the other two only in Dutch at the moment. Click on the image blow to check out the story of Hawa in Sudan:
Interview with Augusto Paim, the journalist behind 'So Close, Far Away!'
Today we are very proud to present a new comics report on Cartoon Movement. 'So Close, Faraway!' is a piece of in-depth, interactive comics journalism from Brazil that will take you on a journey with Jorge, a 43-year old homeless person, roaming the streets of Porto Alegre. To learn something more about the background and motivation of this story, we talk to the author, Augusto Paim.
Why did you choose the homeless of Brazil as a topic for this comic?
'When I work on a comics journalism piece, I need to focus my attention on the storytelling, sometimes much more than on the research itself. That's why I prefer to deal with topics I have already worked with. In this case, I have a rich background from former written reports I did over the last years, and this is very helpful.
Topics like slums and homelessness touch me, because they make us perceive the reality and the society from a new point of view. When I talk about homelessness with people in Brazil, I hear a lot of complaints that are full of prejudice and ignorance. People like to be sensitive, but only with family or friends. People fear the unknown and protect their sensibility against it. But the unknown can turn into the known very easily, and journalists can be of some help in this process. This is a process healthy for an individual, but also for the society at large, because some big social problems - like violence - are based on mutual ignorance and lack of communication. This is the case with the issue of homelessness. The homeless stay on the same sidewalks where other people walk fast in their daily routines. But they are unseen. Why? Because they are the unknown. So, with this comic report I intended to help to improve this situation. I know this is a form of idealism, but he journalists that I admire are idealists, too.'
Your last production for Cartoon Movement focused on the favelas; is the plight of people living in poverty a recurring theme in your work as a journalist?
'Journalism has a social rule. This is not new - actually this must be a value of the profession, but journalists eventually forget it in the hard routine of daily newspapers. I don't work in a newsroom, so I could choose not to forget it. When I work on a personal project in the field of journalism, I try to deal with topics of social and cultural importance. This is the case of poverty in Brazil. The Brazilian population must get better information about economical and social injustice. It's the job of journalists to help to inform the citizens about the inequality in Brazil, this inequality that for many people seems so natural and unalterable, and that make the real victims seem to be the villains. Some members of social classes don't want to cross the line: why would someone from the middle class try to understand how a homeless person feels? Why would a rich person go into the slums? The journalist is that one who crosses these borders and with the collected information can help to build a society that is more fair.'
Is this a story that is best told with comics journalism? And why?
'For me, comics journalism has some technical features that turn this modality of journalism into the best way for telling some stories. For example: subjectivity and semi-anonymity. By subjectivity I mean that drawings bring a more personal approach to a subject, in comparison with photographs. If I have a story in which the memories of the source (a person) are more important than numbers, data and objective information, I shall prefer to tell it in comics format. That was the case with 'So close, faraway!', because the drawings focus on Jorge's day-to-day. And with 'semi-anonymity' I refer to the fact that the drawings help to protect the identity of the source. In the case of our report, we can know by the text the name of the homeless, his age and his occupation, as well as we can have access to some flash information about his daily routine. But we can't see his face as exactly as in a photograph. This is very helpful for topics when we want/must preserve the identity of the source, if we are dealing with a hard story.'
Why did you choose to work with Bruno Ortiz (the artist)?
'I choose the artist according to the subject of the report and the art style that I'm looking for. I've already developed some non-journalistic works with Bruno Ortiz and I love his watercolors and the way he displays the page layout. Also, I knew that he has interest in and knowledge about social topics in Brazil. So, these are technical details for the decision of inviting Bruno to work with me on this piece. However, I was more surprised when I saw how good Bruno deals with some journalistic procedures, without having been trained in journalism (he graduated on History). Bruno has a natural talent to make interviews, as I noticed by his talks with the homeless Jorge. Bruno helped me a lot in the interviews, that's why he is a good partner for further comic reportages. And indeed, his watercolors and layouts were exactly what I had in mind for such a sensitive topic.'
The comic is interactive, with pop-up texts and photographs. What is the added value of the interactivity (as opposed to an old-fashioned presentation of the comic)? '
'I'm always searching the best form for a report, be it written or in comics. The form must be strictly linked to the topic of the report. So, this is one point. The second one: in the beginning of the research for 'So close, faraway!' I was concerned about how to solve a specific problem of this work: shall I approach the topic 'homelessness in Brazil' by showing a case, or, another option, by giving an overview about its general situation in the country? It was hard to decide. Focusing on a case I could go deeper, because the reader would have the opportunity of feeling closer how a homeless lives. It would turn this work in a piece of Literary Journalism. But I couldn't choose only one case and treat it as an only example for all the diversity of lives on streets in Brazil. So, it was necessary to give an overview, too.
In the other two comics reports I have made, this was a big problem: how to mix the amount of information that must be presented in text with the necessity of comics language to 'show' instead of 'tell'. If we had more space and time to draw more pages, it would be easier, but we hadn't. I couldn't solve this questions at that time, but now I had a good model to follow, that is the reportage of Luke Radl, 'Chicaco is My Kind of Town'. When I saw this piece for the first time, I realized the possibilities of using hypertext resources inside a comic reportage, and I got inspired for our own piece.
We just separated texts from drawings. In the drawings from Bruno we see that deeper approach of Literary Journalism by following a day of Jorge, a homeless - a person - that most people don't notice and only pass by. We focused the 'camera' on Jorge in order to show a homeless as an ordinary citizen - like me and you. Instead of not noticing him, now we are with the homeless and the walkers turn into the invisible ones. And all this is told without words - the essence of a comic! On the other hand, in the 'hidden' texts and pictures we give the readers the opportunity of learning as much as they want about the homelessness in Brazil. This way, we show and we tell. And the reader learns and feels.'
Next week we have something special lined up. After months of writing, drawing, programming and editing, 'So Close, Faraway!', an interactive comics journalism journey that will take you into the world of the homeless in Brazil, is finally ready for publication.
'So Close, Faraway!' takes a literal approach to the idea that a comic must 'show' and journalism must 'tell'. The comic itself follows a day in the life of Jorge, a 43-year old homeless man in the streets of Porto Alegre. The panels have interactive elements, which you can discover by hovering over them with the mouse. The elements allow you to learn more about Jorge's daily live. The journalistic side of the piece is formed by expandable texts that give an overview of homelessness in Brazil, and what is being done to give a voice to the homeless.
The comic will be published on Wednesday November 13. We will also publish an interview with the writer, Augusto Paim, talking about the background and motivation of the comics report.