Comics Journalism - Stories from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo

This month we’ll be publishing two comics we have produced for The Politics of Return, a research project of the London School of Economics exploring the dynamics of return and reintegration of refugees in Central and Eastern Africa.

We have already published two comics earlier this year: Uganda's Forgotten Children, by Charity Atukunda and Displacement and Return in the Central African Republic, by Didier Kassai. Uganda's Forgotten Children focuses on the 30,000 children that were abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). What became of them when they returned to society? Displacement and Return in CAR is about the people (mainly Muslims) that fled the conflict. Now that the violence has ended, can they return and find a place in society?

In September we'll be publishing two further instalments in this series.

The first one, He Cannot Marry Her by Tom Dai and Naomi Pendle, is about marriage and identity in Both Sudan. By deciding who can marry who (and thus have children), chiefs' courts have a huge influence on identity politics in South Sudan, where even the dead can marry and have children.

Tom Dai

The second one, Between Two Spaces by Victor Ndula and Koen Vlassenrroot, shows why disarming combatants in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been less than successful.

Victor Ndula

He Cannot Marry Her will be published on September 10 and Between Two Spaces will be published on September 17.


Cartoon Art Project

1

In March, four of our cartoonists (Hajo, Spiros Derveniotis, Osama Hajjaj & Tjeerd Royaards) collaborated on an art project for the new headquarters of vfonds, a Dutch NGO with a focus on peace, freedom, democracy and international law. Together, they created 72 cartoons telling the story of the Second World War, the reconstruction of Europe (and the Netherlands in particular), the Cold War and the construction of an international order, and the rise of freedom and democracy in Europe (and the world).

The 72 cartoons are printed on the front and back of 36 panels that are hung vertically from the ceiling, creating a narrative that you can walk under.

Collage

Throughout the panels, a 'V' shape is visible, v being the first letter of the Dutch word for peace (vrede) and freedom (vrijheid). The panels in red tell the story of war, conflict and the price of peace. The panels in blue show how peace leads to prosperity and freedom.

  

Here is and overview of all the panels. Click on the image for a larger version:

Serie1

All images © Cartoon Movement/Hajo/Sprios Derveniotis/Osama Hajjaj/Tjeerd Royaards. Use of these images is only allowed after the written consent of Cartoon Movement.


Comic Preview: Rape and Land Conflicts in Uganda

We are wrapping up our partnership with the Justice and Security Research Programme (a research consortium lead by the London School of Economics) with two comics about issues of justice and security in northern Uganda. The aim of these comics is to translate LSE research into more accessible narratives that explore and question the concept of justice.

One comic, eight pages written by Lacan and drawn by Tom Humberstone, explores the problem of land conflicts. After decades of war, the displaced Acholi people return to their lands, but conflicts emerge as there are no written records and the lands have changed in intervening years.

Comic

The other comic, by Holly Porter (words) and Victor Ndula (art) tells an even more dramatic tale. The comic tells the stories of two rape victims and (extreme) difference in achieving justice afterwards.

LSE ACHOLI RAPE COMIC

The comic ‘Land Conflicts in Northern Uganda’ will be published next week; the week after that we’ll run ‘A Story of Two Rapes'.


Exhibition of South Sudan Comics at LSE

The London School of Economics is hosting an exhibition of infographic comics visualising research on South Sudan undertaken by the Justice and Security Research Programme (JSRP).  The comics represent a collaboration between the JSRP and Kenyan cartoonist Victor Ndula, facilitated by JSRP partner The Cartoon Movement. The graphics explore political, social and economic developments since 2011 in the world’s newest country.

IMG_4049

IMG_4008

IMG_4013

IMG_4003

This exhibition is open to all, no ticket required. Visitors are welcome during weekdays (Monday - Friday) between 10am and 8pm. Please note the exhibition will close at 3pm on Friday 27 January.

If you can't make it to the exhibition, the comics are available to read online here.

South Sudan - The Political Marketplace

Date: Monday 9 January - Friday 27 January 2017
Time: Mon-Fri 10am-8pm
Venue: Atrium Gallery, Old Building


Facts & Comics

We live in polarized times. The election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States has laid bare deep divisions in American society. These same division can be found in Europe, and are exploited by populist politicians that successfully operate in many European countries.

By their nature, editorial cartoons give one particular perspective on what is happening in the world. By showing a range of perspectives we hope to avoid getting entrenched on one side of any given debate.

The comics we publish give us the chance to do fact-based explorations from various angles. In recent years, we have done numerous comic collaborations with university professors. Comics are an excellent tool to make complex subject matter understandable and accessible, without losing sight of the relevant facts.

SudanFragment from 'Sudan: Who Got What?'

One of the first of these ‘academic’ comics we ever did was the story of South Sudan, from independence in 2012, to civil war within just three years. This eventually became a series of comics:

I.    South Sudan: Who Got What?
II.   South Sudan: The Price of War, The Price of Peace
III. Seeking Justice in South Sudan

The comics are drawn by Kenyan comic artist Victor Ndula and written by Alex de Waal, a world-renowned expert on South Sudan. They are considered to be such a good and succinct explanation of the situation in South Sudan that they are now part of the standard briefing pack at USAID for anyone working on Africa.

We are currently working on more comics as part of our partnership with the London School of Economics, this time focusing on justice in Angola.

More recently, we published Europe’s Refugee Crisis: A Perfect Storm, a comic collaboration with a profession of migration law that explains how Europe is largely responsible for its own refugee crisis.

RefugeesFragment from 'Europe’s Refugee Crisis: A Perfect Storm'

Today, we’ve published a comic/animation that seeks to explain how polarization works and what we can do to reverse this process. The comic, drawn by Pedro X. Molina from Nicaragua, is based on the model of polarization by philosopher Bart Brandsma.

PolarizationFragment from 'Polarization'

This academic approach to comics isn’t only novel, we believe it necessary. Ironically, in a time when information is more abundant than ever, facts can sometimes be hard to find. Our social media timelines present us with what we want to hear (even if it’s fake), and Google enables us to find support for any of our convictions, no matter how far-fetched. The least we can do is to make sure that the comics we publish are thoroughly researched and based on fact, not fiction.

The two most recent comics are produced for Times of Migration, a new platform with a focus on refugees and migration. Times of Migration takes a fact-based approach to its subject matter; in the often highly charged debate about migration, it is more important than ever to have all the facts.


Dina - Graphic Novel

Next month we’ll start publishing ‘Dina’, a graphic novel by Italian cartoonist and comic artist Emanuele Del Rosso and Sarah Othman.

'Dina' is a serialized graphic novel telling the story of Dina, young woman from Mansoura (Egypt) and the many challenges she faces on the road to becoming a journalist.

The comic is originally made for RNW Media and is published (in Arabic) on the website Love Matters Arabic in weekly installments.

We will be publishing the English version of the comic in 8-page installments each month, starting in September.


Upcoming Comic: Water in Gaza

Late last year, we made a comic with Palestinian artist Mohammad Saba’aneh about the water crisis in Gaza. The comic was made for a client, but never got published due to artistic differences and different perspectives on how the story should be told.

Although this is in some ways a ‘failed’ project, as the client was ultimately not happy with the comic, we consider it to be a success as well. This is Mohammad’s first piece of comics journalism and, although it’s not perfect, we think it’s certainly good enough to publish. We’re also proud of the fact that this is comics journalism made by a Palestinian. There’s not a lot of comics journalism being produced by artists in the Middle East (most is made by Western artists traveling there), while there’s enough stories that need telling in this part of the world.

The comic will go up on our website this Wednesday.

Water in Gaza

Save

Save


Comic Preview: Seeking Justice in South Sudan

This Wednesday, we publish the third comic in our series on South Sudan, produced in cooperation with the Justice and Security Research Programm (London School of Economics) and the World Peace Foundation (Tufts University).

The first comic, South Sudan: Who Got What, explains how South Sudan was bankrupt and at war within just three years after independence. South Sudan: The Price of War, The Price of Peace, the second comic, focuses on the effort to bring peace to South Sudan, and how the peace talks are used by the country's elite to enrich themselves.

Seekin Justice in South Sudan, comic no. 3, is a case study of a neighborhood in Juba, South Sudan, that shows how ordinary citizens struggle to find justice. If institutions of law and order are weak, they can bend to the will of men with money and guns. As a preview, page 1 is shown here:

Preview


Review: Documentary Comics

MickwitzDocumentary Comics - Graphic Truth-Telling in a Skeptical Age
Nina Mickwitz
Palgrave Macmillan US
XI, 187 pages

eBook - $69,99, Hardcover - $95
Available via Palgrave.com

Our slogan is there is more than one truth, because we believe that different people view the world in a different way. This means that subjectivity always plays a part in journalism. Subjectivity is a central theme in Documentary Comics, by Nina Mickwitz. Mickwitz sets out to answer the question if comics journalism can be seen as a genre of documentary. Documentaries have long been associated with audiovisual recordings of reality. And audiovisual recording have, in turn, been long associated with objectivity. Documentary Comics argues that all documentaries have in them elements of subjectivity. This subjectivity starts with the decision of what the subject of a documentary will be, but can be found in almost every aspect of the narrative that is told, or rather constructed, in a documentary.

If audiovisual documentaries have long been thought of as objective, hand-drawn comics have a long tradition of being thought of as subjective. One of the biggest challenges for comics journalism has been to establish itself as a form of serious journalism. In part, this has to do with the tendency of people to think of comics as subjective, and therefore not representative of reality. Mickwitz challenges this notion. In several case studies, she shows how documentaries deliberately use subjectivity to create and steer the narrative in a particular direction. She compares this to how comics use a particular drawing style, color (or lack thereof), the composition of panels on the page, and the representation of sound to construct a version of reality.

Seen through this particular lens, comics have the advantage that they are very transparent in the way they translate reality onto paper or screen. No one will ever argue that a comic is reality, while audiovisual recordings are still regarded by many to be 'real', in spite of many examples to the contrary. Mickwitz shows how both (audio)visual recordings and drawings are, in fact, construction of reality. Once we accept that notion, we can begin to see subjectivity as a tool instead of a hindrance, a tool that can be used to construct a certain perspective on reality. As long as documentaries are honest and straightforward about the perspective they set out to create, this form of subjectivity can coexist with all the demands we make of good journalism. And comics journalism cannot prevent but be clear about the fact that it creates a perspective on reality.

Nina Mickwitz proposes to compare comics journalism to documentaries to see if this framework can have added value for the analysis of comics journalism. What follows is an exploration of the nature of subjectivity, and a breakdown of what makes comics tick.

Documentarty Comics is a thorough and comprehensive book, but it is meant for the serious student of comics journalism. The book is very academic in the way it deals with the subject matter, and will most likely not appeal to people outside academia. The rather steep price ($95 for the harcover, $65 for the e-book) doesn't help either. The subject matter, however, is intriguing and the way Mickwitz approaches comics as documentaries is certainly novel. One thing I missed was having all the comics she discusses at hand. Some pages are reproduced in the book, but the (modest-sized) black and white prints only made me eager to have the real thing to see right away what Mickwitz meant when she refers to a particular type of coloring.

In conclusion: we are delighted to see a field emerging within academic research that is devoted to comics journalism. Documentary Comics is a solid publication that will certainly help further establish comics journalism as something that deserves to be taken seriously. And that's something we can only applaud.

Review by Tjeerd Royaards


South Sudan Comic No. 2

South Sudan fragment

Fragment from 'South Sudan: The Price of War, The Price of Peace'

In April 2015, we published South Sudan: Who Got What, a comic written by Alex de Waal and drawn by Victor Ndula. Over the past months, Alex and Victor have been working on the sequel, which tells the story of South Sudan’s civil war and the efforts to bring peace. The new comic, South Sudan: The Price of War, The Price of Peace will be published on Monday February 8.