Comics (Graphic) Journalism & Visual Reportage

The Graphic 3
The war at the Cape-Fingoes viewing the dead body of Sandilli the insurgent Gaika Chief. From ‘The Graphic’, 1878


raphic Journalism, or what is sometimes referred to as Comics Journalism is no new thing. One might, for example, consider that Trajan’s column or the Bayeux Tapestry are elaborate, one sided renderings of actual events. And, prior to photography, journals and newspapers were simply illustrated. The Graphic—An Illustrated London Newspaper is one such example. Many of the engravings within these papers were incredibly detailed works depicting the glories of Empire, etc.  During World War II the cartoonist Ronald Searle, creator of the St. Trinian’s School books, was a serving soldier when he was captured and interned as a POW in Japan. Searle—an uncommissioned war artist—documented his war years making many drawings detailing what he had witnessed. At the time he risked his life by secretly drawing the harsh realities of internment, torture, disease and starvation.

These are all forms of reportage but as means of reporting the news for large news organisations—and it might be this commissioning by such media outlets that possibly distinguishes it as being journalistic as opposed to general illustrative narrative. Visual journalism is still a relatively unusual way of reporting events. However, this format appears to be increasingly employed within mainstream UK journalism with some using it to cover a variety of topics. (See: The Guardian: America: Elect! The action-packed journey to US election day in graphic novel formand the BBC’s (Drawing the News)It is a very visually engaging method of drawing to people’s attention certain events whilst simultaneously ensuring anonymity when circumstances require the safety of the people being discussed.

Sergeant Shot at R.A. Barracks, Newtown, Wales, 1941. by Ronald Searle. © Ronald Searle 1941

It is perhaps up for debate as to whether the sometimes ‘comic’ rendering in anyway reduces the power of the message or events conveyed, given that we’re largely conditioned to viewing the comic medium as being a form of entertainment. Also, there is the issue of authenticity; a perennial concern of all reportage. Photography can and is sometimes physically manipulated or used in a way that presents a situation that is out of context as these examples demonstrate, and again, arguably comics journalism may be able to paint an entirely biased, even invented version of events. Either way, judging by the numerous positive twitter comments that followed one of The Guardian’s graphic novel styled news articles I suspect that we’ll be seeing much more of this medium in mainstream press, and I for one welcome it.

(Below) Dan Archer, a leading practitioner of comics journalism gives an interesting insight into his approaches to the medium.

Further Reading
Stein, Daniel; Denson, Shane; Meyer, Christina, 2013, Transnational Perspectives on Graphic Narratives : Comics at the Crossroads

Also worth watching is this interview  with Joe Sacco, one of the most well known practitioners of comics journalism.