The Case for Comics Journalism


Over at Columbia Journalism Review, Kristian Williams introduces, explains, and defends comics journalism–not journalism about comics, but using the comic form to do journalism. An excerpt:

The ability to alternate between the realistic and the symbolic, is a major strength of comics journalism. It is also one reason why editors are likely to shy away from it–or, as with the recent newspaper strips, to relegate comics journalism to cultural coverage and human-interest stories. When it comes to the front page, newspapers favor plain language, in part to protect the readers from the seductions of rhetoric, of art. And comics are irreducibly artistic.

But such reasoning also cuts the other way. The hard-nosed, facts-are-facts tone of "journalistic language" is also seductive. Plain-speaking is itself a kind of rhetoric, which wins trust precisely by seeming to leave rhetoric aside.

Art Spiegelman argues, "The phony objectivity that comes with a camera is a convention and a lie in the same way as writing in the third person rather than the first person. To write a comics journalism report you're already making an acknowledgment of biases and an urgency that communicates another level of information."

One big flaw in the story: no mention of the brilliant regular long-form comics journalism done by Peter Bagge in the pages of, ahem, Reason magazine.

NEXT: Tweaking Title IX

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  1. I can’t recommend Joe Sacco’s “Palestine” and “Safe Area Gorazda” enough.

  2. And I can’t unrecommend In The Shadow Of No Towers enough. I second the Sacco love, though.

  3. Fox News plays as a bigger cartoon than any of the graphic novels mentioned. Why shouldn’t grphic novels be considered legit?

  4. I thought he was talking about H L Menken and the like.

  5. Thanks for this – I’m a big fan of Joe Sacco ..he’s amazing.

    And I just bought one about the Spanish Civil War I’m dying to read.

    It’s a f***king shame graphic novels, political or otherwise, are an underrated and dismissed.

  6. It’s a f***king shame graphic novels, political or otherwise, are an underrated and dismissed.

    Are they? The Sacco graphic novels mentioned above have been lauded. Maus won the Pulitzer Prize. Lefties love their Ted Rall and Tom Tomorrow. Graphic novels might still be seen as gimmicky by the general public, and they’re probably not in Oprah’s Book-of-the-Month club, but I think they’ve been anything but roundly dismissed by reviewers or anyone else whose reading material goes beyond South Beach Diet crap and Bill O’Reilly’s literary output.

  7. OK, you’re right- GNs have gotten some well-deserved recognition…but they’re still way below the radar for most people – maybe not for you smarty-pants intellectual types.
    Something like Maus that’s able to push it’s way into the mainstream – or at least closer to the mainstream – helps to bring recognition to GN in general, but I’m afraid most people just see it as a fluke and don’t bother exploring any further.

    I don’t really think Tom Tommorow and Ted Rall fit in the GN catagory – what the hell, close enough…

  8. Thanks to a post on this blog last week I actually met Peter Bagge at his Gallery Show opening at MF Gallery in Manhattan. He seemed like a nice guy but I didn’t get to talk to him much as he was mobbed by black-wearning white-make-uped lower east side hipster fans.

    But he did sign a few of my books – which was cool.

  9. Peter Bagge’s “Apocalypse Nerd” is good stuff so far.

    If the CJR person really wanted to make a point, the story about comics journalism would have used the comic form to tell the story.

    I’m personally a little tired of folks yearning for “mainstream acceptance” of comics and graphic novels. There’s plenty of good stuff in the medium out there and an audience for it, so what more do you want?

  10. The other thing the CJR writer fails to point out is that the reason many newspapers may not have experimented with comics journalism is that it’s an incredibly labor-intensive process when compared to traditional story-and-photo journalism.

  11. The Indianapolis Star has experimented with long-form cartoon journalism on their Sunday editorial pages. In December, their resident cartoonist, Gary Varvel, did a three-day serial on the economic depression that’s plagued Marion, a central Indiana city that has seen most of its industrial base move to greener pastures. Varvel also did the artwork for a graphic editorial that came out last year on the perks state legislators received. Much of that stuff can probably be found in the Star’s online archive ( for which they charge (of course). It’s good stuff

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