Having defined comics journalism for my master thesis, I’m realizing that it is hard to say what ”[…] juxtaposed pictoral and other images in deliberate sequence […]” (Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, 1993, p. 9) are exactly. What about a combination of illustration and text? What about one panel showing more than one moment in time? Can a single panel be called a comic? And if so, is something like this already comics journalism?
(The illustration appeared in the Austrian daily newspaper Heute.)
So, what is comics journalism? I know, answering that question it’s like combining two big questions to create a monster. There are many ways to define comics. And even more ways to define journalism. But I had to come up with a definition of comics journalism for my master thesis and so here it is, my Frankenstein definition of comics journalism:
Comics journalism are juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer. The images must at least partially fulfill academically published criteria for journalistic quality.
Clearly, the fist part of my definition is Scott McClouds definition of comics (Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, 1993, p. 9). In the second part, instead of defining journalism, I try to aim at the fact that it is important to have criteria to follow as a comics journalist. However, those criteria can vary. But everyone who claims something is comics journalism should also talk about their criteria for journalistic quality.
I know, my definition is far from being perfect. Please tell me yours.
In this video, comics journalist Dan Archer talks about his work. At 0:30:23, he mentions a new project, apparently called “The Inca Trail”. It seems to become a very impressive piece of comics journalism. And it might define a new genre - a combination of comics journalism and newsgames. Archer gives only a short glimpse of the comic, but it feels a bit like Symbolia Magazine meets Broken Sword.
Here is what fascinates me the most about “The Inca Trail”:
Multimedia Multitasking. There is a lot of animation going on and you can experience multiple multimedia elements of the story at the same time.
Real Interactivity. You can choose which characters you want to interview. And you can even manipulate the main (?) character. Many journalistic comics are somewhat interactive, but in most cases, interactivity means you are only able to activate/deactivate text or sound.
Why comics? Advantages and disadvantages of comics journalism
Here are some advantages of journalistic comics over other media (emphasis added):
Comics show how things work– ”The linear-panel structure and visual orientation of comics make the form an ideal educational tool for showing how to do things.“ (McAllister, 1992, p. 17)
Comics are fun – ”They are supposed to be not just easy to read, but, above all, fun to read, no matter what the content“. (Jüngst, 2010, p. 53).
They combine the power of written language with the power of pictures – “[…] comic books combine visual and verbal forms of communication […] comic book messages may be reinforced both verbally and visually“. (McAllister, 1992, p. 17).
Comics are „harmless“– „[comic books] may deal with frightning subjects in a very down-to-earth yet non-threatening manner“. (McAllister, 1992, p. 18).
They are personal – ”[…] comic books are a personalizing medium“. (McAllister, 1992, p. 18). “In comic books […] stories tend not to focus on high levels of abstraction, but rather they focus on people, on individuals […]“. (McAllister, 1992, p. 18).
Comics are concrete– Complicated, abstract concepts and ideas can be easily shown by using “[…] visualisations and analogies to present the facts in attractive pictures. Briefly, they turn the abstract into the concrete.” (Jüngst, 2010, p. 19).
They make the invisible visible– “With ‘invisible worlds’, I refer to the depiction of worlds which are normally invisible to the human eye because they are too small, too big, too far away or hidden from sight”. (Jüngst, 2010, p. 182)
They can make the visible invisible – “[you can] keep people anonymous.” (Bors, 2012)
Sketching comics is unobtrusive – ”[…] Sometimes just having a sketchbook can lend a real intimicyand trust to the connection you have with an interviewee […]” (Archer, 2013)
Comics and interactivity fit together perfectly (see Archer, 2013)
And now some disadvantages (emphasis added):
Comics can be manipulative - The personalizing quality of comics can be misused to manipulate the reader.
They are childish - “[…] the primary connotation oft he comic book is that it is a medium for children“. (McAllister, 1992, p. 21).
Comics and serious topics do not fit together – ”The idea of fun and entertainment is no inducement for a widespread acceptance of comics with serious and sad topics […]” (Jüngst, 2010, p. 58.)