The Power of Comics Journalism

Susie Cagle

Susie  Cagle is at it again! She continues to make news while continuing her exploits as a comics journalist covering the Occupy Oakland Movement. Last week Cagle was arrested and detained for fourteen hours after having been teargassed the week before by Oakland Police.

Along the way some have criticized her position as a member of press media considering her alliance with protestors. The supposition is that she can’t help but be biased when she produces her final work.  Who cares!

The idea that a comic artist is in the middle of this public melee and is going to chronicle it with words and pictures as only a comic artist can is fantastic! Comic Journalism is such a specialized and unique form of journalism I would be disappointed if the artist chose not to express opinion and miss out on an opportunity to fully express themselves creatively.

Comics have a long history of journalism in newspapers and though they may not have been in a long format that is used in comic books, comic panels and comic strips have always weighed heavily on opinion and have unapologetically influenced readers.

Thomas Nast self portrait

Thomas Nast who is considered to be the “Father of the American Cartoon” was instrumental in the downfall of New York’s powerful Tammany Hall leader, Boss Tweed who had defrauded the city of millions of dollars.  Nast was so relentless in his comic attacks on Tweed in the 1870’s that he was offered bribes to stop. Ultimately, it was Nast’s comics that were used to identify Tweed as an escaped fugitive in Spain.

In the 1890’s it was Richard Outcault’s pioneering comic strip The Yellow Kid, that gave rise to the term Yellow Journalism for the character’s role in promoting the sensationalizing of headlines to help sell newspapers.

Newspaper readers have always turned to the editorial comic to give them a bold, honest and satirical look at the headlines that spoke to them in a way that could be easily understood and appreciated. That is the power of comics.

The new trend toward long form comics journalism that is exercised by Susie Cagle, Joe Sacco, Josh Neufeld and others will give readers a new opportunity to experience critical events in our history in a personal way that can only be delivered through comics.

CO2 Comics contributor, Don Lomax’s classic work Vietnam Journal, though a work of fiction, has often been hailed as the most accurate graphic depiction of the Vietnam War. His first hand experience of having been there and his willingness to tell it and draw it as he saw it is what makes it great.  That is journalism. That is Comics Journalism.

I hope Susie Cagle continues to have the opportunity to be on the front lines of this Occupy Movement as a protestor and a journalist. Her experiences, as uncomfortable as they have been, are going to make one hell of a comic and will surely speak to a generation of young people who are finding and exercising their voice against greed and corruption and are intent on inspiring change.

Comics Journalism may well be the next frontier of the medium. One thing is certain, Comics Journalism is proof of the power of comics done right.

Making Comics Because I Want To

Gerry Giovinco

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