March 17, 2005

"The Case for Comics", Comics Journalism and Political Cartooning

AlterNet: MediaCulture: The Case for Comics

Article on comics journalism. Not that I agree with all of it, but the article is interesting and has many good points. Art Spiegelman, who's one of the most over-used sources on comics and still finds interesting things to say, pipes in, as does Joe Sacco, who's Safe Area: Goradze has got to be one of the most moving, solid pieces of journalism I've read in years (think Kevin Sites, but as a cartoonist).

But I think this article misses one vital point: "comics journalism" is really political cartooning in disguise, replacing it's elder sibling. Before the comics medium became "respectable", the closest to comics journalism there was, was political cartooning. When you wanted a simple, punch-to-the-groin explanation of a situation, that's what the political cartoonist did. But for years, political cartooning has been dying. The once thriving and crucial field is now a smattering of less than 100 jobs spread around the country; and as cartoonists die off or leave, the political cartoonist positions are disappearing from papers. Papers, if they do decide they need a cartoonist, are now filling it with syndicated political cartoonists, not with local talent. And that's very, very sad: political cartooning has played a huge, huge role in American history. From Thomas Nast and Tammany Hall, to Paul Conrad being on Nixon's Enemies List, political cartooning influenced politics in ways no other artwork has. We're poorer for the losses.

But I'm heartened for several reasons. Comics journalism is expansive. It's focus is anything journalists would take on, and then some. Political conversations have almost become too complex for a single panel explanation, so they've become entire pages of explanation, like Peter Bagge in Reason Online. It's not the solid, steady work that political cartooning was; but in it's way, it's more meaningful than political cartooning could have ever been. The new comics journalism field is also more alive and vibrant than "regular" journalism, covering topics with a deftness and sharp eye that most papers have lost over the years.

Now all we have to do is find an all-comics paper to put these in.

Posted by Ted Stevko at March 17, 2005 11:41 PM