Why aren’t there more news comics? Is that an odd thing to wonder, or to ask for? Probably; comics are generally fiction these days, after all, and non-fiction comics trend more towards autobio and self-reflection than looking at the world around us, but still. News comics. I think I want some.
As subjective journalism, I think that comics can work really well; if you think of Guy Delisle’s travelogues or Joe Sacco’s Palestine or Safe Area Gorazde as proof of that particular theory, you can pretty much take that as a given – This isn’t to say that comics are infallible in that role, mind you, because you can get crappy examples of anything if you look hard enough (Does anyone else remember 411, the short-lived post-9/11 project from Marvel?) – but it’s a route that I wish more comics would take.
The thought occurred to me as I read various reports from the UK over the last couple of days about the riots that’ve been happening in London, Birmingham and elsewhere. I’ve been reading them with some kind of mix of horror and disbelief, because I can’t quite get my head around the reality of multiple nights of riots and looting and violence happening in places that I remember being, if that makes sense. There’s something unreal about it, and the more I read and feel that disconnect, the more I wish that I could step inside the experiences of someone that was there to try and get some perspective on what is actually happening… and that, for me, means comics.
There’s been a lot written about the immediacy of comics as a medium, usually about the short lead time necessary to get something from inception to publication, but it’s true of the reading, as well. There’s something about comics that makes it easier, or faster, or something better and inexplicable no matter how hard you try to explain it, about transferring information and experience between creators and readers; the space between the words and the pictures and the reader is shorter, somehow, and – when done well – there’s really nothing like it in managing to tell the viewer/reader something with such clarity and speed. Because it’s a medium that you read, and not watch, it’s more individual and more personal an experience, and that ties into it, as well; the connection is stronger because you’re not influenced by the reactions of other people in the room at that very instant you’re in the story for the first time.
Now, imagine something that mixes the two sense of immediacy: The speed of delivery from initial thought to finished product and the speed of downloading something that goes beyond the facts to offer a sense of the emotional experience involved. Something short, but timely, commenting on things within recent memory or that are still happening, so that it’s contemporary and not historical perspective that’s being shared. That’s what I need, I think, to understand what’s going on in the UK right now. That laser into my brain that says “This is what it’s like,” in a language at once simpler and infinitely more complex than what I can get in blogs and news reports and the social media of choice. And it’d help with more than just the UK riots, of course; any event of import would be helped by experiencing it from something other than an outsider’s point of view… So, yeah. News comics. Why aren’t there more of those?
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