What is comics journalism?
Journalism is “the activity or profession of writing for newspapers, magazines, or news websites or preparing news to be broadcast”. A comic is “a periodical containing comic strips, intended chiefly for children”. Squashed together they create comics journalism – the dissemination of non-fiction information through the medium of comics.
Where did it come from?
The use of images to convey news has a long history. The Illustrated London News published its first issue in 1842, soldiering on for 161 years before collapsing in 2003. Others have also experimented with the format, like Harper’s Magazine in the US. It’s currently going through a resurgence, for example Symbolia (published from 2012-2014), La Revue Desinée and Graphic News.
Is it here to stay?
Newfound popularity in Europe has breathed fresh life into comic journalism, but it has a lot of adapting to do. It’s one thing setting up an attractive website, but desktop computers are going the same way as the Illustrated London News. In an age where more than half of online content is consumed on mobile devices, image based journalism, however pretty, must adapt to the constraints posed by tablet and smartphone screens.
Does society’s preference for instant gratification via images over the descriptive power of text point to the tortured decay of civilisation?
Only time will tell if comics journalism will lead to the decline of complex societies into blind, ugly barbarism. But civilisation’s loss could be the content market’s gain. As traditional forms of communication evolve, content creation becomes more diverse, vibrant and competitive than ever.
But what do traditionalists think?
Some traditional journalists are quite positive; Alex Hern of the New Statesman says of comics journalism, “hopefully it will grow, because when it’s done right, there’s nothing quite like it.” However, it’s a wonder that the comics journalism business, only recently revived, hasn’t been blown away by the collective force of self-righteous sighing from various reactionaries. Jim McLauchlin laments that comic book journalism is like the weather –“everyone complains, but no one seems to do anything about it”. McLaughlin also notes the pessimism of journalists who have migrated to comic book writing; discussing comics journalism, Ron Marz, Green Lantern writer, argues “There’s a lot of fluff, because we are an entertainment medium, and by and large, that’s what entertainment generates.”
So what is to be done?
From one perspective, conveying important information through a medium popular with children in the 1950s could conceivably encourage hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing at the sorry state of the world. But, considered for the opportunities it presents, it shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. Comics journalism represents communication evolution and a novel direction for content.