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Another cool article from Media Literacy Clearinghouse guru Frank Baker,

Journalists, Artists Tell Stories with Nonfiction Graphic Novels
Posted by Mallary Jean Tenore at 12:18 AM on Sep. 11, 2009

Graphic novels have long been associated with Superman, Doctor Manhattan, Captain America and other fictitious superheroes.

But two books -- Brooke Gladstone's "The Influencing Machine," due out in fall 2010, and Josh Neufeld's "A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge," which came out last month -- serve as examples of how graphic novels are being used to capture nonfiction stories about real places, real events and real people.

Though it isn't suited for all stories, some journalists have found "comic reportage" to be an effective way of marrying images and text to tell stories more effectively than traditional media.

National Public Radio's Gladstone, who has long been interested in the graphic format, said she considers this type of storytelling to be especially beneficial for journalists. It can teach them to be better collaborators, write cleaner copy and gain a greater understanding of how words and images work together to tell stories.

"I love words -- I live by words -- but I think that given the environment we're in, it's time for us to understand that there are more ways than just words to express complex ideas," Gladstone said in a phone interview. "It's possible that in using these new forms of communication, you can make ideas stickier."

Her upcoming book about the past, present and future of the media is based on her experiences hosting NPR's "On the Media." The project, a joint effort with Neufeld, an illustrator, has given her an opportunity to present her ideas in a way that reflects her work as a radio reporter.

Gladstone said the illustrations, which will account for about three-quarters of the book, are comparable to the interviews she records with sources. The text is like the script she writes for the stories -- limited and used only to fill in key details.

With graphic nonfiction storytelling, she said, "you don't just write something and then have someone write a picture. You present visually what doesn't have to be said."

Telling stories through illustrations and limited text has been a good exercise in learning how to write tightly. "I want the discipline that this form requires to make my ideas absolutely clear," Gladstone said. "Sometimes you'll find that writers will do something that's called throat clearing; they'll temporize for a while and then they'll get to the point. I have to get the point with every single word."

Typically, Gladstone writes brief descriptions of what she wants Neufeld to draw. The two then storyboard together and give each other feedback about the layout. During this process, Neufeld acts as a director of photography would, helping Gladstone visualize her ideas and draw connections between words and images. Each page, Neufeld said, takes at least a day to create.

Using comics to capture serious subject matters

While doing research for his own book, "A.D.: New Orleans After the... Neufeld assumed the role of a reporter. Altogether he spent nearly 50 hours interviewing seven New Orleanians about their painful memories of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

©2009 Josh Neufeld
From Neufeld's "AD: New Orleans After the Deluge"

"When ordinary people are put in extraordinary circumstances," Neufeld said, graphic nonfiction "is really effective in communicating how intense that scene is."

The characters in his book include Abbas, a longtime New Orleanian who owns a supermarket in Uptown; Kwame, a college student from New Orleans East who was a high-schooler when Katrina struck; and Denise, a sixth-generation New Orleanian poet, singer and kickboxer. The Web version of the book includes video and audio interviews with these people.

Neufeld captures their emotions through drawings of furrowed brows, tears and bulging eyes. In one scene, he juxtaposes an image of a doctor with another of bodies strewn acros.... "They couldn't get the live people out in time, and they couldn't get the dead people out in time either," the talking bubbles read. "FEMA failed the living and the dead."

©2009 Josh Neufeld
From Neufeld's "AD: New Orleans After the Deluge"

He also conveys mood and emotion through colors, using gold to represent the glory days of the city, green for the march of the storm and red for the violence that ensued.

"A lot of readers have told me that 'A.D.' allows them access to the experiences of the people on the ground in NOLA during Katrina that other media hadn't been able to do," Neufeld said via e-mail. "I think that's a strength of comics and not just my talents."

The (im)practical application of graphic storytelling

Neufeld's book isn't the only graphic novel that tackles serious subjects such as violence, war and natural disasters. Other examples include Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis," a graphic novel about a girl growing up during the Iranian revolution; Art Spiegelman's "Maus: A Survivor's Tale" about a Polish Jew's struggle to survive the Holocaust; and Joe Sacco's "Safe Area Gorazde" about a cross-section of Bosniaks who are trapped in the besieged town of Gorazde during the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Some news organizations have used comedic reportage to tell stories, though it's not common. Part of the problem with using this medium in newspapers, said former St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times reporter and comic artist Sara Rosenbaum, is that readers aren't accustomed to seeing news stories presented in this way and therefore don't always understand the purpose of the graphics.

Limited space is also a problem. "You can fit a lot more into prose than you can into graphics ... and that's one of the limitations of the medium," Rosenbaum said in a phone interview. "Since newswriting is dedicated to packing as much into as little room as possible, it's kind of incompatible."

Another challenge is figuring out when graphic nonfiction works as an effective storytelling medium.

Because it takes so long to create graphic stories, the medium is better suited to those that aren't deadline-sensitive. "It's time-intensive," Neufeld said via phone, "for someone to report a story and then write it as a script and draw it."

But just because stories aren't typically told through graphics or comics, Neufeld said, doesn't mean they shouldn't be. One of the things he likes about working with Gladstone is that she understands that "comic" doesn't always translate to "fiction" and "comedy."

"People don't realize that comics are just a medium like film or radio or prose is," Neufeld said. "Brooke just gets cartoons in an intuitive way. Hopefully there will be more nonfiction cartoonists someday -- people who will become 'journalist cartoonists.' "

Article from Poyner Online - can be found here

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