Standort: / Meldung: "Comic Journalist Sarah Glidden"

Chris Cummins

Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds.

25. 3. 2017 - 13:27

Comic Journalist Sarah Glidden

Telling important news stories about Syria, Iraq and Turkey in comic strip form. An accessible and intimate form of storytelling.

Sarah Glidden is a comic journalist, using small panels of water-coloured paintings to tell moving and important stories about weighty issues, or, as she writes in the introduction of her new work of graphic factual story-telling ROLLING BLACKOUTS, trying to "make sense of a chaotic world."

Conny Lee reviews "Im Schatten des Krieges" - the German translation of Rolling Blackouts

The result is a thought-provoking reportage of her trip to Turkey, Iraq and Syria which explores the lasting impact of the US invasion of Iraq both on the uprooted people in the devastated region and on a former US marine returning to the Middle East.

A cartoon

Sarah Glidden

Comic journalism is a form of storytelling explored by the likes of Joe Sacco, the author of Palestine, who movingly brought the harsh realities of life in the Gaza strip to the pages of a comic book as well as reporting, via comics, from the 1990s Balkan conflict.

Sacco and his fellow pioneers brought these important issues to a new audience who weren’t naturally engaged in the traditional cycle of hard news-reporting.

Now comic journalism is enjoying an exciting ocean swell and Sarah Glidden is riding on the crest of the wave.

A "Sneaky" Form Of Journalism

When she visited the Fm4 studios, Seattle-based Glidden told me that she doesn’t see comic journalism as separate from other ways of telling a story, but part of the bigger alliance in informing as wide a public as possible in issues they should care about it.

She even calls it a "sneaky" form of journalism. Comics, an intimate and direct form of story tellers, can pull people in. "I want to create an opening for people who are otherwise perhaps scared off by complicated stories," says Glidden. "I want to create a connection and then hopefully that will make them curious to read articles and books and find out more."

A Reporting Odyssey

ROLLING BLACKOUTS is journalism but it is also about journalism.  Sarah, who appears as a an engaging character in the book, finds herself in the Middle East because she has followed two of her reporter friends Sarah Stuteville and Alex Stonehill from an idealistic media group called the Seattle Globalist.

The Seattle Globalist team are off to Iraq, Syria and Turkey and Sarah has raised money for an investigative journey into the impact of the US led invasion of Iraq by starting a kickstarter campaign. We see Sarah, who has depicted herself as self-reflecting and slightly naive, learns a lot about the region but also about the art and challenges of news gathering.

Sarah Glidden

Sarah Glidden

Reality is "too dark".

"I had been hanging out with Sarah and Alex in Seattle and they’d be talking about what they were doing," she told me, "and I realized how little I knew about where our news comes from." She watches her friends embark on the long process of building up trust with often traumatized refugees, working with interpreters, sometimes via complicated skype connections.

And she sees how American publications reject important stories about the holes left in people’s lives by a gung-ho desert adventure because the impact is "too dark".  

Creating a Bond

Glidden calls comic journalism a "low impact" form of information gathering and one that lends itself to intimacy and trust. Often before interviewing a subject, she would settle down for a few minutes and draw their portrait. "The act of sitting with them with a sketch book and looking into their eyes really creates a bond and that helps."  

Certainly there seems a warmth for the subjects of the story; a warmth that perhaps is lost through the cold efficiency of long-lens cameras and heavy filming material

a comic

Sarah Glidden

Paradoxically the miniature paintings, an artist’s creation brought to life soft water colours with rosy cheeks and emotive faces the water, make the refugees feel more real than the film images we have grown so used to seeing that we have become rather immune to their impact.

No "Them & US"

As a reader you feel you get to know the subjects of the journalism in a very human way. We meet refugees squatting in one of Saddam Hussein’s former prisons and visit others, young Iraqi hipsters in modern flats in the Syria of 2010.

These latter characters break down the comforting "them and us" perspective. "Seven years Syria was where you went to escape the violence," says Glidden. "It makes you think about our own stability and ask how fragile it is."

Manipulating emotions?

The intimacy and accessibility of the pictures raises ethical questions. While a camera captures a situation but the hand of cartoonists recreates a situation. Comic writers could easily manipulate emotions through the tableau they create. A fierce border guard could be given demonic features, perhaps, or a refugee could be given overly angelic features. This could happen willingly or subconsciously.

"It’s up to up to make sure we are accurate and transparent as possible," says Glidden. "It’s a relatively new form of journalism so those of us doing it have a responsibility to do it well."

A Labour of Love

The book was six years in the making. Making a comic book, particularly with the gorgeous water colours, is pain-staking time-consuming work and the world she had visited in 2010 had changed beyond recognition by the time to book was finally published a few months ago.

It’s an interesting book also for its faults. I found the Seattle Globalists journalists at times smugly self-righteous. The team have taken a former school friend Dan O’Brien, who had volunteered for and fought in the Iraq war.

He’s now a university student and the hopes seems to be that they can confront him with the destruction he played a part in and he can "ask for forgiveness" a bit like a puppy having its nose rubbed in its night-time accidents. They seem to feel morally superior to Dan rather than trying to learn from his experiences in a world where there are no easy classroom answers.