Jackie Roche is an extremely talented cartoonist who happens to do a lot of nonfiction, often historical, comics. I was lucky enough to have a short piece of hers in the last issue of the CP, the Small Worlds Issue. She recently completed work on a project with VICE News, and I was so taken with the work that I wanted to talk to her about her part in creating it. I recommend watching the whole thing.
I think the biggest sign of how far drawn journalism has come may be the fact that there's only one comment skeptical of it on this YouTube video. For a group so quick to rip anything and everything apart, I'd say that's a win. This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
Josh Kramer for The Cartoon Picayune: Did VICE approach you or did you reach out to them about working together?
Jackie Roche: I was approached by Carrie Ching, producer of the "Correspondent Confidential" series for Vice. Carrie was referred to me by Erin Polgreen, cofounder of Symbolia Magazine, and the Symbolia door opened because my former SCAD classmate Emi Gennis included my thesis comic in the Unknown Origins & Untimely Ends anthology she edited for Hic & Hoc. [Emi also appears in the Hard Work issue of the CP.]
I think the complete origin story family tree above is worth mentioning because each project over the past year or so has come from a similar series of kind people, and for that I am so, so, extremely thankful.
Did you work from the audio? What was the process?
I worked directly with Carrie. She sent me the completed audio track and an illustration list with written descriptions of the requested shots and links to reference images. I also referenced the Al Jazeera America documentary, "Fault Lines: Haiti in a Time of Cholera," which is excellent.
The whole 11+ minutes are made up of your drawings. How many did you end up doing? And how long did each one take you? Run through the drawing process.
For the sake of animating parts of the video, there are two types of illustrations: full illustrations and layers. The layers are variations on a full illustration, like the coloring on a map representing the spread of disease. The video is made up of 44 illustrations and 13 layers.
The time per illustration varied, depending on how many figures are in the composition, etc. I submitted thumbnails and pencils for review before inking the illustrations with a nib and adding flat color digitally.
There was some back-and forth about the style, and we worked to find a balance between grit and clarity, and figure treatments that were not too realistic or too cartoon-y. I tried to approach illustrating in service to Walker's story and the suffering he witnessed delicately. Though the Haitians drawn in the story aren't direct likenesses of specific individuals, they represent individuals. Stiff, over-rendered art would not be compelling, and going bananas with splatters, craggy-looking figures and ominous heavy shadows everywhere would, in my opinion, undermine the tone and purpose of the narration.
How did you approach getting the visual details right? Did you have a lot of reference photos to work with?
I started with the descriptions in the illustration list to create the thumbnail sketches, and used reference materials after I had a basic composition. I used reference materials to inform the specifics in the drawings, like what the gate in front of the UN base looked like, for example, or the airport in Port-au-Prince.
I prefer to start with the thumbnails because I want to make constructive drawings rather than superficial contour drawings that rely too heavily on reference images. So for each illustration, I thought about where the camera should be for storytelling purposes. Then I drew a horizon line and quick, free-hand perspective grid. Once I had a grid, I started to add the elements requested in the illustration list. The perspective grid lets me visualize the elements in a reference photo and rotate in space to fit my composition.
Ideally, I would capture reference images myself, but that is not always possible. With a project like this where I was not able to sketch on location or take my own reference photos, constructive drawing serves two really important purposes. First, it makes storytelling the priority in each illustration. I am not at the mercy of a reference photo taken at an angle that doesn't serve the story. Second, it's less ethically murky because the drawings can be informed by, but not derivative of, the work of others.
Thanks Jackie! Don't forget to check out more of her work at her portfolio site.
Hey, I know, it's been a while. This is just a tiny post to let you know that the hiatus is ending. I, Josh Kramer, will be exhibiting for The Cartoon Picayune at the Small Press eXpo next month in White Flint, but I will not have a new issue there. Instead, I'm rolling out a new theme next week and then will take submissions for that.
Oh, and you can also buy Issue #5, the Hard Work one in digital form from Comixology. Stay tuned!
The Subscriber Drive has been a big success: thanks for your help! To round things off, I thought I'd look at other people outside The Cartoon Picayune doing excellent nonfiction comics work.
On the macro level, Symbolia has put out a whole year's worth of issues, and brought some excellent work to the tablet while doing it. My favorite issue was probably the one with the theme of Heroines, which had some really beautifully drawn stories that were quite moving. This issue especially was diverse in content and every story was indeed a keeper.
Cartoon Movement is doing a little less this year but still publishing, although former editor Matt Bors has moved over to Medium and started The Nib. He's doing all sorts of stuff over there, including publishing great work like this piece by Josh Neufeld.
Mainstream media also continued to publish freelance pieces of nonfiction comics in various forms. Art Hondros had this piece with the Washington Post magazine. Susie Cagle did many combinations of text and art when she was at Grist. Emi Gennis appeared in Bitch magazine. Andy Warner had more excellent explainers at Slate and elsewhere. There are many other examples.
This year there were plenty of great examples of people doing comics about their own lives but with some distance and perspective. Not necessarily journalism but not necessarily autobio either. Two favorites are this piece by Gabby Schulz and this comic by Mike Freiheit.
Predictions for next year: Higher-profile freelance pieces in national publications, new and exciting books, and new ways to post comics online that are intuitive and offer a natural reading experience.
(above art copyright Josh Neufeld)
The last comic in the new issue is the featured story and is by Adrian Pijoan. He was in the first class at Tom Hart's SAW and has recently taken his passion for science and comics to the University of New Mexico. "Reef" explores the science behind the phenomenon of coral reef bleaching and the latest theories on why it might be happening. Take a look at this extended preview and I'll meet you at the bottom:
This lengthy, in-depth look into the real science of an issue that effects everyone is only possible because of the generous advertisers, donors, and subscribers to The Cartoon Picayune. To read the rest of Adrian's piece, as well as all the others featured in this Subscriber Drive, and to get the limited edition screen print, subscribe today!
Remember Bill Volk from Issue #2? He's back, with more tales of weird Pittsburgh. This is a great story about an fascinating community. Here's footage of the record-breaking parade. You can buy the new issue here, or start your subscription with it here, and recieve our new screen printed postcard.
Today our Subscriber Drive features the first page of Jackie Roche's story in the new issue. I love her style and her enthusiasm for history and folk stories. This story, about Edwin Booth and (spoilers!) Robert Todd Lincoln, is a great example. You can buy the new issue here, or start your subscription with it here, and recieve our new screen printed postcard.
Here's a page from a story in the new Small Worlds issue. It's by local DC artist JTW, and about legendary outsider artist Henry Darger and his secret magnum opus. You can buy the new issue here, or start your subscription with it here, and recieve our new screen printed postcard.
Check it out! This is the beautiful limited edition postcard that Dakota did exclusively for The Cartoon Picayune. It is printed on French Paper Co.'s rich Muscletone Whip Cream stock, in vibrant navy and orange/gold. VGKids did a beautiful job printing it. I love the way Dakota applied his amazing cartooning chops and whimsical, if sometimes disconcerting, style that is often on display in his Dailies. His first book is now available from Conundrum Press, and I cannot wait to see it in person.
For now you can only recieve this beautiful postcard by becoming a subscriber as part of our ongoing Subscriber Drive, which will start you off with the brand new Winter Issue, with the theme of Small Worlds.
The Small Worlds issue is now available to order. That awesome dollhouse cover is by Beth Hetland. Order now and recieve it in time for Christmas. (Gift wrapping is now available and new issues can be shipped before Xmas!) Through next week, I'll be posting more information about it each day as part of our first ever Subscriber Drive!
The reason I'm doing a Subscriber Drive for this issue, instead of a launch party or a debut at a convention, is to show how important subscribers are to the growth of The Cartoon Picayune. A Subscription is cheap: only $10 for one year (and two issues) or $20 for two years (and four issues). Shipping is included, and not only do a save a little money buying this way, but paying upfront gives me the opportunity to do really great things. Your subscription has allowed Andy Warner to take his first foray into reporting, and in this issue, it has helped Adrian Pijoan create awesome groundbreaking science comics (more on this in a day or two).
Please consider subscribing and starting off with this new issue. Your subscription means a lot to The Cartoon Picayune, and it means a lot to me, personally as Editor.
Also, for something extra special, all subscribers will now recieve a limited edition screen print drawn by ascendent first-son-of-Canada Dakota McFadzean until supplies last. I'll talk a little more about that tomorrow, but check out a sneak peak of that hotness below. Thanks again!