If you're interested in the intersection of comics and journalism, two guys you're going to want to learn about immediately are Darryl Holliday (pictured left) and Erik Nelson Rodriguez. These guys live in Chicago, where they are pounding both pavement and drawing board, respectively, at illuspress.com. They have a piece called "Wedlock: Love and Marriage at the Cook County Jail" that starts the next issue of The Cartoon Picayune, Spring 2012, out in May. Help them raise money for their new book over here.
Josh Kramer for The Cartoon Picayune: You guys collaborate in the traditional sense in that you, Darryl, write the words, and you, Erik, draw the pictures. Can you talk a little about how you started doing this and how you do it now?
Darryl: We started while I was interning at the Chicago Sun-Times. A few lines in one of the paper’s stories mentioned the county jail weddings, and I was pretty much hooked. I’ve been reading/collecting comics since middle school and eventually realized they were the answer to my problem of how to cover the story effectively. I can’t draw to save my life, but I knew that Erik (we were former co-workers at our school paper) could, and that he also liked comics. It sort of just went from there.
Erik: Collaboration begins right off the bat; we go out and cover stories together. Darryl usually plays his role as reporter—asking questions and finding people that seem to play key roles in the story—while I document everything using a camera and sketching out what we decide might be important later. Once we have a script down, we get started on story boarding and sketching out general profiles.
Darryl: The script gets whittled down and shifted as the panels are laid out. The whole process really hasn’t changed. We both have an influence over the other’s input. So, I guess it started off organic and it’s basically the same now.
CP: I know you guys are doing some freelance, both with comics and traditional news. How would you describe your experience freelancing your comics work? Do editors know what to do with it?
Erik: I think because the medium is so new, editors don't really know what they want out of it yet, the best we can do is try to cover a great story so that it’s understood as journalism and art.
Darryl: I agree, but I’d also say that it’s gotten a good reception. People, including most editors that we’ve worked with, seem to respond well to accurate journalism with a new media approach.
CP: Your story takes place in a correctional facility. What initially attracted you to this story? Was the idea of shining the spotlight inside jail appealing, or just the idea of this unusual story?
Darryl: I actually thought it was interesting for both of those reasons. When I first learned about the ceremonies the idea of it became a sort of odd curiosity. I had done a few metro news stories about the jail; more along the lines of the inherent problems that come out of imprisoning whole segments of people. The idea of weddings taking place in those same courthouse rooms seemed like a nice mix of good and evil…figuratively.
CP: I think my favorite party of your piece is that I'm left with an uneasy empathy for the main male character. I don't want to like him but I can't help but feel happy for him. Did you have some idea of this before you wrote the story and was it important for you?
Darryl: I guess there was definitely some idea of it, but I think it was more that we knew that the subject matter was fascinating all on its on. I think when I saw Jamie seeming to contrast with the entire moment in her pink wedding dress was what made the connection really click for me.
Erik: I like that the story evokes emotion for people that would usually fall into a stereotyped class. That we got to portray those empathetic feelings in such a short comic showed what graphic journalism can do that traditional journalism can’t.
CP: This was an early piece for you guys, and you've done a lot of work since. Are you still able to look at this and not wince? Anything you would have done differently or if you had more space?
Erik: We were still working with lettering at that point. We couldn't decide if we wanted to create a font or find a letterer. Darryl did the lettering for that story, but we didn’t get size right. We later found out that fitting a lot of story into small spaces required shrinking the text or being more intentional about space. But by then it was too late and we had to stick with small text. That’s really the only regret I have with this story.
Darryl: Same here.
CP: You guys are great, I wish I could pay you for this excellent story. I'm working on it. How do you guys support yourselves and still have time to make such laborious art/journalism?
Erik: I do art and design work for various publications to pay the bills.
Darryl: And I write for news outlets around Chicago. We both pretty much take what we each do with comics journalism and use it to try and avoid poverty. My student loans aren’t going away any time soon, but being 25 in a big city helps; we’ve still got some time to do experiments and, hopefully, turn the things we already like into jobs.
CP: I understand that you guys have an exciting project coming up?
Darryl: We plan to keep working with other journalistic outlets and posting at our site, but all of this really started as an idea for a comics journalism book. So, we’ll be printing our first compilation, “The Illustrated Press: Chicago” in July/August, partially funded through a completion grant from the Albert P. Weisman foundation and a Kickstarter campaign.
Thanks to both Darryl and Erik. They retain all rights to all images, including the panel from the black and white version of "Wedlock" set to appear in The Cartoon Picayune.