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.
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)
Perhaps you've noticed that this blog tends to be sparsely populated by new entries in the slow season between issues. For more recent posts that might not be necessarily Cartoon Picayune information but are still written by me and skew to my interests, take a look at my tumblr. I like the faster pace and more whimsical style, but I think The CP still deserves longer, more thought out posts, even if it takes a month a more.
Anyways, there's plenty of spring and summertime news to report.
The fifth issue of The Cartoon Picayune is well underway. There's a theme of Hard Work and there is plenty of it happening in production of the issue. For 2013, I'm shifting the schedule a little so that Issue 5 will be the first Summer issue. You can look forward to at least two excellent, longer stories as the main focus:
Andy Warner, who brought us "The Man Who Built Beirut" in the third issue, is back with our first advertiser-supported feature, ever! His piece examines the political fight around the legal status of sex workers in the city of San Francisco. I've been working closely with Andy on this one, and I'm very excited about it.
Emi Gennis, Editor of a Hic & Hoc anthology about unsolved mysteries and a tremendous cartoonist herself, brings us a tragic and richly rendered tale about the so-called "Radium Girls," female factory workers in the early twentieth century poisoned by unsafe working conditions. Emi's process on this is fascinating, and she has generously explained it on her blog, in addition to creating this GIF showing the evolution of a page:
I'm happy to report that I'll once again be tabling at TCAF in Toronto, May 11 and 12, with comics wunderkind Pat Barrett. Then, in June, I'll debut Issue 5, the Hard Work issue, at CAKE in Chicago on the 15 and 16. I'll be joined at that table with Chicago's finest in comics journalism: Erin Polgreen and Joyce Rice of Symbolia and Darryl Holliday and Erik Rodriguez of The Illustrated Press (and the last two issues of The CP).
I would be remiss to not mention that you can now buy Symbolia's first Issue, "We Don't Belong" on iPad or as a PDF. Also, if you are in Chicago, you must check out The Illustrated Press exhibit at the Harold Washington Library.(I can't wait to see it!) Here also is a great interview with CP contributor Jess Ruliffson about her ongoing projects.
Finally, since this is the first year with a Summer issue, it is only fitting to be the first year with a Winter issue also. Issue 6 will be out in November. The theme is Small Worlds, and the deadline is August 1st.
More soon. If you've been paying attention, you know that I owe you one more Q+A, which I hope to post shortly.
It's already time to get together the Spring 2012 issue! The next issue has a theme of Hard Work. I want your true stories about real effort. It's that sweat-on-the-brow intensity that I think is going to really make this issue come alive. You have one month to tell me about your story. By January 1st, 2013, I want to know what's coming in. Once I know it's coming, together we can determine an individual deadline for when the finished comic is due. For more information, see the submissions page.
Just a reminder, this is the first issue where advertising has provided me with a comics budget. To pitch me, send me a paragraph or two describing the comic and why you think it would work in The Cartoon Picayune Hard Work issue. Then I can work with you as an editor (with a light touch) and we can make something really special. Plus you get paid!
In short, you have one month to a) pitch me on story you want me to edit and for you to get paid for, or b) tell me about your awesome story that you want to send to me already completed.
Have a piece in mind for The Cartoon Picayune that doesn't fit the theme? Email me, I'd love to hear about it and consider publication for a future issue.
Also, we're looking for more advertisers! Our rates are extremely reasonable, and as noted above, directly finance the creation of original comics journalism.
Two other short notes: I have a tumblr. It's a fun place for me to short and quippy.
Also, Symbolia, a tablet magazine that also focuses on comics journalism launches today. Spend some time with it (on iPad, ebook, or pdf) and you'll see that Erin and Joyce and doing something really cool. It definitely has it's own own personality, and I can't wait to see where they go with it.
That's it for now, stay tuned for three exciting Q+A interviews and maybe too many new comics projects.
Hey, here's a little post to get us back on track. More soon.
First, hi Pittsburghers! You can now buy The Cartoon Picayune at the Copacetic Comics Company.
Also, CAKE was a blast. Chicago was beautiful, and the show was really well-run and fun. It was small, free to get in, and there were great views up on the 8th floor. I can't say enough about this show, I had a great time and it provided a great excuse for a mini-vacation to Chicago. I was even able to meet up with some other comics journos. Here's my table along with my gracious host/tablemate for life Beth Hetland:
And here are two things that are not exactly comics journalism as it is in the CP, but they are still non-fiction comics I've drawn recently. First, I did some freelance work with Culture magazine (yes, an artisan cheese magazine), and you can read that story here. Also, I've been working on something on the side called Sequential News. You'll see what it is when you get there.