Recently I was made aware of Cartoon Movement, a site billed as 'the internet's #1 publishing platform for high quality political cartoons and comics journalism'. There's some really interesting stuff posted on it, including editorial work and longer format graphic novels.
One project that particularly grabbed my attention was Army of God, a non-fiction graphic novel that aims to document the horrific impact of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the Congo. The site reports that:
based on reporting by David Axe from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010, the comic explores the history of the LRA with eyewitness accounts from captives and those working to stop the destructive militia. Each chapter will focus on a different character and their role in the saga, from diplomats to LRA soldiers to the women and children they capture. The first chapter recounts the Congo's long history of colonialism, corruption, and strife that have set the stage for the conflict of today. The artwork is by Tim Hamilton.
The documentary as a form of story-telling always raises interesting issues around the (im)possibility of verity. Perspective, and interpretation--for both the story-teller and the audience--are central aspects of any documentary. Thus, what I began to wonder is how might these dynamics play out in a medium like the graphic novel?
Graphic novels potentially provide different modes of expression to traditional documentary reporting in print, film, or photography. Similarly, graphic novels may embody a very different aesthetic experience for the audience compared to more orthodox documentary media. Do these different modes of expression and aesthetic experiences provide the story-teller with unique challenges and opportunities? For example, do graphic novels as medium offer the possibility to discuss raw issues in a way that is less likely to alienate an audience? Or, from first principles, does the medium itself alienate in a way that more traditional documentary forms do not?
Another set of questions for me involve the specific kind of story-telling that can be presented through the medium. How can one best capture the myriad complexities of a conflict like the war in the Congo through a graphic novel? Are these challenges any different to say the difficulties of not resorting to cliche in photojournalism? Do audiences read documentary graphic novels more critically than they might read a documentary film or photograph, given the closer (and highly problematic) association that these media have with their ability to capture the 'real'?
I realise that documentary graphic novels are not new. Joe Sacco has been writing and illustrating them for years. Arguably, Art Spiegelman's Maus was one of the first documentary graphic novels to receive popular attention. But as my own work becomes increasingly interested in the power of cultural narratives and the mediums used to constitute and challenge their constitutive relations of power, I have become more sensitive to how stories of world politics are told and the forms that they take in popular culture.