Graphic journalism: Don’t shout, Draw!

Sania Aziz

A few months ago, I’d written an essay profiling Joe Sacco, a graphic journalist. It was already a long one, but I have more to say about it. But before I do that, I think I have to explain what graphic journalism is, and who Joe Sacco is—mainly because very few actually know about either.

Graphic journalism is easy to decipher though. Something to do with visuals and images, right? Well yes. Except that it is actually long form journalism in a graphic novel format. Call me ignorant, but I was totally blown away by this concept when I found about it; it’s not something that would’ve crossed my uncreative mind. Anyway.

Graphics journalism is also called comics journalism and it’s got quite the history one would expect from any art/creative field. I won’t get into that but long story short, it started with little cartoons and evolved into lengthy reportage in graphic format. I also cannot believe the irony of the previous sentence but I’ll leave that to let you know who Sacco is.

Joe Sacco is a Maltese-American considered to be the pioneer of graphics journalism (in like, the whole world) and one of his books, Palestine (1993) is considered to be his best work. My favorite works of his will however, always be Safe Area Goražde (2000). But I digress and if you want to read in detail about Sacco and the history of graphic journalism then here is the essay I was talking about.

I had to have this rather long introduction so I could give you a brief understanding of the topic at hand. And yet, I don’t want my readers to believe that graphic journalism is a ‘western’ idea. If anything, Joe Sacco had in the 1990s, and even now, contemporaries in India, one of whom is Orijit Sen. Sen’s first graphic novel River of Stories (1994) is considered to be one of the first works of graphic journalism in India. Subsequently, many more works of comics journalism emerged in India: Enchanted geography by Sarnath Banerjee, Munnu by Malik Sajad, and Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s This Side, that Side: Restorying Partition are just some of the examples. In fact, Sacco himself did a story on Dalits in northern Bihar. (I found out about them through The Hindu’s article here).

Sounds great when you read about these works now, yeah? The truth though, is that journalism in India has been greatly relegated to newspapers and local television—and to some extent digitally. And even within these media, there is a great urban-rural, English-vernacular, and most noticeably a digital divide (These claims are discussed here, if you want to know more).

My point is that we shouldn’t be complacent about the few works I just mentioned above. India is a greatly talented country and in a population of a billion people it doesn’t do us (and graphic journalism) any justice that only so few practise it. It becomes next to insignificant in a journalistic context. Because of the raw, unmined talent, I believe that graphic journalism has potential to do well in India, and improve on itself. I will also say, despite any evidence or proof, that comics journalism can bridge the many gaps and divides that exist in Indian journalism.

I cannot however, pitch for a format without warning of its limitations. The most crucial aspect is objectivity because graphic journalists are often accused of being biased. Well what journalist isn’t? But the issue with graphic journalists is slightly different from the rest.  A comics journalist’s bias stems more from the nature of the medium than from her/himself. This is because they have to often take a stand on an issue, without which it becomes difficult to complete one’s work.

I still believe though, that there is scope for this type of media too in India. There is always scope for a country that hasn’t reached total literacy or education levels. An Indian graphic journalist will find readers if enough awareness is spread about the medium—and one will always find in me at least, an avid reader and supporter of graphic journalism.

Sania blogs at https://writingdubaiblog.wordpress.com/ 

Image courtesy