Comics journalism

Comics journalism or graphic journalism is a form of journalism that covers news or nonfiction events using the framework of comics, a combination of words and drawn images. Although visual narrative storytelling has existed for thousands of years, the use of the comics medium to cover real-life events for news organizations, publications or publishers (in graphic novel format) is currently at an all-time peak. Historically, pictorial representation (typically engravings) of news events were commonly used before the proliferation of photography in publications such as The Illustrated London News and Harper's Magazine.

More recent writers, journalists, and illustrators have attempted to increase validity of this genre by bringing journalism to the field in more direct ways. They includes coverage of foreign and local affairs in which word balloons are actual quotes and sources are actual people featured in each story. Many of the works are featured online[1][2] and in collaboration with established publications as well as small press.[3]


Antecents to comics journalism included printmakers like Currier and Ives and George Luks, who illustrated American Civil War battles; and political cartoonists like Thomas Nast.[4] The political magazine The New Masses sent cartoonists to cover strikes and labor battles, but they were restricted to single panel cartoons.[4]

In the 1950s and the 1960s, Harvey Kurtzman did a number of true comics journalism pieces for magazines like Esquire and TV Guide.[4] In 1965, Robert Crumb, later a key founder of the underground comix movement, produced "Bulgaria: A Sketchbook Report" for Kurtzman's Help!, a tongue-in-cheek journalistic overview of the socialist country of Bulgaria, based on his own travels there.[5] Crumb had done an earlier, similar "sketchbook report" on Harlem, which was also published in Help![6] Kurtzman also hired Jack Davis and Arnold Roth to do light-hearted journalistic comics for Help![4]

Editor/cartoonist Leonard Rifas' two-issue series Corporate Crime Comics (Kitchen Sink Press, 1977, 1979) was an early example of comics reportage,[4] with a number of notable contributors, including Greg Irons, Trina Robbins, Harry Driggs, Guy Colwell, Kim Deitch, Justin Green, Jay Kinney, Denis Kitchen, and Larry Gonick.

Joe Sacco is widely considered to be one of the pioneers of the form,[7][8] starting with his 1991 series Palestine.[4]

As "comics editor" of Details magazine in the mid-1990s Art Spiegelman, modeling himself after Kurtzman, assigned comics journalist pieces to cartoonists like Kim Deitch, Jaime Hernandez, and Sacco.[4]

In October 1994 cartoonist Bill Griffith toured Cuba for two weeks, during a period of mass exodus, as thousands of Cubans took advantage of President Fidel Castro's decision to permit emigration for a limited time. In early 1995, Griffith published a six-week series of stories about Cuban culture and politics in his strip Zippy. The Cuba series included transcripts of conversations Griffith had conducted with various Cubans, including artists, government officials, and a Yoruba priestess.[9]

Some of the first known magazines focused specifically on comics journalism include Mamma!, a magazine of comics journalism printed in Italy since 2009 and produced by a group of authors; and Symbolia, a digital magazine of comics journalism for tablet computers.

Since 2014, Jen Sorensen has been editing the "Graphic Culture" section of Fusion, while Matt Bors has edited online comics collection The Nib,[10] both of which publish comics journalism pieces.

In May 2016, The New York Times featured comics journalism for the first time with "Inside Death Row",[11] by Patrick Chappatte (with Anne-Frédérique Widmann), a five-part series about death penalty in the United States. In 2017, it published "Welcome to the New World,"[12] by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan, chronicling a Syrian refugee family settling in the United States. The series ran in the print Sunday Review edition from January to September 2017 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 2018.[13]


As with traditional journalism, there are no rules per se about comics journalism, and there are a wide variety of practices. Joe Sacco is a trained journalist who extensively documents his subjects and spends years crafting his stories.[4] Among the techniques he uses to protect his subjects — who are often survivors of conflict zones in the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia — are to change their names and use his art to anonymize their faces.[4]

Austrian graduate student Lukas Plank created a comic, "Drawn Truth: Transparency in Journalist Comics," based on his research into the field, that outlines some potential "best practices" for comics journalists.[14]

Comics journalists

Magazines of comics journalism

  • Mamma!, Italian printed magazine of comics journalism, editorial cartoons, data journalism, and photojournalism. Founded by Carlo Gubitosa and published by cultural association Altrinformazione from 2009 to 2013.[15]
  • The Nib, American online non-fiction comics publication edited by Matt Bors and Eleri Harris. Published under Medium from 2013-2015 and under First Look Media since 2016.[16]
  • La Revue Dessinée, French quarterly of Comics Journalism. Published since 2013 by Éditions du Seuil.[17]
  • Symbolia, American digital magazine of comics journalism. Published from 2013 to 2015.[18]

See also


  1. Holliday, Darryl and Rodriguez, Erik: The Illustrated Press
  2. Macnaughton, Wendy. "Meanwhile, The San Francisco Public Library," (May 13, 2011).
  3. Kramer, Josh "The Cartoon Picayune".
  4. Mackay, Brad. ""Behind the rise of investigative cartooning," THIS Magazine (Jan. 2008). Archived at Ad Astra Comix.
  5. Crumb, Robert. "Bulgaria: A Sketchbook Report," Help! #25 (July 1965). Archived at Transverse Alchemy. Accessed April 3, 2019.
  6. Crumb, Robert. "Harlem: A Sketchbook Report," Help! #22 (Jan. 1965).
  7. Nalvic. "A Quick Guide to Comic Journalism". Nalvic's Reviews (June 12, 2012).
  8. Crumm, David (June 29, 2012). "Joe Sacco nails down comic credentials in Journalism: Sacco contributes to new global language" Archived 2012-07-13 at the Wayback Machine. Read the Spirit.
  9. "About Bill Griffith," Current Biography (2001). Archived at Zippy the Pinhead official Website. Accessed Dec. 11, 2019.
  10. "The Nib (Long form pieces)".
  11. "Inside Death Row". May 2016.
  12. "Welcome to the New World". September 2017.
  13. Ayres, Andrea. "How a Graphic Novel “Welcome to the New World” Won a Pulitzer," The Beat (April 19, 2018).
  14. Plank, Lukas. "Drawn Truth," Drawn Truth Tumblr. Accessed April 3, 2019.
  15. "Focus sulla rivista Mamma! La nuova frontiera del giornalismo a fumetti". "Il nuovo Corriere di Lucca e Versilia". 30 October 2010.
  16. "First Look Media". Retrieved February 15, 2016.
  17. "La Revue Dessinée, c'est quoi ?". Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  18. "Symbolia digital magazine draws in readers with 'illustrated journalism'". 3 December 2012.
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