I was at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences last week in search of great academic research to report on, and to air on my radio show.
The third paper in that session was "Illustrating Other Points Of View: The Potential Of The Emergent Form Of "comics Journalism"".
My first impression was really? How could comics be compatible with serious journalism?
Isabel Macdonald, a PhD candidate at Concordia University, explained how comics journalism combined the narrative driven draw form of comics with investigative journalism to tell stories which are neglected by or near impossible for traditional journalism to cover.
Macdonald shared her own experience reporting on the conditions of a Haiti displaced persons camp. She noted that in traditional journalism medium, voices and faces are obscured in broadcast to protect sources. This requires resources, and reveals the identity of the vulnerable source to those involved in the production.
In comics journalism, due to the nature of the drawing medium, drawings are not exact replicas of the sources. She showed a drawing from the comic journalism report she will be publishing, the drawing shows her interviewing a person inside of a tent, the person as a silhouette shadow seen as the light projects onto the canvas of the tent.
There is a speech bubble, an exact quote of the resident of the camp.
Comics are ultimately a narrative driven medium; the characters speak. This convention of the medium means marginalized persons get to speak more for themselves than traditional journalism.
In comic form, the journalist is forced to use direct quotations; giving people a great voice in conveying their own experiences.
For readers, the form more directly brings them into the story being told by the journalist.
For more on comics journalism, this The Economist article is a good primer: The power of comics journalism - the medium is able to narrate personal experiences more effectively than traditional journalism can.
UPDATE: a good comment on Facebook revealed a point I failed to make - how does comic journalism assist people of colour to be heard. My response: Many PoC are afraid of speaking about their situations because they could be subject to retaliation from the powers oppressing them. They are afraid that even with their voice altered, or face obscured, their identity is not protected.
In comic form, the can know the visual representation will not be them, yet for the reader of the comic, the comic version is representative to inform them of what the physical dimensions of the story are.