With its roots in illustrated reporting, nonfiction comics storytelling has been around for a long time. In my Chicago Reader review of Disaster Drawn, I noted that author Hillary Chute argues that “documentary comics” can be traced back to the 19th-century work of Spanish artist Francisco Goya. But using the comics medium to report news, or supporting journalism with comic art, however, has only recently become more prominent. Its mainstream visibility owes partially to social media’s reach and modern digital tools that make it easier to publish. There are also more editors being open to running graphically reported pieces. You’re finding comics journalism now more than ever, sometimes in high profile outlets, too.
“There is a lot more opportunity for the kind of work that I do […] in general,” comics journalist Susie Cagle told the Longform Podcast’s Aaron Lammer in April. “Editors are more excited about it. There’s a different attitude toward it than [there was] when I was first starting.”
Given that email newsletters are thriving (MailChimp’s TinyLetter newsletter will soon have 200,000 users), it’s time for a monthly digest that helps attract more readers to what is a legitimate, important medium for investigative reporting.
In March of this year, an email newsletter called The CoJo List launched that aggregated a wealth of recent comics journalism which had run in places such as Pacific Standard, Foreign Policy, the New Yorker, and more. Additionally, the newsletter’s publishers included lesser-seen graphic reporting as well as news about forthcoming comics, and interviews with comics journalists.
“This genre is new enough that the people doing it still can’t agree on what to call it,” The CoJo List’s Josh Kramer tells me via email. “‘Nonfiction comics’ is still in an exciting growth phase, but it’s not too big that you can’t keep track of everything going on.”
As a Washington, D.C.-based writer, comics journalist, and editor of the nonfiction comics anthology The Cartoon Picayune—which will see its eighth issue launched this summer—Kramer has long practiced graphic reporting and advocated for it. So has Em DeMarco, a Pittsburgh journalist, comics creator, photographer, and CoJo List co-publisher. Even as she’s steadily reporting for the Pittsburgh City Paper right now—following an investigative reporting fellowship at Pennsylvania’s Public Source—DeMarco hesitates to recognize what has become a sturdy career for her, specifically one that blends her love of reporting and art.
“I’m the kind of person who constantly struggles with feeling like I’m not a real journalist or a real cartoonist because I didn’t go to school for either,” writes DeMarco in an email. “So seeing my work in print and online, like in the City Paper or reporting a story about sex worker legislation for Bitch Media, has been nuts.”
Kramer met DeMarco at a comics festival and sought her help in putting together the newsletter. It has since then taken off, earning both submissions for content and a good-sized audience.
“We’re looking forward to continuing to see nonfiction comics from all sorts of creators — especially from people that have been traditionally pushed to the margins, like people of color and LGBTQ folks,” says DeMarco.
The May 9th edition of The CoJo List includes a link to the work of Beijing-based artist and writer Krish Raqhav, whose recent comics travelogue takes him to Mexico City. Kramer and DeMarco also share Sophie Yanow’s Guardian report from Albany, New York, where she talked to people who voted in April’s U.S. Presidential Primary. In fact, there are reports from Korea, from California and Chicago, and more, and the publishers are looking for submissions in an effort to better represent the wealth of comics journalism being produced internationally.
“What’s really interesting to me is that at the moment a number of the individual artists best known for this work are very busy with other things, including fellowships, book deals, and news startups, and yet there is no dearth of no work,” says Kramer, who himself will become a Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan this year. “There’s an incredible diversity, in not just who is making great nonfiction comics, but also in what they are focusing on and how they are doing it.”
Images © 2016 Josh Neufeld for Foreign Policy. Image © 2016 The CoJo List. Image © 2013 Dakota McFadzean for The Cartoon Picayune. Image © 2015 Krish Raqhav. Image © 2015 Em DeMarco for Pittsburgh City Paper.