Notes: Comics, Journalism & Memory

Another set of notes. These are for a presentation I gave in Media, Memory & History at New York University. The notes are casual, but outline the idea. Since the question of comics and journalism was brought up at the PCA/ACA conference earlier, I thought it might be valuable to share. Slides are also included:

Comics, Journalism & Memory

○      Comic memoirs have become increasingly important in the world of comics, but “comics” (not cartooning) has been attached to the news (literally since their inception), printing, etc. IE printing technology. While there are examples that can counteract this, it’s an interesting note.

○      graphic memoirs provide, as we saw in the reading and analysis a potent way to deal with memories, both our own (Persepolis) and postmemories (Spiegelman).

○      A related genre of comic-making is Comics Journalism, a term that is connected most often to Joe Sacco, but extends to a number of other Artists.

  • Examples of Comics Journalism

○      Joe Sacco (Palestine Recounts the tales of Palestinians and Israelis after the Second Intifada, Tales from Gaza recounts a massacre in Gaza in the 1950’s through survivors [similar premise in some ways to Maus]) and more tales represented in Tales from Gorazde

○      Ted Rall (book and blog)

○      Other examples include webcomic “War is Boring” (recently novelized into a memoir) (David Axe and Matt Bors)

○      AD (After the Deluge) Post-Katrina Webcomic (turned into a novel as well) (six people in Louisiana)

○      CulturePulp Features and A&E Comic (here again the author includes himself to play critic)

  • Personal conflict with the term

○      I always was confused by this term of Comics Journalism. The reason for it was this. They were inherently unbiased. Spiegelman when he taught his class spoke about the role of the comic “auteur” that the role of the comic artist was to be both writer and artist as both he and Satrapi are. That it is in the combination of writing and art that the author invests himself. It’s one of the reasons he hates superhero comics so much. Even the handwriting of the artist has some sort of value in the comic

○      So a journalist couldn’t record events to any greater degree than in an unbiased fashion by being comic artists (none of these artists are attempting photo-realism)

○      On top of that, the comic journalists are often lumped into gonzo journalism or new journalism styles

○      Lastly, because the work of these artists has no authenticity. No verification like a photograph or a television news shot. They are in effect always done after the event. They can never be live (granted this isn’t a requirement of journalism)

  • So the question then leads me to think if perhaps comics journalism is a misnomer.

○      Certainly similar forms of “investigation” happen in the memoirs that we read

○      And similar techniques are employed by graphic memoirists and graphic journalists

■Tape recording

■Photographs

■Recounting past events

■Recounting stories

■Recounting memories

■Telling the tale from a personal narrative seems inherent to both as well (with the exception of AD)

  • So is there any categorical difference between the graphic memoir and graphic journalism

○      Seemingly interconnected things

○      The role of author (who they are in the story)

■They are “playing the role of journalist”

  • interviews
  • telling other people’s stories, etc.

■Otherwise Maus would certainly be a piece of graphic journalism

○      The recounting of other memories and tales graphically

○      The relative immediacy of the events

○      The location of the work (often news outlets)

○      Many pieces of graphic journalism deal with chaotic or murky events, blending multiple stories and realities under one umbrella (interview style is key) (often representing multiple viewpoints also is key)

  • Well so what?
  • What’s interesting is if you set up this dichotomy is how some of the concerns about “memory” shift from what we read to comics journalism. Questions of what is ritual and sacred turn to questions of ethics. Questions of emotional investment turn into questions of bias. Issues with Mimesis instead become questions of ethical substitution.
  • I want to analyze three or four points inside this presentation

○      The question of mimesis (with its relationship to Levinas’ substitution)

○      The role of the artist and the triangular relationship there

○      The question of ethics vs. memory in the role of the journalist

○      The role of memory for the graphic journalist (how do you report memory)

■And here on the propriety of reporting on particular events (for later)

  • The question of mimesis

○      Maus is argued to work with the idea of becoming or making similar

○      Spiegelman has to turn himself into the text it seems in order to try to reach some goal of catharsis

○      In order to do this, both he and Satrapi create incredibly easy to read characters

■the icon-mouse of Maus and the simple figuring of Persepolis. Both are reductions so that, as McCloud would suggest there is a level of identification with the emotional state of the characters

■Meta-Maus

■Particularly in both cases this is true with people

■The feeling of being jarring (a goal for the moral ambiguities of the tale)

○      The world that Vladek depicts is often represented with much realism (page numbers and examples)

○      However, in the world of the journalist it is an act of removal that is happening by Mimesis. The journalist is represented as less rather than more

○      And the mimesis of others is used instead to often photo realism or at least is even to that of the artist

  • The question of the authorial viewpoint. In both stories we read we have a triangular relationships between the narration of the story, the author and the mimetic self

○      Satrapi, Marjane, Marji

○      Spiegelman, Vladek & Artie

○      However, the relationship of this triangle is slightly different in Comics Journalism

■More of five points

■The event and representation take different precedent with the event superseding that of the interviewer

  • Often the artists make note that they have to sketch pictures of those they interview who do not want to be photographed
  • Ethics Vs. Emotions

○      Levinas a way of sympathizing with the character

○      Criticism of journalists vs. catharsis and memory

○      According to Huyssen there is a limit to the emotional resonance and catharsis of memesis. This is echoed in Bartley’s discussion of the limits of Levinas’ limits of substitution in ethics

○      Zelizer and others argue about the ethical implications of film vs. the authenticity of photographs. Does Comics Journalism provide a middle ground by sequencing the images?

  • Journalism and Memory

○      Spiegelman accepts that the past is visually not accessible through realistlc representation: whatever strategy he might choose, it IS bound to be “inauthentic.” He also is aware of his generational positioning as someone who only knows of this past through media representations. Documentary authentiCIty of representation can therefore not be his goal, but authenticationthrough the interviews WIth his father IS.

○      Here is perhaps one of the keys to Sacco’s journalism. Because there is no record he is combining these techniques providing both media and interview for these memories

  • Ultimately the stated “effect” though that this journalism does is depict memories more clearly. It seems to be why they are so effective, that journalists can depict the stories they weren’t there for in a visual format
  • So ultimately it seems that the effect (creating memory) is the effective tool used by both, but for the memoir it retains personally and often has connections to catharsis, emotional content, etc. Whereas for the journalists the only distinguishing factors lie around the role that they want to take. Not that much difference

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