27 Feb 2018

Graphic content: giving news a fresh perspective

From Nine To Noon, 10:07 am on 27 February 2018

Cartoonist and illustrator Sarah Glidden uses images to tackle weighty subjects.

Glidden is part of a generation using non-fiction comics to give a fresh perspective on important stories.

The Seattle-based writer made a name for herself with How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, published in 2010.

In Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq (2016) she followed a team of journalists on a reporting trip to the Middle East.

“The thing that I love about graphic journalism is that by looking at the drawing you’re reminded of the person behind this stuff – their humanity.”

Her work is the antithesis of the instant reaction. "The act of drawing comics takes a long time,” Glidden says.

She picks topics she hopes will be more “evergreen” and processes the subject as she’s drawing.

“It really, I hope, slows things down a little bit and can temper some of that instant emotion that comes out.”

Glidden started out accompanying friends who’d set up a non-profit journalism organisation, to see how they carried out their reporting, and to tell the stories of the people they were interviewing.

Reporting was more complicated, less noble and less glamorous than she’d expected

"There's a lot of decisions journalists have to make that are not so noble ...so the book became more of an exploration into how they work around these obstacles and how they’re really just human beings, who can make mistakes, trying to do their best.

“The most revelatory thing for me … is that journalism doesn’t always make a difference.”

Reporting on Iraqi refugees, living in Syria, Glidden wanted to tell Americans what was happening and thought it might inspire some action. “But of course, not that many people are going to read a given piece of journalism and you can’t control what they do about it.”

The took place before the war in Syria broke out. Glidden says it was a more optimistic time, with then-US President Barack Obama talking about accepting more refugees.

“Now it seems like things have gotten much, much worse, and the situation with refugees [in the US] is terrible. We’ve cut down the number of refugees that we’re accepting, there’s an enormous amount of misinformation and xenophobia.

“It’s hard to go around promoting something that you did when you were still kind of hopeful about the situation.”

Sarah Glidden is a guest at two sessions and schools day during Writers & Readers from 8-11 March at the New Zealand Festival.