Module JG090

Comics Journalism

Module author

Kerric Harvey

George Washington University

Learning objectives After studying this module, you will be able to:
  • Define and explain this journalistic genre;
  • Explain the reasons for this concept;
  • Give an overview of the historic development of the genre, including key persons who established this genre;
  • Reflect this genre critically.
Study point 1
Reading extract Comics Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that Comics Journalism is important zu know

The concept of comics journalism is a unique genre of the journalism tree that was around long before the advent of photography. Also known as graphics journalism, it broadens the scope of a story by presenting it in the form of comics or cartoons and continues to grow as a storytelling approach in this medium.

Using illustrations to contribute to news stories first came about with Harper's Magazine in 1825, while the first newspaper to use it was The Illustrated London News 17 years later. Internationally, the Japanese genre of Manga has been around since the late 19th Century, and accounts for one-third of the country's published books. More recently, the reluctance by many consumers to read a lengthy article about an important or complicated issue.

While the editorial cartoon has been a journalistic staple, the confusion that often links it with comics journalism requires some clarification. An editorial cartoon is almost always a single panel illustration that offers an opinion on a topic, which is in contrast to what comics journalists attempt to portray. Their approach is to compile all the information and research about a story, then sequentially illustrating it with short bits of information, as opposed to writing a traditional article.

Sometimes that compilation is the work of a single person, while other times a journalist and comic artist will collaborate on a story. On other occasions, the device will be used to help discuss a detailed scientific topic, delve more deeply into a discussion of literature, offering an easy way to explain an economic approach or possibly use it for context when addressing the past history of an issue or event.

There are detractors to this method of communication who believe that using it as a storytelling device can detract from or trivialize what the author is attempting to state. Also, if the method is non-fiction based, there's a risk that the political slant of both the art and writing will be geared in a single direction as opposed to attempting to take more objective viewpoint.

However, in certain cases, its use may help soften what is an emotionally-wrenching topic. For example, trying to portray stories about various forms of abuse in this manner are less intimidating when offered in this manner. Other actual examples works that were created in the aftermath of the horrors of both the September 11th attacks and the deluge that followed Hurricane Katrina helped explain some of the more heroic efforts that took place as well put the tragedies into the proper context.

Other examples can come from economic information that the average person may see as an avalanche of numbers that are hard to digest. By presenting it with illustrated individuals within the respective panels, it helps to humanize the numbers for the reader, which can lead to greater understanding.

Another invaluable use might come in trying to engage youths in a variety of different subjects that they may shy away from if only offered information in the usual textbook form. If they embrace the method used, it could spark a heretofore unseen interest in the topic, and may put them on the path toward an eventual career.

While journalists of today are no doubt concerned with simply writing stories that can better shed some light on an issue that interests them, they should keep abreast of stories that reference the growing popularity of this medium. That's because with the decreasing interest in reading long-form or complicated information that may deal with vital issues, publications and websites may begin to take a greater interest in comics journalism as a way to better interest a potential reader.

The fact that this new form is a visual media that would work well on either hard-copy or internet-based entities makes it even more likely that a greater adoption rate for media outlets will take place.

Despite this growing trend, there will always be a need for journalists to help provide the writing that will work in tandem to make that much more of an impact on society. Evolution in all forms of life takes place each day, and comics journalism is but another step on that road for those in the field, so it seems prudent to jump on board or get left behind.