Comics journalism, the use of the comics medium to report news stories and real-life events, is increasingly becoming a part of the mainstream media. According to The Economist, “it has been around for decades, kept alive by such talented artists as Joe Sacco, who has used the medium to depict everything from a war-torn town in the Gaza Strip to the Eastern Bosnian war.” Comics
journalism has been featured in prestigious newspapers such as The New York Times, published as graphic novels, and has a large presence online. ArchComix.com states the interactive potential of the web and social media makes comics journalism more powerful and effective than ever. Comics journalist Sarah Gliddens states the genre is thriving because “it can make people stop and take notice.” One such work that grabbed the public’s attention is “At Work Inside Our Detention Centres: A Guard’s Story.” This piece of comics journalism, published in 2014 by the now defunct news website Global Mail, tells the story of Australia’s detention centers for asylum seekers.
The comic, able to be viewed here, http://tgm-serco.patarmstrong.net.au/, is extremely effective. The book Making Publics, Making Places addresses the comic in the chapter titled “Picturing placelessness: Online graphic narratives and Australia’s refugee detention centres,” written by Aaron Humphrey. Humphrey gives a brief explanation of Australia’s “Migration Zone” and how it was whittled away to nothing after 2013. Those seeking asylum are kept in offshore detention centers that are the equivalent of prisons. The comic gives a powerful illustration of this as seen below.
Humphrey points out the government encourages Australians to see asylum seekers as less than human and “began the longstanding practice of referring to refugees using terms like ‘floods’ and ‘waves’ – the dehumanizing language of natural disasters.” The comic portrays Serco, the company managing the detention centers, as promoting the idea that these people shouldn’t be seen as humans.
In analyzing “A Guard’s Story,” Humphrey argues its effectiveness is due to the fact the comic gained its massive amount of readers by being shared through social media. According to Humphrey, the online community has a sense of placelessness that allows readers to connect to the asylum seekers. He also points out the comic is read like many social media sites, by scrolling down through a flow of content. Humphrey also argues the comic shares characteristics with emojis, as the abstracted facial expressions of the characters depicts their “negative, intense and complicated emotions.”
Finally, Humphrey notes the comic creators avoided calling the individuals refugees, migrants, or any other categorizing terms. In this way, the story is relatable and readers are able to form a human connection. The powerful images in “A Guard’s Story” caused people to share the comic more than 56,000 times. Gliddens is right. Comics journalism is certainly making people take notice, and hopefully also pushing them to make a difference or take a stand on these important issues being reported on in this unique way.
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