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June 17, 2014, 9:30 a.m.
Reporting & Production

From Nieman Reports: How comics can bring new audiences to narrative nonfiction

“In a world of information overload, beautifully crafted, hand-illustrated comics provide clarity and emotional resonance.”

Editor’s note: Nieman Reports, our sister publication, is out with its newest issue, and there’s plenty of material there for any journalist to check out. But over the next few days, we’ll be running excerpts of stories we think would be of interest to Nieman Lab readers. Be sure to check out the whole issue.

Here, Erin Polgreen, the co-founder of Symbolia, writes about the use of comics in narrative nonfiction.

NiemanReports_Spring2014_CoverShortly after I co-founded Symbolia, a digital publication that merges comic books and journalism, I got an intriguing pitch. Reporter Sarah Mirk wanted to tell the stories of the veterans who had served at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to help reframe the public understanding of the base and make the “image of Guantanamo become very clear and personal.”

Mirk took on this story because “media about Guantanamo focuses almost exclusively on policy discussions and the opinions of high-ranking decision-makers.” As a result, human impacts as well as the experiences of those working at the facility are “overshadowed.”

I immediately green-lit the story. Mirk instinctively understood what comic book formats can do for journalism. The form makes heady topics intimate and relevant. Issues that are far away become more personal to the reader. In a world of information overload, beautifully crafted, hand-illustrated comics provide clarity and emotional resonance.

Mirk worked with artist Lucy Bellwood to merge subtle audio, looped animations, and sequential visual narratives in a profile of two Navy veterans. The resulting piece, “Declassified,” is one of the most successful stories from our first year of publishing.

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »

POSTED     June 17, 2014, 9:30 a.m.
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