Profile: Comic artist draws on journalism

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By Laura Farmer, correspondent

Comic artist Sarah Glidden never used to think about where her news came from. “I didn’t give it much thought,” she explained in a recent phone interview. “You turn on the water in your house and the water comes out. You don’t really think about the pipes.”

That all changed when two of Glidden’s friends for college started The Globalist, a Seattle-based non-profit journalism collective dedicated to reporting international news as well as overlooked local stories.

“Every time they came back from these long in-depth reporting projects, I would visit then in Seattle and ask them lots of questions about how they did their job. They had all these really interesting stories about the people they would meet, brushes with danger. It just made me more and more interested in the behind-the-scenes of journalism.”

“I was working on my first book at this time. I asked them if when I was done with that book if I could come with them on one of their large reporting projects and document how they do their jobs. And they said yes.”

The result is Glidden’s second full-length work: Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq. She will read from this work and discuss her experiences at Prairie Lights on Wednesday, October 12 at 7 p.m.

For the book Glidden traveled through Iraq, Syria, and Turkey for two months with her friends Sarah and Alex, as well as Sarah’s childhood friend Dan, who served in the Iraq War. Glidden observed as Sarah and Alex tracked down leads, conducted interviews, and pieced together stories that could hopefully be sold to mainstream news outlets.

“As I got older, I realized that I really should be investigating where my journalism comes from and think critically about why are they talking to someone from this side of an issue and not someone from the other side. Who is the official that they’re naming?”

“I wanted to know more about what goes into creating journalism.”

Glidden’s pursuit of this topic raises some important questions, if inadvertently: with the rise of the internet and the downsizing of print media, it became harder for news outlets to support foreign bureaus. As a result, much of our foreign news — including news from warzones — is conducted by freelance journalists like Sarah’s friends: writers new to the field, with few established contacts, whose funding is at the mercy of Kickstarter.

There are some positives, Glidden explains, to this brave new world of journalism: “A lot of voices that didn’t have a platform before now do. We’re seeing some amazing changes happening fairly rapidly that are really encouraging. We see a lot more journalism and writing by people of color and queer groups and that’s wonderful. And a lot of these old institutions that weren’t giving room to these people are either having to change or they’re dying. So I think that’s great.”

Still, she observes, there are some definite growing pains. “I also see a lot of misinformation being passed around. I see friends on Facebook sharing articles that are either written by hoax websites or by propaganda mills that have a very clear political agenda ... We live in a very polarized time where it’s very easy to find the journalism that adheres to your point of view. We’re not forced to look at the other side of things very much. I don’t know what can be done about that. I’m hoping something can be done. Because otherwise we’re just living in these bubbles.”

Still, Glidden remains hopeful that new voices and visions can lead to more growth in journalism. “We’re going through growing pains right now. But I think if we can combine the new voices that we’re hearing from hearing with once there’s more experience with these newer outlets that it could have a journalistic renaissance. I’m very hopeful about it.”

More platforms and outlets for news also means more traction for unconventional storytelling, such as comics journalism.

Glidden came to comics late in life, after first pursuing painting and photography. “I wanted to be a photojournalist, but I was too shy ... I loved Tyler Hicks, that photojournalist from the New York Times. I thought he really captured people in this wonderful way. I wanted to take pictures like that, but I just couldn’t approach people and do kind of the necessary connecting.”

Comics, she found, was a way to make those connections. “There’s a little bit of a human connection there, between something that was hand-drawn, and the subject matter.”

At 26 she started producing a comic a day, and soon found herself hooked. Her first full length book, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, was a memoir about her birthright trip to Israel. In Rolling Blackouts, Glidden wanted to take a “step away from memoir” and focus more on other people and outside issues of personal importance.

“Comics can rally make someone stop and look at an issue that they thought they already knew.”

“I really hope that if someone reads a piece of comics journalism that it lets them form a connection. Maybe they’re go seek out more journalism about that same subject: if they read a comic about refugees, maybe they’ll start paying attention to more prose articles about refugees.”

“Comics journalism is a good addition to a journalism diet. Which, like regular diets, should be varied.”


What: Sarah Glidden will talk about her graphic novel, “Rolling Blackouts — Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq”

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City

Cost: Free

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