Comics journalism: Q+A with Erik Thurman

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Comics and Cartoons Week

Erik Thurman -- better known on DeviantArt as justsomedude86 -- is a world traveler, an activist and a comics journalist. He has been working on a three-volume graphic memoir on his travels and teaching experiences in the Philippines, Korea, and Chile. His long-form comics journalism pieces appear in The Nib, an online publication for nonfiction comics and political cartoons, and he has worked as an illustrator for the United Nations.

Today, he's going to answer some questions about comics journalism and his experiences with it.

Comics Journalism by justsomedude86

What is comics journalism?

justsomedude86Comics journalism is the gathering and distribution of information of documented current (and not so current) events, using a combination of literary techniques and drawn imagery in sequence. Good examples of comics journalism aim to inform the public by distilling, but not simplifying, difficult subjects in a more accessible fashion.

Butterflies by justsomedude86

Do you think comics are well-suited to nonfiction subjects?

justsomedude86Greatly so. With comics journalism, you're able to depict settings that might not be accessible to the artist, such as covering refugees that are on boats in the Indian Ocean, or recreate scenes as accurately as possible which were previously un-filmed or [where people are] unable to bring recording equipment to, like an embassy.

It also allows you to describe settings where it would be redundant to repeat how something looks. For example, when I used to live in the countryside of the Philippines, most of our town was underwater for most the year due to climate change, to the point that the average person lived on the second floor of their home because the first floor would often become flooded. Instead of constantly repeating "there is water in the living room to your knees, there is water in the kitchen to your knees," you can draw it and then rely on the story at hand with words.

Various pages of The American Immigrant: Korea by justsomedude86

Why or how did you get into comics journalism? What got you interested in it?

justsomedude86I actually came into comics (and art, for that matter) from my ex-wife, back when I was starting community college and studying engineering. Six months before enrolling, I had just been discharged from the military with a deep disdain for U.S. imperialism and I would eventually see art as a way to communicate problems with our society in a way that transcends language.  Eventually, during my studies, I would have a falling out with one of my professors in my illustration/animation major at San Jose State and would leave the program to travel to Asia and work on a graphic novel about the marketization of education. Although, I guess "formally" I got into the medium after I was contacted by an editor at The Nib, Eleri Mai Harris, when they were first starting out on and it somehow turned into a career after that.

Seoul Grind Page 1 by justsomedude86 Seoul Grind Page 2 by justsomedude86

Tell us about your own work and where it has taken you in the world.

justsomedude86My work has taken me all over the world, with a primary focus in Asia and Latin America. In the past, I have investigated political kidnappings of university students in the Philippines, covered economic inequality and protests in China, worked as a teacher in a South Korean orphanage to illuminate neoliberal policies in education, reported on migrant labor abuse and modern-day slavery in Qatar and India, went undercover to research human rights abuses perpetuated by a multinational mining corporation, marched with demonstrators for the calls of impeachment of former Korean President Geunhye Park, along with the historical feminist wave in South America, and investigated the military cover-up of an assassination of an indigenous activist in the southern conflict zone of Chile.

The American Immigrant: South Korea Cover by justsomedude86 The American Immigrant preview 6 by justsomedude86

You have a very distinctive style. What advice do you have for artists still developing the look of their work?

justsomedude86I always think about: How does my subject and my audience inform the work? Art is a form of communication, so ask yourself what you're trying to communicate and allow the style and format of your work to be dictated by the content of what you want to tell. For my work, I want to describe real-life settings, so I lean towards realism in my settings. Because my target audience is students for my graphic novel work, I work with a pen because reproduction is more affordable for black/white than it is in grayscale or color.

Myanmar's Rohingya Refugees #1 by justsomedude86

How do you decide what to include in your pieces, and what to leave out?

justsomedude86Due to the work being so time-intensive, comics journalism isn't suited for breaking stories that need to be filed immediately. Comics journalism excels in "deep dive" stories that aim to remain evergreen -- to last beyond the normal news cycle.

The American Immigrant by justsomedude86 

You are a bit of an activist, too, as well as a comics journalist. What are your goals with your work?

justsomedude86Aside from my usual work that I publish online, I'm currently working on a trilogy of graphic autobiographies of my experience as a former graduate who travels abroad to pay off student loan debt as a teacher, but gets wrapped up in a decades-long battle against predatory neoliberalism in education and rising fascism. I intend to publish this story soon and try to get this as required reading in universities so that I can help inform the next generation of activists to dismantle neoliberalism once and for all. For me, it's not enough to only tell others about the pain and suffering of others in compromised positions, but also to go after the powerful that continue such abuse.

Response to Gun Violence in the US by justsomedude86

Do you have other comics journalists or publications you’d recommend for us to look at?

justsomedude86: The Nib has been at the charge for promoting the medium more than any other publication I can think of within our lifetime, where you can find most of the most prominent comics journalists working today. Both Drawing the Times and Cartoon Movement have been leading the charge in Europe, and World Comics led by Sharad Sharma in India has held workshops on the medium. The medium has never had more prominence than what it is today in the digital age.

Thank you, Erik!

Check out more of his work on his DeviantArt page or at his website:

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Mrs-Durden's avatar
Very interesting read!