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Graphic Journalism by Dan Archer

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Trafficking feedback, the BP Debacle and grassroots mapping

My comic gets the group crit treatment for the first time

My comic gets the group crit treatment for the first time in Kiev, Ukraine

One massive advantage for Olga and I as we’ve put together this comic on human trafficking has been the support of NGOs and student groups in the Ukraine. Knowing that you’ve been able to incorporate feedback from sources on the ground is critical not only to the credibility of a project, but also to dispelling any doubts that creep in about putting the world to rights from behind the cosseted safety of my drawing board, here in sunny California. The same was true of the Honduran comic, which included eyewitness reporting and drew on various different sources in Tegucigalpa. To give you a great example of this sort of collaboration, a few weeks ago, Olga presented the first draft of the story (3p) you see above to a group of students, professors and NGO workers in Kiev. They then workshopped the piece, bringing up concerns over the wording (always tricky given the tightrope between remaining faithful to a translation and not seeming too stilted), visual references (my original dumpster wasn’t right) and how effectively they thought it communicated the victim’s story. The second draft goes back to them next week, so fingers crossed they’ll be happy with the revisions.

I’ve steered away from commenting on news headlines of late to focus on what I’ve been working on, but one article about the recent furore around the ever-encroaching oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico caught my eye and is worth a mention. No, it’s not this priceless quote from BP CEO Tony Hayward:

“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume”

More from the Huffington Post here, or the Guardian’s interview with Hayward here.

Current estimates put the total amount of oil leaked at 400,000 gallons (1.5m litres) – not quite up there with the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill at 40.9m litres, but with the potential to rival it, given the vast area the BP spill looks set to cover. Another thing the two spills have in common is the response from the company executives. Here’s Mark Boudreaux, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, responding to claims that 18 years after the disaster, there are still 26,600 gallons of oil clogging up Prince William Sound:

“Based on our initial review of the report, there is nothing newsworthy or significant in the report that has not already been addressed. The existence of some small amounts of residual oil in Prince William Sound on about two-tenths of 1% of the shore of the sound is not a surprise, is not disputed and was fully anticipated.”

I’m not even going to go into the fact that Obama himself has weighed in on the “ridiculous spectacle” of oil executive finger pointing to chastise the companies’ refusal to accept any of the blame and pay for the cleanup, despite BP’s profits last year of $4.4 billion an increase of 70 per cent on the same period in 2008.

No, what I’m interested in is BP’s elaborate attempts to cover up the magnitude of the spill from the media. Their measures include hiring local teams to ally with the coastguards and prevent journalists from getting access to the affected coastal areas (see left), as well as vetoing the taking or dissemination of aerial photography that would show the extent of the damage.

One man’s solution? DIY Aerial photography with nothing more than a makeshift rig, a balloon, and a cheap camera. Thanks to the Mediashift/Knight Projects Idea Lab for this excellent article. Visit for more info, and to get involved. Here’s the man behind the scheme (Jeffrey Warren)’s flickr page for more images.

Poverty Simulation and Joe Sacco’s Ridenhour Speech

Amidst the craziness of last week, I forgot to write up my part in an innovative new educational exercise created by social workers in Missouri. On Friday afternoon, Bay Area community leaders and organizers gathered at the Garden House Hotel in Palo Alto to be given an alias, as well as a background history. We were then ushered into one of the conference rooms to meet other members of our “family”: in my case, I was Pablo Perez, a 23-year old who had abruptly become head of the family when my divorced Dad was thrown in jail, leaving me to care for my two young teen sisters and their baby sister. The rules were as follows: we had to survive for 4 weeks (15mins of real-time each) below the poverty line, negotiating the kafka-esque labyrinth of social services, state benefits and pawn shops while ensuring that all household members were fed and the utilites weren’t shut off. The perimeter of the conference room was arranged with tables representing the different organizations we needed to visit: employment agency, bank, pawnshop, supermarket, utility company, daycare, police station – and to add an extra headache-inducing element, we could only move from table to table by surrendering a ‘transport pass’, which we had to buy when we ran out. This was to reflect the proportion of benefits that end up wasted on expensive local transport when people try to make their way out homeless shelters for real.

Here’s a video of the same poverty simulation being run in Pittsburgh to give you more of a sense of what it felt like to participate:

Needless to say, what started out as an interesting interactive exercise turned into a stressful, exhausting nightmare as we were deliberately kept waiting, hamstrung by misfiled paperwork and long queues everywhere we went. Some particular highlights included being robbed of a transport pass by none other than local council member Greg Scharff, or of $20 by a homeless outreach specialist. I might add that both were in character at the time, but the irony wasn’t lost on me. Here’s a full write-up of the afternoon by the local Palo Alto Daily, including a description of the above incidents:

Dan Archer, a social issues cartoonist from Mountain View, stood befuddled in the middle of the room after his character was robbed of his cash on the way to the grocery. It was the same money he had spent so long obtaining in the previous week that he was late picking up his child at day care.

All in all, it was an excellent way to raise awareness of a vital issue that applies to communities nationwide, far more powerful and resonating than a lecture or article, and further proof that interactivity is a key trigger for engaging with an audience on what some might deem “dry” topics. For more information, visit visit Step Up Silicon Valley’s website at or the Downtown Streets Team’s website at

Last but not least, here’s the full video of comics journalist Joe Sacco‘s acceptance speech of his highly deserved Ridenhour Prize for Investigative Journalism. Interesting to see the stigma against the term “graphic novel” in his closing comments, as opposed to “comic book”, which he prefers. Surely it’s a formal question of length (comic books being serialised 28pp saddle stiched), while a graphic novels are self-contained, 80pp+ works? As ever, your comments are welcome below.

Knight fellowship update, Trafficking, Karla Lara and Honduras in Berkeley

A bit more information on Monday’s big news about my Knight Fellowship: it’s essentially a year-long stint at Stanford university during which fellows are expected to develop a project thesis on a specific area of innovation within their journalistic field. Not to mention having full access to the gold mine of Stanford’s classes and resources, fellow Knights and students/faculty. My pitch, as you’ll see from the impressive line-up of project summaries, will involve the creation of a rich content digital comic, taking full advantage of the flexibility of the web’s infinite canvas along with its capacity to stream video, animation and include interactive elements. Once the fellowship begins in September I’ll start chronicling the development of the project as I tie its disparate elements together.

Speaking of innovation, one project that’s been slowly percolating over the last several months has been my work with Fulbright fellow Olga Trusova on raising awareness about human trafficking through digital/interactive comics, in conjunction with the International Organization of Migration (IOM). Olga’s been in the field since the end of last year, visiting NGOs in her native Ukraine and interviewing staff and victims who have dealt with the reality of trafficking first-hand. She then sends me her detailed notes which I translate into comics. We recently premiered the first comic at an NGO meeting in Kiev and are currently revising the artwork to incorporate the feedback, so I’ll post some finish panels sometime next week.

Karla Lara performing at Sunrise Cafe, SFO

Karla Lara performing at Sunrise Cafe, SFO

Last week I made it down to the Sunrise Cafe in the mission to hear Honduran artist, performer and activist Karla Lara sing and report back on the situation in Honduras. It was a great chance to meet members of the resistance (local to SFO and Tegucigalpa), as well as promote the comic, which went down really well. I’ll be attending the Sunday May 16th meeting at the Berekely Fellowship of Unitarians to sell more comics and talk to delegates fresh from Honduras, so save the date if you’re in the bay area – more details to come.  If this is the first you’ve heard of the Honduran comic, then click here to find out more.

A Ministerial reply on Chagos, Chris Ware’s Fortune Cover and Satire’s shortcomings

At last a full reply (at the very bottom of this post) from Chris Bryant, the Minister responsible for the Overseas Territories on the subject of the Chagossians’ right to return. To read my comic on the issue, go here. Meanwhile, Chris Ware, the visionary comics artist behind Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earth is in the news for his recent prank cover art for the new Fortune 500 list, which is surprisingly pointed for a graphic novelist who usually steers clear of politics: here are two highlights, including Guantanamo prisoners and an ‘exploitation ware1wareguantanamofactory’. For the full story and the entire cover art, go here. As always, the piece has attracted its fair share of fans and critics, the latter of whom rails:

“My main objection is that this kind of smarmy, artsy-fartsy assertion of intellectual/political superiority only reaches the people who already know about and are convinced of corruption in the American economy. What’s the point if the people who need to make changes are only offended or don’t even “get it”? Mr. Ware would do better to donate half of what must be a lucrative income to charity, write letters, hold a sign up in front of a capitol building, and or spend his lunch hour serving in a soup kitchen.”

Interesting point, most deflated in my opinion by the flawed suggestions (let’s not even go into the ‘lucrative income’ part) for enacting grass-roots change, but it does beg the question: is laughter the goal of satire, even at the expense of informing a

viewer? It reminded me of a recent piece in the Guardian about the golden era of British TV satire, spearheaded by Spitting Image (see left for a quick intro to the show). Again though, this sort of entertainment could only appeal to those already familiar with the political hot topics of the day, and could arguably be said to only flatter the egos of the same people it sighted in its satirical crosshairs (see 4mins 10 secs). Can visual news media be informative/educational AND entertaining/humorous? Leave your comments/link suggestions below.


The great Archcomix mailout, Arbejder/en hardcopy, new Yiddishland page

Centre-spread in last week's Arbejderen from Denmark

Centre-spread in last week's Arbejderen from Denmark

Almost all of the Honduran comic orders have now been shipped, so if you haven’t received your copy by the end of the month then get in touch. Unless of course you live in the UK/Europe, in which case you’ll just have to wait until that unpronounceable volcano in Iceland stops erupting. Also, please let me know what you think – I’d love to hear any comments you have. I’m currently working on an iphone app for my comics, and am mulling options for an ipad app too. In the meantime, checkout the lower-tech, hard copy of the Danish paper that ran the last part of the comic last week.

Click here to read a new page from Yiddishland over at the Social Histories page.

Comics back from the printers, new graphic novel project, Pulitzer-winning animations

hondboxed At last, the comics are now back from the printers and I’m glad to say they look great. They are currently being stuffed into envelopes and will be with those of you who ordered them next week. If you haven’t ordered one, then click on the button on the right-hand sidebar and do so immediately.

Now that the Honduran comic is at last completed, I’m re-focusing on my graphic novel, Hardhats, about the 1970 Hardhat riots and the parallels between the anti-war movements then and now. Click on the ‘Hardhats‘ tab at the top of the page for more info and to read an extract, which I’ll be adding more panels to over the next few months. You’ll also be able to check out all the research that’s going into the book and offer your comments and suggestions on what should or shouldn’t go in.

At last, a sign that innovation and creative use of multimedia in visual journalism is being rewarded -not to mention, taken seriously- by the industry. The winner, Mark Fiore, has loads of free animations available to view over at his website, so check them out. Question is, how different are Mark’s animations to single-panel/editorial gag cartoons? Is their purpose to inform or entertain? Certainly they’ve managed to stir up their fair share of controversy. With the advent of the ipad, you’d think this sort of content would be embraced with open arms by the tech companies, but news came this week that Apple have blocked Mark’s ipad app on the grounds that:

“Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

More on this story at the Columbia Journalism review. UPDATE: Looks like it won’t be long before Apple let Fiore’s app in after all, even though it took Steve Jobs himself to intervene.

Roy Bourgeois, Harvey Pekar, Visual muck-raking and a site reshuffle


Roy Bourgeois, SOAW founder, at the NW Latin American Solidarity Conference on April 9

The Honduran comic made its printed debut at the NW Latin American Conference on Friday, where it was excitedly picked up by NGO leaders and activists from around the US, as well as by Archcomix hero Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of the Americas Watch (see left). If you haven’t seen it already, check out the online documentary Father Roy: Inside the School of Assassins here. Thanks to Bruce Wilkinson for his support in organizing the event and getting me involved. A fundraiser in Washington DC to get more comics out to Honduras is also in the pipeline. I’ll keep you posted.

Now that I’m deep into the research stage of my upcoming comic on the Israeli lobby, I’ve been mulling over the creation of a visual database that would contextualize a number of seemingly disparate individuals (all of them influential and wealthy) within the various power-broking industries they belong to. A sort of yellow pages of power that would let readers see the connections between lobbying groups, political parties and multinationals on a personal level. Along the lines of transparency advocacy sites such as Open Secrets and Transparency International, but functioning at the level of the individual. With a sprinkling of interactivity thrown in for good measure. I’m delighted to say that the folks over at Muckety have beaten me to it – go there now (well, after you’ve read this, at least), enter a name into their search bar, and you’re instantly able to interactively explore their business, political and financial connections. Granted, it’s not an exhaustive directory, but it’s a fantastic tool for getting a sense of affiliations and influence.

Staying with that same goal of making websites easier to navigate and peruse information, you’ll notice I’ve re-organized this site’s pages to categorise the ever-expanding directory of comics into relevant topics, as well as added some new pages from recent projects. One of which is my recent collaboration with underground comics legend Harvey Pekar on a 55-page graphic history of Yiddish literature and culture. More about that on the Social Histories page.

Latin American Solidarity meeting in Seattle, Honduran comic in the Danish Press and more Japanese pages up

For those of you in the Seattle, Washington area tomorrow, be sure to check out the NW Latin American Solidarity Organization conference, where the first copies of the Honduran Comic will be making their technicolour debuts. The rest of you will be pleased to know that copies have left the printers so should be with you in roughly two weeks. Another first is in order on Tuesday when the comic will appear both in print and online for Denmark’s The Daily Worker. Staying on the translated tip, more pages of the japanese translation can now be found at the bottom of the Honduras page.

Measuring the Impact: Different perspectives on the same tragic incident

As you read each one, think about your reaction to the information, your level of engagement, and the likelihood of you wanting to find out more about this incident. Obviously, the amount of information will provoke a higher level of reader interest, so focus more on what factors are helping you to connect with the story (hint: it’s all about the visuals, as if you didn’t know that from being on this site already). All give different angles on the same incident, which took place almost 3 years ago in Baghdad.

1. From Reuters: July 12 – Photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh, both of whom worked for Reuters news agency, are killed in eastern Baghdad during clashes between U.S. forces and militants.

2. From the New York Times: BAGHDAD, July 12 (2007) — Clashes in a southeastern neighborhood here between the American military and Shiite militias on Thursday left at least 16 people dead, including two Reuters journalists who had driven to the area to cover the turbulence, according to an official at the Interior Ministry.

“They had arrived, got out of the car and started taking pictures, and people gathered,” Mr. Sahib said. “It looked like the American helicopters were firing against any gathering in the area, because when I got out of my car and started taking pictures, people gathered and an American helicopter fired a few rounds, but they hit the houses nearby and we ran for cover.”

3. Reuters again:


The last photo taken by Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen before he was killed on July 12, 2007

Photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, were killed in Baghdad on Thursday in what witnesses said was a U.S. helicopter attack and which police in a preliminary report called “random American bombardment”. The U.S. military in a statement issued just after midnight on Thursday described the incident as a firefight with insurgents. It has said the killings were being investigated.

“Our preliminary investigation raises real questions about whether there was fighting at the time the two men were killed,” said David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters. Residents and witnesses interviewed by Reuters said they saw no gunmen in the immediate area where Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh were killed in Baghdad’s al-Amin al-Thaniyah neighborhood. They said they were not aware of any clashes in the area leading up to the Apache helicopter attack around 10.30 am local time. Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh had gone to the area after hearing of a U.S. air strike on a building around dawn that day.

On Sunday, the U.S. military returned to Reuters two digital cameras that belonged to Noor-Eldeen which were taken by American soldiers from the site of the deaths.  No pictures taken by Noor-Eldeen on July 12 show clashes between militants and U.S. forces. The pictures show no gunmen, nor residents running for cover.

The U.S. military said last week it had called in “attack aviation reinforcement” after coming under fire from small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. Nine insurgents and two civilians “reported as employees for the Reuters news service” were killed, the statement said.

4. Video, courtesy of Wikileaks (visit their website for more information on their corporate/governmental whistle-blowing). Released earlier today at a press club meeting in Washington DC, the footage reportedly came through a source with connections to the military and has since been verified as legitimate and been broadcast globally (BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera…) – here’s a full video report from Al-Jazeera (plus interview with the editor who published it online).

More on this tomorrow, but please post your comments/reactions – and retweet the link.

To print at last and “the most revolutionary magazine in the world”

img_04241After what felt like an age of translating, tweaking, laying out, re-tweaking and all the rest in photoshop and indesign, I’m proud to announce that the first print run of the Honduran comic is underway as I type this. It should be ready in a few weeks time, so expect your copies around April 20th (US readers) and end of the month (rest of the world). I am now more aware than ever of the inevitable delays in going to print, but having seen one of the vast (almost full US letter size – see left with a stunt hand to give you a sense of proportion) copies in all its technicolour glory, I can tell you it’s well worth the wait. Thanks to Angela Vidergar for correcting my spanish translation for the second part. Now all I need are more orders to ensure I can push up the size of future print runs.

It’s always gratifying to see that it’s not just us self-publishers who are treading the precarious profit trail – apparently as of June, readers of the times in the UK will pay a princely £1 for the privilege of access to for a day, or £2 for the working week. Here’s the full skinny, courtesy of that trusted bastion of fine journalism, The Sun. Surely it can’t mean a wholesale lockout/access denied scenario for the more parsimonious amongst us – it’ll probably be a bare bones version with none of the rich content that’s up there at the moment. Question is, will that prompt a split in news content between raw twitter-esque headlines and live feeds, embedded content and video/audio sources? Answers in the comments section. Speaking of which, the illustrious winner of the last post’s quiz on the most corrupt country in the world is…Somalia, closely followed by Afghanistan. The verdant wonderland that is New Zealand sneaked the least corrupt prize.

Perhaps the self-proclaimed “most revolutionary magazine in the world” holds some of the answers to the above question. Launched by Andy Warhol 40 years ago, Interview magazine’s ipad version seems remarkably unrevolutionary from the below video. In fact, the only stand out moments from the slideshow/larger iphone feel of the preview is the embedded live video. Until creators start to rethink the way they create content instead of simply publish it, all this digital innovation will seem like whistle-and-bells add-ons to the existing mode of information delivery. Decide for yourselves below:

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