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Graphic Journalism by Dan Archer



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Q&A on PBS Mediashift, Kickstarter Project updates, Creative Work Fund Shortlist

It’s been a while, and plenty’s happened: first and foremost, check out my interview with PBS Mediashift on graphic journalism processes and practices. Then if you want the latest issue of the graphic journalism investigation into human trafficking in Nepal that I’m currently working on, check out the updates from my ongoing Kickstarter (ok so the Kickstarter is over, but you can always get issues from the archcomix store if you missed that boat). Those of you who got the last Archcomix newsletter (sign up here if not) will also know that I’ve been shortlisted for the Creative Work Fund for my project on San Francisco’s mentally ill homeless population and their struggle to find housing services. More soon – and be sure to check out partner site Graphic Voices for more about recent collaborations with NGOs (ECPAT and Save the Children). Thanks for your support.

Borderland: Star of the Orient (cont’d)

Part 2 of another comic from the upcoming human trafficking comic, Borderland. Featuring 7 true stories told by human trafficking victims in comics format. Now at 1/3 of our goal! Please order your comic via Kickstarter here – $5 for a digital version, $10 for a hard copy, as well as more luxurious options like signed posters, behind the scenes views of the project’s artwork, and the chance to sponsor a copy for a Ukrainian school or NGO. More news on yesterday’s SF Zine fest journalism panel below.

Borderland Comics – in Ukrainian and Russian!

Above is a sample from my current project on human trafficking, called Borderland. The name comes from the translation of “Ukraine“. The comic, which will be around 32-36pages long, is made up of several different real-life stories recorded during interviews with victims at NGOs around the Ukraine over the past year. The finished pages will be B/W with a single spot colour over the top: search for “Roma” or “Trafficking” in the Apture search bar at the top of the page and you’ll find a complete page from a different story to see what I mean.

We’ll (my colleague and Fulbright Fellow Olga Trusova and I) then bundle those together with information and anti-trafficking resources (helplines, websites, NGO contact details), translate them into Ukrainian and Russian and disseminate them around Eastern Europe. I’ll be creating a dedicated page called ‘Trafficking” over the next few weeks that will feature more information on the project, as well as a gallery of pages, so be sure to come back and check it out.

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.

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.