…For one day – and one day only – the world’s attention was suddenly back on Haiti. International media outlets scrambled to publish the same figures about half the promised aid being delivered and the half million people still living in tent cities all over the capital.
But for Matt Bors, editor at internet comic publishers Cartoon Movement, these stories – largely based on interviews or statistics from international NGOs – lack one essential ingredient, a truly local perspective.
“I think a comic is just so much more immersive [than other forms of media],” Bors tells me via telephone from Portland in the US. “You’re immediately put into a place by somebody who’s there and knows what it looks like. It’s all realistically drawn too.”
The 28-year-old pioneers a relatively new breed of cartooning with its roots firmly planted in political journalism. Instead of swashbuckling fantasy or tongue-in-check satire – the mainstay of much cartoon work – this is genre based on real interviews and, more importantly, worded and drawn by local contributors. It’s their chance to give their own vision of the day-to-day realities in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Cartoon Movement sent Bors, an American cartoonists, and his Dutch colleague Tjeerd Royaards to Haiti for a month in the summer. Their task was to track down the talent for a Haiti comic series, which they found in artist Chevelin Pierre – a self-taught cartoonist and one of the few in the country – and Jean Pharès Jérôme, a journalist at Le Nouvelliste newspaper.
The comic will be released as separate chapters at rough month and a half intervals, eventually forming a 75-page body of work. The first chapter, published to coincide with the two-year anniversary of the quake, focuses on tent city life in the capital. A second instalment to be published in February will examine the polemical issue of NGO money.
For Bors, cartoons have an ability to make information interesting and accessible, despite the minefield of facts and figures they’re tackling. “There are a lot of complex factors,” he says, referring to the situation in Haiti. “There are all sorts of acronyms, there’s a lot of information and all sorts of statistics. So I think that comics are the perfect medium – they’re good for telling human stories and breaking down a lot of information, making it digestible to readers.”
Cartoon Movement, an online Dutch publisher with government funding, has built an important network of 139 artists spanning 75 countries. If something kicks off in the Middle East, Africa or the Americas, they can call on local artists to give their interpretation. The idea is to provide real stories based on concrete quotes and figures and explore the power of the internet to unite disparate groups and provoke debate. The web format also means the company isn’t constrained by printing costs or limited space issues.
The Haiti comic, initially released in English, is currently being translated into French and Creole. Cartoon Movement is also in discussion with several book publishers, while an international charity in Haiti is looking to publish an excerpt in Creole in its educational broadsheet that is distributed in the camps.
Bors admits that comics is a “really tough” environment to work in as conventional places to publish diminish. But hopefully with the power of the internet things are changing. Having already racked up trips to Afghanistan and Haiti, he’s desperate to get back there and do some drawing of his own this time. Work that deserves its place in journalism just as much as the more traditional forms.