Sunday July 09, 2017

Using comics to explore foreign reporting and the isolation of being held hostage

Excerpts from Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq, by Sarah Glidden and Hostage, by Guy Delisle. (Provided by Drawn and Quarterly)

Excerpts from Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq, by Sarah Glidden and Hostage, by Guy Delisle. (Provided by Drawn and Quarterly)

Listen 35:15

In the public consciousness, the word "comic book" still conjures up the idea of men and women in tight suits, or possibly TinTin or Asterix. 

But another side of comics has been exploding. The world of comics and graphic novels that deal with very weighty subjects ... grief, war, foreign politics and even the Holocaust.

Guest host Kevin Sylvester speaks with two cartoonists who have spent their careers expanding the boundaries of their medium. 

Kevin Sylvester

Guest host Kevin Sylvester, an illustrator and CBC broadcaster, sketches himself in conversation with cartoonists Sarah Glidden and Guy Delisle.

French-Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle is famous for his graphic novel travelogues, which immerse readers in the history, tensions and daily rhythms of places like Burma and North Korea. 

His new book, Hostage, is an intimate exploration of the intensely confusing and isolating experience of being kidnapped.

Guy Delisle

French-Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle's new book Hostage is an immersive exploration of the kidnapping of an NGO worker. (Cecile Gabriel)

Sarah Glidden made a name for herself with her graphic novel, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less … a book about her efforts to make sense of her own ideological convictions while on a Birthright trip to Israel. 

Her new book is called Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Sarah Glidden

Sarah Glidden's new book is a work of "meta-journalism" that explores how journalism gets made. (Sarah Shannon)

Hostage tells the story of Christophe André, a Médecins Sans Frontières worker who was kidnapped and held as a hostage in Chechnya for three months in 1997. 

Hostage interior

A scene from Hostage, by Guy Delisle. (Provided by Drawn and Quarterly)

Delisle says he wanted his readers to experience what it would be like to be held captive for months, with no idea when or if help would arrive. He stays with André throughout the book, never showing what's happening in the world outside or jumping ahead in time. 

"I didn't want to just write, 'two weeks later,' and then he's more tired and skinnier and dirty ... I wanted to have almost every day, and you just go crazy, just like him," he says. 

He also shows André's attempts to regain control in small ways, by refusing to say goodnight to his captors or by managing to hide and eat a clove of garlic. 

Hostage garlic

A scene from Hostage, where André eats a clove of garlic he has managed to find and hide from his captors. (Provided by Drawn and Quarterly)

In Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq, Glidden follows a team of journalists on a reporting trip to the Middle East.

The book includes interviews with refugees and officials about the aftermath of the Iraq War, but at its heart, it's an exploration of how journalism gets made and of the ethical questions journalists wrestle with behind the scenes.

Rolling Blackouts

Sarah Glidden's new book is a behind-the-scenes look at how journalism gets made. (Provided by Drawn and Quarterly)

The trip ends in Syria in 2010, before the civil war displaced millions of people. Glidden says she initially wondered whether a story about Syria in 2010 would feel relevant today, but decided it was important to show people what Syria looked like before the war. 

Rolling Blackouts

A scene from Rolling Blackouts shows Damascus before the Syrian civil war. (Provided by Drawn and Quarterly)

Glidden says she thinks comics can help people make a personal connection to complicated topics or faraway places. 

"I think a lot about [Marjane Satrapi​'s graphic memoir] Persepolis, which was one of the first graphic novels I read when I was younger. I didn't know much about Iran at that point ... and it really gave me this personal connection, through her, to this place. Ever since I read that book, Iran felt different to me," she says. "That coloured how I read the news, and that's what I always hope can happen with graphic journalism."

"Comics journalism can add this intimacy between a reader and the subject that they can take with them going forward."

Click 'listen' above to hear Kevin Sylvester's conversation with Sarah Glidden and Guy Delisle.