Saturday, December 14, 2019

31 Days of CCS #14: Advocacy Comics

This Is What Democracy Looks Like was published by the Center For Cartoon Studies itself. The comic is free and available as a .pdf, with the idea that it's a work of Graphic Advocacy, or Applied Cartooning, as the school itself might say. The lead cartoonist and writer is Dan Nott, and the project truly has his fingerprints all over it. Nott has an evenhanded authorial voice, even when he's passionate about a subject. He also has a knack for taking large, confusing institutions and breaking them down, piece by piece. In simple language and very clear graphics, he explains how governance works in the US. More to the point, Nott gets across the idea is that democracy, even a representative democracy like the US (as opposed to direct democracy), requires not just voting but a willingness to advocate. It's about raising awareness for what's important to you, finding other like-minded people, and making compromises with others. It's advocacy and consensus-building not just as an individual activity, but with the understanding that the whole point of democracy is acknowledging our participation in a greater society.

Kevin Czap did the cover, and it strikes all of the right notes. James Sturm and CCS grad Nomi Kane (who's done a great deal of political work) were also credited, but I couldn't discern what they did in particular. Cartoonists Summer Pierre and Hallie Jay Pope also contributed strips, with Pierre's strip, in particular, a stirring tribute to the importance of voting. That said, this is Nott's book. The way that he calmly explains why he's right, with a strong emphasis on facts and historical data, makes the book more pedagogical than polemic. Given its stated mission, this emphasis on clarity rather than passion is the right call.

On the other hand, Housing + Transit is very much about passion. Josh Kramer, who's been a tireless comics journalist throughout his career, is angrier and more direct when reporting his stories. He teamed with Nott for a strip about transit issues and with Joyce Rice for a story about Housing problems. Both strips originally appeared in The Nib and were written by Kramer. "Transit" traced the history of a lack of good transit systems in many high-density cities. There was a tipping point where antiquated transit systems simply weren't replaced by cars provided so much more individual, independent access. However, in high-density areas, traffic reduces this efficiency and creates health & environmental issues as a result. Kramer portrays it as something that the public must buy into as much as anyone in order to make it work. "Housing" zeroes in on zoning laws that prevent the construction of housing (never mind affordable housing) in many states, and these laws are often racist in nature, in order to "preserve the character of the neighborhood." The contrast in art styles was interesting. Rice's page layouts were clear and did the job, but lacked the astounding clarity of Nott's pages. Nott knows how to use an open-page layout in a way that still holds everything together and makes it easy for a reader to navigate the page.

Glynnis Fawkes is currently on faculty with CCS and drew this year's recruitment comic, The Brontë Sisters Go To The Center For Cartoon Studies. Fawkes just did a book on Charlotte Brontë, so this made sense. This is one of my favorite of the CCS comics (I'm not sure anything will ever top the one that Kevin Huizenga did), as it imagines Charlotte and Emily Brontë as cartoonists. It subtly gets at the reasons why going to a comics-focused school is a good idea: the availability of resources, both technical and research (the Schulz Library is truly a marvel); stretching skills through collaboration and learning the styles of other cartoonists; and being taught storytelling as a way to strengthen one's work. The sales pitch is funny and charming, with a distinct understanding of the Brontë sisters' background and interests while giving them a modern sensibility. 

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