Here's another interview with a creator who will be appearing at the Stumptown Comics Fest this week. Sarah Glidden is the creator of the book How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, as well as a recent piece on Cartoon Movement that documents the plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria.
Can you explain how your Comics Movement piece came about?
I was in Syria as part of a month and a half long reporting trip I was on for my next book-length project. I “embedded” with some friends of mine from the Common Language Project—a multimedia journalism collective based out of Seattle—in order to do a book about their process reporting on some of the issues surrounding the war in Iraq. We went to Damascus to report on the situation facing Iraqi refugees there. Matt Bors, the comics editor at Cartoon Movement, asked me if I wanted to make a comic for the site that dealt with some of the issues we were looking into on the trip. I hadn’t thought of using the trip to make short-form reportage works, but I loved the idea of making a smaller, more focused piece on just one of the things we covered. In the past couple of years, the media has started to turn away from the war in Iraq, and the refugee issue is pretty underreported. I think journalism comics are a great way to get people interested in something that they might skip if it were a prose article. People are sick of hearing about Iraq… but just because we’ve moved on from that war doesn’t mean its over for the people still there or who have been forced to leave their homes because of it.
How to Understand Israel is an account of your trip to Israel on a Birthright tour that also delves into your discomfort with Israel's role in the Arab/Israeli conflict—it was more autobiographical than reportorial, whereas the Syrian piece presented you as more of impartial observer. Are you more comfortable with one or the other mode of expression?
The Israel book was my first long-form project and before that, my only experience with the medium had been making daily journal comics. And I had only been doing that for about six months. How to Understand Israel was kind of like a journal comic stretched out over 200 pages in a way. It was a way for me to use the comics form I had gotten comfortable with while at the same time reaching into some new territory: travelogue, my thoughts on a political situation, and some historical exposition. But more than anything it was about a sort of inner struggle, the kind a lot of people have when they’re in their mid twenties and don’t quite know who they are yet. While I loved having the opportunity to make that book, I don’t really have any interest in exploring my identity on paper again. I’d rather tell other peoples’ stories now. I don’t know if it’s necessarily more comfortable to make reportage—its certainly not as easy—but it’s what I want to do.
Do you consider yourself a memoirist, or a journalist? Where do your interests lie, moving forward?
I don’t really think of myself as one or the other. I’m just a cartoonist! The Cartoon Movement piece was pretty straight journalism, but the longer book-length project I’ll be working on from this experience will be a little bit of both. I love subjective journalism—sometimes called “new new journalism”—because it’s a little bit of both at the same time. I like the idea of making journalism that is transparent and that includes the author.
As far as world affairs and politics go, are you most drawn toward the Middle East? (and if so, why?)
I think I am particularly drawn to the Middle East (although I also pay just as much if not more attention to what’s going on here at home). I became interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because I was raised Jewish, and even if you’re a secular Jew you grow up being told that Israel is your country and your homeland. This connection to it is kind of forced on you like family. Because of that, it was hard for me to read about what was going on over there with the same distance as with politics in other parts of the world. I felt somewhat responsible. But besides that, the Middle East in general is a region with a lot of interesting history and culture and its something I enjoy learning about.
What are you working on now?
I have some more shorter graphic journalism projects planned in the next couple of months as well as the first in what I think will be a three part series based on my time with the Common Language Project.
Finally, what will you have for sale at Stumptown?
I will be selling and signing copies of How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less as well as some original watercolor artwork, both from that book and from the Cartoon Movement piece. I’ll also be selling color prints of the art from the book.