The somber faces of refugees look back at you, each pen stroke highlighting the emotions within. Their faces may seem familiar, but they aren’t portrayed in mainstream media in detail like this. Each crease and curve reflects what some may not see in a photograph: the full emotion in each face, depicted by artists focused on each subject’s story and complexion. 

A page from Joe Sacco’s journalistic graphic novel “Footnotes in Gaza” shows the faces of the ones so commonly seen, but never fully expressed in this vivid form. Even when a journalist takes a photo or writes a story, they still can’t express the underlying feelings of a moment with their subject quite like this.

Sacco’s work is one of many in the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art’s exhibit “The Art of The News: Comics Journalism.” Thirteen journalism artists were chosen to be a part of the diverse exhibit that covers many regions, people, languages and stories. Collectively, the artists represent four continents and nine different countries.

“What we have is such a perfect representation of the different techniques, topics and artists who are working in comics journalism right now,” UO comic studies professor Kate Kelp-Stebbins, who helped curate the exhibit, said. She has worked on this exhibit for three and a half years now.

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A enlarged drawing of Dan Archer's work, "An Inside Look at Human Trafficking In Nepal." Archer is a featured artist of the exhibit, “The Art of The News: Comics Journalism” at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, Ore. (Serei Hendrie/ Emerald)

Comics journalism’s current form has all the traditional aspects of reporting, like finding subjects, interviewing and composing your piece. But with the artistic expression of the detailed drawings, the journalist can show a closer look at the subjects and their stories. The drawings can integrate maps and diagrams to make large numbers or complex stories easier to digest. Comic books, short comic stories and virtual reality are all ways that these non-traditional stories are told.

There are so many words and worlds to unpack that when first entering “The Art of The News” exhibit, it can seem overwhelming. Each description panel of the exhibit is featured in English and Spanish.

Some of the work featured are original pieces with pencil lead slightly visible underneath the pen. Others are original watercolors or notes scribbled on the page. “These comics have such fine line work from the pen, compared to the dots of old comics. It’s amazing to see the detail,” Travis Smith, a fifth-year senior at UO who was perusing the exhibit, said. From finished work to sketches, every step of the comics-making process is on display.

This isn’t your typical idea of journalism and comics, as there are no outlandish depictions of elephants, donkeys or the enlarged heads of world leaders like you may find in a comedic, opinionated cartoon. A gigantic comic by graphic journalist Dan Archer explaining the essence of comics journalism introduces the concept of the exhibit. 

Archer, a cartoon journalist of 14 years, has a few cartoon pieces on display in addition to his work in virtual reality technology. “I was really interested in exploring the different ways that you can use immersive media, like VR, to physically explore spaces which hitherto what I’ve sort of been doing in using the agency between panels of comics,” Archer said. He hopes his exploration of comics and VR inspires new journalists to explore these techniques.

In each of  the visual pieces on display, we see the blood, ink, sweat and emotions of the subjects. Omar Khouri’s work for the book “Guantanamo Voices” features expressive busy line work to depict the fear of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner. Each piece allows you to feel the emotions of these real people with their emotions rising to the surface of the drawings.

“It might challenge what we know about objective reporting, but it makes it just as valuable because it makes us challenge what we know and how we know it,” Kelp-Stebbins said. To get the level of detail for the exhibit, Kelp-Stebbins and her students conducted extensive interviews with all of the artists, which can all be found in a JSMA YouTube playlist. All of the hard work that went into organizing and collecting information on the artists and their works helped create an extensive and stimulating exhibit.

“The Art of News: Comics Journalism” will be on display in the JSMA until Jan. 16, 2022. The exhibit will invigorate the minds of student journalists, artists and anyone interested in the medium.

A&C Reporter

I am an Arts and Culture reporter for the Daily Emerald. I also work on the Turning Tunes podcast and at KWVA as DJ Pahvi. I'm heavily interested in music, art, books, and DJing.