Sarah Glidden has made a name for herself through memoir, adapting her webcomics into one of last year’s most critically lauded graphic novels. Now, however, she’s ready for full-on reportage.
“I had been really anxious to try actual graphic journalism and turn away from memoir,” Glidden tells Comic Riffs on Tuesday. “Anxious both because it’s what I would really like to focus on in the near future and also because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pull it off.”
Readers can now judge for themselves whether Glidden has pulled it off. Today, the website Cartoon Movement has just debuted Glidden’s work “The Waiting Room,” a 20-page illustrated piece of reportage that examines Iraqi refugees living in Syria.
“Journalism is a completely different animal than memoir and it’s difficult,” says Glidden, who last year released the birthright-trip memoir “How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less” (DC Vertigo). ”The people we met and talked to have important stories to tell and you want to do them justice.”
To get a first-hand education in the art of journalism, Glidden traveled to Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey with writers from the Seattle-based Common Language Project, who were reporting on Syria’s displaced Iraqis — who are said to be the largest urban refugee population ever.
“This piece was like ‘reporter’s training wheels’ for me,” the Brooklyn-based Glidden tells ’Riffs. “Sarah Stuteville of Common Language Project did most of the interviewing for this — with the rest of it going to [CLP’s] Jessica Partnow and Alex Stonehill. I was there shadowing them and doing my own documentation for a larger sort of meta-journalism project, but they were the ones doing the actual reporting.
“I really see this piece as a collaboration. They let me use their raw audio files and I transcribed them and used those interviews to write the script.”
The website Cartoon Movement, which focuses on geopolitical comics and graphic reportage, became involved after hearing of Glidden’s trip.
“I contacted Sarah after finding out about her Kickstarter-funded trip through Syria and Turkey with the Common Language Project,” the Portland-based cartoonist Matt Bors, who helps run Cartoon Movement, tells Comic Riffs on Tuesday. ”She is working on the follow-up to her travelogue ... and moving in a direction that is more reportorial. ...
“I’m excited to be publishing her first work from her latest trip to the Middle East.”
“The Waiting Room” is a window into the world of Iraqi refugees who, Bors says, “are not allowed to join the workforce” in Syria.
“As the U.S. draws down its forces in Iraq, and other countries in the Mideast grab our attention, we need to remember the long-lasting effects that our invasion has had on the people of Iraq — namely a huge refugee population,” says Bors, who notes that this is part of Cartoon Movement’s larger global efforts. (Cartoon Movement has also just received a grant to travel to find Haitian journalists and cartoonists for a graphic novel-length piece on post-earthquake reconstruction efforts, he says.)
Among “The Waiting Room’s” more poignant moments is the story of Dina, a refugee and “middle-class mom” who says she simply wants a better life for her son. As depicted by Glidden, who is personalizing the political, Dina says: “America set fire to my country and we lost everything. And you think Iraq is better? No. I need someone to help me get education for my son. I don’t want to lose my son.”
Dina and the “Waiting Room’s” other real-life subjects are rendered in Glidden’s characteristically evocative watercolors. The art, Glidden says, was the less demanding part.
“As a beginner to [reporting], I thought that writing it would be easier than it was,” says Glidden, 30, who is part of the Pizza Island studio in New York. “You have all these interview transcriptions in front of you with tons of great quotes and you think, ‘This will be easy, all the words and information are right there in front of me.’ But it’s so much harder to edit than people probably think.
“It took me longer to write this 20-page comics script than it did to paint it.”