UPON THE SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF Haiti’s devastating earthquake, journalists over at Cartoon Movement have been delivering powerful accounts this week in graphic detail and graphical form.
One noteworthy piece of comics journalism is “Tents Beyond Tents,” the first part of a 75-page project by Port-au-Prince reporter Pharés Jerome and artist Chevelin Pierre.
And to follow that up, the Portland-based editorial cartoonist Matt Bors — co-founder of the Cartoon Movement site — has teamed with Pierre and Dutch video journalist Caroline Bins — currently a grad student at Berkeley’s journalism school — for their verbally and visually arresting footage titled “Haiti’s Scapegoats.”
In the piece, Bins reports that in the wake of Haiti’s quake in 2010, some of the island nation’s citizens directed their post-tragedy fury at their countrymen in the LGBT community.
Comic Riffs recently caught up with Bors, who answered several questions about his work:
MICHAEL CAVNA: When you did you travel to Haiti, and were you there with a group of comics journalists, or initially reporting alone?
MATT BORS: I traveled to Haiti in July and August of 2011 with Caroline Bins and [comics journalist] Tjeerd Royaards to find a cartoonist and teamof journalists that could create a long-running series of comics journalism about Haiti to run on Cartoon Movement. Caroline has worked previously with VJ Movement, our parent site, and was documenting the trip as well as serving as our French translator. The project was made possible through a grant from the Dutch government ]Cartoon Movement is based in the Netherlands], which made it possible to pay the artist and reporters as well as our travel. ...
I met both Caroline and Tjeerd in Portland at the [recent Association of American Editorial Cartoonists] convention, which eventually led to us all working together.
CAVNA: And how did you decide to report out this specific story within the larger tragedy?
BORS: Caroline and I both decided to focus on the GLBT community before arriving in Haiti. Much of the time there was spent finding Haitians to work with Cartoon Movement, but we decided to set aside some time for a collaboration, to report on the gay community there. We hadn’t seen much reporting done, and there was only one outfit in the entire nation focused on it: SEROvie, which is quite small.
We started with SEROvie, where some Haitians had agreed to tell us their stories. From there we were put in touch with someone they knew, the man we call “Jen-Francois,” who agreed to show us the tent where he lives with his family.
CAVNA: So how did you decide that blending video and animation was the best way to tell this story? Using animation, of course, can be a tricky thing tonally — given the severity of the subject matter, the wrong style or approach could come off as lacking sufficient visual gravitas. Yet animation also became a technique to shield the identities of your anonymous subjects. Could you speak to that?
BORS: As someone who does static comic journalism, I was eager to try something that moved. It so happened that for this piece, the need to keep the characters anonymous lent itself to drawing. We filmed everything and interviewed everyone on video with the intention of drawing some of it later. Everything I drew was either from photographs, video, or personally seeing it.
In setting up interviews, some were very understandably nervous about their identities being known. I started sketching and showing them how I could draw them in silhouette or with shadows and they agreed.
CAVNA: Did you encounter challenges in how to execute this, and had you ever done anything like this before?
BORS: Neither of us have done this type of work before. I’m not at all versed in animation, so it was Caroline who did the heavy lifting in making my work move. Figuring it all out took a lot of time, and striking the right tone in the look and movement was something Caroline spent long hours tweaking to get right.
CAVNA: Are you hopeful that the anti-gay discrimination and violence you describe will abate in Haiti — that is, do you see social change occurring in this regard?
BORS: Not anytime soon. SEROvie, Haiti’s only LGBT organization , was advocating to include sexual orientation as a protected class in sexual violence which is currently being revised. But it remains to be seen if it will be included. We’ve seen from America that homophobia takes generations to wane.