Political figures understand the power of comics

They just had to use the over-played "Bam!," didn't they?

Even though comics can be challenging for some not accustomed to the language and form (as discussed yesterday), it’s still an amazingly powerful and direct form of communication. That’s why schools and libraries have embraced it as an excellent reading and educational tool. Even though the brain is processing a lot of visual information, it’s also still reading words. Apparently political figures are beginning to understand how effective their message can be communicated through comics.

This week, a joint press release announced that US Congressman John Lewis would be publishing an autobiographical graphic novel called March through comics publisher Top Shelf Productions. The Georgia Democrat will co-write with his aide Andrew Aydin, who handles telecommunications, technology and new media policy. The book, scheduled for a 2012 release, will focus on Lewis’ heavy involvement in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, of which he was a key activist. The news is historic in two respects. From the press release: “The publishing agreement is an historic first, both for the U.S. Congress and graphic novel publishing as a whole, marking the first time a sitting Member of Congress has authored a graphic novel. Top Shelf Productions is the first and only graphic novel publisher to be certified by the House Committee on Standards.”

Also, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber announced this week that he is publishing a graphic novel explaining the national health care reform package passed into law last year, according to The Boston Herald column The Pulse. Gruber is an adviser to President Barack Obama and was a major architect of both the national bill, as well as the earlier state health care reform in Massachusetts under former Governor Mitt Romney. The graphic novel, tentatively titled Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, How It Works, is scheduled for a fall release from the publisher Hill and Wang. They are the same publisher of the groundbreaking graphic novel adaptation of The 9/11 Report by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, so they get that clear, concise sequential storytelling is able to present complicated information in a more digestible way. That book spawned a whole line of non-fiction graphic novels for the book publisher and others have followed their lead. Gruber’s editor Thomas LeBien told the Boston Herald, “There’s a long tradition of turning to them to take complicated information and render it accessible to the widest audience.”

He’s absolutely right. Comics have been used as government propaganda for decades, usually quite clumsy in their execution. But the more recent wave of political non-fiction comics and graphic novels use a level of craft and skill, often placing information and a compelling narrative over propaganda.

The key to getting these two newly announced graphic novels right is getting the right artist. Neither project has an artist yet. Hopefully they choose wisely.

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