Europe’s Waiting Room

Intro

Graphic journalism is an old craft, one that was already practiced during World War I, as Aimée points out in the explanation of her work. She is afraid that reportage drawings have lost their value in this age of film and photo. But she herself proves that this is not the case.

Read the story

Graphic journalism is an old craft, one that was already practiced during World War I, as Aimée points out in the explanation of her work. She is afraid that reportage drawings have lost their value in this age of film and photo. But she herself proves that this is not the case.

On the contrary, her pictures of refugees on the island of Lesbos tell a story that we would not have known otherwise. Apparently trusted by the refugees, Aimée comes very close to them with her sketchbook, and draws their lives with caring detail. We see how the refugees make cooking utensils out of barbed wire, take a peek in their toilets and look their kids, who suffer from attachment disorders, straight in the eye. You can almost smell and hear the camp, that’s how close you get through Aimée’s drawings, which made readers of NRC Handelsblad, De Standaard and Le Monde close witnesses of one of the great human tragedies of our time.

Explanation by author

In October 2017, me and my colleagues Judith Vanistendael and Mei-Li Nieuwland set out to Lesbos, armed with many sketchbooks and endless drawing materials. We stayed in Kara Tepe and Moria camps for 7 days. As artists we drew what no camera had been able to capture until then: the clothes that were set out to dry on the barbed wire of the camp, the little kids sliding off a hill in plastic crates, the improvised coffee corner, the outdoor cooking stations made of bricks, the cooking gear made of iron fence, and the containers and tents in which the refugees live. Based on our observations and interviews, three very different comics were made and published in several news media, including French newspaper Le Monde and the website for graphic journalism Drawing The Times. Even Greek media mentioned the project. We hoped that readers would be informed that the refugee crisis is still not over, despite what most people think.

Graphic journalism plays an important role in history. During World War I, many illustrators were sent to the battlefields to document what cameras couldn’t. In Auschwitz, the most detailed visual documents left are the drawings of the artists that lived there. Still, it seems that in the age of film and photo, these reportage drawings have lost their value. I am convinced that graphic journalism can play an important role, even in contemporary journalism. Drawing offers the journalist an approachable way of gathering visual information, where cameras can be too intrusive or too obvious. The artistic element makes it more accessible to readers of all ages and could be used to reach out to new audiences. For the subjects of the report, drawing is a very pleasant way of communicating.

It’s not as threatening as photography or audio recording can be. Also, if the subjects want to stay anonymous, it is possible to simply give them a different face or haircut in the drawings, while in film and photography the faces would have to be blurred. In comics, it is also possible to draw what the journalist can’t see. By drawing memories as flashbacks, it is possible to go back and forth in time. A documentary filmmaker would have much more trouble and would have to use voiceovers or actors to get that done. 

One of the most important books in comic journalism is Palestine by Joe Sacco, which was published in the 90s. He was the first to make a detailed drawn report where he combined journalism, travelogue and cartooning. For his other books he traveled to Gaza, Iraq and Gorazde. In his comics, Joe himself is always the main character and we see the world through his eyes. This narrative style is still used today by most graphic journalists. Another important book is Pyongyang by Guy Delisle, a Canadian artist. He lived in North Korea for two months and drew what cameras were not allowed to capture. His book is not just a great comic, it is also a very important historic document of what life in North Korea looks like – even though he sees it from a Westerner’s perspective. What Joe Sacco and Guy Delisle have in common is the sense of humor, which surfaces even in spite of all the traumatic stories and events that they capture on paper.

Biography

Aimée de Jongh

Aimée de Jongh 
(1988) is an award-winning animator, comic author and illustrator from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. After publishing her first comic book ‘
Aimée TV’ at the age of 17, Aimée proceeded to become a promising comic author with a large variety of styles and techniques. Next to working on comics, Aimée has a great passion for animated film. She received her degree in 2D Animation at the Willem de Kooning Academy and attended the Gobelins Summer School for Character Animation in Paris. Working professionally for ten years now, Aimée created over 10 different comic series, including the daily comic ‘Snippers’ for newspaper Metro. Other works include children’s books illustrations, music videos, independent short films and commercial animations for TV. In 2014, Aimée was an artist in residence at the 18th Street Art Center in Los Angeles, where she exhibited together with Miljohn Ruperto. The film ‘Janus’, which they made together, was shown at the Biennial in the Whitney Museum in New York.

In recent years, Aimée’s main focus in comics has been graphic novels. Her first one, ‘De Terugkeer Van De Wespendief’(2014), tells the story of bookseller Simon, who’s facing a financial and emotional crisis. The book won the Prix Saint-Michel, and was translated in French by Dargaud as ‘Le Retour de la Bondrée’, and in English as ‘The Return of the Honey Buzzard‘, by Selfmadehero. The book was also translated to Spanish and Serbian. In 2016, a feature film based on the book was released, directed by Stanley Kolk and produced by Family Affair Films. In 2016, Aimée returned to animation shortly and released her biggest project yet: ‘Behind the Telescopes’, a 71-minute 2D animated film with harpist Lavinia Meijer. The movie was screened only with a live music performance, and it ran in Dutch theatres for a year. The show will still be touring through China in 2018. Aimée is currently working on her new graphic novel for Dargaud, written by the acclaimed Belgian comic author Zidrou, to be released in 2018.

Why this story? 
I didn’t have any interest in journalism until 2017. That year, I quit my job as a daily cartoonist and began thinking about what else I could do with my craft of drawing. Through a friend who volunteered at the Greek island of Lesbos, I found out that photography and film were not allowed in the refugee camps. This meant that there was only little visual documentation available from inside the camps. Only low-quality handheld-camera footage was available from the biggest refugee camp, Moria, which is forbidden for journalists of any kind. I contacted Dutch newspaper NRC and Flemish newspaper De Standaard to work on a very special project: to draw the life in the camps and publish a graphic journalism report. As this was my first project in this field, I asked two colleagues to join me: Judith Vanistendael and Mei-Li Nieuwland. The project was funded by the BJP Fund and the Pascal Decroos For Investigative Journalism Fund.

Explanation by the maker 
In October 2017, we set out to Lesbos, armed with many sketchbooks and endless drawing materials. We stayed in Kara Tepe and Moria camps for 7 days. As artists we drew what no camera had been able to capture until then: the clothes that were set out to dry on the barbed wire of the camp, the little kids sliding off a hill in plastic crates, the improvised coffee corner, the outdoor cooking stations made of bricks, the cooking gear made of iron fence, and the containers and tents in which the refugees live. Based on our observations and interviews, three very different comics were made and published in several news media, including French newspaper Le Monde and the website for graphic journalism Drawing The Times. Even Greek media mentioned the project. We hoped that readers would be informed that the refugee crisis is still not over, despite what most people think. 

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