(Above: Curator Katherine Kelp-Stebbins talks to a group of museum visitors about The Art of the News, an exhibit of comics journalism at the University of Oregon’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art; photos by Paul Carter.)

By Randi Bjornstad

Comic books with superheroes and graphic novels with a point of view have been around for decades, but an exhibit of the genre at the University of Oregon’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art has taken the relationship between words and drawings to a different place.

The show is called The Art of the News: Comics Journalism, and it is described by museum staff this way:

At a time of eroded public faith in traditional news media, comics journalism has emerged as a powerful antidote to the dissemination of inaccurate information and fake news. Practitioners in this field re-assert the ethical value of truth-telling, while at the same time foregrounding the inevitably subjective dimensions involved in any act of witnessing. Without shying away from vital questions about the role of representation in the perception of reality, comics journalists are nevertheless telling stories that urgently need to be told—in an immediate and accessible way. As such, the best works of comics journalism stand as compelling examples of how the news might be reimagined as an artistic practice. 

Curated by UO comics studies professor Katherine Kelp-Stebbins and director of comics studies Ben Saunders, the exhibit features work by world traveler and author/artist Joe Sacco — native of Malta, graduate of the University of Oregon and considered a “founder” in the field of comics journalism — among a dozen international comics journalists who frequently put themselves in harm’s way to document what is happening to people and places in the world both in words and their drawn pictures.

The subjects they examine — and which are depicted in this show — range from the realities of people struggling to survive in refugee camps to the never-ending demands on exhausted front-line workers during the pandemic to the impossible sorrow in communities of “disappeared” loved ones.

A detail of Dan Archer’s work after talking with people in Ferguson, Mo., following the shooting death of Michael Brown by police.

One of the artists, Dan Archer, visited the people in Ferguson, Mo., after the fatal shooting by police of Michael Brown, to document the place and the people who had experienced that event.

“He went there, and he just sat on the steps and talked to people, and he sketched them as they talked,” Kelp-Stebbins said. “It created an automatic rapport — it showed the people that he cared enough to sit with them, listen to them, and put himself in their place. And the result helped to inform people in a different way about what happened there and why they should care.”

That phrase — “why they should care” — is really the fundamental element of comics journalism, she said. “Using comics in this way is the closest thing to seeing something through someone else’s eyes. It documents, but it also humanizes the people and the situations in a way that is different from everything else.”

The journalists whose work is included in The Art of the News are Gerardo Alba, Dan Archer, Thi Bui, Tracy Chahwan, Jesús Cossio, Sarah Glidden, Omar Khouri, Victoria Lomasko, Sarah Mirk, Ben Passmore, Yazan al-Saadi, and Andy Warner.

The Art of the News

When: Through Jan. 16, 2022

Where: Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, 1430 Johnson Lane, on the University of Oregon campus

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday (The museum will be closed Dec. 22-Jan. 4.

Admission: $5 general admission; $3 for ages 62+; free for UO and younger students, UO faculty and staff and museum members

Well-known comics journalist Joe Sacco — native of Malta, graduate of the University of Oregon and a world-traveled comics journalism artist/writer, created this frame after the discovery of mass graves of murdered men and boys in Bosnia and Serbia .