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There’s comics journalism, then there’s comic journalism. There’s a growing number of individuals who are using comics to do journalism, and they’re increasingly being noticed by the journalism community at large. New York-based cartoonist Josh Neufeld has been on that trail for years with A.D.: New Orleans After The Deluge and The Influencing Machine, and now he’s received a rare recognition with the offering of a Knight-Wallace Fellowship.
The Knight-Wallace Fellowships is offered by the Universe of Michigan to, as their website states, “exceptional journalists from the U.S. and abroad to share this life-changing experience.” The fellowship is a offer for a full academic year of sabbatical studies at the University’s campus, with twice-weekly seminars and other educational opportunities. As a bonus, Neufeld and the other fellows will make two extended international tours to Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Istanbul.
“My study plan is to extensively research Bahrain’s Pearl Revolution, which I did a short piece about for Cartoon Movement,” Neufeld said in an e-mail. “I plan on taking courses in the history of the Persian Gulf, Islam (specifically the Sunni-Shia divide), and the language and culture of the region. The ultimate goal is to produce a long-form comics-format book on the topic.”
Neufeld’s piece in Cartoon Movement, “Bahrain: Lines In Ink, Lines In The Sand,” was nominated for an Eisner and was later translated into both Persian and Italian. Neufeld is the first comics journalist to be offered this fellowship, and the second comics journalist to receive any sort of American journalism fellowship.
Cartoon Movement has been knocking it out of the park lately with short comic about topical issues — it’s the home of the Occupy Sketchbooks and a number of other thought-provoking pieces of journalism done in the comics medium. Now Josh Neufeld has a new comic up there, Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand, that tells the story of the recent unrest in Bahrain from the point of view of two cartoonists.
Neufeld starts out with his own visit to Bahrain, which struck him as a peaceful and progressive country. “I didn’t sense any underlying tensions,” he says, but the very next page shows how much he missed. What began as peaceful demonstrations against the government quickly turned ugly as long-buried resentments came to the surface. There had been rifts, chiefly between the Sunni and Shia, that Neufeld had not seen on his trip (which was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State).
Neufeld resists the temptation to boil this down to a simple tale. The two cartoonists he met on his trip have very different perspectives on the unrest, and he allows both to tell their stories, even including their cartoons in his comic. The result is a sad tale of how a country that seemed stable and peaceful could fracture along political and religious lines — and of the consequences that has for its people.