Graphic Storytelling... Connecting or Disconnecting

by Ron Samul

In 2013, the New York Times unveiled Tomato Can Blues by Mary Pilon and illustrated by Attila Futaki. This illustrated reportage brought out the best of an old publishing media (newspapers) and merged the new technology of web, journalism, and art to make an interactive piece that not only connects to readers, but also stylizes the time and the complexity of the story. In this emerging mainstream piece, Mary Pilon, the writer of the article discussed the significance of the project and how they struggled to make it work outside of the traditional world of long form journalism. Pilon explains,“Tomato Can Blues, was an exercise in figuring out how to keep readers hooked while still being factual. I think journalists can learn a lot from screenwriters and novelists about how to arc facts, which was a huge task here”. The shift in turning factual print news into creative visuals inspires an innovative method of story production – akin to the way we think about words and images on screens and in the functionally of web design. When big news media like the New York Times produces journalism that fits into the graphic medium high caliber illustrators and storytellers, readers can’t help but noticed that a visual shift is coming. But while the visual shift will create collaboration opportunities, it could add confusion for the reader. In some cases, it was hard to tell if Tomatoes Can Blues was in fact journalism or graphic novel. While there were hundreds of hours of work and interviewing involved, it was seamlessly enveloped into the production and therefore it felt like readers were experiencing a story that only fiction could create. Because multimedia storytelling such as Tomato Can Blues is only in its infancy, it is not just appropriate to be lacking the proper terminology, but also to have questions such as the one in a tweet by Marc Lacey, of The New York Times associate managing editor, who asked: ‘Graphic novel? Reported article?’”.

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