Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays

Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays
edited by Brendan Burford
Villard Books, 2009

Although it tests the reader’s patience immediately with the clunky title* and a diagrammatic essay entitled How and Why to Bale Hay (need one ask?), this is a fascinating collection of short pieces covering everything from the history of postcards to Chris Pape’s historic Freedom Tunnel, with a few purely visual segments from artists’ sketchbooks, documenting a specific time and place.

Joe Sacco is the most famous graphic reporter (or comics journalist, take your pick) but he made his reputation by covering conflicts in Israel, Palestine and Bosnia. These articles are shorter and concerned with broader and less violent topics. I particularly liked Burford and Jim Campbell’s Boris Rose: Prisoner of Jazz, the story of an obsessive collector who recorded live radio and TV broadcasts over sixty years, amassing thousands of hours of unique and historic jazz performances, and Alec Longstreth’s Dvorak, based on writer Robert Parkinson’s account of the many humiliations Dr. August Dvorak endured trying to popularise the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard.

All interesting stuff, even though some of it is a bit dryly presented. To my knowledge Toby Morris is the only New Zealander to seriously attempt graphic reportage – it’s a broad yet under-patronised genre, so if you know any journalists who can draw…

*Actually, it’s no less eloquent than calling something a graphic novel.

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