By Chandlor Henderson
University of Oregon Assistant Professor Kate Kelp-Stebbins and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Fine Art want to ask a critical question: What is comics journalism? Through an exhibit opening Sep. 24 they invite you to ask the same question.
Raised in Berkeley, California Kelp-Stebbins has always been immersed in journalism and art. Her father was the music critic at the Oakland Tribune when it was a bustling newspaper for the city of Oakland.
“It was a really cool experience growing up in the main newspaper for Oakland,” Kelp-Stebbins said. She has fond memories of watching the paper “go to press.” She lovingly recalls smelling the ink when it hits the huge rolls and watching the news come out. And of course, reading the comics.
Kelp-Stebbins also grew up reading a lot of floppies, or single issue comics, but stepped away for a while. “At some point in graduate school I was working on a very different project and realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Kelp-Stebbins said. At that moment she realized she wanted to write about comics, and how they change between cultures and locations.
While Kelp-Stebbins doesn’t have a favorite comic, she does find herself enthralled in certain artists and stories. “Right now I’m writing a ton about First Nations artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas,” Kelp-Stebbins said. He makes Haida manga, which is a style that incorporates both North Pacific Indigenous art and traditional Japanese manga.
Another favorite is Good Talk by Mira Jacob. “It’s a recent comic all about race and how we talk about race in America,” Kelp-Stebbins said. “It’s heavy. It has a lot of stuff going on.”
Influenced heavily by Joe Sacco (author of Palestine, 1993 and Footnotes in Gaza, 2009) Kelp-Stebbins started to heavily research what artists were doing this type of work, and where they were. “It’s really good to know as a researcher that anytime you ask the question, the obvious answer is there’s so many people doing it (comics journalism),” Kelp-Stebbins said.
It turned out to be a great humbling experience for Kelp-Stebbins. She realized that there’s this whole world around the globe of people using comics to tell non-fiction stories and do documentary reporting. “They’re some of the most ethically minded people I’ve ever met,” Kelp-Stebbins said. “They’re really concerned about speaking truth to power, and presenting viewpoints that otherwise don’t get heard a lot.”
The exhibit The Art of the News: Comics Journalism is Kelp-Stebbins’ opportunity to present a broad range of artists, topics and media to the Eugene community. By having art from UO alum Joe Sacco, black power activist and artist Ben Passmore, and Russian artist Victoria Lomasko, the exhibit tries to show a diverse range of thoughts, topics, styles, and backgrounds.
“I really wanted to be able to show (different) people,” Kelp-Stebbins said. “Some of whom are working in pen and ink, some are working digitally.” In addition to different media, different topics. From climate change, to COVID-19, to their own racialized experience.
Artist Ben Passmore famously said of comics journalism, “This is the medium that’s the closest thing to looking through someone else’s eyes.” Kelp-Stebbins wants to facilitate that transfer of information through this exhibit.
In addition to the exhibit itself, Kate-Stebbins and Jordan Schnitzer have put together a catalog for this event that is full of information and advice from the artists. In addition they made video interviews with the artists that will be available to the public.
“It’s important to remember that you have a privilege being able to see and describe other people’s stories,” Kelp-Stebbins said. “So keep that in mind when you’re creating art.” How the artist portrays this story influences how people react to the situation.
The exhibit opens on Sep. 24, 2021. For more information go to https://jsma.uoregon.edu/.
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