CARRIE FRANSMAN – The rise of the graphic novel and why we should take comics more seriously at Crossing Border

Karrie Fransman calls herself a comic creator. In other words, she uses graphic arts as a playground for visual storytelling. Karrie’s passion for the visual, specifically drawings/comics as universal method of communication is evident when she speaks to us about her work. However, it is also borne out in her award-winning comic for The British Red Cross, ‘Over, Under, Sideways, Down’ and her equally successful graphic novel, ‘Death of the Artist’.

‘Comics help us cross boundaries’

Comics and later, the graphic novel, have a long tradition but Fransman admits that the UK has been ‘a bit slow’ to embrace comic journalism. The latter gained wider currency in the early 1990’s with the work of journalists like Joe Sacco who argued that it was impossible, as a journalist, to stay neutral when confronted with violence and disaster. This Maltese-American journalist is widely known for his graphic novels on the Israeli-Palestine conflict and the war in Bosnia. Similarly, the work of French author, Marjane Satrapi in her best-selling graphic novel, Persepolis, tells the story of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and how it finally caused her to leave her homeland and begin a new life in France. Although the political cartoon has a long and illustrious history, people like Sacco, Satrapi and Fransman use the visual to create empathy in viewers who have little first-hand knowledge or experience of those whose stories are being told.

As Fransman says, ‘comics help us to cross boundaries of all kinds, boundaries created by education, race, class etc’. She notes that when children begin to tell stories, they do it through drawing and maintains that there is something deeply primal about the use of pictures to communicate. They are thus deeply authentic, and, economical to create. This comic creator shares with us the story of how she came to create the award-winning comic for the British Red Cross. This follows the journey of a 15 year old Iranian refugee from his homeland to his arrival in the  UK. She explains that even though it is a factual, non-fiction account, she used elements of magic realism in her drawings in order to connect more effectively with some of the strong emotional currents in this story. The artist also tells us about a project she did with the Goethe Institute, which was more fictional in nature but had as its goal the furthering of empathy and tolerance for foreigners. Called the ‘Everything is Foreign’ project, one image in particular went viral and was inspired by Fransman’s own mixed origins.

Karrie draws our attention to an online initiative called the Cartoon Movement, a global collaborative platform for editorial cartoons and comics journalism. Visiting the website, one’s attention is drawn to the by-line, ‘there is more than one truth’ and indeed in comic stories such as ‘Land conflicts in Northern Uganda’ this is made abundantly clear.  Fransman’s own award-winning graphic novel, Death of the Artist has been described as a love letter to the wonderful possibilities of visual storytelling and experiments with the very form of the novel. Created with the input of four old friends from university, who reunite one weekend to reflect on whether they have indeed lived up to their artistic goals, the novel incorporates the perspectives of all five with Karrie assigning a different medium and voice to each character. In an increasingly globalised world led largely by social media, the power of the visual is only set to increase. Fransman and others like her promise to be at the forefront of this trend.      Souwie Buis     2nd November 2018

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