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Marco Werman: The first chapter of an online project to document life in Haiti since the earthquake two years ago was published today. It’s a piece of cartoon journalism by a team of Haitians and it’s edited by American cartoonist, Matt Bors. He teamed up with Haitian reporter Pharés Jerome and Haitian comic artist Chevelin Pierre. The first chapter is called “Tents Beyond Tents.” Bors says comics are the best way to tell Haiti’s story.
Matt Bors: If you look at Chevelin’s comics, you’re immediately put there. You’re not just reading a prose piece on the internet which I think is a lot more effective. Also, comics is very low-budget. I mean, one person can do it with a pen and a pad of paper. You don’t need to buy a bunch of equipment. You don’t need a team of editors and sound people working with you. It’s a highly effective way, I think, to get across a story, especially non-fiction stories and human stories. Comics for a long time has been associated with funny pages and super hero books, but what you’ve seen in the last few decades is comics getting more serious and more respected, and now, comics journalism is kind of the last frontier. You’ve had a lot of memoirs, a lot of non-fiction books and there’s a whole genre now of people who do journalism in comics form. You’re seeing a lot of it in the U.S., and there’s a lot of talented people doing it. So, I had the idea that a place that I was interested in which was Haiti, instead of me just popping in for a few weeks and doing a piece about it, that I really wanted to do something substantial and try to show people in the media how effective comics journalism can be and really get a Haitian perspective and do something substantial. So, we’re doing 75 pages of comics and it’s not just going to be on the anniversary. We’re going to have it running throughout the year to try to keep a spotlight on the country that is, for the most part, ignored unless a horrible tragedy is going on.
Werman: How deep is comics culture in Haiti and will Haitians be able to read this?
Bors: There aren’t a lot of cartoonists being published in Haiti. There are two main daily papers who do both have editorial cartoonists and put them on the front page unlike American newspapers, but there aren’t a lot of published cartoonists in Haiti. Getting Haitians to read this is one of our main goals, so we’re publishing in French and Creole. Today it’s only up in English but the translations for French and Creole will be online within a few weeks, and then we hope to have it published in print form in Haiti, in Creole, at some point.
Werman: Matt, ultimately, what do you want this comic book to do for Haiti?
Bors: What I want this project to do is shine a light on Haiti and its problems from a Haitian perspective. Everything that we read from Haiti is written by a foreign journalist, and so it was really important to us to have this done by Haitians. We want to shine a light on the country longer than just one day, on the anniversary. So, we’re running this project throughout the year. Then, I really want to show people what comics journalism as a medium can do and that it’s not just something done for novelty. It’s a very serious form of reporting and that it can show what’s going on there in a way better than, maybe, a lot of mediums can.
Werman: Do you hope that maybe Haitians will read this and think about their country differently?
Bors: Yes. A lot of media in Haiti is actually French languaged and most Haitians can’t read French; they read Creole. So, our goal with this is to really have it printed in Creole so that the masses of Haiti can actually read it. Yet, there’s not a lot of journalism that’s targeted towards them because they are disempowered, they’re completed impoverished and so they’re not the ones buying newspapers so they are not geared towards them. So, we hope that with this project the average Haitian can feel like they’re reading something that was written for them and by a Haitian that understands what’s going on there.
Werman: Matt Bors, a cartoonist based in Portland, Oregon and the Editor for Comics Journalism at Cartoon Movement. The first installment of his latest project about Haiti was published online today.
Matt Bors, good to meet you. Thanks very much.
Bors: Thanks a lot for having me.
Werman: You can see a few images from “Tents Beyond Tents” and a link to the whole chapter at theworld.org.
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Matt Bors was insistent that the comics journalism project about Haiti be written and drawn by Haitians. He spent a month in Haiti looking for just the right team.
He summed up his trip in a cartoon and a video that follows his thinking about the Haiti comic journalism project.