In October, I traveled to the small Italian city of Ravenna as a guest speaker/artist for the 2015 Komikazen International Reality Comic Festival. I found the whole event stimulating and inspiring and I want to share some of my experiences for those interested in political comics and radical art in general. Komikazen is an annual comic festival that focuses on political non-fiction comics. The festival features workshops, discussions, exhibitions, and demonstrations by many political comic artists from around the world. This year’s festival investigated the way in which the current economic and political crises are represented through drawing with a focus on graphic journalism, the Greek economic crisis, and international political cartoonists.
The Komikazen Festival is organized by comic writer, educator and curator, Elettra Stamboulis and artist, activist and publisher, Gianluca Constantini. Besides founding the Komikazen Festival, Elettra is a professor and has written six graphic novels, including a series of books on Italian socialists/communists including Antonio Gramsci and an upcoming graphic biography on Paolo Pasolini, all illustrated by Gianluca.
Gianluca is also a teacher and creator of Political Comics/Channel Draw, a ten year long daily online project of illustrated human rights news that you can follow on Twitter along with his 42,000 other followers or on his blog. He talks about the breadth of this project on his website, “Political Comics. Graphic Journalism and social activism” or you can read this shorter article in English, “Gianluca Costantini: The Italian Cartoonist Unmasking the Powerful.”
The first main event of the festival was a graphic journalism workshop with American cartoonist and graphic journalist, Ted Rall. The workshop started late since some of the workshops participants were coming from Bologna, which is just over an hour from Ravenna by train, but that morning the city forcibly evicted a long standing queer squat/social centre called Atlantide (named after Atlantis) and so many people stayed in the city to protest the eviction.
Ted started the day by talking about his work including his experiences reporting in Afghanistan and Iraq and his newest book on Edward Snowden. He also talked about how an investigative comic he did on the demolishing of empty buildings in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio actually forced the city to change their policy. He said it was one of the only times one of his comics actually created some sort of social change.
This was Ted’s first workshop he had ever done and it ended up as a political discussion about the causes and results of the Greek economic crisis. I tried to document this interesting discussion between international artists and writers as a comic.
Khalid was born in Romania, is from Sudan and lives in exile in Qatar where he works for an art museum during the day and creates political cartoons at night. He was introduced to political comics as a kid through his father’s Egyptian political cartoon magazines. When he was older and started to create his own work, he took his cartoons to various newspapers and magazines and they told him, “This work is not funny. There are no speech bubbles. You will never succeed as a cartoonist.” His work is more stencil and graphic-like then most political cartoons because he always wanted to do street art but he says it is impossible to do in Qatar. So instead he started to post his work online and during the Arab Spring his work was downloaded and used all over the Arab world by activists and artists.
Earlier that day Khalid had talked about how he was trying to start a graphic history project in his home country of Sudan. He wanted to create comics that countered the colonial and one-sided Islamist history taught in school. But he said he was having a hard time getting any interest from Sudanese artists he knew, not only because it was hard to find funding but because they feared the government would jail or kill them for rewriting the official history.
I had a solo show of my work at the Miranda Gallery, including some pieces from the Graphic History Collective’s upcoming book, Drawn to Change.
Komikazen also hosted an exhibit of fifty-five Greek artists called, “The Line of the Crisis.”
Like the Colour of the Earth
Later that night Italian activist and writer Marco Gastoni and illustrator Nicola Gobbi launched their graphic novel, Come il colore della terra (Like the Color of the Earth) a fable of two children set in Chiapas during the Zapatista uprising in the 1990s. Marco said he thought of writing the book while telling a bedtime story to his young daughter.
The next day I spoke on a panel on Graphic Journalism with Augusto Paim, Pietro Scarnera, and Gary Embury.
Brazilian comic writer and translator, Augusto Paim who is doing a PhD on comic journalism in Germany, talked about his work on two stories for the Cartoon Movement. So close, far away! recounts the day in the life of a homeless man in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and Inside the favelas is a critical look at life in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and how life has changed as a result of the repressive actions of the Brazilian police leading up to the 2014 World Cup 2014 and 2016 Summer Olympics.
Gary Embury, a British illustrator, professor and editor, talked about his work on Reportager, a website that showcases projects involving drawing as reportage, visual journalism, documentary drawing and illustration as visual essay. He also talked about last year’s Reportager award that saw amazing entries from around the world that used documentary drawing in various ways including spontaneous protest drawings at a Black Lives Matters demonstration, a project on food production, distribution and waste and the last days of an artist’s 101 year old father.
The lovely Italian graphic novelist, journalist and poet, Peitro Scarnera talked about his online graphic journalism project, Graphic News, a collaboration between journalists, writers, illustrators and designers that uses graphic stories to explore in-depth news, cultural, science and sports stories in different ways.
Comic stories and abortion
The last event of the festival was held at a women’s centre on the outskirts of the city centre. Writer and artist Lucia Biagi talked about her graphic novel, Punto di fuga (Vanishing Point) about a young girl’s experiences with abortion. Writer Alessia Di Giovanni introduced her book Piena di niente (Full of Nothing) beautifully illustrated by Darkam, about four women’s true stories of unwanted pregnancies and the hypocrisy that surrounds the issue of abortion in Italy.
Grazie to Elettra, Antonella, Gianluca, Camille,Giulia, and Associazione Mirada for all your work!
Also a big thank you/grazie/haawa to all the other inspiring artists and writers at Komikazen!
– Kara Sievewright