„Better no ,Boom Pow Wow’: On character and perception of journalistic webcomics“ – that is the admittedly bulky title of my bachelor thesis from 2014. What made me delve into that niche? What did I find there? I will try to answer these questions in this abstract.
In case you are a proud owner of a rocking chair, comfortable slippers, German language and/or (scientific) interest in journalistic (web-)comics, I am glad if you find time to read through the hole bachelor thesis. You find it here.
Not enough time for that? Then I suggest you strip it down to my motivation (pages 4f), interim conclusion (pages 21f), theory building (pages 35f) and final conclusions (pages 50-52). That should take you no longer than reading half an „Asterix“ comic.
Should you be interested in the results in detail, but not be able to understand German, feel free to contact me. I will do my best to let you know the details though I cannot translate the whole thesis. At least not at the moment.
What character must a webcomic have to be recognized as a journalistic product? This question ran through my thesis like a common thread. I used the multimedia webcomic „50 Years On, Still Hungry“ as an example.
To find answers to my question I decided to go for a two-step investigation. At first, just for preparation: the compulsory run through comic history and the jungle of terms: What are comics? What are webcomics? What is comics journalism? What are journalistic functions? Then I tried to work out journalistic functions out of „50 Years On, Still Hungry“ – which was even more fertile than I had expected.
Between step 1 and step 2 I used those results and the negligible scientific literature about (web) comics (journalism) to develop six hypothesises. Out of those I developed a questionnaire and a sort of road map for a group discussion. That discussion with nine students of the university of Eichstätt was the second scientific step.
What was it all about? Here it is in keywords:
- Objectivity. The opinions about one of the basic questions differ: Does a journalistic webcomic have to be objective? Some readers demand a balanced reporting, others welcome if the author presents an own opinion which is clearly recognizable.
- Multimedia elements as references. This research result was the biggest surprise to me: I hadn´t expected that readers judge the multimedia elements as a clear reference. In other words: Videos, pictures, sound on tapes and/or other data proof that the drawings are based on real events. The readers also said that the author/illustrator should create and use the multimedia elements with rhyme or reason. Details on that can be found in chapter 6.5 of the thesis (in German).
- Multimedia elements intrigue readers and raise the chance that a web based piece of comics journalism is being read and clicked.
- It is important that the symbols linked to multimedia elements are clearly recognizable. Otherwise they might be mistaken for advertisement.
- Explanation. Someone who has first contact with journalistic webcomics needs to get an explanation about what a webcomic actually is and that it´s purpose is serious.
- Even terms that seem clear at first sight need to be explained. Or did you know what the AMI is? If you don´t, it might get confusing when reading „50 Years…“.
- Role of author/illustrator and credibility. The author/illustrator can become more credible if he draws himself into the picture (called panel).
- The author/illustrator should make clear if he is presenting the story rather from a journalist or an artist point of view.
- The author/illustrator should have some drawing talent.
- A photo (not a drawing) of the author, e. g. at the end of the webcomic, can make the whole webcomic more credible.
- Should the author/illustrator use a mix of panels (that is: drawn pictures) and real pictures (that is: photos), he should justify that not to confuse the reader.
- The diction should be appropriate to the topic of the webcomic.
- Entertainment. If the webcomic is entertaining every so often, it is not disturbing the overall journalistic approach. The author/illustrator should not use onomatopoeia (remember the „Boom, Pow, Wow“ from the title?) and thought bubbles respectively.
- Comics Journalism offline. Concerning newspapers readers can imagine comics journalism in sections like economy, travel or international. They are sceptic though about the use in the local section. Local politics for example might feel offended.
Now some journalists among you might be a little upset: „Wait! How many students participated? Is that representative? It´s just one comic! It is in English, but the students were Germans! That has nothing to do with scientific research! And hardly any results for the newspaper! That means nothing to me!“
I asked nine students. No, that is by no means representative. Yes, it was just one comic. Yes, it was in English, yes, the students were Germans. But: Every step of my work is scientifically open to scrutiny. With this apparently first scientific work about web comics journalism I just have lit a first candle. Suggestions on how to varify or falsify my results can be found at the end of my thesis. Same is for ideas how and where the results can be used in newspaper´s editorial offices. If you should have no opportunity to read the text in German, feel free to contact me. I will do my very best to help though I cannot translate the whole thesis. At least not at the moment.