To Darryl Holliday, comics journalism descends from cave paintings: Cave of El Castillo. And then Lascaux. And then "The Illustrated Press: Chicago."
Cave paintings are "nonfiction visualizations of what was really happening in those people's lives at that time," Holliday said. "When you see those cave paintings, (the artists were) using any tool that was available, literally a cave wall, a stick and different inks, to show their means of hunting and gathering. (Comics journalism) is just a newer, more current way to show exactly what we are doing with our lives."
In the summer of 2011, Holliday and his roommate, Erik Nelson Rodriguez, set out to chronicle the streets of Chicago as they exist today. For one year, Holliday interviewed and Rodriguez photographed and sketched as they followed stories that took them from one end of the city to the other. "The Illustrated Press: Chicago," published last year with funds from a Kickstarter campaign, collects their work.
The book features a piece about two nuns who hold a weekly vigil at the Broadview Detention Facility, the last place many immigrants stay before they are deported, as well as a story about Holliday's great uncle getting evicted from his home in Englewood, a house his family lived in for 58 years. There is also a short feature on Pilsen's coal plants, a story on Cook County Jail weddings and a comic about the movable chess boards on Michigan Avenue during Chicago summers.
Sipping coffee at New Wave Coffee in Logan Square, Holliday, 27, explained comics journalism as a combination of sequential art and nonfiction storytelling. To Holliday, a journalistic comic must have a sense of motion.
"It has to have a flow that makes it seem (lifelike)," he said. "If we were to write a story sitting here, I am thinking about the gestures you're making and those cars going by and the dog that was walking by at the same time you were talking. I want the earth to seem like it's rotating as the story is going on, which is something that I feel you can't always get in print."
Holliday points out that illustrating journalistic pieces is hardly new — newspapers use photographs, editorial cartoons, digital photo slide shows, graphics and videos to supplement writers' words — but he asserts that comics journalism provides a more seamless connection between word and art.
"(Erik and I) go out together on stories and we write together, so our visuals are tied inextricably to the writing," he said.
The pages of "The Illustrated Press" reveal stories in black and white and color, drawn with thin and thick lines and enclosed in a square panels or set apart with amorphous shapes. While Rodriguez, 26, adds his own aesthetic to the work, he abides by journalistic standards.
"I try to capture as much as I can that actually was present and happened," he said, "but I also want things to be visually appealing so that the reader doesn't get bored."
For both, journalism trumps the comic. "It all starts with story," Holliday said.
The pair's ability to sniff out unique stories in the city attracted Patrick Brower, co-owner of Challengers Comics + Conversation.
"Comics have unlimited potential in the realm of teaching, but this (book) is about informing," he said, "and Holliday and Rodriguez combine wonderfully to inform us on the smaller moments that make the city of Chicago what it is while showing us what it can be."
Although the result may be different, Holliday and Rodriguez build their book through classic shoe-leather reporting. . They seek answers to their burning questions. They highlight what they see as injustices. They analyze and criticize from a place of love.
"People are vastly complex, places are built on a constant stream of time and circumstance; there are too many words and not enough space," Holliday writes in the book's introduction. "But that's exactly why it's important to create new ways of understanding."
Courtney Crowder covers the Chicago literary scene for Printers Row Journal.
"The Illustrated Press: Chicago"
By Darryl Holliday and E.N. Rodriguez. Visit illuspress.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun