This week, Nicholas Carlson, editor in chief of INSIDER, announced that his site had commissioned a graphic novel adaptation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report because “no one was reading” the actual report.
“It feels as if nobody read the Mueller report,” Carlson wrote in an editor’s note on INSIDER. “That's a shame, because it's an important document, depicting possible crimes by a sitting US president.”
He continued: “But not reading it makes sense. As a narrative, the document is a disaster. And at 448 pages, it's too long to grind through. For long stretches, it reads less like a story and more like a terms-of-service agreement. The instinct to click ‘next’ is strong.”
But, Carlson said, buried within the document are passages that read like a comedy, a thriller, a tragedy “and, most important — like an indictment.”
INSIDER tapped Mark Bowden, a journalist and author known best for “Black Hawk Down,” and Chad Hurd, an illustrator from the art department of "Archer,” to create an account gripping enough to hold the attention of the general public (and, perhaps, the dozen Congressional members who admitted to POLITICO this week that they hadn’t fully read the report ) based on the facts found within the report and reliable first-hand accounts.
But not everyone is eager to read the alternate version, either.
On his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson dismissed the adaptation as a “picture book,” and his guest for the segment, former secret service agent Don Bongino, opened by saying he hasn’t actually opened the graphic novel “because he doesn’t want to lose neurons and about 20 IQ points reading this imbecility.” Numerous followers on social media agreed.
Our cultural landscape is filled with shows that consistently blur the lines of political news, commentary and entertainment — “The Daily Show” is a prime example — and there are a seemingly infinite number of programs and podcasts, like The New York Time’s “The Daily,” framed specifically as a way to catch up quickly with the essential headlines of the day.
With both, there is an unspoken promise that the hosts will distill complicated political topics and legal documents, putting them into context for general audiences. For large swaths of the American population, these programs are a steady component of their news consumption.
Yet there’s still a prevailing attitude by some that anything outside those two categories that makes the news or political history easier to understand is to be denigrated as childish or trite.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
There have been a number of graphic novels released in recent years that cover topics from the environment, like “Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science” by Philippe Squarzoni, to the history of slavery, like Marcelo d’Salete’s 2015 graphic novel “Cumbe.”
In an article for the African American Intellectual History Society, writer Nathan Moore discusses the opportunity to present slave narratives through graphic novels.
“Comics might not be the first place you’d think to go to for profound meditations on complex topics like war, genocide, and slavery, but if you look hard enough that is exactly what you will find,” Moore wrote. “Critics began to recognize this potential when Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for his Holocaust epic ‘Maus.’”
He continued: “J. Spencer Clark, an education specialist at Kansas State University, argued that ‘Spiegelman’s work demonstrated that graphic novels could meaningfully depict the ways structural forces and individuals have collided in history,’ while others considered it to be ‘the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust.’”
It should be noted, too, that Carlson’s is not the only graphic novel adaptation of the Mueller report set for release. “The Mueller Report: Graphic Novel,” which is illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist Shannon Wheeler and written by journalist Steve Duin, will go on sale in April 2020; Marvel and DC comic book artist Barbara Slate’s graphic novel adaptation will be released later this month.
In an interview with Forbes, Slate said she wanted to create a “fast, entertaining, easy to follow story that gives readers the essential facts of what happened.” she noted.
“At times it’s horrifying, astounding, funny, pathetic, and inspiring. If they’re not reading the full report, my version will give them insight and they will be better informed citizens,” Slate said. “Maybe it will inspire some to read the report.”
Think of it as the “No Fear Shakespeare” of the political world. Much in the way having a basic understanding of who is masquerading as whom makes for a better “As You Like It” experience, maybe seeing the Mueller report laid out in comic-book panels will give more people the confidence to tackle the original 448-page document.
As may the audiobook, the readings by Broadway performers, the Schoolhouse Rock-style video explaining the redactions, or the 60-second summary by the BBC. Gimmicky? Some of them perhaps. But if it makes more people better consumers of news, then I say bring it on.