Books

Art, Journalism and War in Sarah Glidden's 'Rolling Blackouts'

Glidden's use of watercolors is beautifully rendered, creating a consistent visual language throughout that is a pleasure to look at.


Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Length: 304 pages
Author: Sarah Glidden
Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2016-10
Amazon

“There are rules to journalism that are common sense: do not deceive; work independently; minimize harm. But from there, lines start blurring. What is journalistic distance? Can it be measured? How much does it even matter? I'm beginning to see that so much of the practice of journalism comes down to questions that may be unanswerable.”

Sarah Glidden's Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq is part journalism and part travelogue. Following her friends, Sarah Stuteville and Alex Stonehill, independent journalists from Seattle’s online Globalist, and Stuteville's childhood friend, Dan O'Brien, an Iraq War veteran, they take a reporting trip to the Middle East in 2010. Glidden is meant to observe and document their experience in comic form, while Stuteville and Stonehill mainly report on the many displaced persons from the Iraq War.

Glidden's story is framed by transcriptions of conversations she witnessed and took part in, interspersed with her commentary. She makes great effort to be as accurate as possible in representing the trip and its evolving focus, and it’s because these moments are so honest that her insights after the fact work so well. Whether she comments on how excruciating it is to listen to herself try to contribute to a journalistic conversation, or she describes her feelings on Dan’s experience on the trip, Glidden is always relatable.

One of the book's most intriguing and surprising arcs focuses on getting Dan to open up about how his experiences as a Marine in that area only a few years earlier colors the trip. Stuteville's frustration with his reluctance to deviate from his own narrative -- one he’d already expressed at the outset of the trip -- and his constant awareness of being recorded speaks to the challenges of getting a subject to convey an honest account. Dan’s personal friendship with Stuteville and his perspective as a vet makes him wary of her questions and often puts the two at odds. It’s easy to sympathize with Stuteville’s exasperation, even as she acknowledges her own expectations for his story, but Dan’s unwillingness to be the perfect subject is also understandable. Glidden does an admirable job of presenting both sides.

Dan’s difficulty in communicating his experiences while also being hyperaware of being the subject of a story brings to the fore many journalistic questions for Stuteville. The ways in which she grapples with her own biases and expectations when it comes to interviewing Dan are especially illuminating, but it’s often in her conversations that she articulates these complications best. Glidden hasn’t only captured their trip from a purely reporting standpoint, but she’s also documented the process of reporting. It’s an approach that allows for an unexpectedly thoughtful examination.

One of Rolling Blackouts’ other arcs focuses on Sam Malkandi, an Iraqi refugee who had resettled in the United States with his family until he was arrested and eventually deported on immigration charges. His footnote connection to the “9/11 Commission Report” linked him to terrorism, though he maintains his innocence. Stuteville and Stonehill would even go on to make a documentary about Malkandi, Barzan, in 2013 (about Barzan Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti). Glidden does a wonderful job capturing the contradictions of Malkandi’s story and circumstances, particularly as she documents his attempts to stay connected to America through something as simple as snack foods, and the tragedies of his life in Iraq that led to his refugee status.

As a section of the book focuses on Syria, the current situation is highlighted in unanticipated ways. In 2010, refugees were seeking relief in Syria, and only a few short years later, the effects of the same war have turned Syria’s population into the one seeking refuge. It’s a striking consideration, one that helps to make Rolling Blackouts even more resonant.

Glidden’s art is of particular note, and not just because Rolling Blackouts is told in comic form. Her use of watercolors is beautifully rendered, creating a consistent visual language throughout the book that is a pleasure to look at, yet never distracts from the content of the story. In fact, in drawing real people she brings them to life in a way that humanizes and makes relatable circumstances. The watercolors also complement the narrative messiness of shifting borders and populations in ways that the precise hand of pen and ink would not.

Rolling Blackouts is about journalism and war, and the complexities of both. Truly independent reporting is often an impossible feat, still colored with personal feelings and experiences, regardless of the best intentions, and Glidden, in both writing and art, conveys that difficulty especially well.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.