American involvement in the Middle East has been going on for over a decade, and stereotypes and conceptions about those involved are quite common. But what are the stories of those living there? In Rolling Blackouts, cartoonist Sarah Glidden explores the experiences of citizens and refugees by chronicling the trip she took through Turkey, Iraq, and Syria with her journalist friends, Sarah and Alex, and a military veteran, Dan. Among the individuals and groups they meet are a man accused of terrorism and deported from the United States; Iraqi refugees living in Syria; and refugees living in former prisons. The result is a thoughtful, nuanced narrative that examines these experiences and the role of journalism.
Early on in the story, Glidden claims Rolling Blackout’s focus is on the process of journalism and its ethics. However, as a reader, I found the stories of those interviewed more compelling and more immediately visible. Glidden weaves Sarah and Alex’s struggles of finding and developing a good story into the narrative, and these elements help contribute to the reflective nature of the story as well as to humanize the journalists, who, according to Sarah, are frequently viewed with suspicion and disgust.
The meat of the story lies in the experiences of the people the group interviews. Glidden does not force individuals’ words to fit a particular narrative. As a result, Rolling Blackouts reveals the wide variety of opinions and experiences among those directly affected by the conflict as well as the messy nature of the lives affected. Glidden’s simple, clean artwork allows readers to focus on the individuals’ experiences as they describe them. Glidden excels at demonstrating characters’ personalities through gestures and expressions, and the soft colors evoke a thoughtful mood. The artwork fits well with the slower pacing of the story: Rolling Blackouts is not a book to be read in one sitting, but rather requires one to pause to reflect on the stories being told.
Rolling Blackouts will appeal to teenage and adult readers seeking a nuanced story about the impact of the conflicts in the Middle East. The book also would provide a great opportunity to discuss journalistic ethics and the methods of constructing a story. Because this book does not provide much historical context, readers seeking background information will want to look elsewhere. That being said, Rolling Blackouts’ thoughtful portrayal of the experiences of those in the Middle East will give it a place in most library collections.
Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq
by Sarah Glidden
Drawn and Quarterly, 2016