The Daily Gamecock

Hutchins, Axe discuss journalism of another sort

Graphic novel challenges traditional expectations


A room full of journalism students and professors were asked a basic question: “What is journalism?” What followed was a discussion on fact-checking, re-enactment and one of the more bizarre moments in South Carolina’s political history.

Corey Hutchins and David Axe explored the boundaries of journalism in the traditional sense as they discussed their recently published graphic novel “The Accidental Candidate: The Rise and Fall of Alvin Greene” Tuesday evening as part of I-Comm Week, hosted by USC’s College of Mass Communications and Information Studies.

“We face an uphill climb, in a lot of ways, trying to present this book as work of journalism,” Axe said. “There’s an expectation with a lot of people that journalism looks a certain way, that certain media don’t count as journalism — comics would definitely be one of them.

“What makes journalism, journalism? Boil it down to its most basic elements. What has to be there for it to be journalism? On the flip side, what disqualifies something from being journalism?”

The novel chronicles Greene’s out-of-nowhere 2010 run for a spot in South Carolina’s U.S. Senate delegation. He’d defeated Vic Rawl, the favorite, in the Democratic primary and unsuccessfully challenged high-profile Republican incumbent Jim DeMint in the general election.

Hutchins was the first reporter to take notice of Greene, who campaigned just a little — if at all — before the national media swept up the story.

Audience members spoke up to raise the issue of factuality and fact-checking, which, when it came to writing the book, was essential but limited, at times, to condense or re-enact scenarios, the authors said.

Hutchins described the process of assembling scenes in the book to explain Greene’s discharge from the Army prior to his candidacy.

Since he wasn’t able to find one specific moment that led to Greene’s dismissal, Hutchins said he based the sequence on a number of reports and conversations he thought captured the basic elements and tone of the scenes.

But could he get away with that in print?

“No. That’s what makes this a graphic novel,” Hutchins said. “That’s certainly an instance where I strayed from writing what happened in real life to try to put together an idea of [what might have happened].”

Fourth-year public relations student Will Matthews said later that the credibility of the graphic novel did not affect its journalistic qualification.

“The credibility is in question,” Matthews said. “There’s some stuff in there that is not factual. So, because it’s a comic, the author has the ability to exaggerate stuff, so that makes it less credible. But I still think it’s journalism.”

Tone, though, is the key to the veracity of this novel — or of any piece of writing or art, Axe said.

“Tone is something that drips from your page, from your image or from your art. It’s varied; it’s consumed; it’s present in all white spaces,” Axe said. “But tone is not always the same as a fact. And facts sometimes can be dishonest.”

Hutchins, a reporter for Free Times and the South Carolina Press Association’s 2011 Journalist of the Year, and Axe, a freelance writer, video journalist and former war correspondent, said they are interested in collaborating on another graphic novel in the future — this time focusing on South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.