Graphic Nonfiction: Joris Bas Backer on the Amsterdamse Joffers

Welcome to another edition of Graphic Nonfiction, where we look for examples of using the medium of comics to investigate real things instead of demanding pictures of Spider-Man.

Today's feature comes from Drawing the Times, a site I first noticed about a year ago. This particular feature article caught my eye, because I don't think I'd ever heard of this collective of women artists before. Thankfully, Joris Bas Backer is here to provide me with some background, as well as looking at her own life within a collective of women cartoonists.

A few sample pages give you a good feel for the material:
In this opening page, you get a feel for Backer's art style, her color choices, and the plan to mix her current life with the brief biographical information. This particular site uses pages in a similar style to comic books, so there's not a lot of room for experimentation, as we often see in The Nib. That doesn't mean that Backer can't put together some fun visuals, such as the page below:

A nice use of the 9-panel grid that packs a lot in, and varies between text boxes and characters speaking. I especially love the top row, featuring a ladder, a human hamster wheel, and a see-saw, all of which relate in some way to balance. All three also have gaps in their structure, making it possible to fall off. It's a great thematic technique.

Backer's linework is loose, but also keeps a strong sense of detail and historical context. The Joffers are wearing appropriate clothing, yet it's still distinctive from one person to the other. Similarly, when we switch to the modern figures, as in panels 5 and 9, you can tell because they're dressed "normally"--we don't have to guess. Backer gives plenty of attention to details such as this, which help make the back-and-forth style work.

You can read the full essay here, which is really cool and definitely turned me on to something I was previously unaware of in the art world, so now I have a nifty thing to look for next time I'm haunting a museum. Check it out and learn something!