Olivier Kugler and the “power of the drawn image”

graphic journalist olivier kugler eye

Fourteen pages in the new issue of quarterly UK graphic design journal Eye go to a profile of illustrator Olivier Kugler (print-only) by John L. Walters, Eye‘s editor. A piece on the German-born graphic journalist fits in well in what is an extensive survey of cartooning and editorial illustration from Eye — an issue on the “power of the drawn image” that features a look at how The Guardian incorporates art in its “long read” section, a history of war artist Edward Ardizzone’s work, and more. Kugler, whose drawings have appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, German GQ, and lots more, is “the contemporary face of reportage illustration,” writes Eye‘s Walters.

graphic journalist olivier kugler eye

Kugler found a love for illustration and telling stories with drawn images that began in the panels of The Adventures of Tintin, the popular comics from Belgian cartoonist Hergé. After serving in the military, Kugler would go on to earn a degree in visual communications in Germany — which included a semester at University of Georgia that found him studying the work of artist Alan E. Cober — before getting an MFA at New York City’s School of Visual Arts. In New York City, he discovered the style of graphic storytelling that suited him, some of which owes to the fundamentals of the comics page but is distinctive and fresh.

Kugler’s work is often a powerful combination of detailed portraiture, a heavy dose of scrawled narrative text and dialogue (in a “typeface based on his penciled handwriting”), and skeletal line drawing for backdrops that are specifically not colored and overlap in a natural and fluid manner with the images’ colored elements. His reporting is a striking addition to what scholar Hillary Chute calls a substantial documentarian form that “endeavors to express history” in her new book Disaster Drawn (see my Chicago Reader review). A sidebar in Walters’ profile explores the “reporter as ‘special artist'” and magazines’ implementation of graphic journalism.

“While the tradition of drawn, visual reportage goes back centuries, the use of specially commissioned illustrators became widespread with the rise of reasonably economical and well printed illustrated magazines in the mid-nineteenth century,” writes Walters.

graphic journalist olivier kugler eye

Kugler is continuing to use illustration to report on the refugee crisis and will eventually be publishing a book of his journalism that will have some support by way of a grant from Arts Council England. Find more from Eye here.

Image © 2014 Olivier Kugler for Harper’s. Photos of Eye © 2017 Dominic Umile. I bought my copy of Eye at Spoonbill in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.