Next Generation Leaders

The Journalist Drawing the World

Molly Crabapple has found a different way to tell stories

In a media landscape of tweets and Snaps and Facebook Lives, Molly Crabapple uses pen and ink — and markers and paint and sketchbooks. That’s because Crabapple, 33, is an artist–journalist, sketching from the front lines of conflicts in the U.S. and around the world for publications like Vice, Vanity Fair and the New York Times.

Crabapple first realized the journalistic utility of her sketchbook when she reported for Vice from Guantánamo Bay in 2013. Photographs are heavily censored there, but the guards didn’t pay much attention to drawings. “This sketchbook is like a lock pick,” she says. “You can expose so many things that can’t be exposed otherwise.”

Molly Crabapple, her posing in front of her Shell Game Series, 2012
Bill Wadman

Since then, she’s sketched her way through the U.S. prison system, across the Syrian border, through Turkey, and in refugee camps in northern Iraq and Lebanon. When guards wouldn’t let her bring a pen into the Rikers Island jail in New York City, she drew with the tip of her fingernail. She documented her own journey—from growing up a goth girl on Long Island, to posing naked for sex photographers, to reporting from Syria and Iraq in her book Drawing Blood last year. For her next project, Crabapple is collaborating with a young Syrian journalist who writes under the pseudonym of Marwan Hisham on a book about his time living under ISIS.

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If art can give journalism immediacy, Crabapple says, then journalism can give art relevance. “Journalism rips art right out of that ivory tower and brings it back into the mud and the blood and the streets of the world,” she says, noting that great artists from Goya to Picasso helped document the events of their times. Her work is a perfect slow-media commentary on our current fast-media climate. At a time when there may be more photos taken each year than in the entire prior history of film photography, drawing offers a different way to reach people, she says. “It’s saying, ‘I cared, I did this, and you should care too.’”

Correction: The original version of this piece incorrectly described the individual Crabapple is collaborating with on her next project

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