Jonny Sexton

My name is Jonny, and I am currently working on my postgraduate degree in Media and Communication at Bournemouth University. My background as a freelance illustrator means I know a thing or two about comics, and I am interested in learning about the potential of this medium to communicate meaningful social ideas and concepts.

Young people caption Coronavirus through Political Cartoons, one frame at a time

The study presently conducted at Bournemouth University is not the only ongoing AHRC initiative to explore the relationship between comics and the COVID-19 pandemic. At the University of Leicester, research hopes to highlight the positive impact cartoons about coronavirus could have for young people, and encourage the use of this visual medium to help navigate marginalised groups through these unprecedented times. More information regarding the study at the University of Leicester can be found on the University of Leicester website, and a brief overview of the ongoing work can be found below.

Young people are given a voice through political cartooning as the University of Leicester, Shout Out UK, and Cartooning for Peace collaborate on a successfully awarded UKRI COVID-19 rapid response grant; Covid in Cartoons; to provide young people with the skills to communicate their experience during this pandemic through the age-old medium of political cartooning.

Cartooning for Peace cartoon illustrated by Nicolas Vadot

COVID-19 poses specific challenges for young people from vulnerable or minority groups, who may feel particularly disempowered by the pandemic. In order to restore agency and belonging, schools will not only need to remedy curriculum and attainment gaps, but must also create an inclusive framework that recognises the differential impact and lived experiences of the crisis, with a view to rebuilding social cohesion.

We know that challenges faced by vulnerable groups are not only exacerbated by the pandemic, but are overlooked in the building of normative social narrative. Together with partners Shout Out UK and Cartooning for Peace, researchers Dr Fransiska Louwagie and Dr Diane Levine (The University of Leicester) will combine their expertise in building pathways to resilience and developing critical literacy skills, to provide young people with the tools and confidence to engage with their political environment. The project will utilise a decidedly participatory approach, building meaning-making and representation amongst young people through inclusive and democratic practices.

Through their award-winning educational platform Shout Out UK will deliver an online minicourse developed with the University of Leicester and Cartooning for Peace, a renowned international network of cartoonists which has turned the press cartoon into an educational tool promoting dialogue and tolerance. Through the lens of political cartoons, students will be granted the opportunity not only to engage with the experiences of artists across the world during the pandemic, but also to build and articulate their own views, feelings and responses to the crisis unfolding around them. The project anticipates a UK-wide dissemination of tools and processes for teachers and youth workers and will propose areas of reform to policy makers.

By working with young people to foster and develop their own voices on the subject, this project will ensure their stories are included in the narrative surrounding the pandemic. Ultimately, this will provide students with a vital platform to inform our country’s recovery, making sure that the process of rebuilding is shaped by Britain’s youngest generations.

Dr Fransiska Louwagie, University of Leicester, said

“The project will work with political cartoons and cartoonists to engage young people from vulnerable groups in processes of meaning-making about the pandemic, The cartoons will offer a fabulous starting point for exploring and discussing lived experiences of the crisis, allowing us to build an inclusive narrative of the current situation. We are particularly excited about our partnerships with both Cartooning for Peace and Shout Out UK, two organisations who bear critical reflection and creativity at the heart of their mission.”

Dr Diane Levine, University of Leicester, said

“Life is particularly challenging for young people at the moment. We want to learn more about how they can best survive and thrive through the pandemic. The only way to do this well is to take an interdisciplinary and intersectoral approach, and that’s exactly what we’ve done in this project. As a result of Covid in Cartoons, young people at a vital stage of their development will gain the knowledge and tools to become resilient and critical during these strange times and beyond.”

Matteo Bergamini, Founder and CEO, Shout Out UK added

“The pandemic is proving particularly difficult for young people. As an organisation that builds young people’s emotional resilience in schools and youth clubs across the UK through Political and Media Literacy, we welcome this collaboration to support students’ critical reflection skills and emotional resilience. At a time of widespread misinformation and political polarisation, these skills have never been more relevant, and what better way to develop them than through the well-established creative tool of political cartooning.”

Kak, President of Cartooning for Peace, said

“The political cartoon is a means of expression at the junction between journalism and art that deals with news events. It can convey an opinion that opens up debate and reflection. It is therefore a fantastic medium for education, especially for young people.

Humour is a form of language in itself. Cartooning for Peace spends more and more time deciphering its codes with the pupils, so that they try to understand the meaning of the cartoon, and articulate a constructed and critical discourse on the subject it depicts. Moreover, the characteristic of humour is to distance oneself from seriousness, to be able to play down a subject, a situation, even a delicate one such as the coronavirus crisis.”

Partnerships

Covid in Cartoons is a project led by an interdisciplinary University of Leicester team, in collaboration with Shout Out UK and Cartooning for Peace.

Originally published at: University of Leicester

Jonny Sexton Author
Research Assistant

My name is Jonny, and I am currently working on my postgraduate degree in Media and Communication at Bournemouth University. My background as a freelance illustrator means I know a thing or two about comics, and I am interested in learning about the potential of this medium to communicate meaningful social ideas and concepts. 

A Visual Cure: The Importance of Data Comics & Graphic Medicine in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Featured Image courtesy of Alexandra Alberda (2020)

Data can be daunting. The representation of information as convoluted webs of numbers and graphs is oftentimes bewildering and off putting. In a time where data is becoming increasingly important in the lives of a sprawling range of demographics (Tapper 2020), the need for coherent, reliable representations of statistics and facts grows more and more prevalent. This need could potentially be sated by data comics and graphic medicine, an emerging field for simplifying data championed by PhD researcher Alexandra Alberda. Alberda provided an online talk about the topic at Bournemouth University in October of 2020, right at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The concepts of graphic medicine and data comics here are defined as the grappling of medical data, statistics and qualitative findings, and the representation of this data visually or narratively by way of comics, illustrations or infographics (Williams 2012). The intended outcome of such visual representations is to provide for a given audience a means to interpret healthcare data in a manner more entertaining and engaging than some academic examples, such as a PowerPoint presentation or journal article (Zhao 2015). As a result, data comics and graphic medicine promise to induct non-specialised groups into the realm of potentially difficult medical data and provide useful information regarding this topic.

Cover of comic on COVID-19 data literacy written by Dr. Anna Feigenbaum, illustrated by Alexandra Alberda

Throughout the course of her talk, Alberda highlighted some of the benefits of employing graphic medicine to convey complex statistics and concepts regarding health to a generalised audience. These benefits range from the engaging nature of data presented graphically or humorously to the use of graphic pathographies to communicate the individual healthcare journeys of patients and workers. These informative, personalised memoirs help both to preserve the facts of a given healthcare crisis and provide meaningful representation regarding complex personhood (Avery Gordon cited by Alberda 2020). As such, graphic medicine is demonstrated here not only as a means to communicate difficult health statistics, but as a humanised narrative tool to address the mental impacts of related healthcare situations (Farthing et al. 2016).

Alberda proceeded to discuss the potential power data comics and graphic medicine could wield in regards to the encouraging of meaningful change. If this kind of visual data can help non-specialist audiences feel included in the conversation regarding healthcare, and inspire empathy within them, then there is potential for graphic medicine to incite a widespread behavioural shift. Evidence of the comic medium bearing this kind of impact can be found in Yeung et al.’s (2014) study, which ascertained that a manga comic promoting healthy eating had influenced a number of New York children to reconsider their snacking habits.

Harnessed properly, the illustration of important health messaging can lead to revised attitudes and behaviours regarding relevant issues.

Each of these points, of course, have potential application concerning the current COVID-19 pandemic. Heartfelt graphic pathographies about life in lockdown could help cultivate a sense of connectedness in these decidedly disconnected times. Emotive, informational comics could inspire bolstered respect for social distancing conventions. The implications of this method of communicating data are as broad as they are promising.

Reference List

Alberda, A., 2020. Graphic Medicine. In: Feigenbaum, A., Alamalhodaei, A., The Data Storytelling Workbook. England: Routledge, 163-166

Farthing, A., Priego, E., 2016. Data from ‘Graphic Medicine’ as a Mental Health Information Resource: Insights from Comics Producers. Open Health Data [online], 4 (1)

Leung, M., Tripicchio, G., Agaranov, A., Hou, N., 2014. Manga Comic Influences Snack Selection in Black and Hispanic New York City Youth. Research Brief [online], 46 (2), 142-147

Tapper, J., 2020. 'Go figure: how Britain became a nation of armchair statisticians'. The Guardian [online], 8 Nov 2020. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/08/go-figure-how-britain-became-a-nation-of-armchair-statisticians [Accessed 3 Feb 2021]

Williams, I.C.M., 2012. Graphic medicine: comics as medical narrative. Medical Humanities [online], 38, 21-27

Zhao, Z., Marr, R., Elmqvist, N., 2015. Data Comics: Sequential Art for Data Driven Storytelling [online]. Maryland: University of Maryland.


Originally published at: https://covid19speakerseries.edublogs.org/2021/02/10/a-visual-cure-the-importance-of-data-comics-graphic-medicine-in-the-covid-19-pandemic/.

Jonny Sexton Author
Research Assistant

My name is Jonny, and I am currently working on my postgraduate degree in Media and Communication at Bournemouth University. My background as a freelance illustrator means I know a thing or two about comics, and I am interested in learning about the potential of this medium to communicate meaningful social ideas and concepts.