The collected comics are posted in 8 categories: educational, vaccine-specific comics, ethics/social justice, comics about caregiving, comics by patients, coping & humour, historic, and non-comic resources.
Founder of GraphicMedicine.org, Dr Ian Williams, coined the term ‘graphic medicine’ for the name of the website in 2007. Since then, the site has continued to explore the interaction between the medium of comics and the discourse of healthcare.
The site is made up of a community of academics, health carers, authors, artists, and fans of comics and medicine. Several COVID comics have been posted on the site since the curation started last year.
I am a trainee communications researcher with a background in journalism. My research interest is in health communications targeting disadvantaged groups. I studied international media framing of COVID-19 for my MA. My current research interest is in identifying online media contents which can be powerful triggers of public health behaviour change.
Digital and visual communications are crucial methods for disseminating information during the COVID-19 pandemic. From slice-of-life diary pieces to public health guidance on prevention and symptoms, visual storytellers are using online platforms to share their experiences and disseminate information. While digital platforms have the capacity to facilitate misinformation, they have also been utilised to ensure the spread of important, and potentially life-saving messages. To learn more about how AHRC-funded projects are researching media communications and health messaging during the pandemic, Shannon McDavitt, a Research Assistant on our BU-Based Comics in the time of COVID-19 project, took part in a Pandemic and Beyond Knowledge Exchange Workshop on 7 June 2021.
As a response to the pandemic, the AHRC launched a scheme to fund projects dedicated to understanding the impact of COVID-19. The Public Health, Communication and Healthcare Knowledge Exchange Workshop run by the Pandemic and Beyond Project allowed researchers working on similar research questions to come together to share their projects and exchange ideas and network with like-minded people. This workshop also gave the project teams a greater understanding of the role they are playing in the wider response to COVID-19, and of the issues being tackled. A key area of focus among these projects was health communication and public health messaging, and within those projects, there was a mutual understanding of the necessity of not only verbal or linguistic messaging, but of visual communication during the pandemic.
The dissemination of COVID-19 guidance is a key element to managing the pandemic. Due to social distancing and lockdown regulations, the pandemic has made social media and digital communication essential for public health communications. Social media has been a major outlet for this. As scrolling and sharing are daily routines for a large part of the population, these platforms become an indispensable method of giving and receiving information. Although social media has been criticised as a platform for misinformation and fake news, when used to convey evidenced-based information, the government and public health authorities can benefit from a large platform that is accessible to many. This is why designers and graphic storytellers are working to enhance how visual data and social media can be used more effectively together.
The power of images in communications is stronger than ever. According to market research, online visual content is 40 times more likely to get shared and articles that include images every 75-100 words receive double the shares than those without (PWC 2017). During the pandemic, visual information has become more important for a wide range of reasons, including ensuring those who have difficulty reading, and interpreting a high amount of information have a means to understand what is being communicated. For example, the AHRC-funded project ‘Information Design for Diagnostics: Ensuring Confidence and Accuracy for Home Sampling and Home Testing’ led by Professor Sue Walker, investigates how user-friendly instructions, print and video are key to accurate use of tests, demonstrating how good visual communication is essential in managing the pandemic effectively.
Green and Myers (2010) argue that combining pictures and text enhances understanding and can help increase recall of health information. This is a major aspect of ensuring guidance is met in, for example, washing hands or how to correctly wear a mask and test from home. This is why our AHRC-funded project ‘Comics in the time of COVID-19: Tracking data on web-based comics and evaluating their potential for communicating public health messages’ led by Dr Anna Feigenbaum develops the idea that comics can be an effective method of sharing public health messaging. As suggested, information that includes images are more likely to receive shares which is an important aspect of digital communication in the time of COVID-19. Visually, comics and imagery are easy to engage with compared to long pieces of text. This helps make them effective for a wide range of the population. As the written aspects are minimal and simplistic, they are accessible to a broad range of audiences, including the young and old. Since public health messages can be complex, these kinds of visuals can be especially useful where English is not a person’s first language, or for those who have a difficulty reading written information. In addition, research suggests that we are better at learning and remembering content that we’ve seen in pictures than just in text, a phenomenon known as Picture Superiority Effect (Nelson et al 1976) This makes comics a perfect candidate for the dissemination of important public health information to maintain and manage the pandemic.
Comics and visuals can communicate both risk factors and social issues surrounding an illness. Readers can relate to events and experiences, creating empathy (McAllister 1992). Although visual storytelling and public health messaging through social media may not be the only method needed to effectively spread information and manage the pandemic, these on-going projects funded by the AHRC show the power that visual storytelling online can have. By including visual elements such as video, photographs and sketches in future public health guidance, governments, health professionals and organisations can reach wider audiences, help increase comprehension, create more accessibility and better encourage behavioural change
References and original publication
PWC, 2017. [online]. Available from: https://www.pwc.com.au/the-difference/the-power-of-visual-communication-apr17.pdf [Accessed 10 Jun 2021].
Nelson, D.L., Reed, U.S., & Walling, J.R. (1976). Pictorial superiority effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning & Memory, 2, 523-528
Hanna, R., Rohm, A. and Crittenden, V. L., 2011. We're All Connected: The Power of the Social Media Ecosystem. Business Horizons [online], 54 (3), 265-273
Green, M., & Myers, K. (2010). Graphic medicine: use of comics in medical education and patient care. BMJ : British Medical Journal, 340.
Ozlem Demirkol Tonnesen, Anna Feigenbaum, José Blázquez presented on our AHRC project methodology at the Data Justice Conference. Contributing to the conference theme Civic Participation in the Datafied Society we explore how social media content can be re-curated for social good.
Social media platforms archive much of the contemporary cultural, social and political artefacts that are created by the public in response to all the mundane and unique aspects of life. Instagram, for instance, is one of world’s largest visual archives, yet our ability to engage with it to learn about ourselves and our world remains tightly controlled and largely directed by the for-profit interests of the few. Set by corporate agendas, these platforms’ policies govern the terms of access to collect data while the platform’s algorithms curate the way in which content is seen or experienced by the users to keep them on the platform.
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, under the name of increased security, platforms like Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram further privatised and commercialised access to their data, establishing elite networks and services for research collaboration, such as Facebook’s Social Science Onewith its central hub at Harvard University that exists to “unlock commercial information for public good in privacy protective ways” (https://socialscience.one).
While these collaborations mobilise the phrase ‘social good,’ the solutions of interest are commercially driven and directed around business priorities. Moreover, their mechanisms for collaboration reproduce data divides that concentrate power “amongst corporate firms, dominant in the West, and unequally distributed along racial and gender lines” (Feigenbaum and Alamalhodaei 2020, p.68). This elites-focused access likewise furthers what Andrejevic (2014) refers to as the “asymmetric relationship between those who collect, store and mine large quantities of data and those whom data collection targets (p. 1673).”
In a difficult context in which privacy, ownership and data justice collide with economic interests and business opportunities, we stress the moral responsibility that social media platforms have towards the preservation and wide accessibility of productive cultural and social representations of digital citizenship, and the appropriate actions that organisations and researchers can take to fill that gap.
On this basis, what methods are left to ‘mine back’ data for social value? How public archives can be built and re-claimed? In this paper, we reflected on some of the innovative, ethically driven solutions for working with social media data offered by other researchers and organisations before introducing our own project methodology for ‘mining back’ to archive and ‘re-curate social media content for social good.’ Designed as a response to asymmetrical relations of power in data-driven research, our approach provides a framework for re-curating publicly shared content from social media via collaborations with public stakeholders and content creators.
This methodology highlights the importance of defining new social relationships for content beyond the confines of platform algorithms to further facilitate the study, preservation, and understanding of these sociocultural representations. We argue that collaborative re-curation of content can create new, participatory, and socially engaging infrastructures for data exploration and knowledge exchange.
Andrejevic, M 2014, ‘Big Data, Big Questions| The Big Data Divide’, International Journal of Communication, vol. 8, pp. 1673-1689.
Feigenbaum, A & Alamalhodaei, A 2020, The Data Storytelling Workbook. Routledge, London.
I am a PhD candidate researching the ways digital cultures inform the expressive styles of political talk. I love exploring how reality is narrated online and I am moonlighting as a research assistant in two projects on social media and public health.
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.
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.”
Covid in Cartoons is a project led by an interdisciplinary University of Leicester team, in collaboration with Shout Out UK and Cartooning for Peace.
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.
Research at Bournemouth University is looking at the effectiveness of comic artistry and storytelling in the sharing of public health messaging.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) the project will catalogue and analyse comic-style public health graphics, specifically those created during the Covid-19 pandemic, and seek to make recommendations on how the comic medium can be effective at delivering public health messaging to help drive behaviour change.
The idea for the research began as Dr Anna Feigenbaum, the lead researcher, and her colleagues Alexandra Alberda and William Proctor shared clever comic-style graphics with one another that had been created and shared on social media about Covid-19. These single, sharable, comic-style graphics blend the artistry and storytelling of comics with the Covid-19 messaging we have seen throughout the pandemic.
Dr Feigenbaum, an Associate Professor within the Faculty of Media and Communication at Bournemouth University, said, “What we saw from these comic graphics was the way that the artistry and storytelling combined to share messages in a more emotive and interesting way. This built on work we were already doing on how public health messaging could utilise this medium to make their own messaging more engaging and even lead to better behavioural outcomes.”
José Blázquez, the project’s postdoctoral researcher, has started work in collating over 1200 examples of comic-style Covid-19 messaging with the aim of understanding what makes them so compelling, and how this genre of communication could be further used to create what the project’s research illustrator, Alexandra Alberda, calls an “accessible, approachable and relatable” style of messaging when communicating important public health messages. The team aims to build a database that archives these comics, including information about their artistic and storytelling techniques, audience engagement, circulation, and what implications they may have for the sharing of health messaging in the future.
The final outcomes will be shared as a report and an illustrated set of good practice guidelines. Results will also be shared in the team’s edited collection Comics in the Time of COVID-19 and a special journal issue for Comics Grid. It is hoped these guidelines will inform public health communicators, as well as graphic designers and educators.
Dr Feigenbaum continued, “Data comics are on a real upsurge as people look to make sense of the world through data visualisation, and there are some wonderful examples from amateur artists who have been incredibly clever and creative in taking what are, essentially, public health messages, and turning them into emotive comic-style stories.
In addition to the main team of Dr. Feigenbaum, Dr. Blázquez and Alexandra Alberda, this research will be conducted with Co-investigators Dr. Billy Proctor, Dr. Sam Goodman and Professor Julian McDougall, along with advisory partners Public Health Dorset, the Graphic Medicine Collective, Information Literacy Group and Comics Grid.
Associate Professor in Communication and Digital Media
I am a writer, researcher, teacher and workshop leader specialising in data storytelling for civic good. From digging into dusty archives to data visualising absent deaths, I am drawn to the difficult, the messy, the ethically challenging questions that exist around the edges of debates over how we tell stories with science and data. As a consultant and trainer, I collaborate with charities, NGOs, Public Health organisations, investigative journalists and other researchers to explore empathetic and effective ways to tell data stories. I believe that it is often those without access to big budgets and fancy tools that hold the data stories we most need to change the world.