BU research explores the use of comic artistry and storytelling in public health information

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.

The team has even created their own Covid-19 web-comics, published by Nightingale on Medium

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.

“These sharable comic graphics are engaging and informed – there is a lot to learn here about the way we make sense of the world and how this genre could help us to see the communication of important messages in a whole new light. What we’re researching now could be seen as best practice in years to come.”

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. 

More information about the project will soon be available at www.covidcomics.org

This post originally appeared on the Bournemouth University website.

Anna Feigenbaum Administrator
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.

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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
MA student in Media and Communication

Jonny Sexton is a postgraduate student currently undertaking his Masters degree in Media & Communication at Bournemouth University.

Graphic Images: how webcomics can aid public health awareness

Dave Whamond/CagleCartoons.com

As you’ve probably guessed from the title, webcomics are being discussed as a new method for getting across public health messaging. Alexandra Alberda, a researcher at Bournemouth University, explained some of her ideas about how and why webcomics – and data-comics – work so well at getting across info, with a particular focus on using them during the pandemic.

COVID-19 has been a long and drawn-out catastrophe, and there has been a need to get urgent messages out to the public for everyone’s safety and well-being. But these messages can get muddled, drowned amongst a sea of long press-conferences, Twitter mis-info, and wild conspiracy videos. This is where the unique aspects of webcomics can step in and help.

Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR

For a start, comics are easy to engage with for a lot of people, young and old. They have an aesthetic and use of language that is simple enough to be accessible for a very broad target audience. That broad appeal, especially in the context of educating the public about a pandemic, makes them a potentially powerful tool for public health communications.


‘Data-comics’ are something Alberda discussed in her talk as part of the speaker series. Now, the words ‘data’ ‘statistics’ and ‘figures’ are bound to immediately put off a lot of people (myself included) who don’t have a mathematical bone in their body. The same goes for charts and graphs, which can be pretty dry at the best of times. So, data-comics attempt to bridge that gap, and aim to repackage that info – for example, virus R-numbers, infection rates, risk calculations etc. – into something more easily digestible and understandable.  Take XKCD, the long-running webcomic that blends scientific topics with sardonic humour and a classic stick-figure aesthetic, or the Graphic Medicine project run by illustrators and academics to see how data-comics can be used in public health communications

Randall Munroe/XKCD.com

At the heart of it all is storytelling. Alberda outlines that a key part of web and datacomics about medicine and public health is transforming a whole mess of disparate facts and figures and putting them into a story format. Storytelling is such an innately human way of making sense complex things and issues. We tell children cautionary tales to warn them of the dangers out there, we package world events and issues into news stories and articles, and we even organise our memories into story-like structures. A great example of this can be seen in a webcomic that’s sprung up specifically to explain coronavirus to kids in a way that hopefully appeals to them through light-hearted dialogue and a fun, childish drawing style.

So, webcomics might just be an ideal way to get public health messages and guidance across effectively and entertainingly to a wide range of people across all demographics, and COVID-19 might just be the push that gets the ball really rolling.

Comic credits, from top to bottom:

Featured image: Malaka Gharib/NPR
Dave Whamond/CagleCartoons.com
Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR
Randall Munroe/XKCD.com

All images have been used for educational purposes, please contact s4599277@bournemouth.ac.uk for removal.

Originally published at: https://covid19speakerseries.edublogs.org/2021/01/28/graphic-images-how-webcomics-can-aid-public-health-awareness/.

Conor Byrne Editor
MA student in Media and Communication

MA student in Media and Communication at Bournemouth University and contributor at Covidcomics.org.

Dr. Anna Feigenbaum delivers keynotes on Data Storytelling and COVID-19

Sketchnote illustration of Dr. Feigenbaum’s keynote address.

On The 27th of November 2020, Dr. Anna Feigenbaum presented a keynote presentation at the Data Storytelling Symposium hosted by the Data Stories project at Kings College London. She delivered her keynote address on Humanising Data Stories to a webinar audience of over 400 registered participants. Arising from work co-created with colleagues and PhD candidate Alexandra Alberda, the presentation explored techniques for telling more empathetic and effective stories both with and about data. Highlighting the ‘statistical chaos’ of COVID-19, Dr. Feigenbaum’s presentation showcased both her own comics collaborations with research illustrator Alexandra Alberda, as well as work of other comics artists and illustrators, both amateur and professional.  This keynote was part of a series of talks and workshop Dr. Feigenbaum and Alberda have given over the past few months, including participation in the ESRC Festival of Social Science and a keynote at BU’s EdD conference, as well as international conferences IGNCC and ISPIM and most recently the Coronavirus, statistical chaos and the news event co-hosted by Bournemouth University, the Royal Statistical Society and the Association of British Science Writers on December 4, 2020.

Illustration by Alexandra Alberda (comic script by Anna Feigenbaum, Alexandra Alberda and Yazan Abbas)

Dr. Feigenbaum joined a prestigious line-up of science journalists and academic experts, sharing pilot research that forms part of her upcoming UKRI/AHRC COVID-19 Rapid Response grant project on ‘COVID-19 Comics’. This project aims to enhance the role that comics can play in public health messaging through an analysis of the content, circulation patterns and social media engagement of webcomics about COVID-19. Dr. Feigenbaum leads a team of BU colleagues and partners as PI, alongside Alexandra Alberda, Professor Julian McDougall, Dr. William Proctor and Dr. Sam Goodman. Project partners are Public Health Dorset, the Information Literacy Network and the Graphic Medicine Collective. To find out more about this work or about hosting a data storytelling workshop for your project team, contact afeigenbaum@bournemouth.ac.uk.

Originally published at: BU Research Blog

Anna Feigenbaum Administrator
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.

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Recording of Dr. Pirtle’s talk on COVID-19 and Racial Capitalism now available

On October 27th we were honoured to host Dr. Whitney Pirtle, whose ground-breaking work on health inequalities and COVID-19 has helped set the agenda for debate and discussion on the impacts of the pandemic on BAME communities. In her presentation Dr. Pirtle introduced key concepts for better addressing health inequities in both our research and practice. Insights from this talk will be brought forward into our research activity discussion around Health, Science and Data Communications, being coordinated by Dr. Lyle Skains here at BU.

You can listen to Dr. Pirtle’s presentation recorded on zoom.

To learn more about Dr. Pirtle and her work you can visit her website and read a copy of her paper on which this presentation is based.

Originally published at: BU Research Blog

Anna Feigenbaum Administrator
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.

follow me

COVID-19 Data Literacy is for Everyone: A research webcomic on Nightingale

Very recently my colleagues, Dr Anna Feigenbaum (FMC) and Aria Alamalhodaei, co-authors of the recent The Data Storytelling Workbook (Routledge, 2020), for which I am a research illustrator, have collaborated again to create a webcomic that responds to data literacy needs highlighted by the emotional responses to COVID-19 data visualisations which are very prominent during this time.

From instructional hand-washing infographics, to calls to ‘flatten the curve,’ data visualisations are telling us how to live, and predicting our possible futures. As the cascade of open data relating to the COVID-19 virus grows, so too do the charts and graphs claiming to decipher, decode, and translate this data for everyday understanding.

Our hope is that by presenting data literacy principles to our readers we can provide analytical tools needed to give back a sense of empowerment and grounding when encountering COVID-19 data visualisations. In order to do this we have presented key points made by designers, researchers, and data storytellers who are working to educate on and highlight practices that do not contribute to ‘fake news,’ alarmist and harmful data visualisations.



COVID-19 Data Literacy is for Everyone was published on Nightingale, The Journal of the Data Visualisation Society on Medium. Within minutes of being live the webcomic was selected as a quality contribution and will be featured on Medium more broadly to the data science community.

In order to have a positive impact through this work, we are currently putting together a multi-audience based lesson plan for educators to use with their students. Since sharing we have received positive feedback from across the web and, based on one of these interactions, are now working with a new collaborator to translate the webcomic into Italian.

If interested in reading our comic please following this friend link: https://medium.com/p/covid-19-data-literacy-is-for-everyone-46120b58cec9?source=email-e838f6276def–writer.postDistributed&sk=dcae1f34f7812bfc80662b0c305bd5bb

Originally published at: BU Research Blog

Doctoral researcher and Research Illustrator

My PhD, titled Graphic Medicine Exhibited: Public Engagement with Comics in Curatorial Practice and Visitor Experience since 2010, explores the intersections of the comics medium, health, and exhibition to understand potential methodological approaches and sociocultural values of these experiences. My collaborative projects, namely with Dr Anna Feigenbaum and Aria Alamalhodaei, have explored such topics as public health, data storytelling and visualisation, comics (graphic medicine, graphic social science, data comics), and creative-led knowledge exchange. As a research illustrator I have worked on a number of projects, including the recent The Data Storytelling Workbook (Routledge 2020) and two COVID-19 webcomics.As a curator, I explore how different media, such as comics and zines, can create more emotive connections between different cultures, place, and timecontribute towards decolonisation, and foster social justice and care in upcoming museum professionals. 

CALL FOR CONTRIBUTORS: Comics in the Time of COVID-19 (edited collection)

An edited collection on graphic medicine and graphic storytelling related to the COVID-19 global pandemic

Editors:

Alexandra P. Alberda

Anna Feigenbaum

William Proctor

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to infect millions, kill people around the world, dismantle political, economic and cultural infrastructures, and disrupt our everyday lives, we have seen a surge in amateur and professional creative activity in the comics medium. From blogs to Instagram, superheroes to public health, educational comics to graphic memoirs, etc., artists are engaging with a variety of genres, narratives, platforms and styles to tell stories.

This edited collection seeks to bring together a range of creative work, along with practice-based and critical reflections on what it means to make, share and read comics in the time of COVID-19. Bridging the fields of comics studies, memoir studies, graphic medicine and data storytelling, this collection also aims to explore our definitions of ‘what counts’ as graphic medicine and graphic storytelling.

We invite submissions in the form of comics, graphic chapters, interviews and other alternative formats, along with more traditional academic chapters.

Themes include but are not limited to:

– Histories, Comics and Global Health

– Comics, Superheroes and COVID-19

– Graphic Memoir and Self-Narrative

– Data Comics and COVID-19

– Political cartoons and other types of commentary

– Genre, narrative and style in COVID-19 comics

– Online publishing platforms and environments

– Shifting economies of comic creation and distribution

This collection aims to take a transdisciplinary and transnational perspective, with contributions written for the broadest audience. We particularly encourage submissions from comics artists, PhD and early career scholars, those from underrepresented communities in academia and people from the Global South.

For a gallery of existing COVID-19 comics graphicmedicine.org is a great resource: https://www.graphicmedicine.org/covid-19-comics/ Also, check out the hashtag #covid19comicsforgood

Please submit a 300-word abstract, script or description of your proposed contribution to covid19comics@bournemouth.ac.uk by May 31st, 2020.

Originally published at: BU Research Blog

Doctoral researcher and Research Illustrator

My PhD, titled Graphic Medicine Exhibited: Public Engagement with Comics in Curatorial Practice and Visitor Experience since 2010, explores the intersections of the comics medium, health, and exhibition to understand potential methodological approaches and sociocultural values of these experiences. My collaborative projects, namely with Dr Anna Feigenbaum and Aria Alamalhodaei, have explored such topics as public health, data storytelling and visualisation, comics (graphic medicine, graphic social science, data comics), and creative-led knowledge exchange. As a research illustrator I have worked on a number of projects, including the recent The Data Storytelling Workbook (Routledge 2020) and two COVID-19 webcomics.As a curator, I explore how different media, such as comics and zines, can create more emotive connections between different cultures, place, and timecontribute towards decolonisation, and foster social justice and care in upcoming museum professionals.