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An investigative journalism project to report on human trafficking in Nepal in real time in the form of a webcomic and graphic novel.

Sample post from my webcomic at www.archcomix.com
Sample post from my webcomic at www.archcomix.com

I’m a comics journalist, educator and animator originally from the UK and I am passionate about using comics and visual media to report on human rights issues with a focus on women and children. Not only does sketching in the field create a more personal, universal connection with my subjects, as opposed to thrusting recording equipment in their faces, but publishing social justice stories in visual format has proven to raise far more awareness and enjoy more popularity among a younger, harder to reach demographic of readers.

Sample comics interview with a survivor of human trafficking: sfpublicpress.org/news/2012-07/comic-obedience-is-the-best-weapon and an introduction to trafficking in Truthout here: truth-out.org/news/item/6662:slavery-lives-on-in-the-united-states.

The Plan:

1. Travel across Nepal (I landed in Kathmandu on Oct 25) gathering stories from human trafficking survivors, turning their testimonies into a series of comics (one per region, over seven regions) that will then  be collected as an interactive ebook and graphic novel and published both in english and nepali (with the potential for hindi too). I will also offer workshops that will give participants (specifically women and children) the means to tell their own stories in comics form. 

2. Conduct a series of surveys while in the field to gauge the effectiveness of visual outreach materials as a method of lowering human trafficking incidence in low-literacy areas - the first of its kind. First we'll roll out an initial baseline survey, then conduct interviews/create the comic, then distribute the collected stories in comics format (translated into the local language), then distribute a second survey four months later.

3. Chronicle my process and the steps I go through to accomplish the above goals via a webcomic at www.archcomix.com - one of the first times graphic journalism has been used as a real time reporting tool in the field.

Test page adapted from Patricia McCormick's SOLD
Test page adapted from Patricia McCormick's SOLD

In 2011 I was the first comics journalist to be awarded a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford, where I spent the year creating and developing interactive digital platforms for explaining news stories using comics, animation, interactive documentary and audio. Here's a 3 min talk on the power of graphic journalism I gave at the end of it:

Check out my interactive comic on the Nisoor square shootings here or my graphic history of the Honduran coup hereBrowse more of my work here.

For a brief explanation of comics journalism (in comics format), you can also read my piece, What is Comics Journalism? on the Poynter Institute’s website here: http://bit.ly/poyntercomicsjournalism.

Aside from the obvious expenses of this trip (plane fare, travel, accommodation and food for eight months), your funds will go towards print costs (both in US and Nepal), distribution and paying local staff in Nepal (translators, fixers, survey givers). Anything that's left over will go towards paying me a salary - and part of the experiment with this project is to see if it's a sustainable model for similar future projects.

If we exceed the funding goal, I'm excited to experiment with other forms of media, such as making a Waltz with Bashir-esque animation or developing an iphone/android app.

Any more questions you have about the project, feel free to leave a comment and I'll get back to you - another purpose of this trip is to lift the curtain on the reporting process using comics, after all.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

This being a Kickstarter project, the biggest risk is not meeting the funding goal and therefore not getting any of the pledges! On a more serious note, challenges to the project include: gaining the trust and cooperation of survivors, complicated by the fact that many of them are women and are deliberately kept away from men at shelters; the language barrier; infrastructure issues (many of the regions are remote and hard to access by regular transport); not to mention the time-intensive process of making comics versus the need to create a fast turnaround for my reporting.

One key way I'll overcome many of these challenges involves my collaborators: during my Knight Fellowship at Stanford I met Madhu Acharya and Jaya Luintel, pioneers of radio and community storytelling (Jaya founded her own organization, The Story Kitchen, that focuses on giving women a voice) in their native Nepal. It was over the course of several visual storytelling collaborations that Madhu, Jaya and I conceived of a large-scale project in Nepal to my graphic journalism and visual storytelling work with their consolidated network of contacts around Nepal.

As for more logistical issues, the short answer is that I've done this before. In 2010, I collaborated with a Fulbright Fellow to create a graphic novel on human trafficking in Eastern Europe (Borderland: Seven Stories as Told by Survivors of Human Trafficking) from interviews with survivors, which was then translated into Ukrainian and Russian and distributed by the Kiev branch of the International Organization for Migration to over 100 schools in affected areas. After the overwhelming support for that project, including the crowd sourced funding (via Kickstarter) for a large-scale print run, I continued my investigation of trafficking through comics with a focus on the same issue in the US, where my pieces have run on Truthout and in the San Francisco Public Press.

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    Every Little Helps: A healthy dollop of my latest Nepal journal webcomics delivered straight to your inbox on a bi-weekly basis, plus a PDF of assorted sketches done on the streets of Kathmandu.

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    The Leg up: A PDF version of a single comic (approx 40p) produced during my time in Nepal, plus the Every Little Helps reward.

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    Helper: Illustrated dispatches from Nepal and behind-the-scenes project access, desktop/iphone wallpapers with artwork from the trip, your name mentioned on the website.

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    Booster: Full colour digital print on 60gsm high grade paper of the web comic of your choosing, taken from the Nepali webcomic archive. Plus Helper reward.

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    Supporter: Interactive ebooks or PDFs of each comic (with additional multimedia content such as audio interviews, video footage) as they're produced, plus Helper reward.

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    Little Angel: A copy of the paperback graphic novel, plus Helper and Supporter rewards.

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    Hero: Signed paperback copy with sketch inside, plus Helper and Supporter rewards.

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    Legend: Hardback copy of the graphic novel, plus Helper and Supporter rewards

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    Maestro: Original page of B/W comic artwork (indian ink on 9" x 12" bristol board) from previous works: Yiddishland, the Honduran Coup: a graphic history, Borderland: Stories of Human Trafficking, or many others. Plus Supporter and Helper rewards.

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    Star: Access to a dozen video tutorials (available Jan '13) giving in-depth advice on every aspect of my creative process: scripting, thumbnailing, penciling, inking, watercolouring, scanning and post-production. Plus Legend (signed copy), Helper and Supporter rewards.

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    Patron: Sketch inside your hardback copy, plus Star, Helper and Supporter rewards.

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    Goodie two shoes: 1 hour skype lecture/Q&A on my work/graphic journalism, plus Star, Helper and Supporter rewards.

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    Mother Lode: Page of original watercoloured artwork from the book, plus Goodie two shoes, Star, Helper and Supporter rewards.

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    Big Cheese: Commissioned inked and watercoloured artwork on 9" x 12" (delivery Feb 2013), Mother Lode, Goodie two shoes, Patron, Star, Helper and Supporter rewards.

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    Grand Poobah: See yourself as a drawn, watercoloured character in the "with extra special thanks to" section at the back of the graphic novel. Plus Big Cheese, Mother Lode, Goodie two shoes, Patron, Star, Helper and Supporter rewards.

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    Game changer: Fly out to Kathmandu and get a personal tour of the city and my studio, browse all available artwork assets and meet journalist colleagues. Airfare not included. Plus Grand Poobah, Big Cheese, Mother Lode, Goodie two shoes, Patron, Star, Helper and Supporter rewards.

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Funding period

- (45 days)