An investigative journalism project to report on human trafficking in Nepal in real time in the form of a webcomic and graphic novel.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.