Nick Kazden writes:
One of the very last panels at this year’s Comic-Con was a bit different compared to everything else at the show. While there may be a lot of companies trying to release new comics, only one has the explicit support of the United Nations. In its two-year history, Comics Uniting Nations has already launched 14 books that touch on everything from environmental issues to social anxiety.
Natabara Rollosson, a logistics coordinator for the former UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, played a key role in developing the 17 sustainable development goals that were set in 2015. When it came time to figure out how to get their message across, Rollosson turned to Josh Elder, an expert in comics and education.
“Think about the little card in the seat-back in front of you that has instructions [on an airplane]. Think about what it is: a little series of boxes showing you what to do. Comics can literally save your life,” said Elder.
The line features both original and licensed characters in a quest to educate kids. Debbie Horwitz, creator of Annie Sunbeam, said working with Comics Uniting Nations was the perfect opportunity to tell a meaningful story with her character. Assisting her with the project is her old elementary school chum Bernard Chang, who was celebrating his 25th San Diego Comic-Con.
“All these years later we were able to reconnect on a really meaningful project,” Chang said.
Dennis Thomopoulos teamed up with the Goats of Anarchy team to tell a story about inclusion. While the team could have told a story about kids, focusing on goats made it more likely people would take the lesson home after reading the book.
“Telling it through goats we realized the benefit of that is kids would have greated empathy because their love of goats.”
Former NFL star Ovie Mughelli said he grew up watching TV and reading comics books and “loved the way it allowed you to go to another world.” Captain Planet specifically inspired him to fight for a better world. His love of Captain Planet is put on display through the creation of his own environmental-based character, Gridiron Green. The book follows a former football player who, after an injury, is chosen by Mother Earth to serve as the planet’s guardian. His hope is that these comics will give simple, subtle clues as to “why you should care,” which in turn will make people more likely to act as they realize how substantial the problems are.
“People want to do good. And with me, Captain Planet was that spark [to act] and I want to help create more sparks,” Mughelli said.
According to Rollosson, “Comics have kind of replaced fairy tales in the way parents tell stories to their kids.” He immediately referenced a comic book from the early 1960s that looked at Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement from a new perspective. The popularity of the comic and how frequently people shared it with others is “one of the untold stories of how civil rights moved throughout the south.” While he was unable to specify how many people they have reached due to how frequently kids share books, Elder did estimate that they have a reach of about four million worldwide.”
The team is hard at work at expanding their distribution channels and have published books in multiple countries. At the moment, they publish books in various languages from Spanish to Mandarin, but they’re not gaining as much traction in the U.S. as they are in other places.
Rollosson explained that “you may not hear much about us in America, because the UN has to be careful about how they reach out to the US,” due to some citizen’s isolationist attitudes.
“Comics are the ultimate tool, the most cost-effective, easy to distribute in digital and analog formats to the developed and developing world,” said Elder.
Comics Uniting Nations still has a lot of work to do before they are read around the world, but the team is hard at work to make sure all types of stories are being told.
“If the topic is worth exploring, then we want to explore it. We want to tell every story that we can,” said Elder.