Savvy readers will notice a slight change in this week’s heading. Today we’re shaking up Webcomics Wednesdays by featuring an initiative that will eventually be on the web (and elsewhere). Comics Uniting Nations, a partnership between Reading with Pictures, Project Everyone, and PCI Media (an organization dedicated to producing “entertainment-education”) plans to use the “universal visual language of comics” to promote the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to as wide and diverse an audience as possible. And lest I be accused of burying the lede, I’ll mention right away that you can help this initiative get off the ground by contributing to their Kickstarter campaign (which closes tomorrow, June 4th).
Josh Elder of Reading with Pictures has long been a proponent of comics as a teaching tool. “Reading with Pictures was founded on the belief that comics are a kind of universal visual language, one that’s ideal for communicating important concepts to diverse audiences.” That idea comes to bear in Elder’s graphic textbook, Reading with Pictures (2015), which seeks to make reading more fun—and more approachable—for kids who might be turned off by traditional books in classrooms or those who struggle with literacy.
“. . . audiences don’t get any more diverse
than the entirety of the human race.”
It’s no surprise, then, that such a philosophy about reading, comics, and literacy is the perfect match for the UN’s initiative. The SDGs are a set of guidelines for both emerging and developed countries that promote protecting the environment and biodiversity; ending poverty, hunger, and racial and gender discrimination; forestalling climate change; providing adequate health care worldwide; and so on. “I’m hoping the SDGs serve as both a rallying call for humanity, as well as a set of goals that we realize we need to work together to collectively achieve,” remarked Natabara Rollosson, co-founder of Comics Uniting Nations. “The more people know about the goals, and their personal role in fulfilling them, the more it will inspire unity at all levels to change our collective fate for the better.”
Bringing a single community together is difficult enough, and considering barriers of language, literacy, and access—not to mention the somewhat daunting nature of the goals— makes communicating the SDGs particularly difficult. But that’s where Comics Uniting Nations comes in. They will produce a series of totally free and entertaining educational comics, one for each of the 17 SGDs, available worldwide in a variety of languages and in a variety of formats. “Comics are the ideal format for communicating complex ideas to diverse populations,” says Elder, “Concepts don’t get any more important than the Global Goals, and audiences don’t get any more diverse than the entirety of the human race.” A visit to New York Comic Con further inspired Rollosson, who was impressed by both the vastness and enthusiasm of the comics community. “The exuberance of everyone was infectious.” That widespread enthusiasm for comics as a whole and their inviting and entertaining capacity to communicate ideas are at the heart of this initiative.
The response so far has also been exuberant. Several comics and graphic novel publishers have already signed on to participate, as well as many well-known artists and writers, many of which come from the global community at large. “We have creators from India, Ghana, Kenya, Mexico, Columbia, the Netherlands, the UK, Lebanon, Japan, Korea and many, many more,” says Elder. “We’ve done everything we can to make this a truly global enterprise.” And while Comics Uniting Nations doesn’t have a formal partnership with the UN, they’re getting positive feedback there, too. “Overall, people like the idea of communicating the goals in a new and entertaining medium,” noted Rollosson, “and reaching an age group that is typically outside the normal UN outreach audience.”
In addition to contributing to Comics Uniting Nations’ Kickstarter campaign, the funds from which will “pay talent for creating content, pay editors to oversee the project, and pay for curriculum and other out-of-pockets costs,” librarians and educators can get on board by becoming a part of The World’s Largest Lesson, a program encouraging participation in classrooms worldwide this September to teach students about the SDGs. The website will house free lesson plans and programing, as well as all the Comics Uniting Nations content. This very cool project is still in need of financial backing, and their deadline is swiftly approaching, so if you’re a fan of educational comics and global unity, contribute today!