This past weekend’s Observer carried an interesting interview with Benjamin Dix, writer of a graphic novel about Sri Lanka’s civil war. The book, The Vanni, was a collaboration between Dix as writer, and artist Lindsay Pollock. The book follows the fortune of a fictional Tamil family, but is based on interviews with real survivors of the war.
The interview is of interest because it sheds some light on Dix’s creative process as a comics writer, and demonstrates just how much background research goes into such a project. But for those of us interested in applied comics, it’s also interesting because of the direction this book has taken Dix. He has since set up a non-profit company – PositiveNegatives – which has so far published almost a dozen similar works. The majority of the works are informational in nature – comics used by NGOs and charities as lobbying and awareness-raising media. The aim is to eventually create works which teach about human trafficking, migration, sexual violence and conflict.
Time and again, the interview makes use of arguments familiar to those of us who work with applied comics:
“… the visual narrative transcends cultural differences and literacy levels…”
“… it [the comic] is a very flexible format … it can look really high-tech and we can animate it… or it can be printed out in schools in Nigeria…”
Dix concludes the interview with this interesting observation on the value of the comic in an age of digital media:
“This [comic] is a very human-led way of telling a story. In this digital, Photoshopped age, there is something very organic about the fabric of the comic, the simplicity of pen on paper.”
Perhaps, despite the comic’s analogue origins, and despite the close links between comics and more technological media such as animation, there’s something unique about the comic as a medium for telling difficult stories and making hard-to-read information accessible. Perhaps, as Dix observes, when it comes to comics: “People just get it.”