Using Comics to Support the UNITED NATIONS With COMICS UNITING NATIONS

"Comics Uniting Nations" poster
Credit: Reading With Pictures
Credit: Reading With Pictures

The non-profit organization Reading With Pictures recently announced a new working relationship with the United Nations with plans to enrich the world through comic books. The initiative, titled Comics Uniting Nations, plans to use comic books to communicate the U.N.'s core goals for positive development around the globe. These comic books won’t be sold in comic shops, but instead will be given out worldwide both digitally and in print.

Newsarama spoke with writer and Reading With Pictures’ co-founder Josh Elder about this ambitious and altruistic mission, and about the comic creators and publishers involved. Elder also outlined the anticipated reach of these comic books and explained why they’re using Kickstarter to fund it.

Newsarama: Josh, what can comics do to communicate the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals?

Josh Elder: Everything. Comics are both digital and analog, so they can go anywhere. They traverse language barriers and bridge cultural divides (Think about instruction manuals in airplanes or the signage in airports - it's all comics and cartooned figures). So if you're trying to communicate something important to the broadest possible audience, comics are clearly the most superior medium possible. 

Newsarama: And what does it mean for ardent comics fans?

Elder: If this project is everything we hope it will be, it could reach upward of 100 million people - many of whom have never even read a comic before. And that comic could make a meaningful difference in their lives. It's the chance to do good with comics, but also to do good for comics. This could completely revolutionize the way that comics are viewed in the international aid community, in the educational establishment and more. Comics Uniting Nations could be a game changer for the artform. But only if we succeed here on Kickstarter.

Credit: Comics Uniting Nations

Newsarama: How would you describe the working relationship between Reading With Pictures and the United Nations?

Elder: We're running the project, but doing so in coordination with various offices within the U.N.. They're providing guidance so that our efforts align with the U.N.'s best practices and then have the best possible chance of reaching the widest possible audience. 

Newsarama: What will Comics Uniting Nations be exactly?

Elder: Seventeen original short comics – one for each of the Sustainable Development Goals – will be produced by a diverse group of renowned cartoonists from all around the world. These cartoonists will use the universal visual language of comics to communicate the SDGs to readers everywhere and enlist them as “agents of change” in making the Sustainable Development Goals a reality.  These stories will be supplemented by single-page, SDG-focused Public Service Announcements (PSAs) featuring iconic comics characters from around the world. 

Newsarama: Are you working with any comics publishers on this? And if so, how are they contributing?

Elder: We've assembled a truly unprecedented group of publishers and distributors:  Abrams ComicArts, Action Labs, Andrews McMeel Universal, Archie Comics, Boom Studios, comiXology, Dark Horse, Dynamite, Humble Bundle, IDW, Madefire, Magnetic Press, NBM Publishing, Oni, Papercutz, Peanuts Inc., Teshkeel, TOKYOPOP, UDON and Valiant. They've all pledged promotional and material support with some providing single-page PSAs featuring their branded characters to run alongside our SDG stories. I can't think of the last time this many publishers got behind a comics project like this. It's really unprecedented. 

Credit: Comics Uniting Nations

Newsarama: Who is doing the actual comics?

Elder: We're still assembling the teams - given our compressed timeline we've had to roll the Kickstarter out before all of our talent was in place, but we'll have talent from around the world (our goal is to have at least half our content producers come from outside the U.S.) working in tandem to produce each story. Here's a partial list of confirmed creators as of this date: JP Ahonen; Gabriel Aiquel Collado; Margreet de Heer; Matt Dembicki; Marcelo Ferreira; Jonathan Hennessey; Lars Jacobsen; Ilias Kyriazis; Ben McCool; Dan Mishkin; Roxanne Palmer; Tintin Pantoja; Hyeondo Park; Anne & Owen Smith; Fred VanLente & Ryan Dunlavey; Yen Yen Woo.

Credit: Reading With Pictures

Newsarama: And when and how will this come out?

Elder: All content will be translated into numerous world languages and made available for free on digital platforms in September to coincide with the formal ratification of the SDGs, as well as in print via the World’s Largest Lesson. All the content will be released under a Creative Commons license so that anyone, anywhere can host and distribute the content so long as they don't try to sell the content or alter it in any way. So schools could print out copies for their students free of charge. Non-profits that work with causes associated with the different SDGs could provide the comic free of charge to their constituents. We're trying to make a global resource that can go anywhere and everywhere. 

Newsarama: So what does the Kickstarter goal of $60,000 pay for?

Elder: All money raised goes entirely to project expenses with no overhead for Reading With Pictures (For instance, I'm working entirely for free). The $60k lets us retain the crew of seasoned editors, designers and educational experts we've recruited to oversee the entire project. It also funds the creation of four SDG comics in the six official U.N. languages plus Japanese. We would then use those four comics as a proof-of-concept to help us procure funding (either grant funding or crowdfunding) for the remaining thirteen. 

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