Cartoons and Conflict: Humanitarian Crises through the Graphic Novel

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I often lament over the lack of art and popping colors in my home of South Sudan. The rational left half of my brain says, “of course there can’t be art, these people are doing all they can to just survive day-by-day”. But the imaginative right side says, “of course they’re surviving, but why can’t they survive and thrive at the same time”.

Whichever side of my brain wins that argument, I love it when these two worlds collide: social justice and creativity, aid work and art. And sometimes, very rarely, but just sometimes, that does happen.

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Today that happened. One of my former colleagues who now works with the United Nations World Food Programme, known by its more whimsical acronym WFP, posted this on social media. And I love it.

WFP has just published their second graphic novel, LL3 South Sudan, along with comic book writer Joshua Dysart, WFP’s Head of Television Jonathan Dumont, and WFP’s head of Graphics & Publishing Cristina Ascone. And it is total free online, check it out here.

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With illustrations and inks by Alberto Ponticelli, colors by Pat Masioni, and letters by Thomas Mauer, volume two of the Living Level-3 (LL3) publications is this time all about South Sudan. It’s real. It’s about famine. It’s about loss, and physical, mental and emotional hardship. It’s about home and what it means to be far from it.

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The goal of this tome is to create awareness around the crisis, and to advocate on behalf of the people in South Sudan and other countries the UN classifies as level 3 emergencies. Only six other countries share the title of level three status, including Syria, Iraq and Yemen. WFP is the UN’s foremost agency that provides desperately needed food aid to large populations in conflict and natural disaster settings, people who are unable to get food by their own means.

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LL3 South Sudan is about one family’s journey from their home, northward to Darfur, Sudan. Their crops failed to grow during the planting season, given the harsh climate and continuing civil war. When famine beckons at their door, they are forced to leave like so many families here do. While this is ultimately a fictional piece, it is based largely on the story of one such family who took the two week trek on foot to the north. Video footage streamed by WFP called ‘If Our Feet Leave the Earth’ is a good three minute watch about the family who inspired the novel.

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The LL3 series first started with a story line based in Iraq in 2014, focusing on the ethnic cleansing wreaking chaos and destruction in communities attacked by ISIS forces. The same force of inkers, colorists and writers who produced LL3 South Sudan also created LL3 Iraq.

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What is your take on graphic novels tackling real-world humanitarian interest stories? What other artists/cartoonists are using their skill sets to speak volumes for social justice movements?

*All illustrations are the property of the World Food Programme.

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