Using Comic Books to Engage Youth Around the World

August 7, 2019

“It has been an extraordinary experience to see youths around the world building pathways to literacy, creativity, and cultural understanding through comic books. Their comic books are a testament to the power of creativity.”
—Dr. Michael Bitz

In 2019, ECA's Collaboratory partnered with the nonprofit organization, the Comic Book Project (CBP), to support two innovative comic diplomacy programs. CBP uses comic books and graphic novels as pedagogical training tools and is renowned for its initiatives engaging youth in the process of writing, illustrating, and self-publishing comic books. CPB's methodology also provides an effective pathway for communities to address critical social issues.

For our pilot program in Mexico, the Collaboratory worked with the U.S Consulate General in Tijuana to design a training program for local teachers of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Set up as a professional development opportunity, CBP experts trained teachers from three different Tijuana public schools on integrating comic books into their curriculums. A private Facebook group allowed for asynchronous collaboration between the participating classrooms, while virtual sessions with professionals were used to provide feedback on the student's works in progress. Additionally, CBP staff conducted onsite evaluations of the program.

The results were impressive. In one example, students created a comic book telling the story of arguments between Quezalthualto and Tlaloc, the Mayan gods of sun and rain during a massive drought. In their story, the hero suggests to the gods they use modern technology to conserve water and cultivate drought-tolerant food crops. In the end, the gods came to an agreement that the world is changing, and collaboration is necessary to address societal challenges. This comic, along with the other finished products, were scanned, formatted, and compiled into a customized digital publication for each participating school.

“One of the reasons why these pilot programs were successful was the hard work and dedication of the educators who were involved. The programs in Mexico and Kazakhstan demonstrated that there are teachers all over the world working to bring new opportunities and new ideas to their students. That is very inspiring.”
—Dr. Michael Bitz

Our second pilot program took place in Kazakhstan in partnership with U.S. Consulate General Almaty. For this iteration, the program model was scaled to a regional level, with twelve schools from four cities and an on-the-ground coordinator. Weekly virtual sessions between CBP staff, the local coordinator, and teachers allowed for discussion of the previous week's successes and challenges and for collaboration on ways to keep participants motivated.

In the end, the students produced very high-quality work that explored their journeys of self-identity or touched on issues faced by Kazak youths today, such as bullying and cultural intolerance. As in the Mexico pilot, the final products were scanned and digitized for online distribution. In addition, the second program also incorporated printing a full-color compilation commissioned through a local publishing company. The student's works were also showcased during the annual Makerfest for Kids event at the American Space Almaty.