A research project assessing the use of comic graphics in the dissemination of public health information during the Covid-19 pandemic has found that the comic medium can be a vital communication tool in sharing important information.
The project, led by Bournemouth University’s Professor Anna Feigenbaum, explored how comic artistry and storytelling was used, particularly on social platforms, to share Covid-19 messages with the aim of exploring how comics can share evidence-based messages and counter disinformation. In total over 15,000 Instagram-based comics were catalogued and archived to support in the creation of a best practice guide, drawing on the best elements of the comic graphics collected.
Researchers found that the graphic style allowed for greater inclusivity in the way public health messages were shared and understood, and could be a vital tool for public health communicators in the future. The final report produced ten major findings:
- Comics can provide a platform to visualise and prioritise mental health, reaching people through emotional storytelling.
- Comics can tackle issues of health equity and foster empathy by humanising illness and health experiences.
- On social media, colour makes for more engagement and can be used to promote inclusivity and better target specific demographics.
- Visual metaphors can help build health literacy - particularly around complex scientific concepts that are difficult to visualise.
- Source referencing is key for improving evidence-based comics and creating verified ‘influencer networks’ of trusted social media health and science communicators.
- Hashtags can widen and diversify audiences, allowing messages to better target communities prone to misinformation.
- Digital optimisation can help drive engagement with public health messages on social media.
- Artists are navigating algorithmic constraints as Instagram flags and supresses all Covid-19 material for misinformation.
- Interactive web comics can foster participatory culture in online health messaging, promoting resource sharing and wellness.
- Communicating uncertainty in comics can help cultivate information literacy, wellbeing, and resilience.
Professor Feigenbaum, from the Faculty of Media and Communication at Bournemouth University, said, “What we saw from these comic graphics was the way that the artistry and storytelling combined to share messages in a more emotive and interesting way. This built on work we were already doing on how public health messaging could utilise this medium to make their own messaging more engaging and even lead to better behavioural outcomes.”
The project assessed comics against traditional public health communication methods, and found the richer, more emotive styled helped to communicate feeling as well as important messaging, and showed a more holistic sense and experience of life during Covid-19 that official public health messaging does not necessarily portray.
Professor Feigenbaum continued, “Comics are fun, they are creative, they are artistic and, what we’ve shown, is that they are also capable of translating serious and complicated messaging in a way that is palatable for a wider audience. This has real potential for public health communicators when thinking about how they translate important statistics, or behavioural messages in impactful ways, in ways that draw emotion, and in ways that really draw attention.”
A comic-style illustrated best practice guide has been created to share findings, and is available at https://www.covidcomics.org/ahrc-project/best-practice-guidelines/ alongside a searchable database of comics https://www.covidcomics.org/ahrc-project/project-database/ and the full report will be published here.
The work was conducted by Professor Feigenbaum, alongside colleagues Dr. José Blázquez and Dr. Alexandra Alberda, as well as co-investigators Dr. Billy Proctor, Dr. Sam Goodman and Professor Julian McDougall and six research assistants, all MA alumni of the Faculty of Media and Communication. The research was conducted with thanks to partners Public Health Dorset, the Graphic Medicine Collective, Information Literacy Group and Comics Grid.
More information can be found at https://www.covidcomics.org/ or on Instagram @comics.for.comms.