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Philippine-UK comic anthology looks to incite action on climate change

  • Ten Years to Save the World is an upcoming online comic book anthology that puts the spotlight on 10 pressing climate change issues — five from the Philippines, five from the U.K. — and explores how each one can be addressed in the next decade.
  • It’s a joint project between Komiket Philippines, the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF), and Creative Concern.
  • The comic book anthology will be presented to world leaders at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

2020 will forever be remembered as the year a global pandemic brought the world to its knees. But at the rate the planet’s temperature is rising, forever might not be such a long time.

According to the most recent global climate report from the United Nations weather agency, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), 2020 was also one of the three warmest years on record. Some parts of the world experienced punishing droughts, while others faced severe storms and floods, both of which resulted in the loss of ecosystems, livelihood, and lives, and endangered countless more.

These increasingly severe realities of climate change are expected to get worse, scientists say. To even have a shot at mitigating the damage, the planet’s temperature has to stabilize at between 1.5° and 2° Celsius (2.7° and 3.6° Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. This means global net carbon emissions need to be reduced by 45% from 2010 by 2030.

It was this looming deadline that inspired Komiket Philippines, the U.K.’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF), and Creative Concern to devise the comic book anthology Ten Years to Save the World. There will be 10 stories in the collection, each focused on a climate change issue that needs to be solved within the next decade. Five artists each from the Philippines and the U.K. have been asked to contribute. The project is supported by The Climate Connection, a global initiative of the British Council.

This isn’t the first time climate change has found its way into the panels of a comic strip or graphic novel. In 2016, a web comic that showed how Earth’s climate has changed in the last 22,000 years went viral. With some well-placed stick figures and some pretty solid research, U.S. cartoonist Randall Munroe had managed to sum up what was, and still is, alarming about global warming.

The increasingly severe realities of climate change are expected to get worse, and the urgency inspired Komiket Philippines, the U.K.’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF), and Creative Concern to devise the comic book anthology Ten Years to Save the World. Image by Markus Spiske via Pexels.

LICAF festival director Julie Tait, co-editor of Ten Years to Save the World, said comics have the potential to leave a lasting impression “because of their blending together of words and images and the visuals can be very powerful (shocking, funny, thought-provoking, inspiring) on their own.”

The anthology’s other editor, Komiket Philippines founder Paolo Herras, said comics are a particularly accessible medium, not just to readers, but also to creators. “With comics, your limitation is your own imagination,” Herras said.

The line between fact and fiction

While all of the artists conscripted to create the anthology are talented storytellers, they aren’t environmental experts, Herras said, so it was imperative that they find people who could help them get the science straight. He wanted what they had to say to be effective.

“Climate change has been a global issue for how many decades, and although there has been a lot of work done, I don’t want us to end up as another ‘Save the Earth’ campaign that doesn’t make much of a difference except for a day,” Herras said.

To help them get a better understanding of climate change, Tait brought in Manchester-based creative agency Creative Concern, which held focus group discussions with around 80 participants from both the Philippines and the U.K. Combined with data from environmental organizations, the results from the discussions gave the artists more concrete material to work with.

Julie Tait, co-editor of Ten Years to Save the World, said comics have the potential to leave a lasting impression “because of their blending together of words and images and the visuals can be very powerful (shocking, funny, thought-provoking, inspiring) on their own.” Illustration by comic artist Darren Cullen.

Balancing fact and fiction is tricky, but Herras and the artists aimed to find ways to make their stories compelling while still staying grounded in science. Even if the plots are fictional, any mention of data will always be derived from fact.

“When you talk about how much plastic pollution there is, it should be factual,” Herras said. “When I talk about the top 10 countries that are contributing to extreme weather conditions, it should come from a source.”

Once the anthology is completed, it will be presented to world leaders at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. The anthology will also be available online for download. Tait said the website will also be a source of information for what to do to be part of the solution in each of the areas the artists are working on. “I think we are firstly tackling the challenge of making young people want to act and not feel powerless and that applies to any of the issues we might choose,” she said.

Herras added that they’ll also be printing copies of the anthology on recycled or eco-friendly paper, which will then be sold to help raise funds for the environmental organization that helped them in their research.

These efforts are in line with the anthology’s goal of inciting real action in the real world. More than just an awareness campaign, Ten Years to Save the World means to present viable solutions to climate change problems.

Diversity in the conversation

The more people who are talking about climate change, and the more diverse the discussion, the better it is, it seems, for the planet’s odds.

“The more champions we have for the cause who can sort of draw parallels between how climate science can translate into everyday impact in our lives, the better we will be to engage in the discourse,” said Rishika Das Roy, Consultant at Oxford Policy Management in India, during the launch of the Climate Connection initiative.

Manix Abrera, a Filipino artist best known for his comic strip Kikomachine, said he knew exactly whose stories he wanted to tell when Herras invited him to participate in the comic book anthology. “Because of the diving activities and diving organizations I joined in the past, the topic of water pollution and how it affects the day-to-day lives of fishermen and communities living in coastal areas became close to my heart,” Abrera said.

Abrera’s approach to his story enables him to cast a wider net in terms of audience engagement, as he’s opted to do away with words completely. “I made my comics wordless, so that readers could interpret freely, but guided by my illustrations,” he said.

Filipino artist Manix Abrera of comic strip Kikomachine fame said he wants to tell the stories of fishermen and communities living in coastal areas through a silent comic. Comic by Manix Abrera.

Despite some of the darker implications of his topic, the story will not be without the artist’s trademark humor. “I think that humor is a good way to tell a story, to send a message, and hopefully to spark discussions,” he said. The distinctly Filipino elements peppered in his work, such as the bahay kubo, also known as a nipa hut, are also likely to resonate strongly with readers.

Climate change has its own jargon and grammar, says Roy. And that in itself doesn’t necessarily inspire action. “The best way to engage audiences is through culture,” she said, “so if you can explain climate change and its impact on our everyday lives through art, music, language, that is a great way of making action on climate the norm.”

Ten Years to Save the World will be launched on September 25 at the Philippine International Comics Online Festival.

Banner image: Illustration in a comic by Emiliana Kampilan