People have long used comics to educate and inform readers. Will Eisner famously brought comics to the military in showing soldiers how to clean their rifles properly, or change the tire on a Jeep, or any other of hundred tasks they had to remember. The Federal Reserve created an entire line of comic books just focusing on financial education. More recently, companies like Google and Al Jazeera America have hired comic creators like Scott McCloud and Josh Neufeld to discuss more contemporary issues like web browser technology and “big data.” These have even been presented as webcomics, getting shared around virally even among non-comics readers.
Yesterday, though, I have to admit to some surprise in seeing The White House getting in on webcomics.
As more Americans gain coverage and we near the February 15th HealthCare.gov enrollment deadline, one artist highlights what these diverse Americans have in common in a series of shareable graphics.
That artist is Carolyn Belefski, who’s been writing and drawing Curls since 2009. And she created several stand-alone comics that are being hosted right there on The White House website, alongside some more fact-laden cards.
The reason why The White House opted for webcomics to promote the February 15 deadline is right there in their statement: shareable graphics. They were clearly looking for artwork that could be posted online and be easily shared among thousands of people very quickly. I’m sure the word “viral” came up in many of the meetings around these.
Graphics tend to be more easily read at a glance. Even if the viewer just visually skims over everything, they can get a general sense of the message. That’s how and why USA Today first became popular back in the 1980s. That images also generally self-contained in a single file also means that they can be posted, shared, and re-posted very quickly and easily. In an age of social media, where re-Tweeting and Pinnning are almost a necessary part of being online, graphics that convey short messages quickly rose to prominence. Which is how and why we’ve seen such a proliferation of infographics over the past several years.
But webcomics hold an interesting position of being able to convey a compelling narrative. Infographics can pass along information and even tell a story after a fashion, but the medium of comics can draw people in on a more emotional level. Folks at The White House seem to have recognized that. But what impresses me here is that they pulled in a working webcomicker to develop these. They didn’t just tell an ad agency to “make some viral webcomics” or pull in a random illustrator who’s style they liked, but maybe had never done sequential art. They got someone who’s been in the webcomic trenches for more than a few years. That, I think, says a lot about the state of webcomics in 2015.
Will Belefski’s comics be successful? Will The White House continue making webcomics, or possibly even expand on them? It’s definitely far too early to tell, but that they’re comfortable enough trying it out in the first place is a win not just for Belefski, but for the entire industry.