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Illustrating ASSA’s findings with comics – part 3

Georgiana Murariu18 August 2021

By Georgiana Murariu & Laura Haapio-Kirk

In this blog post, we present the third comic in our ASSA comics series – this time set in Lusozi, a neighbourhood in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Researcher Charlotte Hawkins conducted fieldwork here for 16 months on the intersection of ageing and smartphone use. In order to do this, Charlotte took part in participation in community activities such as women’s groups and savings groups, including a group called ‘Togetherness is Strength’, which is also the title of this comic.

Here, we see how a community comes together to save money for smartphones through a rotation savings group, common in Kampala. Groups such as these are increasingly communicating via WhatsApp but in this particular fieldsite, not everyone has a smartphone. The savings group wanted to ensure every member had a smartphone so they were able to communicate via WhatsApp. When this issue is discussed at a meeting, we see how group members facilitate individuals’ access to smartphones through cooperation, in a way that is aligned with the ‘smart-from-below’ approach that is characteristic of so many of the research participants in this project.

Because not everyone will be acquainted with the way a rotating savings group works, in this comic we aimed for a balance between descriptive text and narrative visuals, such as the panels showing the celebration and funeral to indicate what money collected through these savings groups can often be used for. Membership of groups such as ‘Togetherness is strength’ goes beyond financial and economic benefits, however, giving younger generations in Lusozi an opportunity to sit with their elders and learn from them, as they would have more regularly in the past. At the beginning of scripting we played with the idea of including this element in the comic, however, after advice from our collaborator, artist John Cei Douglas, we decided to focus on one distinct event which Charlotte had observed during fieldwork – the coming together to help various members buy a smartphone.

Although we were equipped with photographs and short films from the Ugandan fieldsite as references, it is not always easy to transform complex stories from someone else’s research into a short comic that will be read in seconds. During the rough draft stage of the comic, we worked together with Charlotte to gather feedback on elements like the characters’ outfits, the setting (we had to think about ways of quickly conveying who is ‘running’ the meeting), and the dialogue between the characters, which had been adapted from her fieldnotes. Some phrases that we initially included in the script were slightly changed following a few rounds of feedback. Although the comics are a creative interpretation of the research findings, in condensing real-life dialogue, we did not want to depart too much from what the characters in the fieldsite would actually say. This very helpful guide to collaborations between artists and humanities researchers explains in further depth the processes involved in such endeavours.

After the script was improved based on Charlotte’s feedback, we also received notes from John, who, through a series of questions, asked us for specific details we hadn’t thought to include, such as how many characters are in the savings group itself and how we’d like the chairman/vice-chairman of the meeting to be differentiated. We eventually solved this visually through the addition of a clipboard. John also suggested we needed a stronger conclusion. We settled on showing how one of the members of the group continues to benefit from the smartphone acquired through the savings group many weeks later – in the last panel, he is shown helping his daughter with her homework by googling something. John has been instrumental in helping us figure out how to build the ‘flow’ of the comics and how to assemble different moments that, taken together, ensure that the message of the research is understood. As Dr Alpa Shah, associate professor of anthropology at King’s College London describes in this blog post, transforming anecdotes, research notes, and findings into comic-style illustrations can be a bit like translating something into a different language!

For us, the process consisted of a draft script on Google Docs shared between Georgiana and Laura, Charlotte, the researcher, and John the artist. In the end, we strove to achieve a common vision, that told a particular story from Charlotte’s research in a way that would work for this particular format. We hope we have got the balance right!

 

Illustrating ASSA’s Findings With Comics: Part 2

Georgiana Murariu22 June 2021

By Georgiana Murariu & Laura Haapio-Kirk

In this blog post, we present the second comic in our series illustrating key findings from the ASSA project. ‘The Next Step’, based on research by Alfonso Otaegui, drawn by John Cei Douglas, and scripted by ourselves, can be seen below in both English and Spanish.

Alfonso Otaegui did his fieldwork in Santiago, the capital of Chile, where he spent a year volunteering at a cultural centre in the city, teaching older adults how to use smartphones. Alfonso has recently written about Chile’s increasing digitalisation of services and the government’s aim to become ‘paperless’ soon. Many of his research participants expressed the anxiety that soon they might be left with no choice but to use a smartphone to access specific services, even if they do not feel confident using one.

Alfonso has also written about how the COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the imposition of digital services upon people in Chile. Older people are not only strongly encouraged to become digitally savvy by their government, but also by their own family and other acquaintances in order to stay connected during the pandemic.

Alfonso’s experience teaching smartphones at the cultural centre has given him a wealth of insight into the sorts of things older people struggle with when they first learn how to use the device. One of the common struggles older adults encounter when learning to use the device is the experience of anxiety facing too many options, for example on a menu that offers several calls to action illustrated through icons. While doing an exercise on sharing an image, several students would be distracted by the vast array of other possibilities/icons.

It’s not all negative, however – far from it: Alfonso found that once older people had mastered the smartphone, their developing digital skills opened up all sorts of possibilities for them. As Alfonso put it in the short video below, at any given time, they are two taps away from frustration, and two taps away from empowerment.

It is this journey towards digital literacy that we wanted to illustrate in the comic below.

To script the comic, we used material from Alfonso’s photos, research, anecdotes and the short film above, deciding to create a character that combined many of the experiences of his participants. Using the direct quote “pa,pa,pa, it’s done!”, which came from an individual in Alfonso’s research, we shaped a character and narrative around this particular moment of frustration, which you can see below in both English and Spanish:

‘The Next Step’

‘¿Y ahora, cómo sigo?’