How Outriders used comic journalism to report solution stories amidst the pandemic?

Preset #6

In October 2020, Outriders released a multimedia comic about the grassroots initiatives that were launched by the residents of some favelas in São Paulo to face the problems caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. The comic is entitled “Favelas vs COVID-19. What the residents living on the periphery can teach us about strategies to combat the pandemic”. It was written by Brazilian journalist Priscila Pacheco, illustrated by comic illustrator Alexandre de Maio and coordinated and produced by a cross-border team. The Solutions Journalism Network supported the project.

Why a comic?

When we decided to write about the solidarity initiatives in some Brazilian favelas during the pandemic, we expected to respect three premises:

  • Firstly, we wanted to know further details about the initiatives of these favelas but without exposing their residents to the risk of contagion
  • secondly, media rarely write about the positive aspects of these neighbourhoods; we wanted to focus on the responses to difficulties rather than to show difficulties
  • and finally, we wanted to talk about the pandemic, but we knew that readers were overwhelmed with news about the pandemic so the format should be engaging.

A comic seemed an ideal tool to achieve our three requirements: first, illustrations allowed us just visiting some of the people involved without an excessive presence. Second, the comic was an ideal platform to give visibility to the interviewees as heroes instead of as victims and finally, it offered us an engaging format to attract the reader’s attention.

The idea – searching positive responses

The idea arose after researching tons of positive responses to the effects of Covid. For three months, a cross-border team of journalists tracked positive responses to the effects of Covid-19, collecting more than 1,000 responses from around the world on Outriders project “Radar”.

Priscila Pacheco, a Sao Paulo-based journalist, was in charge of collecting initiatives from Latin America and among them, she brought some exciting initiatives that were being carried out in some favelas that caught our attention. When we finished the project, we knew that we wanted to go further and write about those citizen networks.

Who a local approach and a cross-border production

We knew that the story about these grassroots initiatives should be written by someone who knew them well. Priscila Pacheco, the Brazilian journalist who has worked on the cross-border project Radar, knew the neighbourhoods and some of the organizations well. She had already worked before on comic journalism together with illustrator Alexandre Di Maio, who also had a close connection with some residents of these favelas. Alexandre Di Maio, specialized in comic journalism, had started his career as an editor at Rap Brasil magazine, where he worked on stories from the outskirts, which he knows well too. Besides, he works on comics journalism for some of the largest newspapers in Brazil and in 2015, produced a comic about the Olympic games that was a finalist three times for the “Prêmio Gabriel García Márquez” of Journalism.

The final production was cross-border teamwork coordination, post-production and development with a team based in Brazil, Poland and Spain.

The method – researching, interviewing and drawing

This web-comic combines the foundations of traditional journalism with comic designs.

  • Like other journalism stories, the first step was researching and identifying stories, scenarios and heroes we wanted to show.
  • After identifying scenarios and collecting data, we used a solution story outline to structure the idea including the problem, the response, how the response works, the evidence, the insights, the limitations, the characters and  thesources.

The next step was interviewing the heroes to learn more about their initiatives. On some occasions, Priscila (writer) and Alexandre (main illustrator) visited the places together. However, in cases where it was not necessary, the journalist interviewed some people by phone and the illustrator used photographs provided by the organizations to include more details on the drawings.

How to draw real stories

  • All the data, people, events and background that appear on the drawing are real. It is journalism.
  • The journalist used the data, interviews and visits on the field to write the script.
  • Once the script was written, the illustrator used the information, descriptions and provided after visits, interviews, pictures and videos to draw the scenes.

Lessons – more engaging, less intrusive

We believe that a comic is an ideal format to cover sensitive topics, not only during a pandemic but during a conflict or harmful event. On the one hand, it seems less intrusive when it comes to portraying the reality of people than photographing or making a video; on the other hand, it has an engaging component to attract attention to important topics.