By Michael J. Solender
When COVID-19 first began to impact our community in early 2020, the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative (CJC), a diverse group of six area media and three community partners, wanted an innovative approach to reach an audience of untypical news consumers with credible and actionable messaging.
The collaborative, inspired by the energy and artistry of Charlotte’s uptown Black Lives Matter mural, thought combining art and journalism through a graphic novel would be impactful—both in reach and relatability to an audience seeking trustworthy information. CJC partnered with artist-led performance and visual arts nonprofit BOOM Charlotte to develop and produce a bilingual online (and now print) graphic novel, “The Pandemic: Stories of COVID-19.”
The nine-part series ran biweekly from October 2020 through February 2021 and is hosted online on the CJC website and WEBTOON, a creator-based online platform for comics and graphic novels. Eight local artists—Makayla Binter, Matthew Clayburn, Gil Croy, Josh Henderson, Marcus Kiser, Wolly McNair, Kiana Mui and Chris Taylor—were paired with CJC journalists to collaborate on each story. Snapshots include deeply personal impact stories of COVID infections, living under quarantine and practical information on transmission, protection and accessing care.
“CJC was formed in 2019 to tell broader, deeper stories surrounding significant problems facing our communities,” said CJC Director Chris Rudisill. “The collaborative allows us to experiment a bit and be bolder with creative ideas. A 50’s style graphic novel captured the feel we looked for and allowed us to importantly maintain the news integrity at the core of the project.”
CJC’s media partners include The Charlotte Observer, La Noticia, QCityMetro, Q-Notes, WCNC and WFAE 90.7. Community partners supporting CJC include the Knight School of Communication at Queens University, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Free Press.
Rudisill noted a key strength of the collaborative is its reach.
“One of the benefits of this collaborative is the ability to amplify stories to a broader population,” he said. “We’re able to use the experience of our collaborative work to further share information and action-based solutions around COVID. We heard from people that there is so much information out there, people didn’t always know where to look. We know there are many not turning on the news every night and believe these are important audiences to reach.”
Earlier this year, CJC received an ASC Cultural Vision Grant to support the project.
The funding allowed for CJC to complete the storytelling component of the graphic novel and launch programming elements, including an artist/journalist forum on collaborating in the era of COVID-19 and a Graphic Novel Workshop helping storytellers translate their stories into graphic novels.
ASC grant funds also supported the development, production and distribution of a print version of the graphic novel. CJC printed 2,700 copies with the books slated for all branches of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, area colleges and universities, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools middle and high schools, and BOOM Charlotte for distribution.
“This project has been a game changer,” Rudisill said, “in terms of how we model and tell stories. It opens door for this type [artist/journalist] of collaboration going forward and is a unique opportunity to expand and connect around the ways we tell stories and reach more people.”
APPLY FOR AN ASC CULTURAL VISION GRANT
Mecklenburg County creative individuals and nonprofit organizations leading cultural projects that build community and increase relevance and innovation are encouraged to apply for an ASC Cultural Vision Grant. Click here to learn more and apply for the next round of grants by Wednesday, September 8, 2021 at noon.