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A comic book designed to save lives

  • Story Highlights
  • Student draws comic book to teach children in India the dangers of 'gutka'
  • Drawing comics for children in another culture difficult for student
  • "The comic is neither a glaring success nor a complete failure," student says
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By Crystal Ives
Special to CNN
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Editor's Note: CNNU is following two student teams from the University of Southern California as they work to improve the quality of life in India. One team, Oral Cancer Awareness, is working to educate locals on the dangers of gutka. Crystal Ives, a biophysics and international relations major from USC, is part of that team. The following is a column she wrote for CNNU about her experience. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN or its affiliates.

Students read the comic book in a school. The comic characters were also used as "faces" for the campaign.

Students read the comic book in a school. The comic characters were also used as "faces" for the campaign.

(CNN) -- The week before I came to India was crazy--not only was I planning my wedding (which took place two days before my departure), but I was also drawing a five-page comic book with an anti-tobacco message for this project.

Drawing a comic is a lot more labor intensive than I think most people realize --planning the frames to communicate a story, creating characters and envisioning them on the pages, drawing, inking, adding text.

I saved a lot of time by not making a preliminary story board, nor did I color the pages (we thought that was best left to the children, anyway). Drawing comics has always been a favorite past time of mine, but this one proved especially difficult.

When I settled down to draw, I realized that I was drawing for children I had never met, in a culture almost entirely foreign to me, in a country I had never seen. And that was a major challenge.

There would be mistakes, of course. I mentally prepared myself for the inevitability of having to draw the entire thing over once I got to India. Meet the rest of the students from the Oral Cancer Awareness Team »

Google can only do so much to communicate culture, and I could never be sure that the images I was drawing would make sense to Indian children. Do they even have tombstones in India? I wondered. Do hospital beds look different? How will they react to the villain? Would boys have soccer cleats? Does a skull and crossbones have the same meaning? I had to question nearly everything I drew.

In the end, I was lucky not to have to edit the images at all. I forgot my comic pen in the States, and the resources were not such that I could have easily drawn an entirely new comic, nor would it have been simple to edit the images of the older version. As it was, the creation was acceptable, after translation. Not perfect, but good enough. And, really, that was more than I had even hoped.

Now that we have been to several schools, I would say that the comic is neither a glaring success nor a complete failure.

It isn't as popular as the game, but then I could never expect it to be, for it is a more passive entity by nature, and not as immediately "fun".

On the other hand, the characters themselves have been useful as colorful "faces" for our campaign, adding a certain style and playfulness to our posters and game board. Also, the reception among the children has been favorable, and they do seem to read and understand it.

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Our greatest hope was that they would take it home, color it, read it again with their siblings and parents, and treasure it. It is impossible to know if this is happening, even with a few children. My pessimistic side seriously doubts it. But nearly every child reads the comic at least once, and hears the message.

In the end, that is the most important thing, anyway.

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