Drawing Cartoons for
Drawing Cartoons for ‘New Home,New Life’. Afghan Education Project/BBC

Cartoons and photo stories

Although John Dunton is credited for being the first advice columnist, information on health, relationships, parenting and other life events existed prior to this in cartoons and drawings.

Cartoons and photo stories have been used within problem pages to illustrate or expand upon advice giving. That may include a drawing that summarises the problem; a series of cartoons that tells a person’s story; a photo story that either presents a dilemma in its entirety or runs over a number of days (e.g. Deidre’s photo casebook in The Sun); or is a separate comic that goes with an existing programme (such as the cartoon magazine created by Afghan Publishing House to be distributed alongside the radio soap opera New Home, New Life – Naway Kor, Naway Jwand. See illustration above, courtesy of the BBC).

Aside from being visually engaging and bringing in an audience, cartoons and photo stories have the advantage over written and radio problems of being able to convey a complex story in a few images.

The use of visual storytelling also makes advice giving more accessible to children and older people, those who have learning difficulties, literacy problems or are facing language barriers. Some highly sensitive topics can be depicted more easily through a drawing or photograph.

Outside of traditional advice giving formats some have begun to use cartooning as a specific tool to give advice – such as:
‘The Cartooning Psychologist’ Nina Burrows who uses online and print cartoons alongside animation to tackle issues around sexual abuse

The courage to be me. A story of courage, self-compassion and hope after sexual abuse from Nina Burrowes on Vimeo.

Kate Evans (aka Cartoon Kate) who has used cartooning to inform people about pregnancy,
breast feeding, and miscarriage.

Erica Moen who explores sex advice and information through (over 18s) Oh Joy Sex Toy cartoon strips.

Increasingly digital storytelling is becoming part of advice giving, for example with The Guardian and Philippa Perry’s ‘What’s Troubling You?’ series with animated cartoons used to illuminate a reader’s problem. Or wider art projects sharing health stories such as The Dharavi Biennale.

Young audiences can also be reached with animation and puppetry, with advice programmes aimed at them such as:

Get Well Soon hosted by paediatrician Dr Ranj

Hana’s Helpline where a friendly duck helps animals in trouble

While Sesame Street have a long history of tackling issues on numerous topics including bereavement, health problems, race, friendship and disability. They have detailed resources for parents to help children with life events using drawings and photos to explain, plus archived videos that cover feelings, communication and recognising emotions/faces.

Traditionally the cartoon or photo story was used to share a person’s problem to a wider audience but with increased availability of mobile phones people may well create their own digital story to send to an agony aunt in the form of one or more photographs, selfies or drawings.

The area of health literacy and using visual messages to enagage audiences is well documented and generally found to be effective, if clearly and non patronizingly explained to audiences in inclusive ways. Less is known about using cartooning and photostories in mainstream media advice giving.

Further Reading
Houts PS, Doak CC, Doak LG, Loscalzo MJ. 2006. The role of pictures in improving health communication: A review of research on attention, comprehension, recall, and adherence. Patient Education and Counselling. 61 pp.173-190.
Leiner M, Handal G and Williams D. 2004. Patient communication. A multidisciplinary approach using animated cartoons. Health Education Research. 19 (5) pp. 591-595.
Osborne H. 2006. Health literacy: how visuals can help tell the healthcare story. Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine. 29 (1) pp. 28-32.
Sheneman L. 2010. Digital Storytelling: How to Get the Best Results. School Library Monthly. XXVII (1) 40-43.
Williams MV, Davis T, Parker RM and Weiss BD. 2002. The Role of Health Literacy in Patient-Physician Communication. Family Medicine. 34 (5) pp.383-389.