Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Gripping comics to help Aboriginal Youth

Gripping comics to help Aboriginal Youth
written by: Sharon Thomas
for Indigenous Times Newspaper - March 2011
In 2004, Sean Muir took the first steps to building on a classic form of literature, comic books, to convey his messages. His idea consisted of clean, clear-cut stories regarding health and social issues affecting the Aboriginal youth of today.

Muir believes that education to the people cannot be accomplished by overwhelming them with information from their health professionals, much less take in regular visits to their doctor. "Why not teach them something subtlety with stories. Plus, if youth and adults enjoy the medium that we’re using, we’re more likely to get multiple exposures, which is a greater chance of changing behavior."

With this thinking, Muir began sending out emails, harassing health authorities about the small-scale of money that was spent on nutrition education, while Coke and McDonalds were spending billions of dollars a year on advertising. A couple of the authorities suggested that he apply for funding so that they could help him. So with a health message to impart, Muir pursued funding.

His logic was a simple one, but one that appealed to his target audience that he wanted to reach, the youth. Muir believes that young people respond to visual mediums as opposed to words on a pamphlet or a brochure. He recalls a childhood memory. "I remember reading comic books with a friend as a kid. He was reading two to three books to my one, and I was a good reader. So I asked him, ‘How do you read so fast?’ He said, ‘ I don’t, I just look at the pictures and I get the gist of what’s going on.’ I remember that kid in school. He struggled when reading aloud in class." With this mind, Muir bid a project to create literacy on health issues with youth through comic books. Doubtful that he could get funding, Muir applied for it anyway. Much to his surprise, the approval came through. The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority was their first client.

The first comic, titled "Darkness Calls" was released on Aboriginal Day 2006. It is a suicide prevention story that went on to sell over 33,000 copies across Canada and the U.S. Other comics include topics such as gang awareness, diabetes awareness, gambling awareness, mental health and various others. To date, seven comic books have been written, with a few more in production. In total, slightly over 300,000 comics have been printed. Animated shorts based on the comic books are next.

With hopes that the Healthy Aboriginal Network will be the place for Aboriginal people to turn to when seeking health content, Muir wishes to instill behavior change, or at least provide the recognition that youth have the capacity to become healthier and more productive when given the opportunity.

The Healthy Aboriginal Network is a Non-Profit in which Sean Muir is the founder and Executive Director. For more information on the comic books and their availability, visit: