In response to the political climate around the world, Myfanwy Tristram wanted to give voice to people feeling hopeless and powerless. The result? Draw The Line, a project that brought together over 100 comic artists sharing practical ways to take positive action. The site is a toolkit for people who want to make a difference, big or small, and offers resources for engaged organizations and campaigns. Myfanwy tells us how the website came to life, and the crowdfunding effort to make the printed version of Draw The Line a reality.
You originally envisioned Draw The Line to be a small project — a print comic to sell at festivals and conventions. But it evolved into something bigger, and a total of 113 artists from 16 countries came on board. How did this happen?
Why Draw The Line? “The name refers to all the artists who make pictures through drawing lines, but we also liked that it hinted at how, if you’ve had enough with the current political climate, you can draw a line and say, “that’s enough.”
First, I think the time was right. When the idea came to me, I was fed up with listening to the news each day, feeling powerless to do anything about the direction that the world, and politics, were moving in. As someone who draws, I listen to a lot of radio, and at that time it seemed to be a constant feed of upsetting news, from the divisions that Brexit and Trump were bringing to society, to refugees being driven from their home countries and facing danger as they sought new homes, to austerity bringing huge cuts to the neediest in society. The trouble is, as an artist, it’s easy to feel that your work isn’t doing anything to help with such big problems.
Artist or not, when world events move on such a monumental scale, the average citizen feels totally impotent.
I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Artist or not, when world events move on such a monumental scale, the average citizen feels totally impotent. I think that played a huge part: when I first posted on Facebook, a lot of friends commented with messages like, “Yes, thank goodness, let’s do something, anything!”
Facebook itself — the way it’s set up — was instrumental: when one of your connections comments on a public post, you’ll see it. That was an ideal catalyst, especially within the comics community, which is close-knit and active. Everyone is linked to one another, so it’s like a domino fall — eventually the message spreads to the entire comics community.
When Karrie Fransman came on board, we starting getting some great connections. Karrie is an established, extremely active graphic novelist, and has a bulging address book — it really made a difference when she approached people to see if they’d like to get involved. She brought in some big, well-known artists (like Dave McKean, Lucy Knisley, Fumio Obata, Steven Appleby, and Kate Charlesworth), and in turn that helped us get publicity and contributed to the whole tidal wave of Draw The Line as it took off.
Can you describe the process that led up to the site launch in February 2017?
The idea of Draw The Line is that it presents political actions that anyone can take, each one illustrated by an artist. I set up a closed Facebook group so it was easy to send messages to the artists and talk about the project in one place. We then used Google Docs to collaborate. I was able to easily come up with 10 or 20 good actions, but by getting the whole group to contribute, we got far more ideas than I ever could by myself, including really unusual ones like “shop dropping,” or the art of leaving something in a shop rather than taking something away, as illustrated by Kate Charlesworth. I also found out about Raging Grannies as illustrated by Rachael Ball — they’re groups of little old ladies who look so inoffensive that it’s easy for them to slip into places like arms fairs or board meetings and start a protest.
Incidentally, all the actions on Draw The Line are non-partisan. They’re about having your voice heard or making a change, but they’re not explicitly left or right wing. I wanted this project to be for everyone. I didn’t want it to be dismissed as propaganda, and I didn’t want the press to feel they couldn’t cover it because it went against their readership’s beliefs. So, actions like “organize a march” or “stand for election” are included. Actions like “boycott newspapers funded by the Tories” are not (though “boycott newspapers funded by organizations you disagree with” would be fine).
We chose the best actions and assigned them to artists, and sent lots of links so contributors could do extra research. We set the deadline for a few weeks later and gave artists all the info they needed for the image format and so on. At the same time, we researched online to ensure all the actions were valid ones; we didn’t want to dole out advice on how best to help a defined group, such as homeless or disabled people, if it went counter to what charities in these areas advocated as best practice. We didn’t really find anything like that, but it did help us to flesh out some actions with more targeted advice.
While we waited for images to come in, I wrote the text for each one, explaining the action and providing links so visitors could learn more. And I drew my own two illustrations!
Next, I set up the site, bought the domain name, and chose a theme. There was a long weekend of uploading all the images and inputting the caption text. The actions are divided into sections, so you can find a list of actions you can take if you don’t have money to spend, or actions for kids, or actions that help the homeless, for example. Some of the actions fit into several categories, and it got quite complex, so I kept a spreadsheet. Actually, I was swimming in spreadsheets for a good while — that’s also how I kept track of which artists had submitted and who needed to be chased down because they’d missed a deadline.
You’ve likened the process above to the art of herding cats. What’s one tip or two for people who are interested in managing a site launch like this?
My top tip? Get people to help you. Early on, I noticed a couple of artists who were very enthusiastic in the Facebook group, suggesting ideas and answering questions. I asked these people to be administrators, and they helped with a lot of the big tasks. Karrie was one of these!
My other big tip is to leave extra time for everything. Set one deadline for contributors, while keeping to yourself that they actually have more time. Some people will always miss a deadline. This way, it doesn’t jeopardize the whole project.
You wrote that “comics can touch the soul like no other art form.” Can you elaborate? Why are comics such an effective way to engage people?
Comics can be deceptive. People pick them up because they have positive memories from childhood, and they’re often attractive, colored pages that look like they don’t demand much from the reader. But as plenty of recent works have shown us (like graphic novel Threads from the Refugee Crisis by Kate Evans or Olivier Kugler’s images of the real lives of refugees), once you’ve been beguiled by the artwork, the words come in and pack a real punch.
There’s been a real explosion in graphic novels over the last decade. Off the top of my head, I can think of comics that describe the reality of having a baby with Down Syndrome, mental illness, disability, miscarriage, the refugee crisis, war… There’s no subject they can’t touch.
The initial idea for Draw The Line was to produce a printed book. We launched first as a website because it was much easier to view and share the content. Thanks to social media, it’s so easy to get a message out. That’s also why all the work is available under a Creative Commons license, and it’s been great to see charities and other organizations use the images to help promote their own work.
When the site launched, publishers made contact, but many of them didn’t seem to get the idea. An astonishing number referred to their strong line of children’s books, which showed that they didn’t understand the graphic novel is an adult format now, too.
I considered self-publishing, but put it off because I knew it would mean months of hard work with crowdfunding, promotion, printing, and marketing — and I need time to work on my own comics, too! I then came across Unbound, thanks to a friend, Wallis Eates, who is currently raising funding for her own book. Unbound is a unique mesh of a crowdfunder like Kickstarter and a traditional publishing house. They support you as you raise the money you need to manufacture the book, while they do all the logistical stuff and work of getting it into bookshops on the high street.
All creator profits from the book will go to Help Refugees, a charity with projects across Europe and the Middle East.
You can support us and pledge. There are unusual rewards for supporters: my favorite is that you can get one of the artists to come and give a talk or a workshop. We have artists all over the world, and each indicated how far they’d be willing to travel, so we cover a wide area. And if that doesn’t appeal, you can get original artwork or a print.
Your personal site, myf draws apparently, is also hosted with us. Why WordPress.com? And as an artist, what do you look for in a theme?
We use WordPress at my day job (I do marketing and communications for a UK charity), so I was familiar with the interface. I love not having to think too hard when it comes to translating my concepts into an actual website — WordPress (and its wonderful community of designers) does much of the hard work for you.
I’m not a web designer, so it’s invaluable to be able to pick from the available designs. I cycle through them all occasionally, trying out new layouts! I like themes that put artwork front and center, but I’m also a regular blogger so it works for me when both elements are given equal priority.
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