This article was originally published on Ebola Deeply.
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Cassell–a Liberian illustrator and Irene–an American writer and artist– have come together to depict the shadow of the virus on a country they love. Ebola is changing everyday life in Liberia, and the duo wanted to show how.
“Be careful, son,” a mother says, her feet and hands swathed in plastic bags for protection as she cares for her youngest son. “I’m trying, Ma,” the elder son says. “But how do we know my brother has Ebola?”
Ebola Deeply: What galvanized you to create these comics in Liberian English about the everyday impact of the Ebola outbreak?
Irene: Oudvin Cassell, the comic artist, and I have both lost people during this Ebola crisis in Liberia. As if that weren’t enough heartache, the stress of being so far away and not knowing what our family and friends were doing from day to day was very difficult. The comics are love letters to Liberia.
For me personally, being in Liberia during the war years was easier than sitting in the U.S. during the Ebola crisis, worrying about what I should or should not do.
Over the years, Oudvin and I had talked about creating a comic strip series. One day, when the stress got too much, I suggested we channel it into something positive.
Ebola Deeply: What kind of impact do you expect?
Irene: Soon after posting the comics on tumblr , I realized that very few people were seeing them. That wasn’t enough to make me feel bad; the process itself focused our skills and eased the stress of the situation. But after making radio dramas in Liberia, I know I have a creative responsibility to show the realities of what is happening there, and to show outsiders what it means to deal with Ebola in a personal way.
Ebola Deeply: How does focusing on Ebola differ from your and Oudvin’s usual creative channels?
Irene: I’ve been involved in other creative work that has a social impact, so for me this is no different. At the same time I’m very aware that I’m not Liberian, and that I need to use my voice to foster understanding, compassion and even a little humor to lighten the mood.
For Oudvin, this is his first time working creatively on a social issue, and we did have a discussion about that from the beginning, because not everyone will agree with what we’re putting out in the world. He assured me that he was ready no matter what. We’ve known each other for more than 10 years and there’s a lot of trust and care between us. Every step we take is discussed beforehand.
Ebola Deeply: How does the future look? Do you have further plans to roll out more comics?
Irene: Together with another graphic artist, Chris Yoo, we’ve been contracted to create a guide for an organization responding to the Ebola crisis in Liberia. This has greatly encouraged us to not give up.
We’re determined to continue our series of Ebola comics and to return to our original dream of creating our own comic book characters – perhaps a superhero series – for a Liberian audience. Oudvin may return to school to get his masters, possibly in animation.
I’m returning to Liberia next year, hopefully for good, to join my grown foster kids and my grandchildren. We have many dreams and one of mine is to bring together many of the creative people I know and have worked with over the years, in a group designed to forge encouragement and work that gives back to our communities.
Kate Thomas is managing editor of Ebola Deeply.[Photo courtesy of Ebola Deeply]
Kate is a British-American journalist, editor and researcher. She lived in West Africa for seven years, including three years in Liberia, where her stories and long-term projects for The Independent, BBC, Reuters and UN agencies looked at healthcare systems, refugee rights and the arts.