When we were young —and not so young! —, most of us enjoyed reading comic books and became enthralled by the stories of world-famous characters. But comics aren’t only useful as entertainment. Complex narratives told through a visual, intuitive format are a powerful tool to tell stories. And what is science if not a great story?

This was the first idea that came to mind when we received a very special assignment: to make a comic book about the importance of confidence and trust in food. Our first chance at using this not-so-common format to explain a not-so-simple concept.

As a multidisciplinary and multiformat agency, we get excited every time we have the opportunity to work on a format we’ve never worked on before. But, in the words of a certain comic-book character, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Every medium has its strengths and weaknesses and before we got down to business, we had to roll up our sleeves and prepare ourselves for the challenge.

Comics are, above all, combinations of images and text, a mix that creates an effective way to explain nuanced topics. Balancing these two dimensions, so they complement each other, is what helps us create emotional engagement. But getting the message across is far more complex than it may seem. To gather some insight into all these details we turned to our bookshelf and the amazing Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics by Scott McCloud[1].

For readers to learn and later remember, we learned that we had to trigger as many senses as possible. Comics require complex mental gymnastics, but contrary to other formats that overwhelm the public with hard-to-follow scientific information, sequential art guides the readers and turns characters into a relatable human element.

Besides accounting for the structure of the story we wanted to tell, to make sound storytelling decisions we had to consider every scene, every panel, and every facial expression. A comic is not written on a whim, because it requires a series of small steps that need careful consideration to communicate meaning to readers.

The first step is picking the moments that matter for our story, cutting those that aren’t relevant. For example, the more panels you use to draw a scene, the more emphasis it will have. Choosing the frame is important too: just like in cinema, there are various angles and perspectives, providing the audience with different information and sensations. Travelling through the panels must be a seamless and intuitive experience, so adjusting the flow is also important. Behind the scenes, “The journeys of shopping” was one of the most complex narratives we’ve ever developed.

This comic had a clear goal: to resolve consumers’ common doubts about choosing food products while promoting trust in food safety authorities. At first glance, this may sound rather abstract. But putting it simply, we had to make a comic about trust, a complex emotional state.

Emotions are the perfect means to help us reach our audience, and graphic novels are an amazing format for this. By designing a story that focuses on characters and using elements such as facial expressions and a careful choice of words, the public engages with the message instead of just receiving it. Readers can empathise with the character’s struggles, learning from their experiences and decisions.

Our story takes place at a supermarket. We’ve all been to one, but this time we visit following our main character, accompanying her on each one of her decisions while she engages in conversation with other shoppers. Trust in the food system is challenged at every corner, but our narrator doesn’t shy away. She appeals directly to the reader by explaining the solutions developed by the food industry.

There’s something magical about working on a new medium for the first time. Adapting comics to science dissemination was an enriching and intense experience. You can read here the outcome of this amazing journey!

And an update: we did it again! Here you can read another comic, this time on the topic of plastic pollution and food safety. Hope you’ll enjoy it as much we did!

[1] Making Comics : Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. Scott McCloud. William Morrow Paperbacks, 2006.