Grassroots comics

Although political cartoons have offered a powerful form of social satire and comment for centuries,the use of comics as a campaigning tool for grassroots organisations is a more recent success story. This section outlines how and why you might use grassroots comics, how to get started, and some ideas for distributing them.

A successful multi-lingual anti-nukes comic book done in manga style for Greenpeace Southeast Asia. The online publications uses Issuu, a free online publishing site which allows viewers to 'flick' through the pages.

What are grassroots comics?

Comics are stories which are told with images and text that contains a lot of speech and dialogue. They become “grassroots” comics when they are made by an NGO or by activists about issues that are relevant to their particular constituencies or communities. Such comics deal with local issues, and use local languages as well as local visual culture and metaphors.

Comics have an authentic feel that encourages debate in the society depicted, and they can be made by groups and individuals (not necessarily professional artists) who normally have little or no access to the media or to media production.

Grassroots comics can be produced and used as a communication tool by any group with an identity, a message and a target audience.

What resources do you need?

The technology involved in making grassroots comics is not very complicated. Pen, paper, ideas and away to reproduce and distribute the comics is all you need. Very diverse groups with differing levels of literacy and technical sophistication can, with some encouragement, learn to produce comics that are of great interest to their groups or communities. You can also create comic strips from pre-existing artwork using Strip creator or Toonlet.

Each has a different style, so look at all of them to see what suits your organisation, audience and strategy. All of these sites will allow you to share the comics you've created online. You may have to pay for a premium membership or make a donation in order to download your comic in a format that can be printed.

Visit the World Comics website to learn more, including simple 'How -to' downloads to guide you through the process. 

This comic about a female construction worker was used to generate discussions in women's groups in India about women's issues and rights.

Why use grassroots comics?

Grassroots comics are created by ordinary people and especially by community activists, so they give a first-hand view of the issues facing the community. They are a form of expression that gives ordinary people some power as it allows them a chance to direct debate. Comics can also promote communal understanding across ethnic lines: when people tell their own stories on a local level, they can reach out to groups in their society that have false ideas about them. Genuine, heartfelt stories are convincing and they have credibility.

Grassroots comics have been successfully used in campaigns involving human rights, health education, corruption, environmental concerns, and many other issues. They can be employed at different levels of campaigning, from peer group distribution within a local community to mass distribution.

Since comics stand out, they are attractive to NGOs, which always have to look for innovative ways of communicating with their target audiences. What's more, comics are cheap to make and distribute.

Most of the time grassroots comics are directly related to the activities of an NGO, rights advocate or community group, but they are also made by individuals who just want to tell their own stories. Children often make comics to depict the issues that affect their lives.


All grassroots comics formats use simple, widely available duplicating methods, such as:

  •  Photocopying
  •  Screen printing for more than one hundred copies
  •  Offset printing for more than two or three hundred copies 

Comics can be converted for publication in newspapers, magazines and brochures; it is a good idea to consider this when choosing the format. 

Wall poster comics

Young girls from Haathma village in Rajasthan enquiring about the wall poster. Picture courtesy of  Grassroots Comics

Wall posters are the most common and most cost-effective comics format. The advantages are obvious: you can reach the population of a whole village by pasting two or three photocopied wall poster comics in strategic places.

Wall poster comics are concise, telling a story visually in four images. Many messages can be converted into such a story. Many of the traditional development communication posters have only one message or a slogan; you can put a lot more information and feeling into the wall poster comic because the story can contain drama and a narrative.

Black and white photocopying, using A4 paper, is widely available throughout the world, even in rather remote areas. Therefore the simplest wall poster format is two A4 photocopies stuck together. This makes a wall poster of A3 size, which is big enough to be noticed from a distance. Such a wall poster can comfortably be read standing up, from a distance of about one metre. If a bigger (A3) photocopying machine is available, then copies can be made directly at this size.

When you need a large number of wall posters, photocopying becomes an expensive option. There are small print shops in most towns that cater to the business printing needs of the area; most of them can make inexpensive print runs of a few hundred copies.The printer may want to work from an original that meets certain requirements,but these should not be too difficult to master.

The Education of Girls, by Koku Katunzi. This story is about a girl who wants to go to school but needs to convince her family and community to allow her. From World Comics


Comic booklets are useful because the stories in them can be much longer than in a wall poster comic. This means you can introduce more characters, and make the story more complex and more dramatic. A comic booklet can be distributed to participants in meetings or seminars, to people that are motivated to take a stand on an issue, to visitors to an NGO office, and in many other ways.

The basic booklet is an 8-page story produced from one double-sided photocopy. The pages are placed in the right order and photocopied, four to a side of the same sheet of paper,which is then folded and cut into an 8-page booklet. You can also make a 16-page story in the same way, using smaller images. This is the format to use when you need to make a longer story without having to draw a lot of detailed action. See the World Comics instructions 'How to make 8-page booklets'.  

Accordion mini-comics

Accordion comics are folded like an accordion and read either as a long strip or a mini-booklet. The format is especially useful for discreet distribution because the outside covers are blank.

The simplest accordion comic is made from a photocopy of a story that is drawn in eight panels on one side of a sheet of A3 paper, in landscape(horizontal) format. The paper is cut in half length wise and the two halves are joined end to end with a piece of tape. Although this means doing some work by hand, the size of the panels is easy to work with and this format is easy to photocopy as you only need to copy on one side.

A mini-accordion can be made if you have access to a photocopying machine that can reduce the original to 50% of its size. Take the original 8-panel story (A3), reduce it by 50% and make four copies onto A4. Cut them into strips and assemble them on an A3 sheet of paper so that the story runs four times as strips, in landscape (horizontal) format. Then copy the A3, fold the copy into an accordion, cut it into four parts, and you have four accordion mini-comics. See the World Comics instructions

Comic strips

You can convert comics into strips to be published in magazines, newsletters and brochures, but you must remember that the reduction from the original size can be drastic: ensure that the original artwork has sufficiently thick lines and big enough text that they don't become unreadable if the quality or size is reduced.

Ms. D.K. Kalogosho from the Tanzania Gender Network Programme, in Dar es Salaam, points to the comic she made at a workshop there in October 2006. From Grassroots Comics

Distribution – Local focus, local action

One thing that distinguishes these comics from professional material is the fact that they are made mainly for local distribution. The comics are generally posted in public spaces such as community centres, bus stops, shops, offices, schools, noticeboards and electricity poles. The readers usually know of the organisation that has put up the comics.

This familiarity is important: the readers are close to the source of the communication. The comics will show that someone in the community feels so strongly about an issue that they make local campaign material themselves, rather than rely on materials produced by distant campaign professionals from the capital or even from abroad. The messages on wall poster comics will get attention and create local debate.

Broadening the audience

For more concerted campaigning work, the available resources will always be a determining factor. You can put your comics to work in many different ways; for example, by sending comics to the local press at the same time as you post them on the streets. This will multiply the publicity for the issue at hand.

Creating understanding

Grassroots comics from different groups and countries can be exhibited or published in order to give an insight into how members of a particular group look at their lives and which issues are important to them. Such exhibitions and publications convey a lot of local cultural information, which might otherwise be difficult for a mainstream audience to access. Even when the comics are not professionally drawn, their passion and confidence in their messages comes through.