skip to content

On Thursday night, we invited an audience interested in comics to a public panel on Ethno-graphic Storytelling on Rivers, Climate and Change: A discussion with Comic Artists from Around the World. The event room in the Cöln Comic Haus served as a pleasant venue for the 30 guests.

The three DELTA Comic artists, Karis Gruben, Pamplumus and Beatriz Belo, were in conversation with Markus Rockstroh, a Cologne-based illustrator and comic artist. The event was moderated by cartoonist, photographer and illustrator Claus Daniel Herrmann.

The evening was divided into two parts: In the first part the artists introduced themselves and presented their work. The DELTA Team jumped in to inform briefly about the general idea behind the DELTA Comic Project. After the break there was time for discussion followed by Q&A with the audience. 

Round of introductions:

Beatriz started introducing herself. She is an illustrator, designer and journalism student, born in Macapá-AP, in northern Brazil. Her relationship with comics starts from a young age. She started reading with Turma da Monica comics, a Brazilian classic by Maurício de Souza. After that, she was passionate about illustrated stories, and that motivated her to start drawing too. Today she works with illustrations with a focus on the editorial area and she likes to bring the experiences, colors and visuals of Amazonia into her productions. Beatriz used to be part of an art collective who did filming and street art. One of her recent projects was the illustration that she did for the book “Mulheres Amazônidas: ecofeminismo, mineração e economias populares”. With working in those different areas she combines her work as a journalist and being an (art) activist.

Karis Gruben is an Inuvialuk painter, carver and beader from Inuvik at the border of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and the Gwich’in Settlement Region in what is today Canada’s Northwest Territories. She currently lives and works in Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. Gruben, a multidisciplinary artist without limits, enjoys the creative process and loves all art styles. Gruben has been inspired from a young age by her father, the late William Gruben, a renowned Tuktoyaktuk carver. Currently placing an emphasis on realism, she portrays a brilliant sense of strength in femininity. She started drawing on paper and prefers acrylic over oil colors. With her artworks, that are abstracts as well as portraits also from real persons like family or friends she wants to combine realness with silliness and humor. For her, as for Beatriz and Pamplumus, it is the first time that she works on a comic. She pointed out that she appreciates having artists from the regions themselves working on the comic, as it makes the comic more authentic.

Pamplumus is a Senegalese artist whose practice blurs the line between fine art, illustration, and visual design. Pamplumus' work is deeply rooted in the city of Dakar where he lives - its textures, noises, smells, rhythms. The internet is the sandbox in which he constantly creates, explores, deconstructs ideas. His work often features puns, wordplay, and humor. He is one of the first artists from Senegal in the blockchain. 2014 Pamplumus started with his mix of art and technology and to use the internet to promote his artworks. 2018 he got commissioned by Google Senegal with the task to illustrate a picture for the World Cup. Since then, he wants the van, which he calls “the car” - unisonuously with “Dakar” - to become internationally known.

Markus Rockstroh is working as a freelance Illustrator, Designer and Comic Artist in Cologne. He teaches how to create comics and how to draw in workshops and as a lecturer at Münster School of Design. Among other works he has published, together with Rafik Schami, the graphic novel “Eine Hand voller Sterne” (Beltz & Gelberg 2018) based on the novel of the same title by Schami. He had also been working on science communication with an international research group and the GIGA Institute Hamburg on Rural Transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa (2021). Most recently, he worked on a contribution for a comic anthology about Cologne (Mit Comics durch Köln (2021)) edited by Leo Leowald. 

Thant Myat Htoo, the fourth DELTA comic artist, was unfortunately not able to join the event, due to the time difference between Germany and Myanmar. 

After the introductions of the artistic personalities, the Delta Comic Team provided insight into their work “On the way towards a Four-Delta Comic”. Based on five years of long-term ethnographic research in and about everyday life in four different Delta regions, the comic book project aims to bring those insights together, with two stories  from each delta that will be visually and graphically translated.

The DELTA team pointed out that working on and publishing a comic in the academic field of anthropology opens up new scope for communication, exchange and accessibility. Particularly with regard to research participants and non-academic audiences, but also for the researchers themselves it broadens up their perspectives. With the comic we want to address people that are usually not eager or not able to read. Rather than speaking on behalf of our research interlocutors, we see the comic as a medium to think of other representations of ethnographic work – beyond words and written texts. Working with artists from the particular countries themselves, we want to create a cooperative outcome.

Since the day of the event was already the fourth day of our cooperation, we were able to provide insights into what the first steps of the comic creation looked like so far. The main thing that required intense exchange was to think about the way from the text or written story to the comic / graphic novel as a drawn story. The ideas and the artistic approach differ from artist to artist. We specifically want to foster the difference but also find a balance to interconnect the different stories. The transition or connection between these different stories could be through mythical, shape-shifting water beings that swim from one setting or delta to the next, appearing in the background of each story. This could be a manatee (mami water), big fish, beaver, beluga whale and dolphin. Or we connect the stories by illustrating water itself as an actant, common to all stories. We could also connect the stories through a particular narrative or make thematic references, such as the tide receding in the Parnaiba Delta and coming closer in the Sine-Saloum Delta. Here we want to find visual moments of commonalities. 

Some questions that came up over the course of these past days: How exactly should people and places be depicted? To what extent do text and image overlap? How much abstraction is necessary for the story to function visually? What is the specific illustrating style of each of the artists and where do storytellers (word) and artists (image) meet? How do we portray the identity of each lifestyle without photographic detail? How to edit the story in order to be more precise in the message than in the visual representation? 



The first question was about representation and how to avoid stereotypes. Karis underlined that it is crucial that communities are being seen and heard. Pamplumus added that for him the cooperation with Sandro, his partner, is very interesting as he himself - as a Dakar-based Senegalese artist - has never been to the delta. He said that he is also learning a lot more about his own culture and takes his time to reconnect to his own culture. Beatriz Belo mentioned that for her, it is important to show care and that she and people can recognize themselves in the comic. The DELTA team added in the discussion that it is central to the project to work with people, to talk to them, to accompany them in their everyday lives – this approach will also be reflected in the comic itself. But the DELTA team is also very excited to see how the comic will be perceived in the different regions. Nora briefly mentioned her experience when she showed a photo to a woman in the delta, on which the woman was depicted. When this woman saw the photograph, she asked: “Who is that?”. Markus Rockstroh talked about his work with the GIGA project, where he was working on a comic to make research accessible to research participants. It will be a multi-lingual comic, translated in different languages per comic. 

Working together – artist and researcher - has been mutually enriching. The anthropological and artistic perspectives are different and the comic will end up being a combination of narratives. When the researchers wrote the stories, they also had images in mind. These images and visualizations will be broken down through the cooperation. New narratives emerge during the process, and the teams want to be open to that. The story will also change as we talk and share ideas with the artists, who have not experienced the stories as they are told. This run-trough will also make the comics more accessible to readers in the end. 

Later, over drinks and finger food, the conversations continued in an informal way.