Comic books aren’t just for kids and dynamic duo Nick Wood and Jose Encinas are using them to put the fun back into education for adults. Marissa Carruthers finds out more about their latest pioneering venture. Photography by Charles Fox, illustrations by Partizan Creatives.
“It was a trick of fate,” filmmaker Nick Wood says with a smile, reminiscing about the creative explosion between himself and graphic artist Jose Encinas. A chance meeting led the pair to the innovative idea of sending out social and educational messages in comic book form.
Surrounded by a flurry of sketches and scripts in the home-studio where the duo draw on each other’s skills to conjure up tantalising tales that aim to inform and educate, they look back at how their journey began.
Tasked with the challenge of writing for TV soap opera At The Factory Gates in 2006, Wood created the final two episodes of the show that starred Cambodian karaoke and film personality Keo Pich Pisey in the lead role.
The International Labour Organisation-backed series, aimed at informing garment workers about their rights and responsibilities under newly introduced labour laws, proved a hit and ILO decided to create an accompanying publication for workers.
Alongside 51-year-old Wood, Encinas was recruited to extract the show’s key concepts and transform them into a series of pamphlets, planting the seed that led them to their creative venture.
Faced with the challenge of creating an informative but entertaining product in a country where literacy rates are low, the pair decided to fuse their drawing and writing skills to create comic books to deliver the message through a story.
“We got together and thought everyone loves cartoons. They defy age and social class,” says Wood, who is originally from London.
“In a low literacy environment where there isn’t always a reading culture, cartoons and comics are effective tools if you want to get a good message across and can be done well through nicely drawn images that tell a relatable story,” he adds.
To Encinas, who moved to Cambodia from Madrid 11 years ago to launch illustration and design studio Minus 36, and Wood’s surprise, the series of eight comics proved to be a huge success.
“The whole concept of doing a comic book really resonated with the factory workers,” Wood says. “People were sharing them and they ended up being passed around and read by their friends and colleagues. It was something they wanted to keep.”
Since then, their innovative ideas and skills have been recruited to help Better Factories Cambodia — a group that monitors and reports on working conditions in the country’s garment factories — mark its 10th anniversary. A comic brought the characters behind the United Nations’ organisation to life and highlighted a decade of achievements.
A third project called Threading the Needle saw them create a 70-page graphic novel for ILO last year. The popular production was a simple life skills guide dealing with issues that commonly arise during the migration of tens of thousands of people from the provinces to Phnom Penh each year.
Tackling issues such as sexual health, hygiene, nutrition and money matters, Wood and Encinas introduce main character Sina, who set up a handbag business in her home village after spending 10 years as a garment worker in the capital. She shares her experiences with women wanting to follow in her footsteps.
The pair has since launched a comic book production company called Partizan Creatives to help tackle educational and social issues.
Encinas, 48, who is a huge comic book fan and cites Jean Giraud Moebius and Conrad Wilbur among his favourite artists, says, “I knew comic books as science fiction or superhero stories or graphic novels. I didn’t know they could be used in educational or social issues, but it really does work because it’s very easy to follow.”
“It’s also a great form because you can deliver the product straight to the people you want,” he adds. “Film is good but you’ve got to screen it somewhere and then get everyone there to watch it. The application here is phenomenal. You don’t need to get hundreds of people in one place.”
Wood, who has created documentaries and short films with his company Navigator Communications since moving to Cambodia 12 years ago, believes the key to the comics’ success was handing people from the provinces a publication that was easily digestible, informative, entertaining and of value.
“They’re learning subliminally,” he says. “It’s a story they’re interested in and people get absorbed by that and it infuses the life skills message. The key is to try and avoid dictating to people, instead let’s tell a great story people want to read and keep reading about.”
Since officially launching in February, Partizan Creatives has attracted the attention of organisations interested in using its unique way of communicating.
“It’s a brilliant collaboration between us both and we’ve already had a lot of interest, which has been great,” says Wood. “It’s a very niche market that we found by accident and something that no one [else] seems to be doing in Cambodia.”
For more information on the company and to see examples of its work, visit www.partizancreatives.com.