Virunga, a collaborative graphic novel

Born from the hands of many comes a tale of art, struggle  and the right to live. Stanford University created a class back in 2007 that combines the talents of undergraduate and graduate writers and artists. From outlines and sketches to inked pages and printed book, these students work together in a class called the Graphic Novel Project. Virunga is the story of a national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a girl who wishes to draw; something most of us can relate to.

Despite the panels being drawn and inked by different artists, the character design is so on-point that following the story is no trouble. Virunga follows a Tutsi girl named Malika who cannot help but put charcoal to paper, when she can find the tools. Fascinated by the gorillas, she befriends the local group of rangers protecting the park from poachers.

When the book really takes flight is during the manifestations of pain felt by many of the characters (mostly women). The eye of a bird reminds them of a soldier who took advantage of them, the green grass reminds them of the army who killed their family. Some hurts have no name. The creators honestly break the grid in such fun ways you have a hard time believing this is most of the collaborator’s first comic.

The story itself is fictional but is set historically in the real park as the twenty-week course at Stanford focuses on storytelling and non-fiction research. The involved research and help by the professors, Adam Johnson and Tom Kealey (with art design by CCS ’09 alum and cartooning journalist Dan Archer) creates a story that follows through on its intentions. The reader is left touched and hopeful that life can begin anew from the ashes of the old. The Graphic Novel Project even goes as far to provide information on the Virunga Rangers and how you can help. Plus the group actually posted the whole book online so you can enjoy it all! If you like what you see, check out the other two Stanford Graphic Novel Projects, Shake Girl and Pika-don. If you attend Stanford, it is time to sign up for an amazing class and experience. Go, read!

-Jen Vaughn

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One Response to Virunga, a collaborative graphic novel

  1. John Platt says:

    Interestingly, comic books have been used in Virunga and the surrounding area as a teaching method to try to get people to stop cutting down trees to make charcoal, an activity that endangers already at-risk mountain gorillas. Here’s an article I wrote about it:

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