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Digital Comics for Social Change

Augmented reality comic development as a tool for exploring social issues

Project Overview

City Lore staff and artists worked with Art and Design High School students to design and create augmented reality (AR) and GIF-based interactive comic books that address social issues. Fifteen high school students and their faculty advisor took part in the project one afternoon a week. Working with teaching artist George Zavala, students identified and explored social issues that were important to them. Experienced comic book artist and educator Ivan Velez  then mentored them in scripting, designing, coloring, and laying out a comic book page using both paper and digital techniques. City Lore’s Dr. Amanda Dargan coordinated the project, with educational partnership from Art and Design High School and technology partnership from Rattapallax Inc and Blippar Inc.

Throughout the sessions, students worked on images that could be effectively enhanced and made more powerful through augmented reality. In the last session, filmmaker Ram Devineni, whose digital comic Priya’s Shakti inspired the project, worked with the students as they turned their comic pages into animated GIFs (using Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker) and augmented reality pages (using Blippar’s free AR software and app).

The project goal was to create a program model that would engage youth in designing, scripting, drawing, coloring, and laying out augmented reality comics to explore a social issue that is important to them. A secondary goal was to develop a model and tools that could be easily replicated and implemented in schools, community centers, and venues across New York City, and around the world. The model needed to resonate with teenagers from diverse backgrounds and not be dependent on drawing skills. Students needed to feel comfortable scripting personal stories and drawing comic books that address social issues affecting them, enhancing the impact of the comics through digital technologies.

Organizational Impact

For City Lore, it was a priority to create a scalable program that could be easily implemented throughout the city and that would challenge teenagers. City Lore is planning an exhibit of Priya’s Shakti in a dedicated new gallery space on the Lower East Side in April 2015. The goal here is to generate a sense of synergy between Priya’s Shakti comic (which has been featured at a number of Comic Con events in cities around the world), the exhibition, and the Digital Comics workshops. Ultimately the aim is to create powerful educational materials and an easily replicable curriculum to share this experience. Comics are a popular grassroots American art form that align with City Lore’s mission to foster our living cultural heritage.

Project Implementation and Discovery

The core modules in the project—scripting and drawing the comic books—were straightforward to implement, with the students completing them in a timely and productive fashion. However, some issues arose in relation to technology and internet access. Art and Design High School, like many New York City schools, does not have a viable internet connection in each classroom, so access to Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker and Blippar’s web interface was not available. The issue was resolved by providing wireless dongles. This will be a challenge in many places, from New York City to Mumbai. In this way, project highlighted the importance of finding a classroom or cultural center with a secure internet connection for the students.

Participant Feedback

The students were excited to use emerging technology in advance of it becoming publicly available in the Spring 2015. The opportunity to have their work displayed in a public venue at the Priya’s Shakti exhibition at City Lore’s Gallery in May 2015 was also a source of excitement to the students.

Target Audience

Fifteen high school teens attending Art and Design High School in Manhattan and their faculty advisor, Lorraine Liriano. The students came from different social and economic backgrounds, with the majority female and from under-served communities in New York City. The model was designed with this demographic in mind and is suitable to be rolled out to larger groups.

Challenge and Resolution

Scheduling challenges resulted from holding out-of-school hours workshops in a school building. This was to allow students to come straight to the workshop after they finished their classes. The school faculty advisor generously offered her classroom for the workshops. However, this meant that school closings affected the program. These schedule changes were a significant challenge, with a school closing due to snow and two of the lab sessions originally being scheduled during citywide regents testing. Ultimately rescheduling allowed the students and the teaching staff to participate, with all involved willing to be flexible. Overall, the students were very engaged, easily grasping and mastering the skills, processes and technologies. Many of the students had backgrounds in art were familiar with some of the comic art techniques discussed, and assisted in the curriculum development, providing feedback.



Lead Organization:
City Lore, Inc.

Partner Organizations:
Rattapallax, Inc. , Art and Design High School , Blippar, Inc.

Project Goal:
Engage youth in the creation of augmented reality comics to explore social issues that are important to them.

Project Tags:
Advocacy & Social Justice, Arts, Design, Media Literacy & Production, Publishing

Project Portfolio

  • documentation

    Project Web Page

    Project documentation in the format of a web page.

  • tools

    Project Curriculum

    Detailed lesson plan for each session.

  • sample works


    Sample comic created by recent Art and Design High School graduate, Danielle Duemesi.

  • sample works

    Comic Remix

    Comic remixed using a Mozilla Webmaker tool called Popcorn Maker.

  • documentation

    Social Change Poster

    Poster from workshop that documents and describes social issues.

  • tools


    Tool that helps design interactive mobile experiences quickly and simply.

  • tools

    Popcorn Maker

    Easily remix web video, audio and images into cool mashups that can be embed on other websites.