6 December 2013
Benjamin Dix, BA Development and Geography (2003), is reaching out to the masses and hitting the headlines with his innovative use of interactive comics to represent stories of humanitarian and conflict related issues.
The SOAS alumnus founded PositiveNegatives in 2011, a non-profit company that uses multimedia technology to convey stories from marginalised communities to a large and diverse audience. Dix, who previously worked for the United Nations in Sri Lanka, gathers information and stories through face-to-face interviews and testimonials. He then commissions artists to represent these in interactive comics.
Most recently, Dix was commissioned by Open Society Foundations (OSF) to produce a collection of 14 illustrated stories about the real life experiences of Somalis in seven cities in Europe to accompany the official OSF research. ‘Meet the Somalis’ was recently published on the BBC’s website.
Additionally - and as part of his Ph.D in Anthropology at University of Sussex - Dix tells the story of a survivor of the Sri Lankan conflict in 2009. It tracks the story as an asylum seeker in London reflecting back on the conflict through flashbacks and interviews with their asylum lawyer. This will also form part of his thesis that will be 50 per cent submitted in a comic format.
Dix said: “The beauty of comics is their accessibility. People of all ages and backgrounds, education and language can share these stories told through pictures. Comics engage thousands of readers with topics of conflict and oppression, crossing cultural barriers in a way that academic writing or prose journalism sometimes fail to achieve. Comics are particularly good at stimulating empathy, keeping a reader’s attention even when the topics seem far removed from their own life.. There is a theory in cartooning, that anybody can look at a simple smiley face - comprised of two dot-eyes and a line mouth - and see themselves. Our characters are drawn not especially realistically but simply, cartoonishly; to invite the reader into the world of the subject and see themselves reflected. In families, just like their own. In mums, dads, men, women and kids, just like themselves.
PositiveNegative is also developing relationships with schools, using the comics to convey complex situations and overcome stereotypes about asylum seekers and complexities of modern conflicts. Pilot testing the material in local schools and universities in the UK and the US has helped develop the material so that we aim, in the future, to begin working alongside national curriculums and produce new and innovative ways of learning.