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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Project Tells Stories From The Pandemic, In Graphic Novel Style

A panel from Chapter 1 of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative's "Pandemic" series.
Wolly McNair
A panel from Chapter 1 of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative's "Pandemic" series.

A group of news outlets in Charlotte is trying out a new way to present the news — in the form of a comic book or graphic novel.

The Charlotte Journalism Collaborative is releasing new chapters every two weeks in a project called "Pandemic" that tells stories about how COVID-19 affects people's health, work and personal finances. It's one of the first efforts of its kind in the nation that pairs news reporters with artists.

Chris Rudisill
Chris Rudisill

"The reporters, the publishers, all of our partners started really thinking creatively around how can we tell these stories in a different way?" said Chris Rudisill, the collaborative's director. "How can we reach new audiences that we're not typically reaching through, you know, they're not your typical news reader or news watcher, or listener? How can we reach them and provide this information that's vital to health and safety?"

The series' introduction came out two weeks ago, tracing the virus's arrival and spread in North Carolina in March and the shutdown of schools, businesses and public events.

Chapter 1 is out this week. It tells the story of Cedric Meekins, a teacher who got COVID-19 on a trip to Ohio and wound up on a ventilator before recovering. One panel shows him with an X-ray of his damaged lungs. In another, he's dropping a pen while trying to write.

Meekins spoke about that with reporters Nate Morabito of WCNC-TV and David Boraks of WFAE fora September story on contact tracing.

Wolly McNair

"It did so much damage to me. I literally had to learn to walk again," Meekins said. "I lost 31 pounds and two nurses had to support me as I learned to walk. I could not hold an ink pen. I couldn't dial the phone. It was so bad."

The reporters then worked with Charlotte artist Wolly McNair to turn the story into a series of comic book panels. Other local reporters and artists are working on future chapters.

Artist Marcus Kiser of Charlotte is illustrating some chapters and overseeing production.

Marcus Kiser
Marcus Kiser

"I've approached it thinking about how to tell that story, how to make it simple to where anyone could kind of pick it up," Kiser said. "And then I kind of want to reimagine a nice comic book, sketchy style, that wasn't typical of most traditional comic books."

Kiser said the artists he brought on to help are also good at telling stories in a non-traditional style.

'Groundbreaking' Idea

Presenting the news in graphic form is still a relatively new idea in the U.S. Rudisill says Charlotte's "Pandemic" project may be the first of its kind.

"I've not seen examples specifically like this, where local news reporters are working with artists," Rudisill said. "There have been graphic journalists who have produced works, but that's more independent. So I do think we've kind of broken new ground here, working with the collaborative process to do it."

Marcus Kiser

Where To Find "Pandemic"

New chapters of the "Pandemic" graphic news project will be out every two weeks through February — in both English and Spanish versions. You can find it at "CLTJournalism" on Instagram, or on the collaborative website, CharlotteJournalism.org.

The "Pandemic" project is being produced with the help of the creative group BOOM Charlotte.

Besides WFAE and WCNC-TV, the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative includes QCityMetro.com, La Noticia, The Charlotte Observer and QNotes. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is also a partner, along with the Solutions Journalism Network. The effort started last year with a collaborative reporting project on Charlotte's affordable housing crisis. This year, it shifted to include coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.