Doing Comic Strips - revised!

The revised version of this guide is a collaboration with

What Are Comic Strips?

Comics can take many different forms. They are often panelled illustrations with little or no dialogue, showing exaggerated characters. Word or thought bubbles are a common feature of comic strips. Comics may be funny, sad, serious, or a mix of all three. Comic books developed from newspaper comic strips and first became popular during the 1930s. This art form has always been enjoyable for people of all ages, thanks to its simple format and visual appeal. Webcomics websites like XKCD and The Oatmeal, which can be very sarcastic, are increasingly popular.

Is there a difference between comics and cartoons? Not really—see here.

Why Use Comics to Educate About Sexual Health and HIV?

Comics have the ability to be a fun tool for HIV/AIDS education because their message is easy to grasp. Comics can come in many different forms, so they can interest a wide variety of people. This is very beneficial when trying to inform the public about important issues.


    Comic strips are fun, easy, and don't need many materials to make.
    Comic strips are simple and their message is easy to understand.
    Comic strips span different styles and genres, which means they can be used to approach health issues in many different ways.


    x Comic strips may risk over simplifying sensitive HIV/AIDS issues.
    x Comic strips may only be accepted and shared if they contain humour, not if they try to educate.

What Types of Comics Are There?

Whether printed on paper or posted on the internet, comics can be created in many different layouts. The drawing and art styles can also be very different. These are some common layouts:

Multi-paneled strip: These comics are made up of three or four boxes of characters and dialogue, which tells a short story that ends with a punch line in the last panel.
Single-panel strip: These comics use only one box and visuals such as caricatures to make their point with little or no dialogue.
Comic book/graphic novel: These comics have many pages and may tell one long, complicated story with lots of dialogue or many shorter stories.

These are the common genres for comics:

Comedic: Maybe the most common genre, this type of comic uses jokes, gags, and wordplay in order to give the reader information in a funny way.
Action/adventure: This type of comic is usually found in graphic novels, where the story being told (often about a superhero or villain) can be longer.
Dramatic/tragic: These stories try to make the reader feel deeper emotion, often by combining thought-provoking words with the visuals. Check out this medical student comic and 3eanuts, a website that removes the last panel of famous Peanuts comics to show the despair in them.

Pick your genre based on how you want your audience to feel. Do you want to use comedy or tragedy to tell people about your issue? You can also mix genres so that your audience feels many different emotions while reading your comic.

Making Comics

Getting Started

There are a few things to keep in mind before making a comic. Who will be involved? Where will you make the comic? Who will see the finished comic? These questions are important to think about when you are hoping to bring attention to an HIV/AIDS project.


After deciding to use comic strips to discuss sexual health and HIV, you may find it extra enjoyable to put together a team to work with. To get people to participate, you could contact:

  • local schools and universities
  • community centres
  • museums and art galleries
  • health clinics and shelters
  • friends and family


Don't feel that you are limited to staying indoors to create your comic strips. Why not bring your drawing supplies to a public park to sketch out your comic strips with your new team? You could also combine comic strip making with mural making and create a large version of your comic on a public wall using chalk or paint so as to spread your health message to everyone walking through the park or public space!

Remember: When working in a public place, be sure to get permission from the appropriate authorities.


Materials for making comic strips will be different depending on what type of comic you are making and where you want to put it. The basic materials for making a comic strip are paper and a pencil, but here are some ideas for getting more involved:

  • Use coloured pencils and markers to make the drawings more eye-catching.
  • Create a large mural version of your comic.
  • Use simple computer programs—such as Microsoft Paint, Paintbrush for Mac, or Adobe Photoshop—to create a digital comic strip that can be posted online. You can also scan a hand-drawn comic strip onto the computer and add additional content and effects.

Constructing the Comics

When making the comic strip, remember that readers will understand your HIV/AIDS message better if they feel the characters are similar to them in some way. The style of art, the genre of the story, and the dialogue are all things important to keep in mind when creating a comic strip for your community. Finding out what styles of art are popular in your community can help you to understand what kind of comic the community will like most.

-Making a 4-Panel Comic Strip (Beginner)
-Making a Digital Comic Book Cover Page (More Advanced)

Some HIV/AIDS comics for inspiration!

Sample Activities Using Comics

Solo: Create a short 4-panel comic strip to complement another art awareness project. Don't be afraid to experiment with mixing different types of media and art. Remember that a comic strip can be blown up into a poster.

Workshop/classroom: After a workshop or class discussion on a sexual health or HIV/AIDS issue or theme, the participants/class can be divided into three groups labeled "cause", "effect", and "solution" based on the discussion. The groups can then each create a 4-panel comic strip using a character or characters agreed upon by all groups. The completed comic strips can be linked together to form one long strip and can be left on public display in the workshop or school setting or can be photographed and posted on a blog, website, or Facebook!

Community: Organize a group activity to create comic strips WITHOUT dialogue on an HIV or health theme. Use a bulletin board or large display to pin up the comic strips and allow community members to come up and fill in the dialogue/thought bubbles. Document this process by taking photos and videos or even sketching!

Displaying the Comics!

Because you have created a comic strip or comic book on a sexual health or HIV/AIDS issue or theme, you want to make sure that you are able to find a large audience for your work in order to encourage discussion and help bring about behaviour change.

This can mean displaying your comic strips in the following places:

  • community centres
  • schools
  • libraries
  • clinics
  • shelters
  • outdoor public walls (e.g., large versions of comic strips as murals)

Or it can mean publishing your comic strips in the following ways:

  • asking school/university newspapers or local newspapers to feature your work
  • binding comic strips together in a reference book to display in clinics or dental offices
  • creating a digital flipbook or magazine using Issuu
  • uploading your work to the YAHAnet image gallery!
Combining Art Forms

Mixing different art forms can make your comic project even better! Some art forms that can be used with comic strips include:

  • painting
  • photography
  • lithography
  • narrative writing
  • billboards and murals

Comic and Graphic Novel Projects for HIV/AIDS Awareness

1. WhizzKids Comic Books Project With Cardiff University (South Africa, 2013)

2. Street Graphix project (Canada, 2013)

3. World Comics Finland (Various countries, 2013)

4. Community Media for Development's Wall Comics (Mozambique, 2012)

5. Caltex Uses Comics to Promote HIV and AIDS Awareness (Malaysia, 2012)

6. CDC's Digital Motion Comic to Raise HIV Awareness (United States, 2011)

7. Comic Sends Message to Youth in Africa and Europe (Various countries, 2010)

8. "The Border" Volumes 1–3 (Kenya, 2010)

9. "Life 101, The Journey" Photo Comic Book (Ethiopia, 2008)

10. UNICEF Children's Rights Comics

Research Studies on Comics and HIV

"Comics + technology and health communication = innovation: Development of an HIV/STI-focused motion comic for young people ages 15–24 years in the U.S." (Poster presentation, 2012)

"Information Vaccine: A graphic novel for HIV/AIDS prevention" (Knowledge Quest journal article, 2013)

Comic Strips and Social Change Bibliography

Hart, C. (1998). Drawing on the funny side of the brain. New York, NY: Watson-Guptill.

Pellowski, M. M. (1995). The art of making comic books. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications.

Whitaker, S. (1994). The encyclopedia of cartooning techniques. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press.

© June 2013