Drawing heroes

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The Verbal Arts Centre have ‘drawn’ on some real life heroes as the inspiration for their latest comic books.

The team have immortalised two local charities, Foyle Search and Rescue and Destined, in comic strip format.

The ground breaking project was launched at the Verbal Arts Centre on Thursday evening. The three year project was facilitated by Cinergy in partnership with both the Verbal Arts Centre and Rapid, the Rural Area Partnership in Derry. Leona O’Neill of the Verbal Arts Centre, explained : “The project aims to develop and grow rural economies through collaborations between traditional and creative industries not only in Northern Ireland but through our partners in Finland and Sweden.”

Cinergy project coordinator Maggie McKeever, added: “Scandinavian countries place a large emphasis on mental health and well being. We are trying to promote both those issues and the organisations featured. Small and medium enterprises don’t always see the benefits of working with graphic designers. We hope to show that a business can be developed with such expertise.

“We choose two organisations, both with a social responsibility aspect to the work they do, to benefit from the project. Our aim is to help marginalised members of society share their story and this is a great method of achieving that.

“They are, of course, sensitive issues to approach, especially as it is largely young men affected by the issue. When it comes to mental health issues there is an epidemic which needs addressed and we believe the arts are a really good way to approach that.”

Certainly it is challenging reading but the comics, argue the team behind them, help bridge the gap between tackling those serious issues in a way which suits the audience.

“The arts have an important role in sensitively yet creatively approaching the issue,” adds Maggie.

For example the short narrative about Foyle Search and Rescue centres on Anthony. We meet him as he stands on the bridge. The story then follows his family’s reaction to his disappearance and the subsequent searches first for Anthony, then for answers.

It is harrowing to think that this year already FSR teams have responded to a total of 80 incidents. Those include taking eight people directly from the water alive, 21 distressed people taken off the railings/bridges and recovered five bodies. While many are aware of the service Foyle Search and Rescue provide, few are aware of the story of their foundation.

The charity, often referred to as Derry’s fourth emergency service, celebrate their 20th anniversary this year and part two of the comic charts that history in panel form.

Stephen Twells, vice-chairman of Foyle Search and Rescue said the team were delighted with the comic: “We intend to use it thoughout the coming year as part of our 20th anniversary celebrations and as a teaching resource.”

“We will also be having a celebration ball in the City Hotel on October 25th and tickets are available from our base.”

Though now spearheaded by Maggie McKeever, the comic project was the brainchild of Derry artist, Dave Campbell.

Maggie said: “Comic book art is Dave Campbell’s forte and luckily he was able to enlist the help of some of the best artists out there.

“The story of how Foyle Search and Rescue was founded, was brought to life by Donegal artist, Philip Barrett.

“Uproar and the team behind the comic ‘Zombie’s Hi’ drew for local charity Destined.”

Destined, the organisation for adults with learning difficulties, offers positive ways of integrating adults with learning difficulties into society.

Members of the charity were involved in the narrative structure.

Culmore-born artist, Maggie, said: “These are both fantastic link-ups for us at the Verbal Arts Centre. Storytelling, especially among those groups who feel marginalised by society, is what we at the Verbal Arts Centre feel most passionately about. It was a great project for us to be part of.”

The Destined comic charts the story of Sharon.

Maggie explains: “It is the story of Destined through their eyes. Sharon discuss her experiences growing up with learning difficulties and the effects joining Destined has on her outlook. Like real users of the service, she has ‘come out of herself,’ has learned arts skills and her increased confidence is the result of mixing with peers.”

Despite the fact the new art work was only unveiled on Thursday evening, Cinergy are already hard at work on their next design project: A tourism app’ for rural trails. It is hoped this will assist the development of employment in the tourist sector outside of the North’s larger cities.

Having just been put out to tendor, the project is at the very early stages. Cinergy, explained Maggie, is determined all arts and technologies are examined in a bid to further drive the local economy. For example the team are currently compiling an online tool kit, making it easier for traditional and new businesses to collaborate is also under construction by Cinergy.

Both the Destined and Foyle Search and Rescue comics are on display at the Verbal Arts Centre until 27th July. Free copies are also available.