June 13, 2013
Danish designer creates comic book for blind readers
by Nick Davies
A designer in Copenhagen has come up with a novel way of reaching an audience for comic books that wouldn’t usually be able to enjoy them: the blind. Liz Stinson writes for Wired that Phillipp Meyer (not the novelist) has created the first comic book, Life, for blind readers after conducting interviews with blind people to find the best way to produce a comic that they could enjoy.
Meyer explains on his website that he quickly determined that simply reproducing images tactically wouldn’t be enjoyable, and he set about trying to reinvent the comic panel. He tried making it round, but ultimately concluded, “Somehow this idea didn’t feel right; not adequate and too far away from the comic-medium. It wouldn’t enable me to use the strengths of the medium. I dropped the idea and started again from scratch.”
Meyer’s next step, after several more failed attempts, was to create a digital version of a story that could be understood graphically, without words. You can see the graphic rendition of the story on his site, which is instantly recognizable as the story of a life—a character is born, falls in love with somebody, has a child, and eventually grows old and dies. You can double-click on the circles that represent people to make them change color, and altering the parent-circles affects the child that they have; for instance, if you turn the parents yellow and blue, the child will be green.
To reproduce that effect in a way that could be recognized by touch, Meyer connected with Nota, the Danish National Library for Persons with Print Disabilities, to have the story printed on special embossed paper. He was pleased to find that the blind people to whom he gave copies were able to distinguish the different shapes, but also noted that “some didn’t connect the title and the story. So I did more refinements on the comic. I still wanted the reader to interpret the story in his way.” He tried several prototypes of ways to represent the characters, such as these:
But he eventually went with this version, with the third character fading from left to right to show that it’s a mix between the other two:
Meyer explained to Wired that his inspiration for this project came from the fact that “most of the tactile material that is available for blind people is very information dense. It’s always about information and not often about art.” It will be interesting to see if his technique can be developed to the point of telling more detailed stories, complete with superheroes and onomatopoeia.
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.