The story of Silly Timmy Disaster Comic - What happened next?

An initial comic strip was developed that could be used either in newspapers or via the Internet to help younger children access DRR messages. 52 episodes of the comic strip were completed and initially distributed on the website, as well as through social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The comic strip scripts and montages were created by Justin Sharpe, using an iPad App called ‘Toon ToolKit’. The characters were initially drawn and created by John A Abbott of Jot Studios and later adapted by UNESCO, Pakistan. Furthermore an iBook was created which also included interactivity, quizzes and a video of the comic strips.

Following these initial publications, there was interest in translation and use in Fiji, Indonesia, Iran and Turkey (the comic has also been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese on this site). This led to the development of easily distributed PowerPoint slides that included original and blank text versions (with speech bubbles and narration boxes rendered empty). They were made available on the website and different language versions were produced.

Further collaboration with a researcher from Iran led to pilot project in a Tehran kindergarten using the comic strips deemed most relevant to Iranian context such as earthquake, lightning, and tsunami. Following the publication about this project in a peer reviewed academic journal (Sharpe and Izadkhah, 2014), further interest came from UNESCO in Pakistan where a comic book was developed for the local context and published in 2014.

One of the reasons for using comic strips as a communication tool came from recognizing its cultural significance as well as its accessibility by a wide audience. For instance, within the pop art movement it has influenced its use in advertising, film and vice versa. This cultural significance helps to place the medium as one that can be embedded and used as part of lifelong learning, something that is key to adaptability and resilience in societies faced by climate change challenges now and in the future.

Following an agreement to develop the comic strip further, UNESCO Pakistan worked on developing comic characters that were deemed suitable for the country’s culture while the montages and scripts remained identical. A printed book was produced and distributed to schools in Pakistan of which a PDF version can be viewed at: Learning about disasters and staying safe

The book was produced under UNESCO’s regular programme entitled: “capacity and disaster risk reduction in conflict resolution through peace and human rights education”. The purpose of the publication was to allow younger children to access information about how they can stay safe by preparing for and responding appropriately to disaster threats, which was deemed particularly important following the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, Pakistan in which many children lost their lives. In particular, the comic was designed to allow children to relate to the characters and allow them to learn how to stay safe and help others around them in their family to do the same. Using the comic strip format allows the reader to follow the story at their own pace while each individual comic strip had its own narrative and message.
The publication was distributed to disaster prone areas of Pakistan as a form of advocacy and learning tool for children and their families.

Children and youth, are often perceived as being highly vulnerable to hazards and disasters, but may also be key agents of change for disaster risk reduction within the their communities and are often targeted by DRR projects. They are able to take on board new knowledge and learning, which may also be shared with their parents or carers. However, children like their parents need to have their interest stimulated and held if such education projects are to hold water. With very young children who are just learning to read, or even fluent readers, comic strips may hold the key to unlocking their interest in disaster preparedness.

Consequently, younger children were the initial target group (aged 6-11), with the comic strip book going to schools in areas at risk of disaster. However children of most ages would be able to enjoy the comic strips for their silliness, use of rhymes in the disaster messages and by showing the ways in which children might help their family to be prepared too. The comics not only addressed potentially life saving actions but also information about preparation (such as emergency go-bags) as well as being evacuated to a shelter and how pets might be cared for too.
Research was carried out as part of the aforementioned pilot project in a Tehran kindergarten, into the use of comic strips as an effective tool for communication. In particular it was found that a comic strips visual quality can provoke emotional responses and understanding while the medium also allows a bridging of the gap between school and home life. (Sharpe and Izadkhah, 2014). The comic strips were in colour, making them attractive to look at and read. Research was carried out on both the use of comic strips and their preference among young readers (Sharpe and Izadkhah, 2014). The nature of a comic strip also democratises learning as the reader follows at his/her own pace and takes in the scenes presented in each frame as well as the disaster messages.

Finally, education for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) wass seen as a key component to the 2005-2015 Hyogo Framework for action (HFA) which puts ‘knowledge, innovation and education’ (HFA, 2005) at the heart of it goals for enabling individuals, communities and societies become better prepared for responding to the threat from disasters. By developing, creating, testing and using these comics for learning with children in Iran and Pakistan, we addressed: ‘knowledge’ (through the storylines), ‘innovation’ (through the medium) and ‘education’ (through the process of learning).

Why comic strips?

Comic strips were chosen as an easily understood and accessible format able to reach vulnerable communities in more remote areas. The messages contained within them are simple, clear and effective and use IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) standard DRR advice. Comics can be a cost effective way of distributing information and may also benefit from being shared by children within their families and communities in an informal way (i.e. comics often get passed around or casually picked up and read, or even the pictures looked at by non-readers and may provide a gateway into reading - see: The comic book is also an effective medium for more remote communities with limited internet access, and so the disaster messages and advice were simple, practical and are repeated with previous situations signposted. As the comic develops there are visual clues as to what may happen to the characters as well as the characters learning as the comic book progress about what they can do themselves to be prepared, which enables all important self-efficacy in disaster preparation and response, especially for children.

The comic book printed by UNESCO was distributed in Pakistan to areas where vulnerable populations live and although there were many pertinent hazards specific to Pakistan, hazards such as volcanic eruptions were also included, thereby contributing to wider geography education too! Care was taken in changing the dress and look of some of the comic characters so that they could be more readily identified with in the Pakistan context, although the stories, montages that they appeared in were identical to the original ‘Silly Timmy’ comic strip. Of most importance was the idea that each comic strip within the book could provide a simple lesson about hazards and disasters as well as contributing to an on- going narrative. Consequently, the comic strip dealt with issues such as hand-washing, evacuation, lightning strike, earthquakes, tsunamis as well as family preparedness and preparation. The principal character learns through mistakes and has friends who help him become more resilient over time.

Overall though, the characters are funny, likeable and vulnerable who bond and become friends over time while learning what action to take (knowing about the 30/30 rule for lightning safety) and what action not to take (learning not to stay under a tree or lie on the ground in a lightning storm). The idea is to engage interest in learning about safety while having fun doing so. Finally the comic format is easily replicable in other countries and original Photoshop files are available for other organisations, NGO’s or newspapers to use.

How many people within the vulnerable population the intervention reach?
So far, more than 800 copies were distributed in different parts of Pakistan including Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Gilgit Baltistan (GB) reaching more than 3000 students and youth members. As mentioned previously, the true number may be much higher as comic books be shared and distributed informally.

What kind of a change did it make?
This publication and specially the situations outlined in this publication did contribute to promote ideas of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and raising awareness at the school level. Based on this illustrative book, children in the project area themselves developed the school level emergency evacuation plans in consultation with the teachers and communities. Being agent of change children now does talk about these issues at school and at the community level.

What evidence do you have to support this?
Some of the photographs with regards to the development of emergency evacuation plan are appended below:-

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Comment by Justin Sharpe on September 21, 2022 at 15:43

Below is the book as it is no longer at the link from the initial blog post.

Learning about disasters and staying safe

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