INC-4: Global Cartoons for a Global problem

Welcome to INC-4 Ottowa

Global Cartoons for a Global Problem

Goodness knows we need one: a global treaty on plastics. But Big Oil with its stranglehold on the stuff of life is lurking with unlimited lobbying resources. Their playbook is one learned from Big Tobacco and Big Sugar: delay, distract, derail

Last week, I was covering the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) for the BreakFreeFromPlastic community as they met in Ottawa, Canada, to develop a legally-binding global treaty on plastics.  It’s always a bit weird covering a conference when you’re not physically present. The beginnings of my best cartoons (in my humble opinion at least…) often emerge from an insignificant bit of detail in a conversation. A throwaway comment. A metaphor leaned into. The beginning of a story. So instead I have to rely on having eyes and ears in the ground and a whatsapp group for creative members of the community to throw things into Bryan’s cartoon ideas melting pot. It would be impossible without my contact – she’s actually at the conference, able to corral the troops and filter out the noise, preventing ideas from getting over-thought and overcomplicated.

One of the initial moosy ideas for INC4...

I sketch up ideas in black & white – so as not to be distracted by colour. It means that I prioritise contrast over colour – which is important as there are some parts of the message that really need to pop. 

When you’re creating a cartoon, you’re inside it. It becomes very hard to see it objectively as someone else would with fresh eyes. It’s similar with humour. Once you know the joke, it’s different second time around. So it’s easy to go from being initially tickled by an idea to binning it within the space of half an hour. So the process is this:

1. Catch the idea

2. Sketch it up

3. Move on (before you kill it…)

Time Machine
So much time was wasted revisiting the treaty scope. Kicking the process into the long grass is a tactic as old as time…
Its a marine litter problem INC4
This cartoon was originally drawn 5 years ago, but it is still as appropriate today… 🙁 It was remixed and reused following “Plastic isn't the problem” comments from the Exxon CEO leading up the negotiations.
Co-opting concerns
Was this idea too edgy? Possibly…
Ha Ha Hadditives
Have you ever thought about the presence of toxic additives in plastic products? No, me neither.
Bioplastic is the future! Oh now hang on a mo…

When it comes to Plastic Pollution, I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve had the privilege to work with. Not so long ago, I was completely oblivious to so much of the plastic world around me. My own ignorance, curiosity and learning form a key part of the cartoons I create.

Micro and Nanoplastics
There were several interventions to avoid the inclusion of Microplastics and Nanoplastics - and the metaphor of “shedding a little skin” is actually a direct quote from one of the delegates…
Ineos - you make me sick

Making a cartoon work for a global audience is far from straightforward. However, you’ll know when an idea has resonated when the request comes to facilitate the translation of the cartoon into another language. This in itself can be problematic – and it comes with two main pitfalls. 

Firstly, other languages can obviously use a different number of words to say a phrase. Especially if an idiom is used. For example – “You’re pulling my leg” in Finnish becomes “You’re pulling me by the nose”, in German “You are taking me unto your arm”, and in Russian “You’re hanging noodles from my ears”.  In a cartoon the speech bubbles form an integral part of the artwork, and they evolve as the artwork evolves. Suddenly having to change their shape or size to accommodate a few extra words can cause a real design headache.


The whole nine yards
A visual idiom that probably won’t translate…

Secondly, writing is much slower and proofing is much more difficult. A missing accent or misspelt word is so easy to do, and might remain unspotted to the very last. This adds time to the to-ing and fro-ing of finalising the artwork. I’ve toyed with the idea of making remixable cartoons using the fabulous Remixer Machine. I’ve already created a few comic fonts of my own hand, so giving participants the ability to remix a cartoon with different words is very possible. Hopefully I can have a prototype of the remixable cartoon built for INC-5 – watch this space!


The bridge to busan
The final leg of the treaty process will take place in Busan, South Korea at the end of November.

BFFP – Gloves and Masks

BFFP - Gloves and Masks - Glove Head

BreakFreeFromPlastic – Masks and Gloves

I’ve seen them on the streets around where I live. Discarded surgical masks that no-one will touch. Encouraging others to see the impact this has on our environment is no easy task. 

As always with the Visual Thinkery process, we met as a group to have a facilitated conversation about the issues at large.


BFFP - Gloves and Masks - Surgical Gloves


I (Bryan) try to catch as many visual ideas as possible. At the outset it’s hard to know what will resonate with the process participants or the audience. Going wide, and creating at least 10 ideas allows us to test and measure what resonates, in order to then improve or combine ideas further.

I want a better future

What is the motivation behind the making/buying of a reusable mask. Self preservation probably for most, but what about a sense of hope for the people we share community with?

BFFP - Gloves and Masks - I want a better future

Sit back and prepare for takeoff…

A strong idea to emerge from the conversation was the aesthetic of Airline Safety Instructions. As a metaphor, it’s very recognisable: “Place over nose + mouth and breathe normally” with lots of opportunity for adding a degree of humour…

BFFP - Gloves and Masks - Safety Instructions

Often there is a requirement for multiple translations of the same visual ideas. Also, splitting into engaging chunks for social media campaign engagement.

BFFP - Gloves and Masks - Safety Instructions

Look mom, no words…

If there’s a way to talk in pictures without using any words, it’s also worth pursuing.   

BFFP - Gloves and Masks - Happy Planet

And Finally

The idea of a “wave” of plastic came directly from the conversation, so by creating a custom brush, we did just that. Find out more about BreakFreeFromPlastic’s Mask and Glove campaign.


BFFP - Gloves and Masks - Wave of Masks

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