Cartoonist, archivist of great comics of the past, and parent, Craig Yoe is joining Stacie June of Unilever at San Diego Comic Con in an historic panel to introduce the comics community to a massive campaign, already underway, to help save the lives of millions of children in countries where basic educative needs are not being met in fighting germs and creating healthier environments. Yoe and his partner Clizia Gussoni have worked with the soap company Lifebuoy to create a program with Unilever based upon using comics to educate children and distribute life-saving soap through a cast of superheroic characters known as The School of 5.
These 5 characters are specifically designed taking children's needs in mind to establish a routine of hand-washing that could protect them from death by diarrhea-related illnesses and pneumonia, illnesses which claim the lives of 1.7 million children every year. Spanning 23 countries and 19 languages, The School of 5 reaches children through comics and multi-media outreach and is the largest "hygiene behavior change" program in the world.
Yoe brings his experience working as Creative Director on The Muppets, Disney, and Nickelodian, as well as work for Marvel and DC, to The School of 5 Program, crafting comics that can work on a multi-cultural level with equal effectiveness in many countries, and he joins us here at Bleeding Cool to talk about The Program.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Craig, what is the scale of this exciting project?
Craig Yoe: The life-saving School of 5 superhero comic book has a circulation of 20 million, is in 19 languages, in 23 countries, with a reach of 121 million people. From what I can determine, the highest circulated comic book of the past was a Superman comic for WWII G.I.'s with a print run of 8 million.
We've printed 20 million plus copies of The School of 5 and we're still going strong! The School of 5 now has the world's record for printed copies of a comic–beating Superman's record by two and a half times. Holy record smash, Batman! And this comic's message is saving the lives of millions of children!
The So5 teaches kids to wash their hands with soap and water on the 5 occasions (before the three meals, after using the bathroom, and during our daily bath). This simple act prevents the transmission of diarrheal diseases, which kills 5 million children under the age of 5 every year.
HMS: How did you first become aware of the possibility of becoming involved in a campaign like this? Have you done anything like this in the past?
CY: Hannah, how I got hooked up with what I call "the feel good project of a life time" is an amazing story in itself. I was chairing a conference in Singapore on marketing to kids. This incredible person, Myriam Sidibe, was at a completely different conference in the hotel, got bored with that, wandered the halls and slipped into the room where I was speaking.
In hearing me talk, Myriam got excited about my experience working with The Muppets, Disney and Nickelodeon and my expertise in helping corporations like Pepsi, McDonalds and Microsoft connect to kids. We excitedly talked together after my presentation and got stoked about the possibilities with her mission to save children's lives—and sell some Lifebuoy soap in the process!
I've been involved in social concerns in the past, from being an anti-war activist to running a "free store" with food and clothing for the poor. I helmed "Yoe Magazine" in South Africa to get kids psyched about reading. (That was in the style of Nickelodeon Magazine of which I was a consultant for its launch—hence the interior Nick Mag "Comic Book"). But I've never done anything on this mind-blowing ginormous scale!
HMS: What have you created for this campaign? How many comics and related media have you had a hand in with your partner Clizia Gussoni and Unilever's Lifebuoy?
CY: The comic books are the centerpiece of this initiative, but we've developed a radio show with the humor of the 1960s Batman TV show, posters, school lesson materials and playground games. I have a friend that writes songs for Barney the Dinosaur and he created a song for the kids to sing as part of the program. There are animated shows based on the comics.
We even created wrap-a-round comics that go around bars of soap hailing back to the time Yoe Studio produced Bazooka Joe bubble gum comics!
HMS: Does being a father of young children yourself make you especially aware of the needs of children and how they are being undereducated in life-saving basics?
CY: I've fathered 6 children, and have two teenage grandchildren, all of whom I deeply love. Clizia and I tragically lost one, dear Ginger, when this project was starting. All this has made me very tender towards this campaign and brought a deep passion to the fact that it saves kids' lives, as I know the joys and potential pain of being a parent.
Sometimes I feel like shedding tears of joy when we start our mornings working on The School of 5 with our two young ones happily crawling around our feet in the studio. I thank God—and Myriam—for this great privilege!
HMS: How long has the development process been and what have been the steps involved to readying the campaign?
CY: We've been involved with this for 7 years, but we had some false starts with other ideas before we hit on The School of 5 superheroes. Comic books are such a perfect medium for reaching the masses—just like they once did in the 40s and 50s. They're, of course, colorful, engaging, easy to read, and fun!
Comics are inexpensive to produce, very accessible low-tech, can have multiple readings and can be easily passed along to family, friends and neighbors. That's another key aspect of The School of 5 Program: empowering children and make them ambassadors to their families so that they can teach their parents, siblings, and even neighbors the importance of washing their hands!
People in less developed countries don't read these comics with white gloves and then seal them in mylar plastic bags like American fanboys like myself do. These comics are getting out there in schools, villages, at rivers and gathering places in a fun way, teaching people how to stop life-threatening diseases.
HMS: Tell me about how you all came up with "The School of 5"?
CY: There was a lot of inspiration for The School of 5 characters from the comic books I loved in my youth!
In representing the 5 occasions when people should daily wash their hands, we have Sparkle, the wise, caring, maternal leader of the team who represents washing at bath time. The "sparkly" trail Sparkle leaves behind when she flies around fighting for cleanliness was inspired from the trail that Steve Ditko's Captain Atom had behind him when he flew through space.
Huey, Dewey and Louie, Donald Duck's impish nephews, are reflected in Biff, Bam and Pow, the triplets that remind us to wash our hands before breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Hairyback, who advocates for the importance of washing after going to the bathroom, is a mash-up of a Wally Wood creature and Chewbacca. When I worked with Jim Henson, I learned about how kids really warm up to big, lovable characters like Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus.
The villain Nogood is completely unique—did you ever encounter a character in entertainment whose dastardly criminal intent is to make hands dirty as he shouts, "I HATE CLEAN!"?
HMS: What are the logistics of something this massive?
CY: Of, course with out Lifebuoy's incredible muscle none of this could reach so many millions of people. We all learned from Spider-Man that "with great power comes great responsibility". Here is an amazing corporation doing tremendous good while selling their positive product. They had many caring and dedicated social mission partners around the globe to effectively pull this off.
On the creative side, Clizia, with her incredible story-sense and design skills, was able to put the whole thing together on Yoe Studio's end as co-creator and producer. She prepared The School of 5 Program, which lasts 21 days and encompasses reading the comic, a song, a pledge, activities, games and even hand washing practice.
Clizia put together a plan to instruct teachers and agencies all over the world and prepare them to bring The School of 5 to the kids in their schools. She made sure that The So5 Program would be accessible and exciting for kids in very diverse cultures living on 3 continents: South America, Africa, and Asia.
Keep in mind that many schools in some of these cultures are rather simple. Some have less resources than others. We learned we couldn't have "coloring" as an activity because many kids don't even have crayons. There are schools the program is reaching that have dirt floors and only enough tape to put up a School of 5 poster to their walls. This Program is quite enthralling to those kids in those situations.
We have a photo of a little girl crying with happiness when she received School of 5 materials!
Along with us, Luke McDonnell, of Marvel/Iron Man background, provided the art, and D.C. Comics and Archie writer Craig Boldman contributed to some of the stories.
HMS: What kind of multicultural concerns have to go in to developing a comic that is geared toward helping children from so many different backgrounds and ways of life?
CY: The Lifebuoy team and their social mission partners, who all are definitely true superheroes in their own right, did a tremendous job in educating us about hand washing and the myriad of cultures we are reaching.
Hannah, another thing I learned from my mentor, old boss and friend Jim Henson was the broad appeal of characters that don't have specific racial colors, so The School of 5 have bright, comic book-colored skin.
Between Clizia and I, we only know Italian and English, so I wrote guidelines for the translators for the 19 different language editions on preserving the humor and fun of the comics which is essential in getting the message across and making it "sticky."
HMS: How can our readers get more involved in supporting The School of 5 mission?
CY: The program is going strong and is very effective. But one of the reasons we've decided to get the news of it out is that the dedicated organizations, governments, agencies, schools, teachers, and field workers will be energized by the recognition of the press and social media. So, if your readers can reach out to any contacts they might have in the media and tweet, Instagram, Facebook, blog about it to help get the word out about The School of 5, they can feel good about partnering in saving kids' lives!
HMS: What can attendees expect from the panel at San Diego? What are the goals of holding a panel at such a massive con?
CY: The panel will, as its title indicates, inspire people that "Superheroes save lives—FOR REAL!" Stacie June is flying in from Kenya. She will relate fascinating stories from the field of how the comics are bringing life-saving behavior changes in children and their families, which kids greatly influence.
We will premiere our video about the mission without the trouble of getting tickets and a hotel for the con!
We'll even give a sneak peek on new comic book campaigns for other health issues, like clean toilets and dental hygiene, we are now doing with the good folks at Unilever.
The "feel-good panel of Comic Con" is Saturday at 7:30 pm in room 26AB. Everybody come and plan on being inspired about how cool comic books and superheroes can be!
I do strongly suggest that everyone have a box of Kleenex on hand as folks might get a little misty-eyed when they realize that comic books can do a world of good, even save the lives of at risk little ones!
Hannah, you greatly helped with this feel-good campaign today by interviewing me here! Say, do you have some dust in your eye or do I see you tearing up a little? Let me leave you with the rousing rallying cry of The School of 5: DON'T BE A DOPE, ALWAYS USE SOAP!
Don't miss out on "Superheroes Can Save Lives–For Real", The School of 5 panel at SDCC this year. It will be held on Saturday, June 26th at 7:30PM in Room 26AB.