Gemma Sou is based at RMIT University in Melbourne. She researches representations of human vulnerability and lived experiences of people affected by disasters, predominantly in the Caribbean. She regularly collaborates with artists to communicate her research in engaging, thoughtful and socially responsible ways. To produce the comic below Gemma collaborated with John Cei Douglas who is a freelance illustrator based in London with a particular interest in stories, comics and self publishing, epitomised by his narrative approach to illustration.

After Maria’

“On 20 September 2017, the ‘biggest storm in Caribbean history’ Hurricane Maria struck the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. For one year, I conducted ethnographic research, following 16 low-income Puerto Rican families to understand their everyday experiences of recovery from Maria.

Alongside the illustrator John Cei Douglas, I turned this research into a comic, which centres on the subtle social, cultural, economic and psychological impacts of disasters that go under the radar of the international news media. In After Maria I aimed to bring through the voice, personalities, humorous moments and hidden personal experiences of disaster ‘victims’. I created three-dimensional characters who express their emotions and unique personalities which we rarely see in mainstream media and academic research. I highlighted the capacities that families have to recover, thereby challenging the idea that people are helpless victims. The comic reveals how and why different family members experience disasters differently to one another – based on gender, age, and race.

Although the comic tells the story of a fictional family, After Maria is based on the experiences that tie together all of the Puerto Rican families I spoke to. The resulting comic is free to download on my website in English and Spanish.”