“Komiksilnitsa”, a combination of the Bulgarian words for “comic book” and “workshop”, is a project implemented by the association “Arsov Sound”, gathering a group of passionate artists with and without visual impairments who joined forces to adapt comic books and make them accessible for blind and partially sighted people. The action resulted in the first adapted comic books for visually impaired persons in Bulgaria. The project was implemented in cooperation with the National Library for the Blind, and funded by the National Culture Fund.
In his blog, Ivan Karastoyanov, ideator of the project, gives us a rundown of how it went, the impact it had and the plans for its future.
‘Komiksilnitsa’ is a non-existing word, a neologism, so to say, a combination of the Bulgarian words for ‘comic book’ and ‘workshop’. It’s a word that came to my mind while thinking of a catchy title for our project proposal. It is a project, implemented with financial support from the Socially Engaged Arts programme of the National Culture Fund with the aim to provide access for visually impaired people in Bulgaria to works of visual arts, and more specifically the genre of comics books, the art of telling stories in pictures. It’s a good practice I discovered online back in 2015 and, unfortunately, I haven’t got the opportunity to implement until now.
In February 2023, we had a 2-day weekend workshop on comics books in the National Library for the Blind, located next to one of the squares in the center of Sofia. We began with an ice-breaker activity, lead by a visually impaired psychotherapist following the practices of Viktor Frankl. About 17 sighted volunteers and 3 visually impaired participants were present. Everyone got to present themselves through the eyes of someone else they chose – a parent, a husband/wife, a boyfriend/girlfriend, a child, a colleague at work or even a dog/cat. It was an activity that brought the group a lot of fun. Then we had a discussion on the history and genre of the comics books, the major US publishing companies and their rivalry through the years. It was lead by Georgi Arsov, chairperson of the NGO, implementing the project, musician, actor, playwright and comics book and board game fan. He challenged the group to come up with a new comics book character, a hero with super powers, trying to change the situation in Bulgaria.
The afternoon session was with Nikola Raykov, a vary popular Bulgarian children’s book writer, board game developer and musical theater playwright from Stara Zagora, the fifth largest city in Bulgaria, located in the central Southern region of the country. He spoke a lot about best practices in choosing the right words and word order to convey a particular concept or idea in the best possible way for a specific audience. His pieces of advice were of great value for the volunteers.
On Sunday, we had Maya Bocheva, author of two Bulgarian comic books, who spoke about the art of drawing a comics story and writing the script for it, of hidden symbols and many other interesting things and answered all the questions the volunteers had on different aspects of her two stories. Practical work on adapting the first comics book, ‘Rusalii’, began in the afternoon. Volunteers were divided into groups of four participants and a visually impaired person joined each of the four groups. Every volunteer had one page of the comic book to describe panel by panel and the blind or partially sighted person asked questions to make the descriptions clearer and easier to understand. Maya Bocheva and Nikola Raykov were circling around the groups and giving ideas, explanations and pieces of advice on how the additional descriptions to be improved.
As a result, at the end of the 2-day weekend workshop a draft version of the first adapted comic book was produced. All the sighted volunteers received a certificate for their work. Some of them expressed their willingness to continue working on describing the second comic book, ‘Wicky’s Travel’. The 64-page story was divided into equal portions and distributed to those volunteers to work on them. When they were ready, they had online or face to face meetings and discussions with a person with severe sight loss to improve the draft texts.
The work on producing the draft descriptions of the panels was completed by the end of May. Then, the editing work began. It turned out there was a great difference in the length, style and correctness of the descriptions. So, the comics books author Maya Bocheva had to make certain changes or wright entirely new descriptions for some of the panels and they had to be edited once again after that. It was a somewhat tiresome and time consuming work. However, it was very necessary. Some additional editing was done in the process of preparation for Braille printing and still some more, while having the texts read by actors in a professional recording studio.
Svetlana Smoleva, a voice over movie actress with thirty years of experience, a dozen actors from Sofia University theatre laboratory and several sighted and visually impaired volunteers joined forces for two weekends in July to produce the audio version of the first two Bulgarian comic books, accessible for the blind community in the country. Two hundred DVDs were recorded and distributed for free in educational, rehabilitation and cultural centers for the blind in Bulgaria as well as 7 Braille copies or 31 volumes altogether. This was done from July to September 2023. The adapted comics books were presented during an event in the National Library for the Blind in the end of September.
The project and its results were brought to the attention of the general public with interviews in ’24 hours’, a daily national newspaper, the Bulgarian National Radio and the national Darik radio and many online publications. Perhaps this helped for our new project proposal for at least five more adapted comics books to be approved for financial support from the National Culture Fund in November 2023. Work on it will begin in February this year, and our small team do hope that one day we’ll have a comics book written by a blind person, and foreign accessible comics books translated into Bulgarian as well as the Bulgarian ones translated into English, so that we can have a cultural exchange and many more accessible stories in pictures for everyone in the EU. We are also going to work on adapting two short movies and a theatre play with additional description for the blind this year. In case any organization within the VIEWS network is interested in such initiatives, do not hesitate to get in touch, so we could discuss EU project partnership and funding opportunities.
Until then, have a wonderful and fulfilling 2024 year!