Older generations remember all too well the common sight of the polio stricken; walking with crutches, wearing those clunky exoskeletal braces on their legs, and the horror of those forced to live within the tomb of an iron lung. Less than 60 years ago, 59,000 Americans alone were crippled or killed by a polio epidemic. Thanks to the vaccines developed by Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin during the 1950s, we’ve been blessed with a nearly polio free existence since.
However, there are a few places left in the world that still struggle with the virus, and the people of Rotary International are among the few who continue to talk about polio, spreading awareness and actively raising money to finally destroy the disease completely. Their effort is straightforwardly called End Polio Now.
As some of you know, in late 2008, Rotary International contracted me to draw the first in a series of educational comic book stories. “Amazing Stories of Polio” depicts the history of the poliovirus and the fight to eliminate it. The story appeared first within the pages of the February ’09 issue of the Rotarian magazine, and soon after was printed as a stand-alone comic that has been widely distributed, and admired by Rotary Club members worldwide.
One such person is Steve Root of Canterbury, UK. Steve is a member of the Rotary Club of Canterbury Sunrise , a group of about 30 men and women of different backgrounds sharing a strong community spirit. A year ago, Steve contacted me with an interesting idea. He wanted to take my comic book pages, enlarge them, and display them in a storefront’s window in Canterbury. His idea was to draw attention to Rotary’s End Polio Now program and share the story with as many passers-by as possible.
I forwarded his request to my Rotarian contacts (who commissioned me) and after many months of discussions, and more time finding an appropriate venue, Steve has finally made his idea into a reality...
Here on the corner of Butchery Lane and Burgate, a busy UK high street and tourist destination (right by Canterbury Cathedral), the Rotarians have conspired to transform this storefront into one giant comic book...
Steve Root and his amazing giant comic book!
Putting up the second panel
Steve Root and fellow club member, Jim Gascoyne
Why did Steve Root spend a year on this project? In his own words...
“Polio has been eradicated from the UK for a long time. Many people now don't know the effect polio has on a person, having never seen it for themselves. I'm one of those people. I'm in my early thirties and, until reading your comic, I really didn't have the first clue about what the disease does. I have vague recollections of a sugar cube vaccination in primary school, but no first hand knowledge. Using the comic as a piece of artwork educates passers-by who stop to read it.”
In addition, the campaign will increase local awareness about Rotary in general, and their local club in particular. They also plan to try to raise some money by selling the comics in an adjacent shop and collecting donations.
How long will this display be up? “Until the next tenant arrives. That could be
tomorrow, or a couple of months, we don't know for certain.”
From my point of view, one thing is certain: this is extremely cool! It’s like having my own gallery opening in the UK! “Amazing Stories of Polio,” was a very gratifying story to work on as an illustrator. It’s not often that I get to work on projects connected to a really good cause, and I am very pleased to see my work appearing again and again in different creative ways. (Thanks, Steve!)
P.S. If you happen to be in Canterbury, Kent and see this thing in person, drop me a note here--and send me a photo of yourself, if at all possible! Wish I could be there myself!