This year we’ve begun adapting the ‘Sisters for Sale’ story as a 48-page graphic novel, which will be a powerful educational tool to raise awareness of the global human trafficking crisis.

Today I’d like to introduce you to some of its key characters.

The story follows a trio of teenage girls – May, Pang, and Zao – who find themselves fighting for their freedom when they’re targeted by a merciless ring of human traffickers.

May's group - graphic novel character designs

Each of these girls will appear hundreds of times in the story, so it’s been important to get their designs right from the start.

Ultimately, almost every line has meaning and importance. The challenge is reducing each character to her key elements, and finding a way to draw them in a simple, instantly-recognisable way.

So what are the key elements of their characters?

May graphic novel character design

First and foremost, May, Pang, and Zao are all children. This is something the reader needs to be aware of at every stage of the story, as terrible things happen to them, and as they rebel in incredible ways.

Teenaged Asian girls are often sexualised in cartoons and comics, with an emphasis on their budding womanhood. We wanted to do the opposite here, and have instead emphasised the girls’ young age with their exaggerated head-to-body proportion.

May and Zao both have thin, childlike figures. Pang – who is physically the most powerful of the three, and who struggles to control her emotions as her life takes a series of dramatic turns – is shown at a more awkward, in-between stage of teenage development.

Pang graphic novel character design

May has a sweet, radiant personality which shines through in the sunny yellows and oranges of her T-shirt and accessories, while her simple, open-toed sandals and lack of jewellery subtly underscore her poverty.

Pang’s tough, practical personality is shown in her gumboots, bracelets, and arms bulging beneath rolled-up sleeves. The slash of red in her hair and across her chest symbolises the streak of fire in her personality. She’s a fighter. 

Unlike May and Pang, who are both characters based directly on my kidnapped friends, Zao is a composite character who draws inspiration from several of May and Pang’s friends.

Zao graphic novel character design

Zao is the youngest and brightest of the girls. She’s upright and alert. Her education gives her a clearer understanding of what’s happening to her friends, even as she’s helpless to prevent it.

The hot pink highlights in Zao’s costume represent her fearless stance for empowerment in a male-dominated culture, while her umbrella shows an increased preparedness for whatever the future might hold.

May, Pang, and Zao are all Vietnamese Hmong girls raised in poverty. Each of the three wears a traditional Hmong costume. The word “Sapa” on May’s T-shirt further connects her to the roots she’ll soon be torn away from.

We’re now fundraising to make the ‘Sisters for Sale’ graphic novel a reality. You can support our work, and earn some great rewards – including the chance for you to appear as a character in the graphic novel! – at www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-sisters-for-sale-graphic-novel/

Supporting our work now – at the beginning of the campaign – will make the biggest difference. It has a multiplying effect, by encouraging others to contribute. If you’d like to see the graphic novel, pre-order your copy now.

Thank you,

Ben

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