LL3: The WFP Graphic Novel

Welcome to"LL3", the new graphic novel that goes behind the scenes of WFP’s work and the stories of those we meet. The series begins with Leila, a WFP staffer, and Khaled, who is fleeing violence in his native Iraq. 

Keep an eye on huffingtonpost.com to follow the whole novel over the coming weeks.

Leila Helal is an idealistic young aid worker on her first field mission. Khaled Bushar is a member of the minority Yazidi community, fleeing the terror of armed groups.

Their stories cross in Iraq, the setting of a cutting-edge WFP graphic novel, or comic book, that moves from the dramatic rescue of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar near the Syrian border, to the bleak camps in the northern Kurdistan region, where tens of thousands of displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees depend on WFP food to survive.

Excerpts from the new graphic novel that takes an illustrated look at WFP's work.

"It's been a lot of work," Video Unit head Jonathan (Jon) Dumont says of the project, which was the idea of Web Content Coordinator Gioacchino Gargano. "My inevitable goal is for this to be turned into a feature film by a major studio."

Honest look at emergencies

Titled LL3, or "Living Level-3" – Level 3 being the UN's classification for the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crisis – the four-part comic-book will be released in episodes on The Huffington Post website, starting on Tuesday 19 January. 

The series offers an honest, behind-the-scenes look at emergency operations, and explores the risk of abduction and death, not to mention the hunger and despair that face many of the people WFP assists. While the characters are fictional, they are based on real people and events. 

"They show what it's like for aid workers who live and work in these difficult conditions in the deep field – their preconceived ideas and expectations of what they can achieve, their frustrations, and maybe even their realization that they are helping in different ways than they previously thought,” Jon says.

With WFP involved in so many L3 emergencies over the past few years, the team of creators had no shortage of subject matter. They finally chose to base the series in Iraq, where armed groups have captured large amounts of territory, and where an alarming funding shortfall has left aid agencies struggling to assist more than 2.5 million displaced Iraqis and 250,000 Syrian refugees.

Story follows one family

LL3 follows the story of Khaled and his family as they flee their village, hoping to find safety from armed groups at the top of nearby Mount Sinjar.

But the rebels catch up with them, capturing Khaled’s young son and daughter. After days stranded on top of the mountain, surviving on water and WFP-airdropped food, Khaled and his wife are finally airlifted to safety and transported to UN camps in the northern Dahouk area.

Excerpts from the new graphic novel that takes an illustrated look at WFP's work.

"It's based on true events," Jon says. "During our research, we stumbled upon a Kurdish military base where they were evacuating Yazidis off Mount Sinjar."

Leila is the story's protagonist. As WFP's new fictional communications officer in Iraq, the young Egyptian-American wants to change lives and put to good use the Arabic she learned from her parents. 

Stories are part of staying alive

At first, Leila is frustrated about not being in the field. But soon she's transferred to the UN compound in the Kurdistan capital of Erbil. She travels to camps and border points, listening to stories of loss and hardship told by survivors. 

Excerpts from the new graphic novel that takes an illustrated look at WFP's work.

"I've learned that telling your story to someone…that's also a fundamental part of staying alive," Leila says of the refugees and displaced people she meets. 
Creating LL3 was a very tough job.

Jon and California-based writer Joshua Dysart spent a week travelling around Iraq in late 2014, interviewing WFP staff and people who the organization serves. Then came months of work to put the series together. Besides Joshua, the creative team selected for the project includes an artist, a colourist, and a letterer to create the text.
Khaled Boushar's story mirrors that of a family Jon and Joshua met near Dahouk, where hundreds of displaced Yazidis survive on WFP food and vouchers in a half-built shopping mall. Khaled's fictional son is also based on a real person. 

Character based on real staff

"There are moments where I feel what we're doing at WFP is very powerful, and we're changing people's lives
The WFP character Leila is a combination of several real staff members, including Cairo-based Regional Communications Officer Dina El-Kassaby.

"I see myself in Leila," says Dina, a native Canadian with Egyptian roots, who identifies with the clash between Leila's romanticized expectations of humanitarian work and the tougher reality on the ground. 

"There are moments where I feel what we're doing at WFP is very powerful, and we're changing people's lives," Dina says. "But there are also really difficult moments, when we don't have the resources to provide the assistance needed to save people's lives. When I go out and hear people's devastating stories, I also realize they need a lot more than food." 

With its ability to appeal to a broader, younger audience, the LL3 series is new ground for WFP. So far, few humanitarian agencies have used comics as a communications tool. 

Appealing to new people

"It's trying to engage people who wouldn't necessarily be interested in humanitarian work, but they might be interested in a comic book," says Joshua, who previously wrote a comic book on child soldiers. "But it can't be boring or dry. You may be involved in good work, but if it's not fun to read, you're failing in your mission."

A blog will accompany each chapter of the series. If the pilot is a success, Jon hopes it will trigger sequels covering WFP's other emergency operations. Other fictional staff briefly introduced in the Iraq series will resurface, perhaps as bigger characters in future stories.

"We want create something that has a little edge, that people will find interesting," Jon says. "Maybe even with some romance. Our goal is to show the reality of life in the field."

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