By Paul Goodenough, Rewriting Extinction

19 September 2023 - 12:07

The final panels of the two comics of Rewriting Extinction in Southeast Asia. The left is taken from TRAWL, drawn by Ariela Kristantina, depicting a father and son on a small dinghy above, while a mother and daughter turtle swims below. Text above reads, “For now, I think. But the ships won’t stop. Turtles and other creatures will still be endangered. Just like them, we’re running out of food in our own home. Soon, there’ll be nothing left.”
The final panels of the 'TRAWL' and 'Plastic Kills' comics. ©

Rewriting Extinction

Facts are often not enough to change people’s minds. For that, you need compelling stories. Rewriting Extinction collaborates with artists and experts to craft poignant comics on Indonesia’s environmental issues.

Rewriting Extinction is all about finding new ways to frame existing environmental problems via fictional stories. We use those stories to inspire new audiences to care and do something different.

In my time in Rewriting Extinction, I’ve had over 200 collaborations. In this one, we made a couple of comics on the link between plastic pollution in Indonesia and the local wildlife. It has honestly been one of the most rewarding and wonderful experiences that I’ve had.

Rewriting Extinction tries to engender as much responsibility and latitude to our writers and storytellers as we can. We’re there to connect their artistry and storytelling with expertise and solutions. That way we don’t just talk about the problem but also what people can do about it.

Crafting compelling comics

For the first comic, I worked with Ariela Kristantina, a wonderful writer and artist who works a lot in traditional mainstream printed comics. She has a very charming way of weaving in the issues with a compelling emotional story, which is exactly what I founded Rewriting Extinction to do.

Her story was focused around the idea of family: a mother and child turtle and a father and child fisher. It was beautifully done; the juxtaposition of what life would be like for the two different sets of families.

The second story with Pungky and Sheila was a three-way collaboration. Pungky is an environmental expert that works a lot with jungles and forests, aiming to both capture and save plants and animals. He educates young people on sustainable practices and how to engage better with wildlife.

We were talking about the throwaway disposable cup mentality in Jakarta. People litter their coffee cups, throwing them mindlessly or leaving them on the ground. People don’t realise that the monsoon wind and rain would push those disposable cups into the water streams. There was no filtration system, so the trash goes straight down and harms the ecosystem around Jakarta.

A smooth process all the way

We did everything on video conference, arranging a time when the two timezones would naturally find a nice happy medium. We’d discuss and decide the idea on a call, email the summaries, then turn the idea into a script.

Once the team agrees on the script, we turn it into sketches. Once those are agreed upon, we would draw, colour, and letter the comics. The whole thing was very quick and went without a hitch.

We launched our comics on social media and made sure everyone could see. The content has no barriers, financial or otherwise. We pushed them on our channels and we did Instagram Lives to reach even more audience, doing our best to give the maximum chance of them being seen and making a difference.


A panel from TRAWL, after inking and in the final artwork. ©

Rewriting Extinction

A panel from Plastic Kills, in sketch form and in the final artwork. ©

Rewriting Extinction

The importance of truthful collaboration

Where sadly facts and science don’t work, stories do. I believe we’ve made some beautiful pieces of artwork that can educate and change people’s minds.

The biggest challenge was making sure that culturally the story works for both an English-speaking and an Indonesian audience. That requires the partners to make sure they really listen. For example, in the UK, the process of disposable cups doesn’t hit the same as it does in Indonesia, so we’ve had to really think about that.

For me, it comes from a place of truthful collaboration. If you’re both wanting the best result and you’re both listening to each other, innovation will happen. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve forged friendships for life, and hopefully professional relationships as well.