Comics artist Pete Friedrich, a comics packager and editor of the 2004 comics anthology Roadstrips: A Graphic Journey Across America (Chronicle), has created Foamy and Leafy, a self-published environmental comic for kids that examines the destructive impact of plastic on the world’s oceans. In 1997 during a race across the Pacific Ocean, Charles Moore, a sailor, ocean researcher and founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, took an unusual route and ended up in a sea of floating plastic garbage. As far as he could see in every direction, the ocean was filled with plastic bottles, bags and floating plastic debris of all kinds—much of it bobbing about for decades.
Moore had discovered what is now known as the Eastern Garbage Patch, a section of the North Pacific east of Hawaii where all manner of plastic consumer and industrial goods have accumulated—plastic is virtually indestructible and lasts for hundreds of years—brought to this section of the ocean by the wind and movements of the ocean’s currents and tides. This oceanic soup of plastic garbage stretches across thousands of square miles, roughly twice the size of Texas, and continues to grow, destroying sea life as the plastic slowly breaks apart filling the ocean with poisonous bits of plastic debris that is eaten by birds, fish and, ultimately, by humans.
Friedrich is a parent and said, “The comic book was really inspired by my kids.” He’s been concerned about the issue since he first read reports of the ocean “garbage patch” and decided to create a comic that could be used to help kids understand how the American consumer lifestyle affects the environment. “I’ve been learning more and more about pelagic plastics,” said Friedrich. “I realized it would be a valuable tool to use my background as a comic book packager and comic artist and I created this ‘children’s’ book, featuring two characters that are discarded pieces of plastic.”
Foamy and Leafy follows the course of what happens to two pieces of plastic toy material after they are discarded, charting their progress across a couple of hundred years as they end up in the ocean garbage patch. “When I see how much plastic is purchased and given away in the process of raising children and our Western life in general, it is staggering,” said Friedrich, who has been donating the comic to schools and other organizations to raise awareness of the issue. “I hope this book will help turn the tide and encourage sustainable purchasing practices.”
Originally written as a black comedy for adults, said Friedrich, the Foamy and Leafy story initially ended rather depressingly, with the human race wiped off the planet and the Earth’s oceans full of plastic. Friedrich has since rewritten the tale more specifically for younger readers aged broadly from grade school to high school and he’s focused the narrative on the steps needed to care for the ocean. He’s publishing the new version (about 3,000 copies coming in March) in collaboration with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which plans to use the comic as an educational tool. And he’s also in discussion with another marine research group, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, to make the comic available for educational purposes. Friedrich has also created an e-commerce site for Foamy and Leafy and he can be contacted at email@example.com.
“I was originally using the comic to target the parents,” said Friedrich, “but young kids are being taught about the environment really early. And they’re getting better information through reading comics.”