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The process to update the city of Portland's charter is complicated and confusing; a comic book format might change all that.

COURTESY IMAGE: OREGON HUMANITIES. - A panel from 'Charter Review' by writer Beka Feathers and artist Aki Ruiz. Complicated story. Simple storytelling.

That's the genesis of a comic book-style essay that appeared in the June 16 edition of the Portland Tribune, and here online, featuring words by Beka Feathers and art by Aki Ruiz, , and explaining how the city of Portland will revamp its charter.

The original concept came from Ben Waterhouse, communications manager for Oregon Humanities and co-editor of Oregon Humanities magazine.

The piece, called "Charter Review," was commissioned by Oregon Humanities, whose mission is to connect people and communities through conversation, storytelling and participatory programs to inspire understanding and collaborative change. It's as part of part of a series of four comics on democracy and civic engagement funded by the "Why it Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation" initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The City Club of Portland also has distributed the comic.

It all comes together as the city of Portland begins the process of reviewing the charter; the legal framework for all city rules, regulations and ordinances. In December, the Portland City Council appointed the members of the Charter Review Commission, which is city-staffed but independent, with the authority to refer amendments to the charter to the voters. Among other issues, it is expected to consider changing Portland's form of government. Ideas under discussion include hiring a city manager who will oversee all city bureaus — now done by the council members — expanding the size of the council, and electing most, if not all, of the commissioners by geographic districts.

But despite the fundamental importance of the charter, and the commission, most city residents know nothing of it.

Feathers and Ruiz set out to do something about that.

"This is really complicated stuff," said Feathers, 36, of Portland. "One of the things comics can do is make that information easily accessible, easily digestible, for a large segment of the people."

Feathers has worked as an adviser in "conflict-affected countries," she said, including South Sudan and Yemen. The Lewis & Clark College alumna had written the script for an earlier, novel-length nonfiction comic, "Re: Constitutions — Connecting Citizens with the Rules of the Game" from First Second Books, an American publisher of graphic novels. It's due out in August.

That gig lead to this one for Oregon Humanities.

Ruiz, 31, had worked for Oregon Humanities magazine and was asked to provide the pen work for this project. Ruiz attended San Jose State University and studied to be an animator and illustrator.

"I love projects like this," Ruiz said. "How to get complicated information on physics, or history, or whatever, condensed down into just a picture or two. That's great."

Ruiz refers to himself as a visual learner.

"I'm intimidated by big blocks of text. I like a visual that my brain can latch onto," he said. "Through comics, people can be introduced to a complicated concept really quickly."

Feathers said she's proud of this work.

"If it helps people see their way into the process of the charter commission, that's great. I hope it makes people feel more comfortable with the process."


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