Put in the picture: PinkDrive is a breast cancer education and awareness campaign, which was launched in 2009. The new initiative is a comic, Girl Talk, that deals with cancer in an educational but humorous and upbeat way. Picture: SUPPLIED
Put in the picture: PinkDrive is a breast cancer education and awareness campaign, which was launched in 2009. The new initiative is a comic, Girl Talk, that deals with cancer in an educational but humorous and upbeat way. Picture: SUPPLIED

PinkDrive was launched in 2009 with an initial focus on detecting breast cancer. It developed the first mobile mammogram unit to spread the message that "early detection will help prolong a life".

Since then it’s grown to three mammogram mobile clinics and an educational unit with six vehicles. PinkDrive recently launched three mobile women’s health units to create awareness, to educate and to offer screening for cervical cancer, as well as a programme to address men’s health issues such as prostate screening and cancer.

Two mobile clinics contain a waiting area, mammography suite and an examination area for pap smears.

PinkDrive’s work has generated an enormous amount of goodwill as well as public endorsements ranging from the minister of health to sporting celebrities. The Proteas cricket team and their fans wear pink at one-day internationals that are known as Pink Days.

The latest initiative is a comic, Girl Talk, written by Deni Brown and illustrated by Jesse Breytenbach. "This comic is educational but not in a infomercial kind of way. It’s a story," Breytenbach says.

"PinkDrive don’t give us content that we illustrate. It is a whole narrative of one woman finding a lump in her breast, trying to get a mammogram and going to government hospital," Breytenbach says.

"I think she’s now having chemotherapy, she’s just done chemo, and she’s going to recover," she says.

Brown, the writer of well-loved comic strip Mama Taxi, started collaborating with Breytenbach and developing the Girl Talk comic strip last year.

She pitched the idea to PinkDrive, which began using it in February. They settled on a cast of characters.

"Lindiwe, Thuli’s sister, gets breast cancer and we follow her story," Breytenbach says.

Characters also include their grandmother, Gogo, and the doctor. As the characters developed, the illustrations became more complicated.

It started with two women, introduced more characters and the story became more complicated.

"They needed to start expressing emotion because often there will be a speech bubble and the tone of what is said has to be read in the character’s expressive face," she says.

The story in the comic strips reflects an ordinary SA existence. The characters make jokes, queue for taxis, go shopping and study. There are references to sangomas and traditional medicine, and Gogo’s comforting chicken soup.

To give the cartoon strip episodic continuity, the colours used in the background are environmental — cream for doctors’ and hospital rooms — and become associated with certain contexts. This increases the comic’s independence from the burden of text.

The people who use the mobile clinics typically have no medical aid cover and live in rural areas. Radiologist Helen Ball says "for those people to go to a hospital where there are diagnostic services is almost impossible".

Working with state hospitals, clinics and communities, PinkDrive has conducted 15,041 mammograms and 126,525 breast examinations and educated 369,722 people about breast cancer awareness.

The story in the comic strips reflects an ordinary SA existence. The characters make jokes, queue for taxis, go shopping and study. There are references to sangomas and traditional medicine, and Gogo’s comforting chicken soup.

Breytenbach, who studied fine art at Rhodes University and has done educational illustrations for years, says she wants her work to be "useful".

She credits Brown’s scripting for the success of the strip: "I think the language is accessible especially because I am always concerned with getting as few words on a page; because I don’t want to get a whole comic dominated by text.

"When I get it from Deni she has already edited it down to make it as simple and short as possible, and then we pare it down.

"We get stuck with awfully long words like chemotherapy, which take up a whole line." says Breytenbach.

The comic demystifies breast cancer and the common medical procedures used in treatment. In a humorous and upbeat way, it affirms the importance of hospital care and the wisdom of trusting and following medical procedures. It can be found on PinkDrive’s website and on Instagram.

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