Every two weeks we highlight some of the best content public service media (PSM) organisations have to offer.

High quality content is key to the success of PSM and whether it is produced or acquired it should be credible, distinctive, impartial and relevant. No matter the genre or format, PSM content can provide a range of benefits to the public, from entertainment and education to raising social awareness about particular issues.

The Best of PSM highlights this content across all formats and explores the benefits that high-quality content can provide audiences around the world. This week we recommend The Boat, an online interactive graphic novel produced by Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service.

The Boat, SBS
Lashing rain, turbulent seas, a vulnerable ship and streaks of painted lightning. This is the visceral scene that greets you upon opening SBS’s first interactive graphic novel.
The Boat title page. Image: SBS

Launched in 2015 as part of the SBS website, The Boat invites users to scroll its title page to open the first of six ink panel chapters adapted from Nam Le’s acclaimed anthology, The Boat. The harrowing yet visually stunning iteration brings to life the plight of Vietnamese refugees as they escape the ravages of war after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and specifically follows the journey of one 16-year old girl as she flees to an Australian refugee camp.

The viewer can scroll through the story at his or her own pace, with each scene offering a mixture of text, animation and immersive interactive elements that lead to archival footage and background information. Each element sways with the boat while each scene is accompanied by the harsh, agonising sounds of the creaking vessel, thunder and cackling seagulls, produced by award winning sound designer Sam Petty.

The Boat is illustrated by Sydney-born artist Matt Huyneh – whose parents fled Vietnam after the war – using Japanese Sumi-e ink style illustrations and WebGL animation. According to SBS there are over 300 separate illustrations that form the piece, 59 of which include custom animation, FX and/or layering, with a third of Le’s original text incorporated.

The striking visuals and soundscapes are of course part of The Boat’s appeal, especially in the way they guide viewers through the narrative, while its interactive elements and online, multiplatform format allow it to appeal to a wide audience.

In fact, SBS has successfully used The Boat as an educational tool by promoting its use as a classroom resource. Suggested “creative activities” include its use in creative writing workshops where students imagine themselves as characters to produce concise “Twitter Fiction”, to blackout poetry art-pieces and its use within media classes, where students design a digital story around one of The Boat’s characters.

Yet perhaps most importantly, The Boat is a prime example of the innovative ways in which public media organisations can adapt complex stories and issues for all audiences. Despite depicting the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the story resonates with the contemporary struggles faced by refugees entering Europe and Australia. It is therefore an accessible resource that can be used to fuel discussion and familiarise audiences with this most pertinent of humanitarian issues.


The Making of The Boat

[Video by SBSAustralia]

Header image: The SBS building in Melbourne’s Federation Square. Image: Philip Bouchard/Creative Commons