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Local student creates comic book to educate children about invasive species

Through three friends in a comic book, using humor, a Hopewell Valley Central High School (HVCHS) senior is educating youth about invasive species in New Jersey.

Sophia Noto has created an 18-page comic book called Invasive Species of New Jersey, which follows three children who learn about five invasive species in the region and the solutions to prevent them.

“Well a few summers ago, there was this huge problem of spotted lanternfly in New Jersey and I remember thinking this is a really big issue,” Noto said. “There has been a big problem for a long time in general with invasive species, so that is how I got the idea to do a comic book about invasive species, because it is problem that is so pervasive.”

Through a forest, lake and backyard, the children specifically come across the spotted lanternfly, hydrilla, multiflora rose, garlic mustard and Japanese honeysuckle.

“I spoke with the STEM coordinator at HVCHS and Pat Heaney from the Watershed Institute and they gave me some ideas about some of the invasive species that are in the area,” Noto said. “I felt those were best because they had solutions that kids could carry out to prevent the invasive species.”

She said the goal is to help minimize the effect of these five species as a whole.

“Part of that is education and another part of that is action. I wanted to include both of those parts in the comic book from the very beginning,” Noto said. “The creation of the comic book itself if I had to estimate I’d say it took about 100 hours or maybe more. It was a big time investment.”

The project’s conception began two summers ago in 2020.

“Since then it has been hard actually doing the work and communicating with my team members because of the pandemic, so at first the development was really slow,” Noto said. “This past summer and winter is when the biggest chunks of progress were made” writing the script, doing the art, coming up with the information and research.

Noto, who is a Girl Scout, earned the Girl Scout’s Gold award with the comic book. The Gold Award is the highest award in Girl Scouting and is earned through developing and carrying out lasting solutions to issues in the girl scout’s neighborhood or beyond it, according to Girl Scouts of the United States of America.

“The overall goal with the Gold Award is to make a meaningful contribution to your community that is sustainable. With choosing to educate children about these invasive species I chose the comic book format, because it is easier for them to learn and is more engaging,” she said. “It is also more interesting.”

Noto stressed she could have made a brochure or posters about the spotted lanternfly, hydrilla, multiflora rose, garlic mustard and Japanese honeysuckle with their impacts and how to prevent them. “But it is so more engaging when it is in an entertaining format. I wanted to make a comic book for those reasons,” she said.

Noto had help to finish her vision of the invasive species comic book from Heaney, assistant director of Education at The Watershed Institute, to HVCHS’s STEM coordinator, to her sixth grade science teacher, and peers from her art class at HVCHS.

“I also got to meet a lot of new people such as Seth Siditsky from the Watershed, who actually did a lot of work with the website and putting together of the final project on the Watershed Institute’s website,” she said. “I also had some help from a few artists from an online community over the internet, because of the pandemic I had reach out for some extra help.”

For Noto, the challenging part of the comic book was trying to find people who had the specific skill to help out with the project.

“Specifically, with digital art. It is a very new medium and not as prevalent as traditional art forms,” she said. “It was hard to get help in that respect, but luckily I knew a few people in my art class that could help. That is where reaching out to other artists over the internet came in handy, because it is more well practiced over the internet.”

Noto’s Invasive Species of New Jersey comic book is available online at the Watershed Institute’s website and will eventually be printed into a hard copy book, according to the Watershed Institute.

“I am really impressed by Sophia’s work on this project. Her creativity makes the critical issue of invasive species approachable and interesting,” said Jim Waltman, executive director of The Watershed Institute. “I am sure that more people will get engaged in our efforts to remove invasive species and plant native ones as a result of her work.”

Heaney said Sophia was able to adapt her idea to what was pertinent and important in the area, which includes the Watershed Institute.

“The amount of research she did to make sure she got it right was really impressive. It is on the website. Anyone can see the comic book there, which was her original idea. She wanted it to be web-based,” she added. “But, we are also going to be using it for programs. We will be printing it out, for example, for a program we have called H2O Quest: Alien Invaders in May and we are going to have this available for them when they learn about invasive species.”

The comic book would also be used to help volunteers who come into the Watershed Institute and help the stewardship department with management of invasive species.

“Having this fun comic book format really brings it alive for people who are not going to sit and read a more serious paper. The artwork is beautiful and fun to look at. There are children in it and the book is really engaging,” Heaney said.

To view the Invasive Species of New Jersey comic book, visit www.thewatershed.org.

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