What is Le Shapalaque and how humor helps to run business

Comics have been a part of our lives for a while now.  Sometimes they can even change the way we think and behave.  With millions of people as fans and followers, comics can draw public attention to important topics and issues. But why are they so fascinating to readers? What explains the popularity of comics on social networks? Why do we laugh, give likes, and then share them with our friends? Scott McCloud in his book “Understanding Comics” spoke about the art of expressing thoughts, the concept of belief in pictures. He explains that because detailed faces distract our imagination they are not well suited to comics. Instead, readers tend to associate more with characters having more simply drawn faces (i.e., dots instead of eyes, a dash for a nose, and a bracket as a smile).   This simplicity allows the reader to connect with the character more and put themselves in the situation depicted. By imagining himself or herself in the depicted situation the reader completes the image, and the character comes to life.  

In 2017, online Kazakh comic books appeared. Through caricatures and ironic texts, the authors drew people’s attention to actual everyday topics of modern society. Le Shapalaque project is the brainchild of Nazarbayev University graduates. Four of the seven-member team are graduates of Nazarbayev University: Anuar Serikov and Adil Zakenov graduated from the School of Science and Technology, Sagi Sagimbayev graduated from the School of Engineering (both schools in 2019 were merged into the School of Engineering and Digital Sciences), and Galiya Khasenkhanova graduated from the School Sciences and Humanities. The three remaining team members are artists who graduated from other universities and studied such specialties as illustration and graphic design.  The main artist of the team is Amirzhan Mussagaliyev.

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Initially, the “Le Shapalaque” team planned to create animated films, but the delivery of necessary equipment was delayed due to bureaucratic problems. Because of this delay, the team decided to draw comics.  Using this format, made it much quicker to create content and see the audience’s response.  Le Shapalaque depicts different humorous everyday life situations, drawing their readers’ attention to a variety of social issues, sometimes acute and topical. The name for their project was chosen by readers after conducting a survey.  When offered a choice of dozens of different Kazakh words, most of the survey respondents voted for the word “shapalak” which means slap, pat, smack, or slap in the face.  

  “My education at NU helped me to find new friends who shared my interests.  It expanded my worldview, and I began to look at many things differently, to analyze what was happening and think more critically. I began to understand that if you put enough effort into something, you can achieve many goals”, Adil says, “I was lucky to come to NU from another city and that is why I lived in a dormitory where I learned to be more independent, to believe in my own strength, and participated in various events and international internships.

Le Shapalaque has managed to monetize quite successfully: the clients not only order comics but also logos, brandbooks, illustrations, and even coloring books. According to Adil, they are often approached by customers and companies when they need to share information with a large audience in an interesting and accessible way. Le Shapalaque even has foreign companies as customers. “When suitable, we depict the company’s story through a comic book, if it’s not suitable, then we shoot videos or animated clips,” Adil says.

Le Shapalaque’s team plans to launch a human rights education project in the future to educate Kazakhstanis about their rights and how to use them properly.  They also would like to make animated art videos in the future.