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New Article: Beyond graphic novels: illustrated scholarly discourse and the history of educational comics

When I tell people that my research is about how comics can be used for education education, someone invariably invokes the serious “graphic novel.” We often think of “comics” in terms of hijix! and laffs!, zap!s and kapow!s, but “graphic novels” are supposedly much more serious, literary and even educational. They are the “respectable” comics.

However, the use of comics for educational purposes significantly predates the establishment of “graphic novels” as a literary genre, and today, educational comics are being produced as web comics, scholarly journal articles and other forms that don’t easily fit in the “graphic novel” framework.

How has “graphic novel” come to mean “serious comics?” Can other kinds of comics be educational? Or does a “comic” become a “graphic novel” as long as it means something serious? Has the literary acceptance of graphic novels had an effect on the way comics can be used in education?

I address these developments in an article in the new issue of Media International Australia, “Beyond graphic novels: illustrated scholarly discourse and the history of educational comics.”

I’ve made an open access version of the article available here via the University of Adelaide that you can download for free.

You can also find the published version here via Sage, although it may be behind a paywall if you don’t have institutional access.

Here’s the abstract for the article:

Comics are increasingly being used in higher education for teaching and research, as demonstrated by the recent publication of comics in The Annals of Internal Medicine and other academic journals. This article examines how the ascendance of graphic novels to the realm of ‘proper’ literature has simultaneously paved the way for this acceptance of comics as scholarly discourse while obscuring the much longer tradition of pedagogical comics dating to before World War II. In the process, it will highlight some of the ways comics can be used in education, and suggest the benefits of using comics as multimodal scholarship.

A Comic Book Handbook for Medical Interns

As part of my research into how comics can work as educational tools for post-secondary education, late last year I put together a comic book-style handbook for new doctors starting their internship at Mackay Base Hospital in Queensland.

Interns are a great group to focus on, since they occupy a liminal space where they no longer students, but not yet professionals. Part of their “job” is to learn, and there are scheduled teaching sessions built into the internships curriculum, but most of their learning comes from their experiences working on the frontlines of the hospital.

Transitioning from student to professional

Internship is essentially a year-long transition from student to professional, and it comes with its share of challenges. Intern medical education curriculums help provide interns practical and theoretical knowledge, and many of these programs are excellent. However, there are other aspects of being a doctor that intern training programs don’t always address.

A recent study by Beyond Blue shows that young doctors report much higher levels of burn-out, cynicism and mental health problems than their older colleagues. This suggests that hospitals may be strapped for the time and resources to address the emotional and interpersonal challenges of being a new doctor.

The staff of the Medical Education Unit at Mackay Base Hospital saw a comic book as a potentially high-quality/low-cost way to delve into these personal and interpersonal challenges. Their input, as well as that of many young doctors, formed the basis of the curriculum that I developed for the Intern Comic Book Handbook.

Read the comic for yourself!

In the coming days and weeks, I will discuss the decisions and processes that went into each page in the comic. In the meantime, though, here is the comic itself! Click below to make it large, and have a flip through.

I’d love to hear what you think about this comic, and your feedback on how comics might work in medical education or other fields of teaching and learning. I’ll be back with more soon!