Superhero Healthcare
: Graphic Medicine, Genre and Public Education Comics

  • Megan Sinclair

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis has created a new sub-genre Superhero Healthcare and has tracked its development and its potential as a pedagogical resource. This study argues that the sub-genre stems from both graphic medicine and the superhero genres and has progressed through uncovering the long, forgotten history of superhero public information comics. Prior to this research, the two genres had not been placed in dialogue with one another, this study aims to identify the commonalities between them and make this more explicit. This thesis shall discuss this through addressing three key questions;

    1/ How does the genre of Superhero Healthcare use the superhero as a metaphorical emblem of hope and resilience?

    2/ Does the move towards revisionist superheroes which often emphasises a greater degree of ‘realism’, make the superhero genre’s engagement in healthcare issues more relatable or less so?

    3/ How can an understanding of the history of Superhero Healthcare, and an appreciation of its changing nature, inform the development of new examples of Superhero Healthcare?

    The chapters are structured into four sections; the first chapter identifies the history of Superhero Healthcare and its progression, referring primarily to the third research question. The second explores this through the introduction of graphic medicine, addressing the impact this has had on the development of the sub-genre, which in turn examines both the first and second questions. One of the key arguments of the study is that the superhero is unique in that it can act as an inspirational metaphor for hope and resilience both through its fictional, more fantastical conventions, and its more grounded, relatable, and above all ‘human’ characteristics. The latter section of the thesis takes a more thematic, creative approach and explores notions of health and well-being more specifically in relation to death and bereavement, the third chapter culminates in my own examination of grief through my creative work "Close to the Heart" and "Dr Heartbeat", which similarly offer a cross-examination of the superhero and graphic medicine genres. The final chapter hones in on the concept of trauma through the character of Batman and addresses why he is particularly useful as a metaphorical proxy for mental illness and perseverance, again referring to the research questions to conceptualise these arguments. Through a mixed methodological approach, this thesis shall address the potential of the new sub-genre Superhero Healthcare from both a critical and historical context as well as a creative, collaborative and practice-based approach. A primary aim of using such a broad methodology is to, as is the case with the sub-genre itself, place seemingly different genres and research methods into dialogue with one another, and use this to inform the arguments and questions posed throughout the study. As the title suggests, the comics created throughout this research embody the nature of ‘public education.’ This thesis has identified a new area of study and has used an applied comics methodology to analyse and expand upon arguments and discussions noted throughout as well as provide data collection to show the benefits of using Superhero Healthcare in topics of health and wellbeing.
    Date of Award2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorChris Murray (Supervisor) & Divya Jindal-Snape (Supervisor)


    • Comics studies
    • Superhero Healthcare
    • superhero
    • Education
    • English
    • comics

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