Since 2016 the Scottish Centre for Comics Studies has undertaken a project to research and create public information comics, and, more broadly, the use of comics for educational purposes. This partnership-based research responds to the core mission of the University of Dundee – to transform lives – by engaging the public and various partners (often charities) to produce comics that address a particular public information need. Many of these comics have dealt with healthcare issues, but we have also created science communication comics and engaged with several other topics.
This interdisciplinary work on public information comics has been built on a partnership between the School of Humanities, the School of Education and Social Work, and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, but we have also worked closely with several other schools, including the School of Nursing and Heath Sciences, the School of Life Sciences, the School of Dentistry, the School of Law, and the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science. This project has drawn on the research of Professor Christopher Murray, Professor Divya-Jindal Snape and Dr Golnar Nabizadeh, and Dr Megan Sinclair’s SGSAH funded PhD project on Superhero Healthcare was aligned to it.
There were several outcomes from this project. Firstly, there were the comics produced in collaboration with various partners and distributed to the public for free. There were also various symposia and conferences organised around this theme, and presentations at several conferences worldwide. The project has also led to a special issue of the journal Studies in Comics (Vol. (11.1, 2020), edited by the project leaders.
Funding for this project came from many sources. The Rank Foundation co-funded Dundee Comics Creative Space and Ink Pot Studio, which was instrumental in supporting a number of talented comics artists who we commissioned to create these comics. The SGSAH PhD scholarship was funded by the AHRC. We have had funding and support from the NHS, Dundee City Council, and have worked with several charities and public bodies which supported these projects in various ways.
Our finding is that educational and public information messages can be enlivened through the medium of comics, engaging readers not simply through the content, but through careful application of the attributes of the form. The creative and oftentimes collaborative processes used to create such comics benefit from the blending of different perspectives and expertise in order to ensure that the educational message was precisely calibrated. The participatory and iterative process that we developed (which we refer to as a ‘Comics Jam’) creates a feedback loop between research, practice and the various stakeholders, each of whom is empowered within a co-design methodology to contribute to the comic based on their expertise.
List of Publications
The comics produced as part of this project include:
1/ Tackling Disability Hate Crime (2016), written by Damon Herd and produced with the charity Advocating Together. Artwork by Damon Herd, Norrie Millar, and Rebecca Horner.
2/ Understanding Evidence (2016), written by Chris Murray, artwork by Letty Wilson, and produced with The Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science for use with the judiciary and legal professionals.
3/ Fibromyalgia and Us (2017), an anthology by various writers and artists, developed by Divya Jindal-Snape and produced with members of the public with fibromyalgia, and an NHS doctor; later translated into Spanish (2020) and distributed internationally.
4/ Batman Danny (2017), written by Megan Sinclair, with artwork by Elliot Balson. This was produced in partnership with a survivor of childhood cancer and distributed to clinics in the USA.
5/ Archives and Memory (2018), written by Golnar Nabizadeh, artwork by Catriona Laird.
6/ Dundee Decides (2018), written by Chris Murray with artwork by Norrie Millar, Rebecca Horner, and Catriona Laird, and produced with Dundee City Council for public distribution as part of their information campaign in participatory budgeting;
7/ Let’s talk about Suicide (2018), an anthology by various writers and artists, produced with lecturer Grant King and nursing and healthcare students.
8/ Close to the Heart (2018), written by Megan Sinclair, with artwork by Gary Welsh and others. This was produced through consultation with the British Heart Foundation.
9/ The Gift: Transforming Lives through Organ Donation (2018), an anthology by various writers and artists, developed by Mayra Crowe and produced with Organ Donation Scotland, the NHS, and the charity Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief. Second, updated edition, which includes the news changes in law, available here.
10/ Big Noise Douglas: The Story of our Evaluation Workshops (2018), written by Laura Findlay with artwork by Katie Quinn. This was produced with Sistema Scotland and Big Noise Dundee.
11/ The Brittle Bones Society – Celebrating 50 Years (2019), written by Chris Murray, artwork by Elliot Balson, and in partnership with the Brittle Bones Society.
12/ Understanding Coeliac Disease (2019), produced in partnership with Professor Jennifer Woof (School of Life Sciences) and Coeliac UK.
13/ When People Die: Stories from Young People (2019), developed by Golnar Nabizadeh, partners from Strathclyde University, and produced with the charities CHAS (Children’s Hospitals Across Scotland) and Richmond’s Hope.
14/ Public Information Comics (2019), written by Chris Murray and Golnar Nabizadeh, artwork by Letty Wilson.
15/ Drawn from Our Experiences: Stories of Travelling with Dementia (2019), project developed by Phillip Vaughan, artwork by Ashling Larkin. This was produced with GoUpstream and funded by a Dementia Services Development Trust Disruption Award.
16/ Great War Dundee (2019), written by Pat Mills, Hailey Austin, Erin Keepers and Calum Laird, with artwork by Gary Welsh, Phillip Vaughan, Elliot Balson, Ian Kennedy, and Anna Morozova. Produced in partnership with the Great War Dundee project.
17/ Understanding Gait Analysis (2020), written by Chris Murray, Laura Findlay, Golnar Nabizadeh, Heather Doran, and Niamh Nic Daeid, with artwork by Mark Brown. This was produced with the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science for use with the judiciary, legal professionals and the public.
18/ Understanding DNA Analysis (2020), written by Chris Murray, Laura Findlay, Golnar Nabizadeh and Niamh Nic Daeid, with artwork by Mark Brown. This was produced with the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science for use with the judiciary, legal professionals and the public.
19/ Pandemic Tales: Responses to Covid-19 and Lockdown (2020), an anthology title written and drawn by several writers and artists. This was produced with members of the public and various professionals, charities and other organisations. Download a PDF here.
20/ The Gift: Transforming Lives through Organ and Tissue Donation (2nd updated edition, 2021), an anthology by various writers and artists, developed by Mayra Crowe and produced with Organ Donation Scotland, the NHS, and the charity Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief. This updated version has been edited to include the new changes in law.
21/ The Convention on Older Person’s Rights. A Graphic Guide / La Convención de los Derechos de las Personas Mayores: Una Guía Gráfica Created by an international partnership between the Centro Interdisciplinario de Envejecimiento, Universidad de la República of Uruguay and the Scottish Centre for Comics Studies, University of Dundee.
22/ Dental Health Access When Using Drugs, Looking After My Dental Health, Looking After My Family’s Dental Health Three comics on oral health were produced in partnership with SCCS, the School of Dentistry and the Scottish Drug Forum. See: Comics and Oral Health.
Impact of the Project
The ‘Public Information and Educational Comics’ project has resulted in the production of a number of comics designed to educate and inform the public, but it was also designed to allow the comics team to work in partnership with charities and professionals in the health and education sectors, and with colleagues across a range of disciplines (including Humanities, Education and Social Work, Dentistry, Law, Life Sciences and Medicine). It also allowed us to directly support comics as a creative economy in Dundee, and further afield.
The outputs impacted the knowledge and understanding of readers but also gave the partners resources with which to expand the reach of their message and mission, partly through the disruption of existing methods. Our healthcare comics tackled misunderstood conditions, giving a voice to those who have often been disregarded, and we developed science communication comics, which presented complex topics in accessible ways.
Contributors and members of the public reported being were able to use the healthcare comics to better explain their illnesses and needs to family and friends. Many of our partners reported gaining a new appreciation for the potential of the comics medium to represent real, lived experience, and to capture and project impactful images of psychological states and physical pain, and to portray memories and trauma in a way that communicated these experiences in a powerful manner without being too distressing.
The project had a positive impact on the comics creators employed to create the outputs. The creative economies is a driver of innovation, and comics creators are powerful communicators, but it is often difficult to sustain a career as a comics creator. This project put £150,000 directly into the hands of comics creators and allowed for the creation of several jobs. Many of the comics creators have gone on to produce information comics as part of their own freelance careers.
The partnership-based approach also created the conditions for the upskilling of staff working with external non-HEI partners. There have also been academic articles produced in response to this work, making a contribution to Comics Studies, and other fields. The comics produced as part of this project were also instrumental to the work on a Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities (SGSAH) funded PhD project on comics and healthcare.
Here is further detail on the impact of just two of the comics produced as part of this project.
Fibromyalgia and Us was made available in all 64 NHS Tayside surgeries and pain clinics. The Fibromyalgia Society reprinted the stories in Fibromyalgia Magazine, the only magazine dedicated to fibromyalgia. The comic was made available to MSPs and charities during the UK Parliamentary petition for fibromyalgia being recognised as a disability. As a result of the comic’s impact on the public and professionals, Mr Stewart Hosie, MP, tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM 2135) in the House of Commons on 4th March 2019 that was signed by MPs across the political parties.
The Gift was launched as part of Organ Donation Week in 2018 and was cited in the media as an innovative way to address the issue. It was praised by Lesley Logan MBE, former Scottish Manager for Organ Donation Services, who said: ‘[This comics] has provided Scottish families with a fantastic and valuable resource to demystify both organ and tissue donation and transplantation issues’. The Gift was supported by, and welcomed by, the Scottish Organ Donation Service and additionally by healthcare professionals working in this highly specialised area.
One of the aims of this project has been to respond to the University of Dundee’s priority to be an institution driven by social purpose – to help transform lives. Our goal has been to make a positive impact on the public, our partners, and the creative economy of comics creators, and to bring these groups into dialogue with one another, using the medium of comics to make a difference.
The impact of this project was recognised in the University of Dundee’s 2021 Stephen Fry Public Engagement Awards, where we won the ‘Engagement Project of the Year’ award.
If you read any of our comics, please take a few minutes to complete a brief questionnaire. We would really appreciate your thoughts on the comics, especially on the impact they might have made on your understanding of the issues that they address.