Comics aren't just a health education tool for kids. Adults in many BME groups also read them
Not just the Beano and Batman
In the UK comics have traditionally been seen as just for kids. This is not true in all parts of the world, for example in France they have been described as the nineth art. Comics, or their posher cousin graphic novels, have covered as full a range of subjects and genres as the novel. They have also been produced in a wide range of illustrative styles including the use of photography.
However, in the UK it is probably best to restrict their general public health use to children and young people. (For an alternative view however for the general use of comics for education in medical issues see GREEN, M. AND MYERS, K., 2010. Graphic medicine: use of comics in medical education and patient care. British Medical Journal, 340:c863)
The most well known example of good practice are the drugs education comics produced by Lifeline. Within certain groups in the UK however research may show that they can also be used with an adult audience. BME communities from some countries may prefer information presented in a comic format. It may even be worth seeing if anything already exists abroad that can be adapted.
Comics as a tool for the medical model and beyond
Comics can be used with the full range of different approaches to public health. That is from the medical model to approaches tackling the wider determinants of health.
* In Somalia, a popular UNICEF publication has been turned into a graphic novel dealing with parents' struggle with diarrhoea, dysentery, diptheria and dyslexia
* 40% of Filipinos read a comic daily, particulary women in their twenties, compared to only 1% who read a newspaper. The Philippine General Hospital has worked with the local university to produce a comic for patients about medical procedures
* In France and her old colonies, comics are well regarded. The graphic novel, L'Ascension du Haut Mal about how epilepsy impacted on the author and his family was both a commercial and critical success.
* Dragonslippers about domestic abuse has been translated from English into Spanish, Italian, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese and Indonesian
* Couch Fiction is a graphic novel about therapy from the point of view of both the therapist and the client
* In Latin America, Hector Oesterheld was murdered by the Argentinian junta. This was because one of his graphic novel stories about Che and social justice was too 'beautiful'
* South African artists have produced comics for both the state's health and education departments as well as the Red Cross
* The John Hopkins University has worked with Indian publishers to produce health comics in Bangladesh
Comic Art Propaganda by Frederik Stromberg is a good source of information about how people have tried to used comics to change the World. It includes both successful and unsuccessful examples of work. Unsuccessful work, in my opinion, tends to be preachy, uncreative and not atuned to the target group.
Producing health comics needs team work
Market researchers are needed to find out if comics are appropriate and if so what sort. They will also need to pre-test a draft of the comic prior to final publication. Health workers will need to agree on the content and evaluate the project. An experienced graphic artist will need to produce the publication. (Comics have their own rules, so an inexperienced artist may make mistakes.) It may also be worthwhile nowadays to consider adapting any comics you produce for YouTube. Add a voice over and sound effects.
Comics are a medium rather than a topic so can be used with other aspects of popular culture. For an example of how a comic strip character could be developed to engage young men around health issues using football click here.
Writing for BME populations
Remember that some minority ethnic groups read in a different direction to the West's top left down. Also even if you're writing for English speakers, if they're not originally from the UK, keep the language simple. In particular be careful with colloquial sayings. They can be confusing even for people with a good understanding of English. As an example, an elderly religious old English lady I know was recently surprised to receive a mug with the motto 'Over the hill and off the pill' from a foreign friend. He explained he'd got it for her as she was always in the country walking and this kept her fit and not needing medication.
To read a much more full account of the topics covered on this page in the relevant chapter from my report on edutainment for health purposes click here
To download the whole 180 page report on using popular culture to tackle health inequalities click here
To download the PDF software to be able to view these files click here