Superheroes and Graphic Medicine (Panel)

Cultural Studies and Media Studies / Interdisciplinary Humanities

Chris McGunnigle (Seton Hall University)

Over the past several years, graphic medicine has become an increasingly popular genre of graphic narrative. Loosely defined as the intersection between medicine and the comic arts, graphic medicine texts typically provide autobiographical accounts of disability, illness, trauma, and medical procedures through a combination of visual and verbal presentation: charts, diagrams, x-rays, doctor’s reports, patient testimony, and more. This combination of medicine and graphic narrative is a perfect fit.

What if instead of graphic medicine consisting of graphic memoir and autobiography, it was applied to fictional texts or genres like the superhero comic book? What about that time the Fantastic Four shrank themselves to enter the bloodstream of their mailman to save his life? Or when the Justice League shrank themselves into the brain of a child and found an intelligent civilization of cancer cells? What about Wolverine’s Type E blood or the medicinal flowers of Krakoa in the new X-Men comics? How does the fictional cyborg compare to real world prosthetics? How do Dr. Strange and his patients represent the medical field?

This panel seeks to expand definitions of graphic medicine by exploring additional genres of comics art and how they present medical issues and the field of medicine in general.

Topics might include:

1. The presentation of medical media like x-rays, medical diagrams, CAT-scans, etc in the superhero genre

2. Fictional medical fields (“what exactly are you a doctor of?”)

3. Visualizations of superhuman medical procedures

4. Superhuman trauma and body horror medical narratives or visualizations

5. Superhero hospitals or in the hospital

6. Super-medicine

7. Super medical technology

8. Rehabilitation narratives

9. Superhero doctors and nurses

10. COVID-19 and fictional viruses (the Legacy Virus, Y the Last Man, etc)

11. etc

Graphic medicine is rising in popularity but primarily limited to autobiographical genres. What if the genres were expanded to include other comics arts, especially the superhero genre? How has medicine been represented in these fictional contexts?