Graphic Narratives within Research

Dylan Yamada-Rice

The intention of the first session was to explore how graphic novels and narratives can be involved in research and inform design.

As an illustration I showed the varied ways in which graphic narratives were included with in an AHRC-funded network project to inform the design of videogames for hospitalized children. More about the wider project can be found on a related blog here


The intention of that project was to build on the idea that play is an effective way to promote health and wellbeing (Tonkin 2014) by allowing children to make sense of their experiences, express fear, normalize unusual events and thus reduce anxieties (Jun-Tai 2005; Jun-Tai et al 2014; Erikson 1963). Following on from this the specific idea of the network project was to bring about knowledge exchange across key stakeholders, academics, children’s hospital play specialists, as well as designers and makers of digital games, o understand one another’s perspectives and agree on a set of ideas that would be important to consider in relation to the development of a game specific to a hospital context.

At the start of the project one artist, Jo Peel and two IED designers, Xinglin Sun and Caroline Claisse were given the theme of isolation and asked to produce a graphic narrative around this topic. Isolation was one of the themes that had been identified by all stakeholders as a reason for working together on the project. This was isolation in terms of how children might feel in hospital away from their usual sites of play.

Jo peel responded by making three houses. She said the houses were an analogy for how she saw hospital beds. All the houses/ beds look similar to one another but each has its own story happening inside which is harder to see from the outside, in other words, identical fronts to complex lives and identities inside.


Meanwhile Caroline Claisse and Xinglin Sun (both IED graduates) drew on a poem by Edgar Allen Poe for inspiration using his words to build a narrative for a short film entitled Dreamland they made to describe their ideas on isolation.

Dreamland by Xinglin Sun + Caroline Claisse

The above two pieces were used as a starting point for the project and aided the creation of a focus on which specialists from very different fields (medicine, games design and academia) could converse on neutral ground at the start of the project until we got to know one another.

From there the network project had three workshops in which we explored the three perspectives of the stakeholders (1) the hospital play specialists, (2) academics focused on physical and digital play and (3) members of the digital games industry.

Graphic narratives in relation to the hospital perspective

From the hospital perspective we explored how graphic narratives have been used in relation to medical narratives. For example we explored the work of Medikidz who use graphic narratives to explain illnesses to young audiences:


We explored the idea of a superhero theme in relation to other styles that have taken a more raw approach to the portrayal of emotion. For example, Richard Finn  who is undertaking doctoral research into the portrayal of mental health in graphic novels refers to graphic narratives such as:

 The Nao of Brown 


Dillon, G. (2012) The Nao of Brown. SelfMadeHero

“Words do not express thoughts very well, everything immediately becomes a little different, a little distorted, a little foolish,” quotes one Nao of Brown character from Hermann Hesse, summing up why the graphic novel is the ideal medium for expressing the thoughts of young English-Japanese illustrator Nao Brown. Returning to London after a sojourn with her alcoholic father in Japan, the pathologically introspective Nao is trying to cope with professional and romantic rejection, as well as a form of OCD that manifests itself in murderous fantasies. On a single page, Glyn Dillon can depict the nuances of Nao’s enigmatic facial expressions as well as the livid tumult beneath, the triggers of her rages and the storms themselves, and he does so beautifully.” (Helen Zaltzman, 2012)

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me


Forney, E. (2013) Marbles. Robinson

“Marbles is a memoir about depression. Ellen Forney is an American cartoonist, so her memoir is told through pictures, though there are often a lot of words in the thought clouds, which itself tells you something about the nature of the illness.

Specifically, Forney has bipolar disorder, so her state of mind swings wildly from curled-up-on-sofa-under-blanket, to let’s-all-get-naked-and-have-sex. It is a very engaging book, and Forney has the essential ingredient for a memoir of this type: honesty.” (Matt Haig)

Couch Fiction: A Graphic Tale of Psychotherapy


Perry, P. & Graat, J. (2010) Couch Fiction: A Graphic Tale of Pschotherapy. Palgrave

“What is it like to be a fly on a psychotherapist’s wall? This compelling case study in the form of a graphic novel vividly explores a year’s therapy sessions as a search for understanding and truth. Told in a witty and thought-provoking manner, each engagingly illustrated scene is accompanied by deft commentary.” (Palgrave)

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