The Quiet Room

This month’s British Journal of Psychiatry has a brief but fascinating article about a 1979 Marvel comic featuring and written by rock legend Alice Cooper which depicts his real-life admission to a psychiatric ward.

The comic was timed to coincide with the release of his concept album From The Inside which describes his experiences as a psychiatric patient being treated for severe alcoholism and depression.

He was there for 3 months and in the comic he depicts the patients, doctors and nurses he met during his admission. Alice has often commented in interviews that treatment in hospital and recovering from his substance misuse saved his life, when many similar artists at that time, such as Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, were not as fortunate, succumbing to their addictions. The lead single from the album was ‘How You Gonna See Me Now’, a song describing the anxiety the singer felt coming back home to his wife after his stay in hospital and facing the stigma of being treated for his mental illness. It went on to become a well-known successful ballad. The comic can still be found in comic shops or through online auction sites.

 

Link to brief British Journal of Psychiatry article.

A comic repeat with video games and violence

An article in the Guardian Headquarters blog discusses the not very clear evidence for the link between computer games and violence and makes a comparison to the panic over ‘horror comics’ in the 1950s.

The Fifties campaign against comics was driven by a psychiatrist called Fredric Wertham and his book The Seduction of the Innocent.

We’ve discussed before on Mind Hacks how Wertham has been misunderstood. He wasn’t out to ban comics, just keep adult themes out of kids magazines.

However, his idea of what ‘adult themes’ might be were certainly pretty odd. This is Wertham’s testimony to a hearing in the US Senate.

I would like to point out to you one other crime comic book which we have found to be particularly injurious to the ethical development of children and those are the Superman comic books. They arose in children’s fantasies of sadistic joy in seeing other people punished over and over again, while you yourself remain immune. We have called it the “Superman complex.” In these comic books, the crime is always real and Superman’s triumph over [evil] is unreal. Moreover, these books like any other, teach complete contempt of the police…

I may say here on this subject there is practically no controversy… as long as the crime comic books industry exists in its present form, there are no secure homes. …crime comic books, as I define them, are the overwhelming majority of all comic books… There is an endless stream of brutality… I can only say that, in my opinion, this is a public-health problem.

The ‘Superman causes sadism’ part aside, this is a remarkably similar argument to the one used about violent video games. It’s not a matter of taste or decency, it’s a public health problem.

In fact, an article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings had a neat comparison between arguments about 1950s comic books and modern day video games which turn out to be very similar.

Moral of the story: wait for sixty years when the debate about violent holograms kicks off and they’ll leave you to play your video games in peace.
 

Link to ‘What is the link between violent video games and aggression?’
Link to article on video games and comic panics in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Gotham psychologist

Andrea Letamendi is a clinical psychologist who specialises in the treatment and research of traumatic stress disorders but also has a passionate interest in how psychological issues are depicted in comics.

She puts her thoughts online in her blog Under the Mask which also discuss social issues in fandom and geek culture.

Recently, she was paid a wonderful compliment when she appeared in Batgirl #16 as Barbara Gordon’s psychologist.
 

I’ve always been of the opinion that comics are far more psychologically complex than they’re given credit for. In fact, one of my first non-academic articles was about the depiction of madness in Batman.

It’s also interesting that comics are now starting to explicitly address psychological issues. It’s not always done entirely successfully it has to be said.

Darwyn’s Cooke’s Ego storyline looked at Batman’s motivations through his traumatic past but shifts between subtle brilliance and clichés about mental illness in a slightly unsettling way.

Andrea Letamendi has a distinctly more nuanced take, however, and if you would like to know more about her work with superheroes do check the interview on Nerd Span.
 

Link to Letamendi’s Under the Mask (on Twitter as @ArkhamAsylumDoc)
Link to Nerd Span interview.

A neurobiological graphic novel

The Guardian has a video about the collaboration between neuroscientist Hana Ros and artist Matteo Farinella as they’ve been working on the neurocomic project to create a brain science graphic novel.

The finished project isn’t quite out yet but the artwork is looking amazing.

The film about the collaboration covers how they worked together and how each approach their work.

There’s a lovely bit where Hana Ros describes how she isolates neurons to work on and mentions she gives them all names.

Make sure you also check out the artwork on the project website.
 

Link to video on the collaboration.
Link to the neurocomic website.

Traumatic brain injuries in the Asterix comics

A team of neurosurgeons has completed an exhaustive study of the causes of traumatic brain injury in the Asterix comics.

Needless to say, it is a work of pure genius.

And if the conclusions at the end of the summary don’t make you beam with delight, you are dead inside.
 

Traumatic brain injuries in illustrated literature: experience from a series of over 700 head injuries in the Asterix comic books

Acta Neurochir (Wien). 2011 Jun;153(6):1351-5.

Kamp MA, Slotty P, Sarikaya-Seiwert S, Steiger HJ, Hänggi D.

Department for Neurosurgery
Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf

Background: The goal of the present study was to analyze the epidemiology and specific risk factors of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the Asterix illustrated comic books. Among the illustrated literature, TBI is a predominating injury pattern.

Methods: A retrospective analysis of TBI in all 34 Asterix comic books was performed by examining the initial neurological status and signs of TBI. Clinical data were correlated to information regarding the trauma mechanism, the sociocultural background of victims and offenders, and the circumstances of the traumata, to identify specific risk factors.

Results: Seven hundred and four TBIs were identified. The majority of persons involved were adult and male. The major cause of trauma was assault (98.8%). Traumata were classified to be severe in over 50% (GCS 3-8). Different neurological deficits and signs of basal skull fractures were identified. Although over half of head-injury victims had a severe initial impairment of consciousness, no case of death or permanent neurological deficit was found. The largest group of head-injured characters was constituted by Romans (63.9%), while Gauls caused nearly 90% of the TBIs. A helmet had been worn by 70.5% of victims but had been lost in the vast majority of cases (87.7%). In 83% of cases, TBIs were caused under the influence of a doping agent called “the magic potion”.

Conclusions: Although over half of patients had an initially severe impairment of consciousness after TBI, no permanent deficit could be found. Roman nationality, hypoglossal paresis, lost helmet, and ingestion of the magic potion were significantly correlated with severe initial impairment of consciousness (p ≤ 0.05).

 

Link to PubMed entry for study (via @velascop).
Link to DOI entry for study.

Mickey’s amphetamine adventure

Drug information site Erowid recently posted a 1951 Disney comic where Mickey Mouse and Goofy take speed.

In the strip, ‘Mickey Mouse and the Medicine Man’, Mickey and Goofy discover a new medicine called ‘Peppo’ which is clearly meant to represent amphetamine. Their enthusiasm for the chemical pick-me-up leads them to become salesman for the product in Africa.

Although the idea of Disney characters taking speed seems rather incongruous these days, in 1951 amphetamine was legal and widely available over-the-counter in America, mostly in the form of Benzedrine inhalers.

It wasn’t until the mid-60s when these were made prescription only and non-medical amphetamine wasn’t outlawed until 1971.

As well as casual racism, the strip also features various characters eating ‘hash’ which knocks them out.

For those not familiar with American English, this isn’t a direct reference to hashish or cannabis resin but a reference to a peculiarly unappetising type of food of the same name which, in the story, seems to have been spiked with some sort of unidentified sedative.

However, given the rather unenlightened portrayal of Africans in the piece and the 1950s stereotype of marijuana being a drug of black Americans, I wonder the lethargy inducing properties of the ‘hash’ are meant to be an indirect reference to the drug.

Link to ‘Mickey Mouse and the Medicine Man’.