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The Secret Weapon Against Illiteracy

I was probably 7 or 8 years old when my dad brought home an interesting comic book. It was the comic book version of a very popular Mexican politics book in the early ’80s. I would have never thought of reading the actual book, but I totally gave the comic book version a try, and read it in a just one day. I read the actual book right after, which took me less than a week to finish.

I now realize that the comic book version I first read as a kid was published to allow adults—not kids—to understand the issues at hand – it was during a time when public opinion needed to be swayed in a certain direction. The book –along with its comic book version- was intended as a way to accomplish this. It did.

No doubt, the comic book format presents information in a  uniquely engaging and visual manner. Countless studies have shown that visuals and color can significantly improve readership, recall, retention and adherence to instructions. This is  especially the case when readers do not have adequate literacy levels to read and understand text-only communications.

Implications for the use of comic books in areas such as healthcare are significant. The Department of Health and Human Services has identified major risks for those with poor health literacy skills when following medical advice, understanding chronic conditions, or seeking medical help. In addition to all these issues, people in these circumstances may have a feeling of shame about their inability to fully understand their condition– which can only worsen their situation.

Given the toxic mix of poor health literacy skills and the chronic conditions we face as a society– e.g. diabetes, asthma, allergies and cancer – perhaps comic books can save the day as a way to communicate vital information to underserved populations on the prevention or management of chronic illness. Perhaps the heroics in the book are represented by the health information being shared through the storyline, not through the powers of a superhero.

And this from a Batman fan. What do you think – in comics, where should heroics come in?

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