Defense Department to Use Comic Books as 'Art Therapy'

War comic book DARPA
A mid-20th Century example of a war-themed comic book (Image credit: Marxchivist, via

Throughout human history, people have used comic book-like art forms to document the horror and valor of war, and now American defense scientists think continuing that tradition by producing online comic books could help veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Tuesday, April 26, DARPA, the Defense Department's research wing, put out a call for "user-friendly authoring tools to help service members express combat-related experiences through personal narratives in a graphic novel/sequential art format." They believe that by producing their own personal comic books, servicemen and women can confront their wartime stresses in a productive and healthy way.

"Art therapy and narrative are both useful techniques for helping individuals traumatized by life experiences process memories and channel emotions through a healthy outlet," reads the online Defense Department solicitation. "The goal is to create web-based software with a simple interface that assists in both storytelling and graphical content creation that can relate experiences either directly or metaphorically. While providing simple-to-use authoring tools, the results should have the look and feel of a professional product and provide the flexibility of telling a wide range of stories. For example, content creation could relate to modern combat, historical combat, science fiction, or fantasy."

Called the "Online Graphic Novel/Sequential Art Authoring Tools for Therapeutic Storytelling," the finished product, as outlined in the document, would allow veterans to go online, mix premade images and icons with user-generated art, and produce a finished comic book the confronts their personal relationship to war either realistically or in a sci-fi/fantasy form.

The DARPA product request goes into unusually nerdy detail for a government document, mentioning Joe Haldeman's novel "The Forever War," the comic strip "Doonesbury," and the comic books "Frontline Combat" and "Blazing Combat" as inspirations for the program.

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Stuart Fox currently researches and develops physical and digital exhibit experiences at the Science Liberty Center. His news writing includes the likes of several Purch sites, including Live Science and Live Science's Life's Little Mysteries.