Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 243–261 | Cite as

Drawing Invisible Wounds: War Comics and the Treatment of Trauma

  • Joshua M. LeoneEmail author


Since the Vietnam War, graphic novels about war have shifted from simply representing it to portraying avenues for survivors to establish psychological wellness in their lives following traumatic events. While modern diagnostic medicine often looks to science, technology, and medications to treat the psychosomatic damage produced by trauma, my article examines the therapeutic potential of the comics medium with close attention to war comics. Graphic novels draw trauma in a different light: because of the medium’s particular combination of words and images in sequence, war comics represent that which is typically unrepresentable, and these books serve as useful tools to promote healing among the psychologically wounded. Graphic narratives, both fictional and non-fictional, illuminate the ways that the unseen wounds of traumatic experience affect public health by compromising the ability of communities, individuals, and survivors to create and maintain meaningful relationships with others.


Trauma Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Comics Graphic medicine Graphic narrative Vietnam War Iraq War Afghanistan War 



Thank you to John Said for introducing me to the concepts discussed in this paper and to Professor Susan Merrill Squier for her Graphic Medicine class at Penn State which taught me a great deal about comics and their therapeutic value. Thank you to Professor Kit Hume, Dr. Sarah Salter and Michelle Huang for reading the draft. Most importantly, I want to thank my wife Michelle for carrying me along.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. 2014. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. Washington: American Psychiatric Association. Accessed April 10, 2014.
  2. American Psychological Association. n.d. “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.” Accessed April 10, 2014.
  3. Berlant, Lauren. 1998. "Intimacy: A Special Issue." Critical Inquiry 24 (1): 281–288.Google Scholar
  4. Caruth, Cathy. 1996. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Chute, Hillary. 2010. Graphic Women: Life Narrative & Contemporary Comics. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Cvetkovich, Ann. 2012. Depression: A Public Feeling. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Eisner, Will. 2000. "The Casualty." In Last Day in Vietnam: A Memory, edited by Diana Schultz, 45–52. Milwaukie: Dark Horse Comics.Google Scholar
  8. Enloe, Cynthia. 2007. Globalization & Militarism: Feminists Make the Link. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  9. Forney, Ellen. 2012. Marbles: Mania Drpression, Michelangelo, and Me. New York: Gotham Books.Google Scholar
  10. Frank, Arthur W. 2013. The Wounded Storyteller. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  11. "Graphic Novels: A New Stress Mitigation Tool for Military Training." 2012. Accessed January 17, 2017.
  12. Green, J Michael, and Kimberly R Myers. 2010. "Graphic medicine: use of comics in medical education and patient care." British Medical Journal 340 (7746): 574–577.Google Scholar
  13. Hatfield, Charles. 2005. Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.Google Scholar
  14. Hawkins, Anne Hunsaker. 1999. Reconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Kraft, Heidi, Russ Peeler, Jerry Larson, Shari Lambert, Daniel Wiggins, Dao Nguyen, Diane Philyaw, and Andrew E Jessup. 2010. The Docs: A Graphic Novel. San Diego: The Naval Health Research Center.Google Scholar
  16. Lutes, Jason. 2001. Berlin: City of Stones. Montreal: Drawn and Quaterly.Google Scholar
  17. McAdams, Dan P, and Kate C McLean. 2013. "Narrative Identity." Current Directions in Psychological Science 22 (3): 233–238.Google Scholar
  18. McCloud, Scott. 1999. Understanding Comics. New York: Paradox Press.Google Scholar
  19. Murray, Doug. 1987. “Three Day Pass.” In The 'Nam, Vol. 1, edited by Mark D. Beazley, 55–76. New York: Marvel Enterprises.Google Scholar
  20. Nagel, Joane, and Lindsey Feitz. 2007. "Deploying Race, Gender, Class, and Sexuality in the Iraq War." Race, Gender & Class 14 (3–4): 28–47.Google Scholar
  21. O'Brien, Timothy. n.d. "How to Tell a True War Story." The Things They Carried. Accessed March 25, 2014.
  22. Samet, Elizabeth. 2007. Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  23. Shay, Jonathan. 1994. Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character. New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  24. ———. 2011. "Casualties." Daedalus: The Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 140 (3): 179–188.Google Scholar
  25. Soper, Kerry D. 2008. Garry Trudeau: Doonesbury and the Aesthetics of Satire. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.Google Scholar
  26. Trudeau, Garry. 2006. The War Within: One More Step at a Time. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing.Google Scholar
  27. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. n.d. PTSD and the Military. Accessed March 27. 2014.
  28. Williams, Ian C.M. 2012. "Graphic Medicine: Comics as Medical Narrative." Medical Humanities 38:21–27.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English and PhilosophyATTN: MADN-DEP, United States Military AcademyNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations