In an interesting bit of news, the U.S. Department of Defense is looking into using comic books as a form of art therapy. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has sent a call for proposals looking for “Online Graphic Novel/Sequential Art Authoring Tools for Therapeutic Storytelling.”
This is similar to what Mark Hogancamp did in MARWENCOL to help him recover from traumatic brain injury. DARPA is looking for someone, or a group of someones, to create the software and tools to help others achieve the same type of success.
Summary of the Comic Book Art Therapy Software Project
The objective they’ve listed is as follows:
Develop user-friendly authoring tools to help Service Members express combat-related experiences through personal narratives in a graphic novel/sequential art format that will enable them to process their memories and emotions through healthy, constructive activities.
It then goes on to describe how art therapy and narrative help people suffering from trauma to “process memories and channel emotions through a healthy outlet.” It then goes on to describe how various books about war have helped achieve the listed benefits.
Proposal must exhibit expertise in narrative, web comics, graphic novels and/or sequential art. Phase one should consist of a conceptual model with a methodology for measuring metrics and usability. Phase one should also include a final report that contains storyboards of the art therapy and storytelling tools, results of those tools, and then a Phase two plan.
It then goes into greater detail about Phase 1 and 2. You can see the full description below or you can read it here. If you’re interested in the project you can contact Russell Shilling at Russell.Shilling@darpa.mil
Full Description of the Comic Book Art Therapy Software Project
Art Therapy and narrative are both useful techniques for helping individuals traumatized by life experiences process memories and channel emotions through a healthy outlet. Narratives related to experiences do not necessarily have to be veridical representations of history. A good example of channeling emotion and memories related to combat experiences into storytelling is Joe Haldeman’s, “Forever War” published in 1974 and winning both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in which Haldeman translates experiences and feelings related to the Vietnam War into a Science Fiction theme. Graphic novels/sequential art have rich traditions of high-quality artwork and rich storytelling related to combat experiences as exemplified in the 1951 series, “Frontline Combat” and the 1966 series, “Blazing Combat”. Considered political in their day for their stark portrayals of war, both are now considered hallmarks of the genre both stylistically and in the emotionality of their content. Likewise the recent work of Garry Trudeau has chronicled the road to recovery following combat injuries with both humor and sensitivity. The current effort is aimed at providing authoring toolkits to allow Service members and Veterans to relate their own stories via a graphic novel/sequential art format of equally high quality.
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. But, the authoring tools MUST allow the user to draw from a library of artwork, icons, and other templates to assist them in telling a story related to combat experiences. The software tools must assist the user at every opportunity to tell a story and the end result should be a professional looking narrative comparable to the best graphic novels/sequential art. The tool should also include pre-prepared examples of full-stories that can be used for inspiration and guidance. Innovation is key to this program and software must be designed to inspire, encourage, and guide users in the development of their own storylines and to guide them to additional resources if they are interested in exploring and/or obtaining personalized support and services.
Proposals MUST reflect team expertise in developing professional narrative, especially web comics and/or graphic novels/sequential art. Preference will be given to teams who demonstrate expertise in content development, military expertise, and psychological health. One of the goals of this program is to determine the best way to use these narratives tools. Can they be a stand-alone resource? Can they be used as an aid to formal therapy? Is this approach safe and effective? Therefore, teams must be well-rounded.
Innovation in the program is seen in the areas of user-interface design, flexibility of tool to tell a wide-range of stories, and the quality of the artwork and storytelling produced by the tool. Metrics for success should be clearly specified and should take into account both usability and psychological health issues.
PHASE I: Develop a conceptual design and model key elements for art therapy and narrative authoring tools that will allow service members to tell their own stories related to deployment experiences in a simple, intuitive Web Browser based graphic novel/sequential art format. In preparation for Phase II, develop a robust methodology with clear metrics for assessing usability, user acceptance, and effectiveness of the web tool. It is important to note that there will be no human use testing in Phase I.
Test key hypotheses by developing, constructing, and testing prototype subsystems. Determine best methods for using the tool (online, integral part of therapy, or both). Phase I deliverables should include a Final Phase I report that includes: (1) a detailed design of the art therapy and storytelling therapy authoring tools with storyboards for user interface and design at a minimum (2) experimental results from such toolsets, and (3) a Phase II plan.
PHASE II: Develop, demonstrate, and validate a proof of concept design of the web based art therapy and storytelling therapy authoring tools. Produce a prototype art therapy and storytelling therapy authoring tools on a standalone system with the expectations of integrating into a network deployable web based health care system to be identified at the Phase III timeframe. The required deliverable for Phase II will include: the prototype system, demonstration and testing of the prototype system, and a Final Report. The Final Report will include (1) a detailed design of the prototype art therapy and storytelling therapy authoring toolsets, (2) the experimental results from such toolsets, and (3) a plan for Phase III.
PHASE III: In Phase III, delivery of mature web based art therapy and storytelling therapy authoring tools that will allow service members to tell their own stories related to deployment experiences in a simple, intuitive Web Browser based graphic novel/sequential art format that would be delivered and integrated into a military medical health system would be expected.
Potential dual use of the toolset could be applied to the commercial medical health services for as useful techniques for helping “non-military” individuals traumatized by life experiences process memories and channel emotions through a healthy outlet. Tools can also be used to develop educational tools for children to include the development of language skills and narrative ability.