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Essay by Belana Marie Labra

Psychological Effects of Comics

Many children might say, “I wanna be like Batman!” or “I want to shoot out webs like Spiderman!” A lot of children who say these things, may have been surrounded by reading comics, especially where many superheroes originate from. Like children who naturally gravitate towards superheroes they like or want to be, comics can be used as a medium in order to help those with mental health issues because of how easily people can relate to superheroes and their backstories. This subject can be approached in various ways depending on the audience the author is writing for. In Jake Kraska’s popular article, “The Psychology of Comic Books: Why We Worship Superheroes,” Kraska investigates psychological development and questions why society is so impacted by popular superheroes and comics. Kraska begins his argument by introducing his audience to the history of how superheroes and comics came to be, going on to analyze the psychological influences that comics can have on people. On the other hand, clinical psychologist Rachel Tolfree in her article titled, “We Could Be Heroes,” writes about her use of comics and comic book characters in the peer support group that she runs, in order to help them better cope with their own mental health problems by relating to the characters they read about. She writes about the experiences in the support group where she helps her patients compare and contrast the characters of comics to their own personal stories. Both of these articles are rhetorically effective to the different audiences they are writing towards because of the use of emotional appeal and the authors’ backgrounds and professions.

With the use of emotional appeal to the audiences in both of these articles, Kraska uses a different type of emotional appeal because of the casual audience he writes to compared to Tolfree, who writes to a more scholarly and academic group of people. He utilizes humour in order to to entertain his audience by throwing in such as, “it is not an unusual sight to see a child running through the yard with a Batman or Superman cape, battling imaginary supervillains and saving the world, one treehouse at a time” (Kraska). Not only is this entertaining to readers, but it is also relatable since everyone in the world can see that scenario happening with any child playing outside or in the backyard of their own home. The way that Kraska appeals to his audience is that he uses more theoretical examples than research.The example with the child running through the yard as a superhero is a theoretical situation that many people can find themselves imagining happening even in their own household. By imagining this hypothetical situation, Kraska gains a light-hearted emotional response from his audience. Compared to Kraska, Tolfree uses a more academic tone in her article. In her article, Tolfree uses comic book quotes from various characters to show the audience how they can relate to the quote and further goes to show examples about how the peer group felt at the time when discussing these topics. She writes about Spider Man's relationship to Uncle Ben in the quote, “Uncle Ben’s last message to Peter Parker was that the difficulties that we face in our lives’ send us down a road… they make us who we are.’ He explained when you are ‘destined for greatness… you owe the world your gifts. You just have to figure out how to use them’ (Arad, Tolmach, Ziskin, & Webb, 2012)” (Tolfree 29). She quotes Uncle Ben because during the earlier stages of her peer support meetings, many patients within the peer group felt varying emotions of grief and anger because of how their diagnoses with schizophrenia robbed them of normal lives. While the support group could have stayed as feeling weak and powerless, Tolfree was able to help connect the role of superheroes to the peer group’s feelings, helping the group believe that their schizophrenia was a gift without the negative connotation.With Tolfree’s audience, she uses the emotions of the comic book characters to connect to the feelings of the people of this group in a clinical setting to evoke a different emotional response compared to Kraska’s article. While Tolfree uses a more scholarly tone than Kraska, she still implements emotional appeal in her writing by showing how Uncle Ben’s last message to Peter Parker can help the people in her support group relate to how they are feeling and what they are experiencing with their schizophrenia.

Alongside both authors implementing their use of emotional appeal, both of their backgrounds and professional careers have an impact on their credibility as authors. Both the authors from each of the article are both professional psychologists. Jake Kraska is an educational and developmental psychologist and sessional academic (Kraska) while Rachel Tolfree is a clinical psychologist based in London who mainly supports people diagnosed with severe and enduring mental health problems (Tolfree). The way that Kraska uses his background to make his article’s argument stronger is that he provides psychological evidence to support his topics so the audience can understand what he is writing. An example that Kraska provides that contains psychological evidence involves the theory of social learning created by Albert Bandura. Kraska defines it as, “proposing the idea that learning occurs within a social context through observation and direct instruction” (Kraska). He applies Bandura’s famous Bobo Doll experiment where adults modeled violent behavior towards a doll. The adults would either be rewarded or punished with their children observing. Kraska explains the whole theory behind the Bobo Doll experiment and even gives the audience a definition on social learning because he assumes the audience he is writing to the general public rather than scholars or researchers. He writes as if the audience does not know what they are reading so that he is able to explain these concepts briefly so that people who have never learned of this, can be informed and understand the whole point of his article. Kraska also states in his article, “superheroes display prosocial behavior, leadership, and a variety of positive attitudes - all of which have an impact on readers” (Kraska). Kraska is showing the audience how superheroes can have a psychological effect on readers. Because of his background in psychology, he is able to explain to the readers why comics have an impact on people. Even though his article is a popular article, appealing to an audience that might not know about the psychological effects of comics to readers, he still uses his background and knowledge to help the readers understand his content. His writing is not research based, but theoretical and informational based, and plays a different role compared to Tolfree’s article about her peer support group.

Tolfree’s background strengthens her writing as well because in her writing, she likes to use “narrative practices and the hearing voices approach to empower those she works with to reconnect with their gifts and hopes” (Tolfree). By being a psychologist herself, Tolfree is able to use different approaches found in psychology in order to improve the lives of those within her support group.The writing itself is all psychology and research based, and even provides references to other psychological subjects as well. She then writes about her experience with her support group, discussing the connections they made between comics and their own personal experiences. Tolfree writes how a person in her support group, “explained how [their schizophrenic] experiences had left them feeling that they could never lead a ‘normal life,’ much, as one of the group pointed out, like the X-Men whose superhuman abilities alienate them from others” (Tolfree). The audience is able to learn how the experiences that the comic book characters undergo, relate to how her peer support group is feeling at the time about their own schizophrenic experiences. The peer support group uses this connection because of the discrimination and grief they felt when they were diagnosed with their schizophrenia, and because of the methods she used to help overcome these obstacles, the audience can gain knowledge about why it is related to X-Men. Tolfree’s study is more research based, and the content of it is what she has concluded from her own experience and knowledge within her peer group. With the peer group’s experiences and her own research for this study, she writes for an scholarly audience, and does not really define the psychological terms in her writing. Compared to Kraska, who writes to the general public, Tolfree writes to scholars and an academic audience who can learn about her research from her support group.

Both Kraska and Tolfree are able to make their writing rhetorically effective with the use of emotional and credibility while targeting two completely different audiences. With the use of this credibility, Kraska and Tolfree make use of their occupations as psychologists in order to emotionally appeal to their separate audiences. However, Kraska writes in order to appeal to the general public whereas Tolfree writes to a scholarly audience. Their use of varying writing styles helps to evoke emotion in their audiences building their credibility as authors. Through these articles, Kraska and Tolfree have proven to their audiences that comics have an astonishing psychological effect on people and are much more than just leisure reading material.

Works Cited

Kraska, Jake. “The Psychology of Comic Books: Why We Worship Superheroes.” Lateral Magazine, Lateral Magazine, 3 Aug. 2015,

Kraska, Jake. “Home.” Publications | Jake Kraska, Jake Kraska, 2018,

Lutzke, Jaclyn, and Mary F. Henggeler. “The Rhetorical Triangle: Understanding and Using Logos, Ethos, and Pathos .” School of Liberal Arts Indiana University University Writing Center, Nov. 2009.

Tolfree, Rachel. “We could be heroes: How film and comic book heroes helped a peer support group to reconnect with their gifts” The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work. 2016, Issue 4, pp. 26-31. 6p.

Belana Marie Labra is a first-year student at the University of San Diego. She plans to major in Business Administration with a minor in Visual Arts. Her hobbies include photography, digital arts, and traditional arts. She also enjoys playing video games such as Overwatch or League of Legends and listening to music while she draws.

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