ComicScienceSkepticismVisual Art

Darryl Cunningham: Comic Friend of Science

Darryl Cunningham is a cartoonist from the UK.  He’s done a wide array of comics.  He has an excellent new book out called Psychiatric Tales about his days working in a hospital for those with mental illnesses.  Some of my favorites are from his Darryl Cunningham Investigates series.  This series is full of straightforward skeptic looks at such topics as the Moon Hoax, Homeopathy and Andrew Wakefield.  Darryl was kind enough to answer some of my questions.

How did you develop an interest in skeptical/science issues?  Do you consider yourself a skeptic?


I’ve always had an interest in science. As a kid I liked science fiction and the fantastical. I liked space, rockets, and aliens. I was 9 when Armstrong set foot on the Moon. An event I saw on a black and white TV in a school classroom. I was interested in UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Bermuda Triangle. Anything strange or fringe-like. I didn’t differentiate between science and fanciful myths, back then. My critical skills didn’t start to kick in until I was in my late teens, when I began to take a clearer look at these subjects.

I don’t much care for the term skeptic, as this seems to suggests someone po-faced and humourless, far too ready to pop anyone’s balloon. My religious beliefs can be summed up in thinking that it all makes sense at some deep level. Pretty vague, I know. I think God is unlikely, but I can’t rule the Big Guy out either.

How do you do your research for your comics?
Mostly through the internet, these days. I buy specific books when I have to. I check all the usual places, like Wikapedia, then I follow all links back to primary sources. I partly trained as mental health nurse until having to drop out due to illness. This seemed like a failure at the time, but I did learn good researching skills while I was there, and this has proved very useful to me.
Your comics seem to get a lot of feed back.  Do you have any good stories about dealing with people who believe in quack medicine or the moon landing?
Good stories? Not really. Most of the negative mail I get tends to be on the crank side of things, and they can be a bit insulting. But I’ve not had death threats or anything. I met a lady at a medical conference once who tried to win me over to homeopathy, but it was all very friendly really.
Do you think there is anything that COULD stop these movements at this point?
No. People are basically irrational. We’re not emotionless computers. We don’t have access to all facts and never will. We have only a partial understanding of the Universe and that’s not going to change. We have to be aware of our irrationality and manage it. One of the ways we can do this is through education. Modern society needs a much bigger focus on education, because this will limit the damage irrationality can cause.
Are there any new comics on the horizon for the “Darryl Cunningham Investigates” series?
These science strips will be collected into a book with other science-themed cartoon strips that I’ve yet to write. I’m talking with a UK publisher about this now, although nothing has been settled yet. I haven’t decided on the other subjects to be covered, but Chiropractic treatment might be one. Evolution might be another. This publisher is keen for me to look at the tobacco industry, as well. I’m planning a final chapter that will be about the science denialism movement as a whole. What this is and and how scientists should respond?
I find in the states that the Anti-vaxxers seem to be the worst of the worst in my opinion. What do you see as the worst of these issues?
Any movement that affects people’s health for the worse is a bad movement.  The Anti-vaxination movement probably is the worst of these in the West, but the HIV-Aids denial movement has killed vastly more people in Africa. The sheer scale of suffering and death in South Africa is staggering, and has been largely caused by a combination of corruption and willful ignorance amongst the political classes in that country. As annoying and dangerous as the Anti-vaxxers are, they haven’t even begun to kill people on that scale yet, although given the chance, I suspect they would. That may seem like a shocking statement, but I really believe that many of them would let children die of preventable diseases, rather than have them vaccinated. Such is the power of dogma.
Do you have some sort of new book coming out? If so, can you tell us a little about it?
I’m working on an all-ages collection of fantastical stories, called Uncle Bob Adventures. This project is entirely different from the seriousness of the science stories, and is a lot of fun. The 150 year old Uncle Bob tells tales from his extraordinary life. We see him at the Earth’s Core, on Skull Island, in the old West, and fighting the war with Mars.  Whole chapters of this book can be read on my blog. Uncle Bob Adventures will be out from Blank Slate Publishing in the summer.




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