I’d like to introduce the Medikidz, a different kind of superhero team. With powers related to the human body, this five-member team guides kids through comic book adventures about medical diseases and conditions. Just like some video games, these comic book characters are using fun to communicate serious facts about health and research.
So far, the Medikidz have had dozens of adventures, including ones about diabetes, eczema, and ADHD. And yes, there’s one about volunteering for a clinical trial, called “Medikidz Explain Clinical Trials.”
Dr. Kate Hersov, the co-founder of Medikidz, did not set out to create a comic book franchise, but it proved to be the best way to accomplish what she wanted. As a physician, Dr. Hersov believed kids deserved to learn about their health issues in ways they could understand, but she could not find materials to do the job. So she decided to create her own; research and interviews suggested comic book adventurers would be an effective medium. Comic books were interesting, super heroes were interesting, and including kids in the story would engage readers. The five-person team of the Medikidz was born:
- Chi: “It’s my job to know all about your lungs”
- Gastro: “I can tell you all you need to know about your tum, your bum, and all the tubes in-between”
- Pump: “The guy you come to for the low-down on your heart and blood vessels”
- Skinderella:“The skin and bone specialist”
- Axon: “The brain specialist”
Most of the action happens in Mediland, a working, planet-sized replica of the human body. On Mediland, skin is the planet’s surface, white blood cells are soldiers and ninjas, and germs are spiky green invaders. In “Medikidz Explain Clinical Trials,” Sara sees another teen participating in a trial and wonders aloud about it. The Medikidz drop in (literally; they fall through the ceiling) and teleport Sara away to Mediland. They show Sara a clinical trial in process, complete with ray guns, a fast car, and ninjas. But solid lessons are tucked in among the costumes and science fiction props: Everyone must agree to the trial, there are control groups, and—just as in real life—the experiments have mixed results. Sara returns home inspired to volunteer for a trial.
The creators of “Medikidz Explain Clinical Trials” and the other adventures work hard to get the science right. Physicians write the basic stories, which comics writers and illustrators then elaborate. But the science goes through a peer review process, to verify the information that comes with the jokes and the action. Dr. Hersov said that she now has doctors clamoring to serve as peer reviewers.
The Medikidz comics have over 100 titles, but they are only a part of what the team behind the team is working on. The company also is building out an electronic presence, including a superhero-moderated database of health information and a smartphone scheduling app.
The goal of the Medikidz comics, app, and website reminded me of Paper Kingdom and other education-focused video games. They all seek to add fun to learning about health and research. After an impromptu session with some test readers (i.e., my kids), I’d say Medikidz is doing a good job. We read through all of our issues in one sitting.
[Correction: We have updated the text to describe Dr. Hersov as a general physician. An earlier version stated she was a pediatrician.]