Cheeseburger Gothic

Guest post from Stuart McMillen. A new look at addiction: Rat Park

Posted June 11, 2013 into Comics by John Birmingham

A cartooning revolution

Cartoonists like me are creating little 'landing pads' for readers to understand unfamiliar issues. The idea is that people read our comics without prior knowledge, become interested in a topic, and then begin their own journey of discovery.

Want to tell a mate why they should stop their chiropractic treatment? Link them to Darryl Cunningham's Chiropractic comic. Want to explain how crazy Scientologists' beliefs are? Link them to An Illustrated History of Scientology. Want to share what it's like to have depression? Use Hyperbole and a Half's two comics to start a conversation.

Those three cartoonists and I have vastly different styles, including different levels of humour within our work. But the one thing we share is a respect for our readers.

None of us write propaganda. All of us give our readers the latitude to make up their own minds. All of us encourage our readers to learn more about the underlying topic after they have finished our comics.

A new look at addiction: Rat Park

Rat Park is my latest contribution to idiosyncratic, factual, earnest comic storytelling.

I drew Rat Park as a 'public service' to the internet. The comic is a form of science communication with a moral compass; a way of distilling the essence of a classic science experiment into an understandable and readable format.

What appealed to me the most is that I'm not swinging a long-held ideological battle-axe. The perspective I'm sharing in Rat Park is the result of recent research and reflection.

In other words, I'm sharing a new worldview to readers who likely think the same way I did, up until recently. Try heroin once, and you'll be hooked for life...


Only 12 months ago I believed this default assumption that drugs are inherently addictive. Learning about Rat Park, and Bruce Alexander's follow-up research into human addictions challenged my view of the world.

My new little 'landing pad' fills an internet knowledge-gap, previously served by an incomplete and ominous-looking Wikipedia article. The comic is a 40 page primer into the science of opiate addiction. Though itself self-contained as a story, Rat Park concludes with four blog posts which elaborate on the ideas that underscore the comic.

Changing minds

Recently a bloke emailed me to say that he'd shown my War on Drugs comic to his decidedly anti-drug mother. Apparently reading my comic convinced his mum to change her mind on the drug prohibition issue!

My comic encouraged her to change her beliefs not by a full-frontal assault from the opposite side of the ideological moat. Instead, I entered through an unguarded side door, and then allowed her to draw her own conclusions with new evidence.

Rat Park is a schematic map of the way I changed my understanding of addiction. It doesn't tell readers what I think. Instead, it shares the logic which brought me to my current conclusion.

Perhaps readers will join me; perhaps not. The decision is up to them.

2 Responses to ‘Guest post from Stuart McMillen. A new look at addiction: Rat Park’

Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted June 11, 2013

and the saddest part, "The funding of the study was discontinued in1982"


Respond to this comment

NBlob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 13, 2013

While we may laugh and point at the head shrinkers, their couches and seemingly pointless questions "That's interesting, why do you think you feel that way?" I must give grudging repect to the sciencification that the field of study has gone through over the last 25 or so years. As the thinker-tinkerers started adopting 'proper' study methods the validity of their researching went through the roof. An excellant example of this was the recent work that I believe contributed to this work on addiction. Properly designed trials, with proper control groups, proper ethics and most importantly the results published in a reasonable Non hyperbolic manner.

Of course calm & rational struggles to cut through against PT Barnum hoopla and moralistic finger pointing.

Also confirmed through rigorous work was the previously anecdotal observation of Visual learners compared to auditory learners. Hopefully these comix will go some way to fill a gap in both knowledge and delivery.

Nice one Mr McMillen & co.

Respond to this comment

Respond to 'Guest post from Stuart McMillen. A new look at addiction: Rat Park'

Follow along with RSS