16 Feb 2018 5:30pm - 6:30pm SG1 and SG2, Alison Richard Building


This lecture will be given by Sara Kenney (Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow / Wowbagger Productions; Surgeon X comic book series). This is a public event and no registration is required. 


Surgeon X is a comic book set against the backdrop of an antibiotic apocalypse in near future London. Rosa Scott, a brilliant and obsessive surgeon becomes Surgeon X, a vigilante doctor who uses experimental surgery and black market drugs to treat patients. Rosa risks everything to save lives, but ultimately ends up warping her medical oath to suit her own decisions.

When writing this comic I spoke to microbiologists, surgeons and a range of medical experts. But speaking to historians, sociologists, anthropologists, ethicists, philosophers and others from the medical humanities, allowed me to examine the characters and storyworld through a range of different lenses. I will take three strands from the comic and dig down into how this interdisciplinary approached influenced the words and art in Surgeon X.

First I’ll explore how disease and drugs are represented. Is disease in this story more of a passive entity and how are the antibiotics themselves visualised or referenced? In a world of scarcity, do antibiotics almost become talismanic?

Second, the comic features a prevalent public health campaign by the ruling government, which Surgeon X rails against. Wash Your Hands; Cook Your Food; Wear a Mask the narrative is all about personal responsibility versus a community minded ethos and state responsibility. It used to be the Gods that punished us with disease, but in this world it’s the state punishing the obese, smokers, drug takers, immigrants, disabled and old. Morality and medicine have always been linked and how does this play out in Surgeon X?

Third – Rosa Scott aka Surgeon X has an existential crisis as the story evolves. She goes from being a surgeon who believes in treating and protecting the individual patient (deontologist), to a surgeon who fights for the greater good (consequentialist). How did we try to visualise this philosophical shift? And is this actually what we’re asking of doctors and others in society today when we’re encouraged to be ‘guardians’ of antibiotics for future generations?

Finally, Laura Coates (Imperial College) surgeon and advisor on Surgeon X will join us on stage. Members of the audience will be invited to try their hand at some surgical activities and we will all have a conversation about these strands and any other aspects of the comic. How can the combined power of words and art help us to explore what it is to be human, in a world on the brink of medical collapse?… 


The lecture will form part of Comic Epidemic: Cartoons, Caricatures and Graphic Novels (16-17 February 2018).




Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), and the University of Edinburgh.


Administrative assistance: events@crassh.cam.ac.uk


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk