Sir Frederick Banting is a real-life Canadian hero. Best known as the co-discoverer of insulin with Charles Best, Dr. Banting was a lifelong medical researcher, assisted the Canadian military with the development of G-suits, and developed antidotes to mustard gas burns—testing both the gas and the antidotes on himself. He was born in 1891 in Alliston, Ontario and moved to London, Ontario to set up a private medical practice in 1920.
The home in which he lived and established his practice is now known as Banting House National Historic Site of Canada, or simply Banting House. Banting House is currently a museum run by the Canadian Diabetes Association and presents the life and career of Dr. Banting.
One of the first exhibits visitors see in Banting House, is “Three Stories. One Life. Banting's Biography and the Comic Book Aesthetic.” It features blown-up panels from comic books featuring Dr. Banting. According to Banting House curator, Grant Maltman, the comic book panels—one of which is penned by a famous comic book illustrator—introduce Dr. Banting to a wider audience and get visitors excited about learning more. The exhibit, co-curated with Dr. Stephanie Radu, was launched with a mini Comic-Con at Banting House in April 2014.
Mr. Maltman stumbled upon the first comic book featuring Dr. Banting during one of his weekly visits to Ebay for items related to Dr. Banting. World Famous Heroes Magazine, which includes “Canada’s Hero of Science (Sir Frederick Banting),” by the Comic Corporation of America, actually predates the first book-length biography of Dr. Banting by five years, having been produced in 1941.
Bob Lubbers – Dr. Banting, Tarzan, Marvel & DC Comics Illustrator
The illustrator who inked the story about Dr. Banting in World Famous Heroes Magazine was a young illustrator named Bob Lubbers who drew several features for the Comic Corporation of America, also known as Centaur. He went on to become a very prolific illustrator, working with the Al Capp studio, Fiction House and many other comic book publishing houses.
Mr. Lubbers was best known for his work on the Tarzan comics with Fiction House, as a contributor to the L’il Abner series, and as one of the original illustrators for the DC Comics Vigilante series. Vigilante has persisted in the DC Comics universe into the present day. Vigilante was the first DC Comics hero to have a live-action film. Mr. Lubbers also worked at Marvel in the 1970s as an illustrator. While his career wound down in the latter part of the 20th century, Mr. Lubbers’ work was featured at a Tarzan exhibition at Musée du quai Branly in Paris in 2003, and he received the Yellow Kid Prize at the Expo Cartoon Festival in Rome in 1998.
Comic Book Spices up Banting’s Story
According to Mr. Maltman, audiences learn more about Banting’s story through the comic books than most Canadian students are taught in schools. “Lots of his papers were buried in the Second World War, where he was working on the effect of oxygen deprivation on pilots and other military projects. It wasn’t part of the Banting story—but we do find out about some of his involvement in the both World Wars in the World Famous Heroes comic.” Dr. Banting received the Military Cross for heroism in 1919.
“For its time, the comic book story in World Famous Heroes was pretty good. While it doesn’t delve into the Nobel controversy, it is largely a retelling of the public record.”
Dr. Banting was outraged that his assistant, Charles Best, had not been included when the Nobel committee awarded both Dr. Banting and Professor John Macleod the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923. Dr. Banting gave Best half of his share of the prize money and ensured that the public knew about his contribution to the discovery.
Best later founded the Diabetic Association of Ontario in the late 1940s, which later became the Canadian Diabetes Association.
The Next Two Banting Comic Books Spread Myths and Bust Them
The second comic series featured in the exhibit, a series produced by Giant in the 1960s, contains errors about Dr. Banting that had at that time found their way into the public record—including that the death of a child in Dr. Banting’s hometown of Alliston, Ontario motivated Dr. Banting’s work on insulin.
In reality, Dr. Banting wasn’t making ends meet as a doctor. He took a job at what is known now as Western University Medical School and was asked to give a lecture on subject of diabetes, which he didn’t have a research background in at the time. “In the middle of the night, after reading a medical journal earlier that evening on diabetes, he woke up and had an ‘aha’ moment about extracting insulin from the pancreas. This moment led to his discovery of insulin months later.” This happened while Dr. Banting was living in the home that is now Banting House, which is why it is referred to as “The Birthplace of Insulin.”
At the time, life expectancy for those suffering from type 1 diabetes was six months to two years; the discovery of insulin changed the lives of people living with the disease forever.
A London, Ontario comic book artist, Diana Tamblyn, penned Sir Frederick Banting: Duty Must be Done in 2002. One of the bestsellers at the museum, it is a good interpretation of the Dr. Banting’s story according to Mr. Maltman and addresses errors and omissions from the earlier comics. It is also featured in the comic exhibit at Banting House.
Mr. Maltman is happy with the way the comic book exhibit lights up visitors and engages them with Dr. Banting’s life story. Many visitors have observed the fact that while “Dr. Banting looks evil on the cover, he looks like Clark Kent inside the book; for people with diabetes, Dr. Banting is their Superman.”