Graphic Medicine: Comics at the Wellcome Library


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A presentation to Wellcome Library staff on the topic of medically-themed graphic novels and comics. My colleagues Stephen Lowther and Mun-Keat Looi lent their expertise to the presentation, too. 2 Feb 2011

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  • The idea for this presentation grew out of a conference I attended in June 2010 – Comics and Medicine: Medical Narrative in Graphic Novels. This conference was partially funded by the Wellcome Trust, and was one of the first of its kind to give serious treatment to the emerging field of medical comics. In attendance at the event were medical humanities scholars, practicing GPs, comic book artists, and interested people like myself. Medically-themed comics aren’t new to our collections, but we do have a new collection of graphic novels in the Medicine and Society collection, as of late last summer. Now, I’m not a medical humanities scholar, nor am I particularly well-versed in the comic traditions of the world. So I have recruited two co-presenters who will join me to dissect certain elements of graphic medicine.
  • [Love S.T.I.NGS] (2007) created for the Family Planning Association. [Ninja High School] (1992) is one of few successful, long running manga-styled comics produced in America. 128 issues total, a fairly well-known manga-esque series. This comic manages to fit in fairly detailed explanations of UTIs, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis in 16 pages. Written by a doctor (Joeming Dunn).
  • This slide shows two anti-drug comics and one comic about sexual abuse – all were part of awareness campaigns from the US Government in the 1980s. DC Comics’ + New Teen Titans (1983): joint effort from DC Comics , the P resident’s Drug Awareness Campaign , and NSDA (the National Soft Drink Association ) Keebler Company/DC Comics The New Teen Titans (1983): The second of two New Teen Titans anti-drug PSA comics from the early 1980s. Once again, this comic features an intro by then-First Lady Nancy Reagan. This comic was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Customs Service, and Keebler Company, best known in America for its cookies and crackers. Spider-Man (1984): Produced in cooperation with the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse. Contains two stories dealing with child sexual abuse What I find interesting about these is that they blur the boundary between public and private responsibility. These are a classic example of government initiatives sponsored by special interest groups or corporations.
  • These three comics are for young adult women and men. Heart to Heart (1996) – English language, from the Department of Health. Comic promoting fidelity, respect in relationships and condom use with a view to preventing HIV infection in rural communities in South Africa. Abortion Eve (1973) American comic, discusses the legality of abortions, what to expect from the procedure, and promotes the use of birth control. The graphic format is excellent for presenting multiple viewpoints of a controversial issue. Death Talks About Life (1994) written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean. Comic book which promotes safer sex and educates its readers about HIV transmission and safe condom use (banana as prop). It features well-known characters from the DC/Vertigo universe – namely, Death (from DC's "Sandman" series) and John Constantine (from DC's "Hellblazer" series). It was included with issues of Sandman and Hellblazer when it was published.
  • Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar Harvey Award winner (1995) for Best Graphic Album of Original Artwork. Pekar is most known for his work on the American Splendor series. Recounts a year in the life of Pekar and his wife, as he undergoes treatment for lymphoma. Pekar describes the course of his illness: from diagnosis, chemotherapy, and the development of painful shingles in raw detail. Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies: Won an Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic (2005). Describes his family’s interactions with the healthcare providers. Brian Fies writes in the preface that he has received letters from medical professionals and educators saying that the comic helped them understand their patients’ perspectives. Miriam Engleberg – Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person. This one takes a humorous approach to her experiences as breast cancer patient and survivor. Roughly drawn, so the text had better be good! Another example of a non-artist using the graphic medium for self-expression.
  • Couch Fiction by Philippa Perry Explores therapist-client relationship – with meta narrative to explain how therapy works. Shows the humans behind the processes – or the processes working within the human. An interesting glimpse inside the therapist’s environment – could be used to introduce someone to the idea of therapy. Psychiatric Tales by Darryl Cunningham Experiences working in mental health, and suffering from his own mental health issues. I Had a Black Dog – Matthew Johnstone More of a picture book – not really any movement in the narrative, more impressions of what the Black Dog of depression feels like. Audience for these would be adults dealing with mental health issues.
  • Blue Pills by Frederick Peeters: Memoir dealing with the author’s intimate relationships with an HIV positive woman and son. Peeters is a renowned Swiss comic artist, you can see the skill in his bold, expressive style. This one’s a bit light and frothy – a pleasure to read, but superficial. We never really get to know Cati and her son – how did she contract the virus, how she deals with her diagnosis. But this is Fred’s story – the story of how they met, finding out about Cati’s illness, and coping with it on a day-to-day basis. Epileptic is another example of a graphic memoir – but this one has a less positive spin. David B – a renowned French comic book creator – writes of his experiences living with a brother who suffers from epilepsy. One reviewer describes it as such: “Imagine Robert Crumb if he actually had anything to worry about, or Harvey Pekar drawn by Picasso”. Claustrophobic, highly detailed style – heavy on images of war, with Genghis Khan being a particular favorite – and mythical beasts and snakes being used to illustrate Jean-Christophe’s seizures.
  • Monster –The series follows Dr. Kenzō Tenma as he pursues a young psychopath named Johan – the ‘Monster’ of the title - whose life Tenma once saved. Medical thriller in 18 vols. Black Jack – long running medical drama from the creator of Astro Boy, Osamu Tezuka – who trained as a physician. Black Jack was written and illustrated in the 1970s, dealing with the medical adventures of the superhuman title character, doctor Black Jack . An early episode shows Black Jack being called in to operate on a woman with a massive tumor, a teratoma. In rare cases, teratoma may contain hair, teeth, bone, eye, limbs – it’s the stuff of nightmares. Black Jack fashions a sidekick from these spare parts, and she acts as a comic foil to his serious genius. Black Jack consists of hundreds of short, self-contained episodes that are typically about 20 pages long. Reissued in 2008.
  • Graphic Medicine: Comics at the Wellcome Library

    1. 1. Graphic Medicine: Comics in the Library Mun-Keat Looi Stephen Lowther Jenn Phillips-Bacher 2 February 2011
    2. 2. What you’ll find in the collections <ul><li>Educational comics </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For teens </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>For adults </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Graphic novels </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Graphic pathologies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Cancer </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Mental health </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Chronic illness </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Manga </li></ul></ul>Graphic Medicine: Comics in the Wellcome Library
    3. 3. Safe sex for teens Graphic Medicine: Comics in the Wellcome Library
    4. 4. Superheroes, the USA and special interests fight the baddies Graphic Medicine: Comics in the Wellcome Library
    5. 5. Sexual responsibility for adults Graphic Medicine: Comics in the Wellcome Library
    6. 6. Cancer narratives Graphic Medicine: Comics in the Wellcome Library
    7. 7. Mental health Graphic Medicine: Comics in the Wellcome Library
    8. 8. Chronic illness Graphic Medicine: Comics in the Wellcome Library
    9. 9. Doctors, ethics and manga Graphic Medicine: Comics in the Wellcome Library
    10. 10. How to find in the collections <ul><li>Medicine & Society collection: browse shelves at HHLC </li></ul><ul><li>Genre search in Library catalogue: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>‘ graphic novels’ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>‘ comic books’ </li></ul></ul>Graphic Medicine: Comics in the Wellcome Library
    11. 11. Additional resources <ul><li>Graphic Medicine: </li></ul><ul><li>Ian Williams’s review site </li></ul><ul><li>Polite Dissent: </li></ul><ul><li>Reviews and essays about medicine in pop culture </li></ul>Graphic Medicine: Comics in the Wellcome Library