Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Curiosities of Medicine

Intestines from victims of Philadelphia's 1849 cholera outbreak. (The Mütter Museum)
Intestines from victims of Philadelphia's 1849 cholera outbreak. (The Mütter Museum)

I have been very impressed in recent years by the expanding number of topics approached in graphic novels.  No longer just about superheroes, they tackle politics, economics, race relations, and history among many other topics, and there is an ever growing selection of  biographies and memoirs in this form. A while back, a Facebook friend turned me on to an interesting website called Graphic Medicine.

Graphic Medicine is a site started in 2007 by Ian Williams, a physician and artist from North Wales, that "explores the interaction between the medium of comics and the discourse of healthcare". There you'll find a growing collection of comic reviews, articles, pod-casts, links, and coverage of their international Comics and Medicine Conferences. They encourage participation by academics, health carers, authors, artists, fans, and anyone involved with comics and medicine.  I was especially interested in the reviews they post, and wondered how many of the books are in our libraries. Quite a few, as it turns out.

It's not a surprise that one of the most frequent illnesses dealt with in graphic novels is cancer.

Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person : A Memoir in Comics by Miriam Engelberg.

A cartoonist examines her experience with breast cancer in an irreverent and humorous graphic memoir.

Cover of Mom's CancerMom's Cancer by Brian Fies

An honest, unflinching, and sometimes humorous look at the practical and emotional effect that serious illness can have on patients and their families. 

Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto.

An an autobiographical work that documents the investigations and treatment this city girl went though when diagnosed with breast cancer. Read more about it on GM.

Stiches: A Memoir by David Small. 

"How would you feel if you inadvertently caused your son’s cancer, then ignored the lump for a couple of years, resulting in an operation that left him mute? It isn’t really apparent what David Small’s father felt, because his family are not big on communication." -- GM
A grueling yet fascinating memoir.

Epileptic by David B.

"A masterpiece in which the margins of reality, dreams and imagination are blurred," says GM.
Cover of Tangles

Tangles : a Story about Alzheimer's, My Mother, and Me  by Sarah Leavitt.

Another memoir, currently on order.

The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames.

Jonathan A. is a boozed-up, coked-out, sexually confused, hopelessly romantic and, of course, entirely fictional novelist who bears only a coincidental resemblance to real-life writer Jonathan Ames
Cover of Swallow Me Whole

Swallow Me Whole / Nate Powell.

As the story unfolds, two step siblings hold together amidst schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, family breakdown, animal telepathy, misguided love, and the tiniest hope that everything will someday make sense.

The Nao of Brown  by Glyn Dillon.

Nao Brown suffers from OCD, but not the hand-washing, overly tidy type that people often refer to jokingly. Nao suffers from violent, morbid obsessions, while her compulsions take the form of unseen mental rituals.

Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel.

Cover of Are You My Mother?"This volume continues the story of Fun Home, which documents Bechdel’s struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder and her father’s struggle as a closeted gay man who ultimately commits suicide. Although the two memoirs overlap, Are You My Mother? also works well as a stand-alone story. In it, Bechdel portrays herself writing Fun Home, clashing with her mother repeatedly as she tries to unpack her family’s history and her own struggle for mental health." -- GM.

The Ride Together : A Brother and Sister`s Memoir of Autism in the Family by Paul Karasik, Judy Karasik.

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child  by Tobe, Keiko.

A work of fiction set in Japan gives an interesting cultural perspective on raising a child with an ASD in a very competitive, status-preoccupied environment.
Cover of Tyranny

Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield.

The tyrant in question is anorexia in this young adult graphic novel.

Lucille  by Ludovic Debeurme

Another book that follows the life of a young anorexic woman and the difficult relationships she has with others, who have significant problems of their own. This one's in the adult collection.
Cover of The Hypo

The hypo : [the melancholic young Lincoln]  by Noah Van Sciver.

This debut graphic novel follows the twentysomething Abraham Lincoln as he battles a dark cloud of depression, unknowingly laying the foundation of character he would use as one of America's greatest presidents.

Blue Pills by Frederick Peeters.

"Swiss artist Frederick Peeters, chronicles his relationship with Cati, a wild, vivacious girl he meets at a New Years Party. They connect and become lovers. Before long Cati tells Fred that she and her three-year-old son are both HIV positive." -- GM.

Cover of The Truth About StaceyThe Truth About Stacy by Reina Telgemeier.
A middle school girl comes to terms with her diabetes in this graphic novel in the Babysitters Club series, shelved in the children's section.The same author/illustrator created Smile which depicts how she coped, sixth grade through tenth, with a variety of dental problems that affected her appearance and how she felt about herself.

(Since we are in the children's room, I'd like to put a word in for a series about Squish, an amoeba, by Jennifer Holm.)

Speculative fantasy based on a medical premise, also show up in graphic novels:

BodyWorld by Dash Shaw.
Cover Of BodyWorldIt's 2060, and a devastating civil war has left the country in shambles. Professor Paulie Panther-- botanist, writer, and hopeless romantic-- arrives in the experimental forest town of Boney Borough to research a strange plant growing behind the high school. Read an interview with the author.

Black Hole by Charles Burns.

1970s. A group of young teens finds themselves struggling with a mysterious and vicious virus that only infects teenagers, transforming them into self-segregating monsters.
Here are the gruesome details.

And then there are the career books:

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang.

This Young Adult book suggests  that you need not give up the joy of video games to pursue becoming a doctor.

Cover of The PhotographerThe Photographer by  Guibert, Emmanuel.

A look at the work of Doctors without Borders as seen through the eyes of a photojournalist who accompanied the group through war-torn Afghanistan.

Cover of From HellAnd, let's add a crazy doctor to that mix:

From Hell by Alan Moore.

Alan Moore's "autopsy" of the Jack the Ripper legend was an award-winning series in the 1990s and is gathered together in one volume in this edition.

Until you can get in to your local library, why don't you try some web comics:

Asylum Squad

Canadian artist Sarafin creates fiction based on her experiences with inpatient psychiatric hospitalization.

Better, Drawn

A place for people to share stories about long-term mental and physical illnesses, told in the form of short comics.

Comic Nurse

She may have been the first healthcare professional to start drawing comics about her experiences.


The creator is a physician, artist and cartoonist in the U.K.

Hyperbole and A Half

An epic tale of childhood sugar rage.


Annette K's avatarAnnette K.

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