MK’s quick Q&A with Seattle conference lead organizer Mita Mahato.
Mita is a cut paper and comics artist as well as an associate professor of English at the University of Puget Sound. She serves on the board of directors for Short Run Seattle and is a teaching artist with local organizations like the Henry Art Gallery and SIFF. This spring, she will be Artist in Residence at the School of Medicine at UC Riverside. She began attending the Comics and Medicine conferences in 2011 and has been on the conference steering committee since 2015.
MK: Tell us about the conference theme of access points.
MM: When the organizers started planning the conference, we kept coming back to issues related to health access. Who has access to healthcare? Who can afford it? What does it look like once you do have it? As healthcare practitioners, teachers, students, artists, citizens, and patients, how do we access information that teaches us about the many ways of understanding bodies, wellness, pain, care? There are so many important causes to take up when you’re looking at accessibility issues—disability rights, intersectional awareness, international law, systemic inequities, to name just a few. We hope to welcome many different perspectives on how comics provide access points to these issues. As the conference has done so well in the past, we hope this one, too, will become a space for open dialogue and learning by way of honoring our differences and celebrating this dynamic and ever-evolving medium. Perhaps some new collaborative work will come out of it as well! Given that the Affordable Care Act is under threat right now and that the new president just reinstated the “Mexico City Policy,” the conference theme seems especially poignant. I hope the conference will affirm for me that comics and art can help!
MK: Tell us about the conference venue.
MM: We’ll be hosting this year’s conference at the central branch of the Seattle Public Library. It’s a gorgeous building (designed by Rem Koolhaas), located right in the middle of downtown Seattle and a stone’s throw away from the Seattle Art Museum, Pike Place Market, all kinds of music venues, and a light rail station for easy access to other parts of the city. We chose the library primarily because it gives us the opportunity to invite the general public to join us for events we’re hosting in the main auditorium, including our keynote addresses, the comics marketplace, and some stellar comics workshops we have lined up. Libraries are such a crucial space for nurturing community education and critical thinking about all matters, but especially health. Did you know that 73% of patrons use public libraries to access information about health-related issues? We’re thrilled that a major sponsor for the conference this year is the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) and we’re eager to continue building collaborations between Graphic Medicine and librarians across the country. As both NN/LM and Graphic Medicine advocate for a better informed public on matters of health and health access, the partnership is really exciting. Yay libraries!
MK: Graphic Medicine has a great team of support in Seattle. Tell us about the other Seattle-based conference organizers.
MM: I’m planning the conference with two other Comics and Medicine conference alumnae, Meredith Li-Vollmer and Jose Alaniz. Meredith works for Public Health – Seattle and King County – and has been the brains behind some pretty innovative health comics projects coming out of Seattle, including the “No Ordinary Flu” collaboration she completed with David Lasky. More recently, she’s been working with local cartoonists to advocate for better healthcare access both on a county-wide level and by nurturing national dialogue about the Affordable Care Act. Jose, too, has been a big advocate for promoting the intersections between comics and health-related issues, specifically as connected to disability communities. He is chair of the Disability Studies program at the University of Washington and of the Executive Committee of the International Comic Arts Forum (ICAF). He also wrote Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond (Univ. Press of Miss., 2014). We’re a busy group! I should give a shout-out to the Comics Fever discussion group, too, for their advice and support. We meet about every three months to discuss books and issues related to Graphic Medicine. Seattle is so pumped for this conference.
MK: A crazy-general question here, what it will be like to have the conference in Seattle?
MM: Rainy? Is that the answer you’re looking for? Seattle is definitely an exciting place for comics. We will be partnering with local non-profit organization Short Run Seattle to co-host our public events. Short Run organizes one of the best indie comics festivals in the country and also develops educational and other programming throughout the year that supports current and future comics artists.
Along with Short Run, Seattle is also home to Fantagraphics Books, the legendary DUNE monthly drawing gatherings, the HAND comics collective, and a number of other resources that demonstrate the wide-ranging and community-enhancing work of the comics medium. In keeping with our “Access Points” theme, I think having the conference in Seattle will allow us to build our Graphic Medicine community in really expansive ways, cementing our bonds from within but, too, creating greater public awareness about what Graphic Medicine can mean beyond academic and our other professional circles.
If you can, plan to spend a few extra days in Seattle. There’s so much to see and do in and around the area. I can’t wait to welcome everyone here!
More info on the conference available here. The call for papers closes soon!