Author: edited by Nadia Shammas
guest review by Esther Bendit Saltzman
In her prologue, Nadia Shammas tells us, “CORPUS sprung forward from pain, but it has become a work of love.” That love becomes evident through the vast scope of this comics anthology project. In 42 stories of the human experience with illness, pain, injury, trauma, or healthcare, Corpus spans a wide range of human responses to health related issues, all of them expressed through the comics medium. The strengths of the collection are the diverse experiences it provides for the reader, as well as the array of skillful comics artists and writers participating.
The anthology has exceptional value for many, and it should appeal to a varied readership including those familiar with graphic medicine and those interested in comics and in medicine. The broad range of topics makes it an effective introduction to the field of graphic medicine, while the adeptly rendered products of these comics writers and artists provide a dense offering of material for academic analysis. The collection’s extensive sampling of graphic medicine topics and approaches makes it a unique contribution to the growing number of graphic medicine works.
The variety of topics demonstrates the potential of the comics medium to address important issues in healthcare; the experience of the patient in the healthcare system; and the experience of the ill, in pain, traumatized, or marginalized person in society. The humanity of the individual is expressed through an inclusive lens, incorporating persons of diverse heritage, race, gender identity, or sexual preference. Topics in the physical section include, among others: herniated discs, diabetes, double vision, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, ulcerative colitis, shingles/adult chicken pox, Dupuytren’s disease affecting the hands, and allergy and asthma. Psychological illnesses/issues or pain addressed in the volume include OCD, depression, schizophrenia, insomnia, bipolar disorder, ADHD, hoarding disorder, and transgender transitioning. The third section, labeled “Medical,” contains comics addressing bioethical issues and experiences with the healthcare system. Topics include health care costs, billing, and collection; a body politic representation of implications of climate change; a transplant recipient meeting the mother of the donor; and a nurse’s caring perspective on patient care.
Corpus is a tour de force of comics art and techniques, providing a smorgasbord of styles, color palettes, panel utilization, page layouts, lettering, and genres. The variety of comics styles and approaches juxtaposed in this collection seem to make each comic more striking as it is juxtaposed to one using different techniques. The collection is a showcase of visual metaphor, whether back pain is visualized as a giant spider piercing the sufferer, a double burger linked to double vision, or a monster representing a comic artists battle with carpel tunnel syndrome. Inclusions of the grim reaper allow the subject of death to permeate several comics; in contrast, the search for a physical key becomes a key to clearing the darkness of psychological pain in another.
MK Czerwiec, in her chapter in Graphic Medicine Manifesto, explains that human experiences can be revealed through fragments of stories; the collective story fragments collected in this volume not only reveal individual experiences, but they reveal common threads of human experience that can be traced as themes. Throughout the stories in Corpus, we can trace the themes of pain, isolation, fear, the importance of voice, problems with our healthcare system, and the ability of companionship and love to make things better. Some stories emphasize struggle; some emphasize darkness; some express hope. Some include humor. Examined together, they show that while many of these authors’ experiences have elements in common, all are individual experiences revealing individual needs and abilities to cope.
For me, reading Corpus worked better if I let go of the categories into which it was separated, and I allowed myself to discover each piece individually. So many of the situations in these comics include physical and psychological components, as well as problems encountered in healthcare. In addition, since only some of the titles include the subject and others do not, the Table of Contents does not reveal a list of topics for rapid scanning. So instead, I approached each comic as a present waiting to be unwrapped… with the gifts inside waiting for me to discover them.
Esther Bendit Saltzman is a PhD Candidate in the English Department of the University of Memphis. She worked at the Memphis College of Art teaching courses on Graphic Medicine, and she is working on her dissertation on Graphic Medicine.