Author: John Curtis Jennison Jr.
Publish Date: 2009
Author website: https://linktr.ee/johnneecurtis
Guest Review by Katya Robin
Transfusion is a short webzine available in the Stories section of the author’s Instagram account. It is about receiving blood transfusions and coping with anxiety about the risks associated with the procedure.
The cover illustration shows a syringe with the author trapped inside. The story begins with the author, John Jennison Jr., in hospital. A doctor recommends a blood transfusion. John doesn’t understand the medical terms and distracted by sexual thoughts. There are further comments of a sexual nature elsewhere in the text which may deter some audiences.
A full-page image shows John on a hospital bed in a hospital gown. The composition suggests that he is overwhelmed. His figure is literally sidelined as the medical equipment takes up the central area of the page. The zine is designed with two visual strands, black on white and the reverse. As the subject is blood the omission of red for additional visual impact is puzzling.
The meat of the publication is a sequence of five full-page panels which use the motif of a blood bag as a framing device. In place of the medical label on the blood bag there is a sketchy biography of each imaginary blood donor. The author explains these fantasies helped to calm his worry about receiving contaminated blood. But for me, it does not personalise the donor-recipient anonymity because the characters (housewife, camp fashion designer, weedy geek inspired to donate blood by Spiderman, hero pilot, and homeless crack addict) are dated stereotypes. Some motivations for giving blood are explored in this section. These range from altruism to despair. Different expressions of heroism are explored.
The text returns to the question of donors’ traits being potentially transmissible and suggests that blood is the “essence of yourself”. This idea is shown visually as the figures dissolve into bubbles that flow towards outlet tubes of the blood bag. These symbolic connotations may be derived from religious beliefs, and popular culture such as comics[i], and mass media. There has been huge take up of blood donation and transfusion since WWII[ii] but fantastical cultural myths about it are still pervasive. Graphic Medicine as a genre could be used to counter the negative tropes about blood transfusion. Graphic visualisation of medical data may help patients understand risk when they are in vulnerable states.
Transfusion closes with John on the road to recovery with a tentative expression of gratitude to donors. He still has some residual anxiety about infected blood but is more settled. The zine ends with light mockery about acquiring “mad skills” from the transfusions and positions these fantasies back in “old movies”.
Transfusion gives an insight into a patient’s personal experience. There’s a pervasive sense of anxiety throughout the story: blood transfusion is presented as an invasive procedure with unpleasant injections. Risk of HIV and Hepatitis infection are mentioned as examples of “all the things I could get from this blood invading my body.” The author explains that making up these stories was an emotional outlet during the protracted treatment. The zine is a valuable account of patient experience showing what it’s like to be ill, worried while undergoing treatments in an impersonal medicalised environment.
Note about triggers: Transfusion includes sexual references, and one use of vulgar language.
About the Guest Reviewer:
Katya Robin is an artist and writer, part of Drawn Together graphic narratives collective. Exhibitions include Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize 2019, PSMirabel PAINT!2019. www.KatyaRobinStudio.co.uk
[i] See Transfusion and blood donation in comic strips Jean-Jacques Lefrère 1, Bruno Danic in Transfus Med Rev 2013 Jul;27(3):154-65. doi: 10.1016/j.tmrv.2012.11.002. Epub 2013 May 3 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23643789/
[ii] See History of Donation, Transfusion and Transplantation https://www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/who-we-are/a-history-of-donation-transfusion-and-transplantation/