Drawing Blood: Comics & Medicine
Curated by Jared Gardner
with support from Morgan Podraza
at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum,
Sullivant Hall, The Ohio State University
Review by Kevin Wolf
Graphic medicine was on display during the recent CXC (Cartoon Crossroads Columbus) conference in late September 2019 at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in Sullivant Hall at The Ohio State University in Columbus Ohio. The exhibition, entitled Drawing Blood: Comics and Medicine, began April 20, 2019 and will end October 20, 2019 and is curated by Professor Jared Gardner, OSU Department of English and author of Projections: Comics & the History of 21st Century Storytelling (2012), with support from Morgan Podraza.
The American Association for the History of Medicine (AAHM) held their annual conference from April 25-28, 2019 in Columbus Ohio. The AAHM conference provided the impetus to create the Drawing Blood: Comics and Medicine exhibition. The curator selected an excellent variety of comics by skilled writer-artists over many topics, political perspectives, and several eras from the 18th century forward with emphasis on contemporary images, and demonstrating the usefulness of comics as teaching tools. Most of the curator notes are nicely detailed and thoughtful, though I do have a few quibbles discussed later. I highly recommend this exhibition.
Drawing Blood was shown in the Robinson Gallery. A second neighboring gallery showed, over the same time period, Front Line: Editorial Cartoonists and the First Amendment; co-curated by Ann Telnaes, Pulitzer-Prize winning editorial cartoonist, and Lucy Shelton Caswell, Professor Emerita and Founding Curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. The American Association of Editorial Cartoonists was having their annual meeting in Columbus during CXC and participated in several panels. The last gallery at Billy Ireland has permanent and rotating collections on the walls, in display cases, and vertical pullouts and drawer displays.
Drawing Blood is made up of over 100 cartoon images with many detailed descriptions on the walls or inside five floor displays in six major areas (Before Modern Medicine, Patent Medicine and Quack Remedies, Doctor as Hero, Medicine in Editorial Cartoons, Contemporary Issues, and Graphic Medicine) and eleven sections (Doctor as Hero, For the Cause (medical charities), Shortages (especially nurses from 1936 into the 1960s), Vaccines, Humor with floor display of Gags, Medicine as Metaphor, Education and Advocacy, Underground [comics version of] Medicine, AIDS, and Presidential Medicine) and a floor display of historical medical tools from quackery to still useful. The healthcare providers among the images selected include, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies.
The cartoon illustration curated descriptions provide a great deal of edifying historical context throughout the exhibition. For example, the Comic Code of 1954 led to EC [Entertaining Comics] to produce M.D. comics in 1955—not mentioning that EC also produced Psychoanalysis comics starting earlier that same year. Alfred Andriola, lending his Kerry Drake comic strip character, helped with fundraising for the National Cancer Foundation in the 1950s, and ironically, died of cancer in 1983.
I asked Jared Gardner, the curator, questions about his goal, selection process, and any website for Drawing Blood; and these, with slight editing, were his responses.
Goal: As someone who has benefited—as both a patient and a scholar—from Graphic Medicine, I really wanted to highlight some examples of contemporary graphic medicine and all it can do. So I knew from the start that the exhibit would have a large section devoted to that work. But one area where I often feel conversations in graphic medicine are lacking is in terms of the history of comics and medicine beyond the present moment, and as a comics historian (and someone with a deep interest in medical history) I thought it would be great to also highlight the long history leading to our 21st-century moment, as comics and medicine moves from premodern medicine through the “doctor as hero” as mid-20th century, to the increasingly ambivalent experience of both caregivers and patients in the postmodern medicine of today.
Decision process: With all exhibits I work on at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, the first step is always to inventory what we have in our collections. Once everything has been pulled, the next step is to sit down with all of it—usually 2-3 times as much as could possibly fit in an exhibit—and think about the narrative I want to tell, various clusters and other ways of organizing the material, etc. And then I start identifying holes or gaps, seeking out additional materials to fill them via loans or purchases (that I will later donate to the Billy Ireland). The whole selection process takes about 6 months or more, but it is always an amazing experience to discover new treasure troves in the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum’s collections.
Website: I am working on a website that will include many of the items in the exhibit (permissions are needed for post-1923 items, so it will take some work). The site is just beginning, and will be evolving regularly with new posts at http://drawing-blood.org.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have talked with the Jared Gardner, curator, on many occasions, especially at prior CXCs; I provided suggestions of comics to include in the exhibitions (some of which were); and I loaned the exhibit a comic by Richard Thompson (1957-2016)—creator of Cul de Sac—illustration from Contingencies, an actuarial magazine, that was included in Drawing Blood.
I’ll discuss one or two selected examples from most of the sections on display.
The earliest images I found were in the Before Modern Medicine section by William Hogarth (1697-1764) of a vicious 1751 comic of a murderer who tortures animals and is punished by being dissected at College of Surgeons and another from 1736 of not distinguishing undertakers from licensed doctors. Some other cartoonists in this section included Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), James Gillray (1756-1815), George Cruikshank (1792-1878), Charles Williams (1776-1820), and Thomas Nast (1840-1902).
In the Vaccines section there are two well-placed strips that show there have been persons against vaccinations from the late 1800s to the present. An unknown artist depicts in 1910 the Statue of Liberty feeling assaulted in her raised arm with “compulsory vaccination” by rotund angrily-smiling man with top hat labeled “Doctor Trust” while the curated display description explains that Anti-Vaccination Society of America opposed smallpox vaccinations in late 1800s. This editorial cartoon mimics current wrongheaded debates about childhood vaccinations, in light of recent measles outbreaks of unvaccinated children. This 1910 cartoon is nicely juxtaposed with Jen Sorenson’s editorial cartoon nearby Get Well Gifts for the Unvaccinated from May 12, 2014; and this comic has four panels: ill child whose t-shirt reads “Don’t blame me! It’s my mom and dad’s fault;” Lumpy the bear with the mumps virus to be incinerated after use; coloring book with pertussis bacteria on its cover; and concluding with an estate planner with child signing their last will and testament “Decide who gets your Legos, just in case!” This strip’s description discusses the debunked study published in the Lancet in 1998 that claimed a link between autism and the mumps-measles-rubella (MMR) vaccine.
In the Education and Advocacy section there’s a comic book providing lessons on syphilis education for young people; a marketing comic to promote Merck’s hepatitis B vaccine; and related Underground Medicine shows images from Wimmin’s Comix explores women’s health; a comic on the legality, procedure, and decision-making related to abortion shortly before the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision; and a comic on “Special Cancer and Medicine Issue” among others. One of the few persons of color included in the exhibit was Sam Milai showing a cartoon on Facts about the Negro of November 29, 1969 from Pittsburgh Courier, a prominent African-American newspaper; the curated description said, “Milai produced a regular feature highlighting historical achievements by African Americans to resist their erasure in school curricula and mainstream media.” In this case the image was of Clarence Chambers, Jr., M.D. Superintendent of New York’s cancer institute Ewing Hospital with mostly white patients.
Under Contemporary Issues there’s an Etta Hulme editorial cartoon from September 11, 1991: “We have studies …” from Fort Worth Telegram with a male doctor talking across desk to female patient explaining how various animals and males are used in studies; they just never thought about using women in studies. And even into the 2000s I found Hulme’s cartoon apropos because when I researched lung cancer studies for an article I co-authored about the end of life care of my mother many of the lung cancer studies had 80% of participants being male.
One cartoon could’ve been in either For the Cause or Vaccines sections. The cartoon was by William B. Robinson (1908-1969); “Salk Vaccine” in Indianapolis News April 13, 1963. National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (founded in 1938 by President Franklin Roosevelt, who was paralyzed from the waist from polio) with funds solicited on the radio by Eddie Cantor who used the phrase “March of Dimes” to mimic the “March of Time” history newsreels and for an affordable way for everyone to contribute toward the cause. The Treasury Secretary in 1946, soon after the president’s death, put FDR’s image on the dime. Robinson’s editorial cartoon showed the “polio” labeled mountain having a “Salk vaccine” flag planted on top by the “March of Dimes campaign.” The Drawing Blood exhibition description provides incomplete context why this editorial cartoon was shown in 1963, because the Jonas Salk’s vaccine was created in 1952 and began wide use in 1955. Polio vaccinations stopped in 1955, too, because eleven treated persons died and hundreds became paralyzed from the “vaccine,” likely because manufacturers didn’t follow Salk’s instructions, and likely hadn’t completely killed the virus. What happened in 1963 was that the vaccine was improved by Albert Sabin to treat all three types of polio. (source: (www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline#EVT_1000327)
Though not directly addressed as an explosion of graphic works (aka, graphic novels, though many are non-fiction) recently, there were many examples provided in the Graphic Medicine section of Drawing Blood. Medical related memoirs or biographies included page exerpts from: Allison Bechdel (Are You My Mother? (2011)), Roz Chast (Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? The New Yorker summary), MK Czerwiec (Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 (2017)); Brian Fies (Mom’s Cancer (2004/06)), Justin Green (Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary (1972)), Katie Green (Lighter than My Shadow (2013)), Aline Kominsky-Crumb (Goldie: A Neurotic Woman (1972)), Sarah Leavitt (Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me (2010)), Rachel Lindsay (Rx: A Graphic Memoir (2018)), Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole (2004/08)), John Porcellino (Hospital Suite (2014)), Gabby Schulz (Sick (2016)), Carol Tyler (The Outrage story (2005)), Julia Wertz (The Infinite Wait And Other Stories (2012)), Ian Williams (The Bad Doctor (2014)), and included a page by Czerwiec and Williams from Graphic Medicine Manifesto co-authored by MK Czerwiec, Ian Williams, Susan Merrill, Michael J. Green, Kimberly R. Myers and Scott T. Smith (2015). Mentioned in the descriptions was that Czerwiec and Williams were two of the founders of the “graphic medicine movement.”
Context would have been helpful but wasn’t provided for some of the images in the Medicine in Editorial Cartoons section. For example “Diagnosing the Doctor’s Disorder” by Rollin Kirby (1875-1952) from August 2, 1938, which depicts an Uncle Sam like character saying “What you’ve got Doc, is galloping selfishness” to a goateed man lying under a blanket labeled “American Medical Association” and holding a document: “Anti-trust Violations Laid to Medical Societies.” What was the dispute between government and the AMA and why? Richard Quincy Yardley (1903-1979) “When Doctors Disagree” in 1965; shows AMA lobbyist carrying a prescription for “The constitutional right of every solvent citizen to be bankrupted by serious illness” to a sick elderly man in a wheelchair with a thermometer—in his mouth—bursting. Presumably the context for this cartoon was from debates over the seniors going bankrupt from their medical bills and the creation Medicare which passed the congress and was signed by President Johnson in 1965.
In the Education & Advocacy section The Sad Case of Waiting-Room Willie (1950) comic book by Will Eisner, the coiner of the term “graphic novel”, was shown. For those interested in reading this comic, I saw that it was reprinted in Comics Journal Issue 267 April/May 2005 with Eisner on the cover. Billy Ireland has a very rare original of the comic; according to the Journal only 200 copies of the original comic were made by the Baltimore City Medical Society to oppose Harry Truman’s national health care proposal. Missing from Drawing Blood and contrasting with Willie could have been showing Jonathon Gruber’s non-fiction graphic work illustrated by Nathan Schreiber called Health Care Reform: What it is, Why it is necessary, How it works (2011) to explain President Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Gruber was one of the primary architects of the ACA (and earlier Romneycare, the Massachusetts 2006 health care reform)
I’ll close with Al Jaffee (March 13, 1921 – ), a superb and honored cartoonist, in the Humor or Gag part of Drawing Blood exhibition. No detailed curation is provided for Jaffee’s one page comic, perhaps from the 1970s, which was of a Waiting Room with 10 patients sitting across a large coffee table between them and, at the front of the room, a cross-armed gatekeeper sits at a desk between two doors labeled “Examining Room” with the wingless doctor caduceus symbol to the left and “Paying Room” to the right. The Paying Room door has the doctor symbol with only one snake forming a dollar sign with the staff. Those waiting include a person with head covered in bandages reading, a man with a Rip van Winkle beard (grown while waiting?), another vomiting bones, and a hooded skeleton. The coffee table is covered with comic magazines like Humbug (Jaffee was among its writer/artists) and Judge and brochures: “How to go into hock to pay medical bills,” “How to sell possessions to pay medical bills,” “How to beg to pay medical bills,” “How to borrow to pay medical,” and “How to steal to pay medical …”. There are a few spider webs connecting waiting persons to nearby plants. According to Guinness Book of World Records, as of his 95th birthday in 2016, Jaffee holds the record for longest continuous career of published comics – 73 years, 3 months. He started in December of 1942. (www.Guinnessworldrecords.com). Jaffee was a 60+ year contributor to Mad magazine with his classic fold-ins and snappy answers to stupid questions among many others.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I highly recommend this exhibition and look forward to it being archived at http://drawing-blood.org. Jared Gardner suggested that perhaps, if the circumstances and support are right, portions of it may even be remounted elsewhere.