Essential Graphic Medicine: An Annotated Bibliography
Created by Alice Jaggers and Matthew Noe
Funded by an American Library Association Carnegie-Whitney Grant
Welcome! This is the home for our project, entitled Essential Graphic Medicine: An Annotated Bibliography. This bibliography emerged out of Alice and Matthew’s combined experience with collection management work related to graphic medicine, that is, comics about health, and our shared interest in making this field/genre more accessible to library workers new to the concept. Below you will find more detailed information about the project and our approach, some important caveats, and links to each of the 30 annotations. In addition, you will find a downloadable, printable PDF version of the full set of annotations.
We hope you find this helpful for your work – be you a library worker or not – and invite your questions or comments! You can reach us using the Contact Graphic Medicine form or find us on Twitter: @AJaggers324 for Alice and @NoetheMatt for Matthew.
In late 2017, after answering countless requests for ideas on how to start a graphic medicine collection, we came together to propose an annotated bibliography project that would help library workers do just that: get started with graphic medicine in their library. While the two of us have expertise on this, being mindful of potential for bias, we decided that to do an essential list properly, we would need the input of the graphic medicine community. To that end, we launched a survey in early fall 2018 to coincide with the 2018 Graphic Medicine Conference and distributed it to conference attendees, listservs, and directly to those within the community we might otherwise miss. Respondents were asked to list their top 10 must-have comics for a graphic medicine collection.
In total, we received more than 90 distinct comics recommendations for what might constitute an “essential” title for a library to include in a graphic medicine collection. Title list in hand, we then counted how many times a title was mentioned, determined suitability to the genre, and checked for availability. This last point was important because we wanted the titles in this bibliography to be readily purchasable by libraries. This means any titles that are currently out-of-print, are only available directly from creators, were part of a crowd-funding project (and have not been reprinted by a larger publisher), and floppy-style comics were all removed from consideration as these present significant challenges to collection by most North American libraries.
From there, we sought to ensure that, as much as possible, a wide-array of medical topics are included. This presents some difficulty as a vast majority of readily available comics in the genre focus on cancer or mental health in all their various presentations. In order to ensure a wide-array, we chose to add additional titles of our choosing to the survey results over the course of the project – such as more recent publications like Gender Queer. As more comics in the genre see publication – and there are more every year – the range of health topics is sure to expand. We sincerely hope to see this project in need of updating sooner than later because that means the genre is flourishing!
Once determinations were made about what this essential set would include, titles were divided to be annotated. This required one or both team members to read each comic, provide bibliographic information, and write up a brief annotation on the title that makes it easy for a collections manager to make quick decisions on purchasing. After significant discussion, we opted to not include any specific age rating for the titles, but we do include a “Special Considerations” line that notes potentially triggering information or things like “Adult Language” that may pose a problem in certain library communities. To once again use Gender Queer as an example, to provide a strict age rating might limit the availability of this comic in a way that prevents it from getting into the hands of younger readers that desperately need to see themselves represented in a positive way. We encourage collection managers to be inclusive in their purchasing and shelving practices so that readers of all ages can find information that they need, even if some in the community might disagree.
While we are proud to present this list for your consideration, we also want to warn against the risks of canonization and the privileging of some works in the genre above others. There is an inherent struggle between presenting a collection development tool like this one and one of the goals of graphic medicine – to expand what we talk about when we talk about health to include the subjective experience. More clearly, while you will find comics like Cancer Vixen and Marbles on our essential list, it is important to recognize that they are representing an individual experience that may or may not resonate with everyone. For more on these concerns, see the Graphic Medicine Manifesto and the Minding Graphic Medicine’s Rise panel from the 2020 New England Graphic Medicine Conference.
Alice Jaggers, MSLS
Alice Jaggers (she/they) is a health sciences librarian with expert knowledge in graphic medicine. They have previous experience in healthcare billing, anthropology, and was the Outreach Coordinator at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Alice is the Multimedia Editor for the Graphic Medicine website and publishes a monthly list of upcoming graphic medicine comics on their website. You can also find Alice creating watercolor illustrations and comics on Twitch.
Matthew Noe, MSLS
Matthew Noe (he/his) is Lead Collection & Knowledge Management Librarian at Countway Library, Harvard Medical School, and a part-time instructor at the University of Kentucky. Matthew is a specialist in graphic medicine and advocate for the use of comics at all levels of education. He is currently President-Elect of ALA GNCRT, Treasurer of the Graphic Medicine International Collective, and a 2020 ALA Emerging Leader. You can often find him overcaffeinated, screaming about all manner of things on Twitter, or curled up with two dogs, a book, and not enough hands.
Below you will find the 30 works of graphic medicine selected for this project, arranged alphabetically by title. Each links out to its own page that includes our annotation, as well as bibliographic information and links to further reviews.
The Bad Doctor: The Troubled Life and Times of Dr. Iwan James
Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
Lissa: A Story About Medical Promise, Friendship, and Revolution
Want to read all the annotations in one place? We’ve got you covered with this downloadable PDF! Be aware that the link outs to Worldcat and Bookshop are not present in the PDF version.
Essential Graphic Medicine: An Annotated Bibliography
Supported by a Carnegie Whitney Grant from the American Library Association. Find out more at www.ala.org/aboutala/offices/publishing/sundry/alapubawrds/carnegiewhitney.