by Dr. Ian Williams
I have coined the title “graphic medicine” for this site as a handy term to denote the role that comics can play in the study and delivery of healthcare. Michael Green and Kimberley Myers acknowledged my origination of the term in their paper
Graphic medicine: use of comics in medical education and patient care
I wrote my MA dissertation on comics as a resource for healthcare professionals (ahem, I got a distinction)
It has long been known that comics are “not just for kids”. Over the past decade this underrated medium has begun to receive recognition and acclaim from literary critics, academics, and broadsheet reviewers. This renaissance is partly due to the rise in popularity of the graphic novel. In contrast to production line, genre based, mainstream comics, graphic novels are full length, square bound “serious” comic books, aimed at adults, usually written and illustrated by one person, thus encapsulating the style, narrative and subjective worldview of an individual. Often drawing on direct experience, the author builds a world into which the reader is drawn. Amongst the growing number of autobiographical works, titles dealing directly with the patient experience of illness or caring for others with an illness are to be found.
Thanks in part to the medical humanities movement many medical schools will now have tutors suggesting students read classic literature or modern novels to gain insight into the human condition. I think is high time that graphic fiction was taken as seriously: comics and graphic novels could be used as a resource for health professionals, playing a valuable role in:
Reflecting or changing cultural perceptions of medicine
Relating the subjective patient/carer/provider experience
Enabling discussion of difficult subjects
Helping other sufferers or carers
Of course stories, whether written or drawn are not real life; even autobiographies are carefully constructed representations. Written stories tend to have a structure, with some sort of ultimate resolution (as well as a beginning and middle). Stories of illness that are written down or drawn by skilled, articulate authors, published by a commercial company and bought by enough people to warrant reprinting, are a highly selected marginal subgroup of the total that are “out there”, passed on by word of mouth, unwritten. Many of these “other” stories will be incoherent, too painful to relate, too distressing to hear, and so utterly bleak, miserable or banal that no commercial press is ever likely to publish them. There are other arguments against taking literature or comics as representative of real experience.
Dr Ian Williams
Comics artist and physician, Editor of Graphic Medicine.
Frank, A The Wounded Storyteller 1997 Chicago, University of Chicago