What is Graphic Medicine?
In 2007, physician and comic book artist Ian Williams coined the phrase “graphic medicine.” He Remarks that it is “a convenient term for the role comics can play in health care and over time it has come to be adopted as the accepted term for this area of study and practice “. Williams and a growing number of healthcare providers, artists, authors and scholars are working together to create medical graphic literature – including graphic memoirs of illness, educational comics for patients and medical students and health-related graphic novels – as well as comic book design – do workshops as a therapeutic modality.
Graphic medical material covers topics such as reproductive issues such as abortion, menopause and pregnancy, as well as stories about diseases such as AIDS, cancer and COVID-19, as well as topics of mental health such as anxiety, dementia and grief. Graphic medicine works can be political, featuring commentary, frustrations and the personal impact of health policy and legislation. Additionally, often sensitive themes such as gender identity, body dysmorphia, and sexuality are frequently explored through the medium of comics. Comics and graphic representation portray feelings and emotions in a powerful, personal, yet decidedly less clinical voice, allowing health care providers, caregivers, and patients to discuss medical/health issues differently. .
The International Collective of Graphic Medicine
Williams started graphicmedicine.orgthe website that now hosts the International Graphic Medicine Collective—the leading special interest group in graphic medicine today. “The Graphic Medicine International Collective was founded as a non-profit organization in 2019 by a group of the field’s strongest supporters and key organizers of Graphic Medicine’s annual conferences,” according to its website. “The mission of the organization is to guide and support the use of comics in health.”
The graphic medicine community has come together at scholarly conferences since 2010. After a 2-year pandemic pause, the Graphic Medicine Annual Conference took place July 14-16, 2022, in a hybrid format, with in-person sessions and events hosted on the University of Chicago campus and an option for virtual sessions. About 300 scholars, artists, doctors, illustrators, librarians, nurses and medical ethicists registered for the conference, with a nearly even split between on-site and virtual attendance.
The 2022 conference kicked off with an opening reception featuring live cartoonists and a gallery tour led by a curator from the [Re]Framing graphic medicine: comics and the history of medicine exhibit in the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Gallery at the University of Chicago Library. The opening plenary, “Calls to Action: A Conversation on Comix, Social Justice, and Self-Help,” set the tone, set the tone for the meeting, and opened 2 days of conference sessions, of workshops, articles and activities.
Workshops at the event included Using Abstract Form and Color to Document/Understand Journeys of Grief, Connection and Trust: Community-Engaged Comix Workshop and Whiteboard Facilitation learning. There was a range of panel offerings, such as Hidden Figures: Killing or Celebrating the Black Body and the Frontline Workers Discussion Panel. Communication sessions covered topics such as COVID comics, health education comics, care and mental health, and education with graphic medicine. Throughout the conference, an open art therapy space offered attendees the opportunity to work hands-on to explore the medium.
Graphic Medicine Editing Sessions
Leading graphic medicine publisher Penn State University Press hosted a book launch plenary to highlight new graphic medicine titles. The first part of the plenary discussed three new books she has published: Clinical ethics: a compendium of graphic medicine cases, Graphic Public Health: A Comic Book Anthology and Roadmapand Focus on Trauma: A Toolkit for Clinicians. Part 2 shared three recently released graphic medicine titles from other publishers: Mom’s Milestones: The REAL Story of the First Seven Years, In rotationand Dying of Attention: A Graphic Memoir on Home Nursing. Penn State University Press has been publishing chart medicine titles since 2015, when it published the seminal Manifesto of graphic medicine, created by leaders of the Graphic Medicine International Collective, including Williams and nurse and comic book artist MK Czerwiec.
International Graphic Medicine Collective Award
This year, the Graphic Medicine International Collective launched its first award for an outstanding health-related comic book project published or completed in 2021. The International Graphic Medicine Collective Award Committee is made up of a team of 5 members, each “representing one or more of these categories: Cartoonist, Academic , clinician, librarian, person with lived experience of illness, caregiving and/or disability, and comic reviewer/reviewer. The winning book Parenthesis, written and illustrated by Élodie Durand, is a memoir that describes the impacts of living with a life-changing tumour. Durand won a commemorative trophy and a cash prize of $1,000. Going forward, the Graphic Medicine International Collective plans to expand the award structure to include multiple award categories.
The Graphic Medicine International Collective’s 2020 and 2021 annual conferences have been canceled in response to the pandemic, but in place of the 2020 meeting, the group has launched a virtual conference Draw together an event. Successful and fun, Drawing Together became a free monthly virtual get-together “to address social isolation from pandemic-related lockdowns, and to support and promote community,” and it continues today. Members of the global graphic medicine community meet via Zoom, where a group facilitator suggests a topic and guides participants to draw, interact and support each other.
Global Sister Organizations
An international graphic medicine community is emerging, and distinct groups outside the Graphic Medicine International Collective are forming and articulating similar missions to meet the information needs of their particular interest groups.
The Japan Association of Graphic Medicine is a newer organization that was inspired by the Graphic Medicine International Collective and “aims to provide a worldwide forum for the exchange of ideas and practical advice” regarding graphic medicine.
graphic medicine is a collective of medical professionals passionate about graphic novels and comics dedicated to collecting graphic medical resources in Spanish, namely books, podcasts and films, and promoting them on the Medicina website Graphica.
In Germany, PathoGraphic was an international research project that ran from 2016 to 2021 and exists with a robust legacy website. During his project, PathoGraphics tenuous graduate-level courses and public workshops and lectures that explored the history of graphic and literary narratives of disease, the aesthetics of graphic medicine, the politics surrounding medical graphic works, and the epistemology of these literary works and arts at their intersection with medicine and the social sciences.
Additional Graphic Medicine Resources
An Essential Chart Medicine Reading List: graphicmedicine.org/essentialgm
Graphic Medicine International Collective reviews of the new work: graphicmedicine.org/comic-reviews
Graphic Medicine International Collective Podcasts: graphicmedicine.org/category/graphic-medicine-podcast
A list of physical and digital exhibitions on graphic medicine: graphicmedicine.org/graphic-medicine-exhibits