Another wonderful Comics & Medicine conference and as always, it’s impossible to summarize even all the panels I attended, never mind the ones I didn’t get to because, sadly, I still haven’t figured out how to be in more than one place at a time. Fortunately, you can look at the graphic notes that were taken by the wonderful conference hosts, The Center for Cartoon Studies.
I think I’ll actually start at the end, with David Macaulay’s keynote talk, which ended the conference. I recognized Macaulay’s artwork from his children’s book Motel of the Mysteries. It’s very tongue in cheek and worth tracking down if you’ve never read it. At some point in the future (after the US has been destroyed by some unnamed event) archeologists stumble upon a motel and create a narrative in which everything from a bathtub plug to a TV set are read as religious totems of the long-lost American civilization. Other readers may recognize Macaulay from his series The Way Things Work, or The Amazing Brain, from which many of Macaulay’s slides in his presentation were taken.
In a series of slides illustrating how an eyeball works, there was an illustration drawn from inside the eyeball, looking out. And while I’ve seen plenty of anatomical illustrations bisecting the eyeball, or peeling back it’s various layers, the point of view from inside the eyeball looking out was new to me.
Not to hit you over the head with the metaphor, but it does seem like an apt one for Graphic Medicine. Because medicine involves people, both patients and doctors, there’s an infinite number of ways for people to interact, and it’s interesting to me to consider all the perspectives available for any single interaction. Graphic Medicine seems to be the place where those stories come to light.
I know it’s been said before, but comics and graphic narrative re-introduce humanity to stories of illness and healing. It was heartening to sit in on the panel “Back to (Medical) School” and to hear how comics are being utilized within different curricula for exactly this purpose, and to hear how medical students and doctors use comics and the creative process to sort through their own experiences. While Ian William’s, The Bad Doctor, or MK’s Taking Turns, are both wonderful examples of exactly that, it’s encouraging to hear that it’s a practice that’s being introduced to future medical professionals who might not otherwise have found it.
It also made me think that Comics & Medicine is the one place where I see patient and provider stories relayed in an environment where the doctor-patient power dynamic, that I’m so acutely cognizant of in my own experiences, kind of falls away. I presented during a lightening session with several other people, some of whom were also sharing patient experiences. There was a very productive question and answer session at its conclusion about the potential costs and benefits of patients being asked by their doctor to create comics about their experiences, or a doctor suggesting a particular graphic memoir to a patient. And I came away from that session thinking, I don’t recall a doctor ever coming to me and saying, “based on your experiences, do you think X is a good idea?” Even to write that down seems like such a transgression of the assumption of who in this scenario is supposed to be the one with the knowledge and power to heal. And yet in that Q&A, that was what happened. And while it might seem like a small thing, it means seeing a patient as someone with something of value to contribute to their own healing. In my experience within mental health, that was utterly, utterly absent. And ultimately, damaging.
On a lighter note, I was so happy to find Mita Mahato at the marketplace. I had picked up several of Mita’s individual pieces at past conferences (Unidentified Feeling Object might be my favorite) but finally purchased a copy of her poetry comics collection, In Between. Cathy Leamy’s very clever (it’s kind of like she read my mind) procrastination comic, Stops & Starts has found a permanent spot on my desk. And I’m very much looking forward to the release of Rachel Lindsay’s graphic memoir about bipolar, Rx. From her lightening talk it sounds like it contains, in part, a much-needed critique of the commodification of illness.
There’s lots about the conference I didn’t even touch on, but in addition to the graphic notes mentioned previously, the Graphic Medicine site is great resource for a comprehensive overview of the speakers, as well as #graphicmedicine18 on good ole Twitter. John and I plan on updating this website on a more than bi-annual basis so check back. And hopefully we’ll see you at Graphic Medicine in Brighton, UK, next year.