What is Graphic Medicine?

In order to run a blog about graphic medicine, I must first set out to do the impossible: define graphic medicine.

A loose definition of graphic medicine is this: comics that contain health topics. One big thing about the comics medium is that it seeks to push beyond boundaries of definitions. There are definitions out there, loads of them. Many will just say, “I know it when I see it.” You can’t put a box around comics, because they can’t be contained that way.  

Graphic medicine is no different. As a concept, as a field, it shouldn’t be limited. We shouldn’t be setting out strict definitions about what counts and what doesn’t.  However, for curation purposes–like for the database I am working on–parameters are important. I cannot include every single thing out there. It wouldn’t be manageable.  

How I define graphic medicine is a visual representation which may be partnered with words and tells a story with at least one health topic impacting the story in some way. Put simply: comics about health.

Graphic medicine is a genre of literature using the medium of comics. It is also the study of that genre.  It is also the use of those comics in a health setting. Graphic medicine could be about patients’ experiences, health professionals’ experiences, an exploration of a health topic, and/or so much more. I am always amazed by the topics that I find out there. It is a wonderful field that is continuing to grow and catch more attention. For even more information about graphic medicine, check out graphicmedicine.org.  

There are so many examples of graphic medicine out there.  For a start, I am going to include three freely available ones.  The first is Captain Fit, which is a comic for kids on eating healthy and exercising. The second is MK Czerwiec’s “Comic Nurse,” which is a selection of nursing comics by MK Czerwiec. The third is Allie Brosh’s hilarious Hyperbole and a Half, which is both a webcomic and a graphic novel about depression, anxiety, and other things.

Captain Fit was funded by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine South Central Region and produced by LSU Health Shreveport Health Sciences Library. It was written by Talicia Tarver and Deidra Woodson, illustrated by Nick Fechter, and fact checked by Dr. John Vanchiere from the Department of Pediatrics.

MK Czerwiec is the Comic Nurse, an expert in graphic medicine.  She does basically everything: she co-runs graphicmedicine.org, produces the Graphic Medicine podcast, and tours the world talking about how comics can improve our health. She also created Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 and is one of the lead authors of The Graphic Medicine Manifesto, the defining book about graphic medicine.

Hyperbole and a Half is a webcomic by Allie Brosh that was published into a collection of stories in print. Although not all of the stories have to do with health, a great many of them deal with the mental health issues that the creator deals with in an unapologetic and sometimes humorous manner. The rest are side-splittingly funny. Caution: it contains adult language.

Feel free to comment below with questions, suggestions for future posts, or comments about your own experiences with graphic medicine. Check me out on Twitter @AJaggers324. You can find my graphic medicine database at http://bit.ly/2tjTJDi.

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