There are illness memoirs of many types, from essays and books to documentary films and one-person shows. One of the sessions at the Transform Symposium yesterday focused on graphic novels and other illustrated pieces, written from the perspective of a patient, medical practitioner, or relative or friend of someone with an illness. Comics are a powerful way to convey concepts and experiences that can be hard to explain using words alone. The speakers showed some excerpts from a variety of comics, from the story of a parent’s cancer to a personal experience of bipolar disorder.
In the group with whom I watched that session, there was a small discussion about whether the comic format is a way to “dumb down” complicated medical information for the masses, but I would argue that deft use of graphics and text can pack a lot of emotion and meaning in a concise and powerful package. One scene in a book they highlighted, for example, showed people having a conversation about a meal, but the word “cancer” is written over and over in the background.
One example of this sort of book is Tangles (pictured below), a graphic novel by Sarah Leavitt that tells the story of her mother’s life (and death) with Alzheimer’s disease and her own role as daughter/caregiver. The section shared from this work during the session will stick with me. To discover more, the website Graphic Medicine has lists of books, reviews, podcasts, and information about related conferences.