Ill-Conceived, Well Drawn-and Powerful: Graphic Medicine Exhibition Debuts at NLM

A woman reacts in shock and horror to a call from her doctor telling her there is abnormality

From Cancer Vixen, Marisa Acocella Marchetto, 2006 (Courtesy Marisa Acocella Marchetto and Penguin Random House LLC)

Welcome to the world of graphic medicine—the use of comics to tell stories of illness and health.

What’s NLM got to do with graphic medicine?

A lot!

Dozens of images are now online in Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived and Well-Drawn!, a multi-formatted exhibition which explores this increasingly popular genre and showcases the National Library of Medicine’s growing collection of graphic medicine works.

Curated by Seattle cartoonist and educator Ellen Forney, author of the New York Times bestselling graphic novel Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, the new exhibition introduces the genre, discussing who creates graphic medicine, how it conveys meaning, and its impact on readers and creators.

Topics covered in this groundbreaking exhibition include cancer, Alzheimer’s, eating disorders, lupus, hearing loss, and many more. Texts and images can be funny, edgy, irreverent, and jarringly honest—sometimes, in the same comic!

As text in the exhibition states:

Learning about illness and treatment can be an effective coping and healing strategy for the author, and sharing that information with readers can transform a negative experience into a positive one.

collage of book covers featured in the Graphic Medicine exhibition

It can also provide help and healing for others going through the same experience, and inform health professionals, too.

How can I check it out?

There’s lots of information for you, but here it is, in a nutshell:

  • There will be a special Graphic Medicine display in the History of Medicine Reading Room January 30, 2018 through January 3, 2019. You’re welcome to visit weekdays except federal holidays. Group tours are available upon request. (Call 301-827-6479.)
  • Graphic Medicine may also be coming to a neighborhood near you. Two copies of the traveling banner exhibition will be visiting 48 libraries across America over the next four years.
  • Graphic Medicine‘s companion website features captivating images and stories from the exhibition, along with a lesson plan for grades 7-10 and a module for university students.
  • NLM will host “A Conversation about Graphic Medicine,” in its Lister Hill Auditorium, March 1, 2:00-3:30 pm, ET. NLM Director Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD, will moderate a discussion with the project’s curator, Ellen Forney; Dr. Michael Green, a physician, bioethicist, and professor in the Departments of Humanities and Internal Medicine at Penn State University, where he cares for patients, teaches graphic medicine, and conducts research in bioethics; and MK Czerwiec, a nurse and artist-in-residence at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. This free event will be live-streamed globally.

We’ve done our best to capture these remarkable images in words, but the biggest impact comes from the authors’ heartfelt personal experiences combined with their images. Be sure to check them out.

By Melanie Modlin, NLM in Focus writer