I went to Graphic Medicine’s conference ‘Comics and Medicine: From private lives to public health’. It was at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland. It was awesome, this blog post is late (spoiler: and it’s only post 1of 2 as it was too good a conference to fit in one post), let’s get going.
Johns Hopkins is pretty.
The opening talks on the Thursday evening were a good way to get into the conference without too much of a jolt. The talks were good, like, I mean the rapid fire 5min time limit kept things moving, to give my brain time to acclimatise. Key points for me: www. comics4healthcoverage.WordPress.com is a great participative idea but I’m sad it’s necessary (and terrified that the NHS’s days may be numbered); Joe Sutliff’s comment that he “came up with a bunch of safe ideas and then tossed this one in for fun”… ah yes, these are people I can understand.
Fancy Korean noodles and shoo-fly pie for dinner, and an early night.
Herbal tea, and a strong keynote by Carol Tilley on her research debunking Frederick Wertham’s bad research (fabrication, leading questions, and a misleading write up, oh my) on how reading comics made kids in the 1950s into delinquents. Spoiler: no, of course it didn’t.
John Waters, I like to believe you’re reading this and I like to believe you love the campyness of Wertham’s books.
More tea then a workshop with Brian Fies, he of ‘Mom’s Cancer’ (spoiler: he’s an absolute dude, we chatted at the comics marketplace on Saturday and he gave me a copy of his latest book). I made a quick comic about trying to process the scale of the boarded up neighbourhoods I’d seen on my taxi ride to the conference yesterday – not the character design the well-planned exercises had been heading for, but a comic nonetheless.
Buffet lunch, and a chat with Daniele Archambault – partly about her web comic www.uneanneesansalcool.com (A Year Without A Drink), and partly about the Bay Area and the UC system (she’s based in Palo Alto, I had a 10ish year reunion at UC Santa Cruz in 2013). All good.
On to session 2c, Teaching Through Graphic Medicine.
Key points for me: voice, particularly patient voice, matters; combining words and pictures to deduce a story can be like a doctor using symptoms to diagnose a condition; institutional support is unbeliiiiiievably important for new initiatives and courses; taking medical students outside their comfort zone of being good at everything is an important thing to do; it’s about comics not about drawing; rigour, insight, appropriate assessment and pedagogies matter… yes, my day job is in supporting university teaching, so I took a lot from this crossover with comics.
Tea and tiny tiny cupcakes, then 3a: Medicine As Expressed By Comics.
Yeah, this one was good. I’d spoken with Georgina Webber about her work (www.georgiasdumbproject.com), and her performance/talk was both stylish and powerful. Voice, again, you see. Dr Kun Kwak and Hanul Kim’s animated comics A Junior Doctor’s Tale were a mature and engaging insight into a Junior Doctor’s world. There were chicks from Sharon Rosenzweig as a conversation and storytelling prompt, and as chicks. All good examples of “telling stories only you can tell” and “making your experiences useful”.
Then on to a keynote by James Sturm on Applied Cartooning and work done by the Center for Cartoon Studies, which he co-founded.
This, this I liked. Comics programmes that are emphatically not ‘How to get your head out of your ass 101’. The “self worth rollercoaster rides” for artists and war veterans involved in CCS’s project. Batman as the poster child for PTSD. “Comics are a therapeutic blow torch and so far we’ve only lit a few cigarettes with them”. More about voice. Mostly, I liked all this talk of ‘applied cartooning’ because having spent 18+ months making ‘Asteroid Belter: The Newcastle Science Comic’, the things this guy was saying had plenty of shared ground with the things the ‘Asteroid Belter’ gang and I had been doing. Like I said, these are people I can understand.
Ok, off to Hampden for dinner with R Finn, Benita Fernando, and Melissa Loucks. Some chat of comics; much chat of Mexican Coca-Cola (it’s all about the corn syrup), epic drives, and tipping.
I’m proud of this photo because it quite literally shows Baltimore at night, and it was every bit as pretty as Gram Parsons promised.
The talks were good but I was too tired for the extended round the room introductions. And maybe I’m biased because the reporter of my LDC talk in Leeds, way back in 2013, claimed I’m an illustrator and scientist even though I was very clear I’m neither. Maybe she missed the ‘not‘. Anyway. Lots of talk of bodies, the body, written on the body – not a surprise given it’s a graphic medicine conference, but it triggered lots of memories of undergraduate UCSC classes and writing essays about The Body. I was a History major and there was so much about The Body: studying in England (University of York, BA 2003; Newcastle University MEd, 20010) everything was about Power, especially Bourdieu, but studying in the US it was all about The Body. I don’t remember any direct references to Mary Douglas’s ‘Purity and Danger’, but hooo boy it was there. Also there were some nice weird books – Atomic Books’ slogan is ‘Literary Finds For Mutated Minds’, and they seem to take it as a Divine mission. Get it? Capital D, because of the beautiful movie star Divine?
I bought two books by John Waters and left him fan mail including some of mine (Atomic Books is his mailing address for strangers, y’know). Fan mail written on hotel notepaper under the influence of jet lag, but still very heartfelt.
Hotel, bed, sleep.
Blog post on the rest of the conference
to follow here.