Sickeningly late part 2.

Day two of Graphic Medicine 2014 (day one blog post here, if you’re into chronological order).  Breakfast buffet first, and now let’s go.

Today’s keynote was by Art Frank (U of Calgary), on When Bodies Need Stories In Pictures.


There was plenty more good stuff here on why narratives and memoirs of illness matter.  The idea that stories go round us and through us.  Using Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner’s story in Our Cancer Year to show how illness is a part of life, not the only thing in life: chronicling a story can be about doing something more than only coping with illness.  The idea that one person’s suffering can also be a story that helps other people with their own suffering.

On to panel 4B, Communicating Medicine, Past and Present.


Meredith Li-Vollmer and David Lasky talked about No Ordinary Flu, their comic using the 1918 influenza pandemic as a starting point to communicate information on how to cope with a possible modern day pandemic.  I liked the tricky bits: using different inkers to show flashbacks in the comic and to manage deadlines, working out the Pantone colour for different skintones for two-colour printing in blue and black, and why using Comic Sans is good.  No, that’s not a typo.  Clarity that met funders’ accessibility requirements, ubiquity on translators’ computers, and no worries with special characters.

Then it was my turn, talking about Epic Themes in Awesome Ways, or the wee and guinea pigs in Asteroid Belter: The Newcastle Science Comic.  Having done a number of talks about Asteroid Belter as a whole I enjoyed the chance to focus on two comics in this anthology as case studies of medical illustration and education (When Wee Goes Bad by Anton Brand and the ICaMB team, who have since gone on to use cartoons in clinical trial information leaflets for adults), and of provider-patient communication (A Guinea Pig’s Guide To Cancer Drug Trials by Sarah AlHazmi, Selina Lock, and Ruth Plummer).  Preparing this talk was valuable to me as an opportunity to ask some of our contributors about their experiences of doing the project (read: now we’ve all recovered from doing an awesome but intense project).  Better still, that they answered honestly: it wasn’t that every part of everything was awesome, but it was a positive journey and contributors invested a lot of themselves in the project.

Then Norm Barker gave a gloriously-illustrated presentation on the advertising of patent medicines.  How glorious?




Very glorious, both for the chromolithography printing techniques and the unsubtle imagery.  Turns out many patent medicines had so much booze in them there was little space for snake oil.


Another good buffet lunch, then session 5C on Shared Experience: Time, Transformation and the Unknown.


Some nice callbacks to Art Frank’s keynote, including the idea of graphic memoirs of illness as postcards: ‘wish you weren’t here’, but seeing as you are maybe I can help you deal with it.  I liked the academic boldness R.Finn quoted about stylistics for analysing texts:


The space-y backdrop slide seemed appropriate for such epic language.


Ok, closing keynote by Ellen Forney talking about her book Marbles: mania, depression, Michaelangelo, and me.



More boldness: this started as a performance or dramatic reading, then became increasingly conversational which I thought was an effective presentation of her work.  Probably the last reference I expected was to the Benny Hill Show soundtrack, but there it was.  Probably the best compliment was when Ellen referred to the conference as full of “brainiac comic geeks”…yeah, definitely a compliment.


NOTE: that’s my doodle of what Ellen said, not an autograph.

I had to duck out to set up for the comics marketplace so missed the rousing round of applause for Lydia Gregg and all others involved in organising the conference.  I’ll add it here: well done, it was a great event.

Free copies of Asteroid Belter went down well at the marketplace.  I was particularly glad to give copies to James Sturm from The Center for Cartoon Studies and Warren Bernard from SPX, and to swap with Brian Fies for his sciencey, spacey book Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?

Other sweet sweet swag included David Lasky and Frank M Young’s The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, comics from Boostershot Comics, and Joe Sutliff’s work on stinky storm drains.

Then off to the pub for dinner (yes) with Meredith and David, Finn, Dan Bustillos, Sharon Rosenzweig, and Aaron Freeman where I coerced people into taking part in a jam comic (YES). I thought this was a part of the universal language of comics but a surprising number of folks hadn’t done one before. They done did good, though.


I foolishly left my sketchbook unattended – it was returned safely, but with this somewhat baffling addition by Ian Williams:

I haven’t googled it and I’m a little scared to try.

Anyway. The next morning I awoke to the best thing in the world ever.


Texas french toast with amaretto, bacon, fruit salad, and 4oz of syrup. This is what £9 of Baltimorean room service looks like.

I spent the rest of Sunday touristing around Baltimore, and was glad I did. Hampden in daylight was cool without being hipster-gentrified, and served me Old Bay And Caramel flavour ice cream; the inner harbor and inner harbor east were beautiful with great industrial views; I had my first Five Guys Burger and Fries burger and fries, and renounced some 12 years of allegiance to In-N-Out. Yes, that good. Oh, and I bought a Charm City Cakes t shirt: with all due respect to the American conference-goers who tried to tell me that the show’s been off the air for years and not considered cool, I love it and I don’t care.

So that was Comics & Medicine: from private lives to public health, Graphic Medicine 2014. I’m working on comics from the rest of my trip (North Shields -> NY -> Washington DC -> Baltimore -> Philadelphia -> Atlantic City -> Asbury Park -> NY -> North Shields), and working on The Future of post-Asteroid Belter comics projects. The things I learned and people I met at this conference are already proving a great help.

Thanks again to all those involved in planning and delivering a great conference.  You’re all awesome megadudes.

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One thought on “Sickeningly late part 2.

  1. […] Blog post on the rest of the conference to follow here. […]

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