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Brian Fies reports on Comics & Medicine 2011

Brian Fies was one the organizers for the second annual Comics & Medicine 2011 conference in Chicago. He’s posted a thorough run down of the conference on his blog

Karen and I made it home from the second international “Comics & Medicine” conference in Chicago–or, as one of our participants called it, “the Coolest Conference on Earth.” I can’t disagree. Assembling a detailed, coherent trip report would take days. Instead, I’ll report some random impressions and annotate some photos to try to capture a feel for it. If you want to know more, you’ll just have to attend the next one (whenever and wherever that’ll be . . .).

Community Comments

#1 Brian Fies
@ 1:44 pm

Thanks, Alan, and also for your support when we were planning the conference. The New York Times did a more objective newsy report on it at An academic conference combining comics and healthcare sounds odd and even some of our speakers weren’t quite sure what “graphic medicine” was or what they were doing there, but by the end everyone got it and we were all pretty enthusiastic. It was a successful, extraordinary weekend.

#2 b.j. Dewey
@ 6:31 pm

Using humor in healthcare is not new, but the conference to explain and expand its use in various comic formats is a wonderful idea.

#3 Brian Fies
@ 10:52 am

Not just–or even mostly–humor, though. The book “Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person” is infused with dark humor, but graphic novels like “Stitches,” “Our Cancer Year,” “Epileptic,” etc. are pretty grim.

Patients make comics about being patients, caregivers about being caregivers, doctors and nurses about being doctors and nurses. They’re fiction and nonfiction. Many are autobio and memoir, others use comics to convey information. One of the qualities that I think make “Graphic Medicine” interesting is that it communicates in ways other media just can’t. People “get” ideas expressed in the form of comics that they don’t or can’t get in other ways. It’s pretty cool.

In both his keynote lecture and private conversations, Scott McCloud said he sees Graphic Medicine as one facet of a much larger thing he hasn’t quite figured out yet. For example, one guy who attended the conference is an archeologist making comics about the science of archeology. That’s different but similar enough to feel like the same sort of thing that could have broader applications. Interesting to think about.

As I said after the first Graphic Medicine conference in London last year, I left feeling like I’d seen the start of something with the potential to be very interesting and important.

#4 b.j. Dewey
@ 12:18 pm


Thanks for enlightening me on this fascinating subject – I obviously needed it! There is an element in humor that I think comes into play in the comics you describe and that is detachment, being able to look at a dreadful situation with a new perspective, even though it produces no laugh or smile or even a lighter feeling. In the ’90s, I worked at the American Cancer Society and saw such “comics” (sometimes just a simple drawing) by patients/survivors looking for a way to deal with their illness. I remember one that, to me (I did not have cancer), was just gross. But when it was shown to other patients, they liked it and some even laughed.

BTW, your mentioning Scott McCloud and his vision for Graphic Medicine made me chuckle. I’ve read his marvelous books, so I think when he sees something big down the road for Graphic Medicine, he’s going to be right – even if he hasn’t yet figured out just what it might be. He’s a true visionary.


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