While the terms “graphic comic” or “graphic novel” may bring to mind images of a fictional story of the battle between good and evil, there are definitely other ways to utilize the immensely popular comic style. The U.S. National Library of Medicine has created a graphic medicine exhibit titled “Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived & Well-Drawn” that uses comics to share personal stories of illness and health.  Fortunately for UTM students, the exhibit is currently on display at the UTM library until December 18th, 2018.

With its loud colours and bold, creative lettering, the exhibit, curated by cartoon artist Ellen Forney, is hard to ignore. The display is comprised of six large banners and is located on the main floor of the library. Easy to understand, it presents an innovative and interesting approach to conveying what graphic medicine is. According to their website, the U.S. National Library of Medicine describes the exhibit as an “increasingly popular, yet little-known literary field that presents personal illness narratives and health information through the medium of comics.” The display depicts various “graphic memoirs” that feature experiences with health issues, such as breast cancer, deafness, and HIV/AIDS.

One banner titled “Drawing from Experience” is devoted to showing how the patient can embody a cartoonist and can communicate their personal experience as a patient alongside sharing the emotional aspects of their journey.

Another banner contains comics exploring interactions with the healthcare system and states that the “insight” in the comics can provide helpful feedback to healthcare providers and “promote effective treatment.”

Other banners iterate that the graphic medium is not only limited to patients: the perspectives of caregivers and health professionals also comprise graphic medicine along with the communication of clinical information.

Although many of the students The Medium interviewed admitted to noticing the exhibit but not reading it, one UTM student was impressed by the “insightfulness of the display.” Sarah Adil, a first-year commerce student, says that “once [she] started reading the display, [she] found it to be very interesting [as it] displayed various ways patients deal with clinical illnesses.” She especially enjoyed how the “art allowed the cartoonist to convey emotions accurately” and comments that the comics may be useful in “connecting patients with each other.”

The Medium also sat down with Jessica Hanley, UTM’s Science Liaison Librarian, to explore the content of the travelling exhibit and its importance. Describing how the exhibit was conceptualized, Hanley says, “It came about because the U.S. National Library of Medicine, just outside of Washington DC, found [a] niche area [while] looking for better ways to communicate medical issues, medicine, and treatment of patients. [Since] graphic novels are becoming more and more popular, they [started] exploring using graphic art to explain these issues.”

Hanley, passionate about the exhibit, thinks it is “cool [as she] is really big on science communication and how a lot of people struggle with [understanding scientific language] because science is not [always] translated into layman’s terms.” She believes that “it is really important to show that there are other ways to convey information to patients” and explains how she thinks that “it’s much more manageable and digestible understanding this type of medium versus [being provided with] a handout of all these crazy medical terms [which the patient or caregiver] doesn’t understand.”

The exhibit is travelling all over North America and arrived in Mississauga from Denton Public Library in Texas, USA. It will next be on display at the Gerstein Science Information Centre at the St. George campus of the University of Toronto. Hanley recounts how excited she was when Dr. Shelley Wall, a UTM Biomedical Communications professor, contacted her about having the exhibit at UTM.

Hanley explains that since there are “a lot of science programs here at UTM, a lot of art programs, and a biomedical communications program, [Dr. Wall and I] thought that it would appeal to a wide range of students” and that it was “a great opportunity.” An added bonus was that the “National Library of Medicine [was] cover[ing] all the cost to ship it.”

Hanley finishes off by praising the exhibit’s uniqueness: “[The exhibit] is really cool because medical information and patient experience being conveyed in this way is not something you commonly see. It makes some of these very difficult subject areas a lot easier for people to understand.” Students are encouraged to use the U.S. National Library of Medicine to learn more about graphic medicine.

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