A medical cartoon.

Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived and Well-Drawn!

By Erika Mills ~

In works of graphic medicine—an emerging field of medical literature—patients and their loved ones, caregivers, and health professionals tell stories about health and illness through the medium of comics. Artists and authors use a combination of words and images to present emotionally-impactful narratives and digestible health information. As an approach to understanding illness and health care for both patients and professionals, graphic medicine fosters effective treatment, health literacy, and healing. Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived and Well-Drawn!, a new traveling exhibition, special display, and online exhibition, 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, Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived and Well-Drawn! provides an introduction to the genre, discussing who creates graphic medicine, how it conveys meaning, and its impact on readers and creators. The exhibition offers a definition of graphic medicine and a primer on reading comics; explores patient and caregiver memoirs, and stories about navigating the health care system; and explains the presentation of understandable health data through infographics. The special display, available in the NLM History of Medicine Division Reading Room, includes a selection of graphic medicine works from the NLM collection, as well as original artwork from graphic medicine creators. Here are some highlights from the exhibition:

Illustrated anthropomorphized bunnies on a playground
From El Deafo, Cece Bell, 2014
El Deafo by Cece Bell. Text and Illustrations copyright © 2014 Cece Bell. Used with the permission of Express Permissions on behalf of Amulet Books, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York. All rights reserved.
Drawing of an African American woman looking at a laptop while three other African American women appear below
From “The Myth of the Strong Black Woman,” The Nib,  Whitney Taylor, March 8, 2015
Courtesy Whitney Taylor
A drawing of a White woman’s face
From Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, Ellen Forney, 2012
Courtesy Ellen Forney

Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived and Well-Drawn! will be on display in the NLM History of Medicine Division Reading Room from January 30, 2018 to January 3, 2019. The online adaptation allows visitors to explore the books and artwork contained in the special display, as well as additional graphic medicine works from the NLM collection accompanied by links to more health information from MedlinePlus, the NLM’s consumer health website. Graphic Medicine online features a selection of educational resources, including a K-12 lesson plan and a university module that foster visual literacy and challenge students to try their hands at creating graphic medicine. The traveling banner adaptation will be traveling to 50 sites across the country over the next four years. Please visit the Traveling Exhibition Services website and find this exhibition near you.

Leading image: Original Artwork for Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, by Ellen Forney, 2012. Courtesy Ellen Forney.

Erika MillsErika Mills is outreach coordinator for the Exhibition Program in the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine.


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