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MK Czerwiec

Research & Comics

By MK Czerwiec

August 1, 2017

As I’ve written on the blog before, comics are a powerful tool for use in health care. The growing community focused on the rich intersection of comics and health, illness, and caregiving is known as Graphic Medicine.


Comics have several roles to play in health-based research, such as an educational intervention to be evaluated, for example this study of comics as a tool for emergency room education, or as a methodology for doing research itself.

Geriatrician Muna Al Jawad describes how comics are, for her, a research methodology. Image courtesy of the artist. See citation above.


In this post I’d like to focus on comics as a valuable tool for communicating the results of our research. Thanks to the great work of medical librarian Matthew Noe, I became aware of a comic called “Randomized Control Trials: What Are They?” created by Martin Vuillème (working under the name Tekai).Tekai’s comics are predominantly made in French, a tradition of comics known as bande dessinée, or BD. This comic in the series illustrates this research study relevant to many nurses, questioning the value of inpatient routine three-day IV site rotation. (If the comic at the link above appears tiny, click on it and it will enlarge.)

Comic made about a research study on IV site rotation. For full citation see link above.


When I wrote to Tekai to express how thrilled I am with this work, he wrote, “ I am pleased to know that you like them… although I’m sure my comics only look good due to few alternatives in the research-genre to compare them with.” He’s not right about it looking good only because there are few comparisons, the work is very strong. But he is right about the lack of work in this area. I can see so many applications for this kind of comic as an excellent way to disseminate our important research. Why is this kind of work so rare?


Perhaps it’s because health researchers are not considering comics as a legitimate means by which to communicate their research. We in the Graphic Medicine field hope to change that. The field of graphic journalism is growing, and health care reporting should take note. For a few stellar examples of graphic journalism, see this 2011 Atlantic article. Of special interest to nurses interested in policy and media work is number seven on that list, The Influencing Machine by National Public Radio journalist Brooke Gladstone, illustrated by John Neufeld.

A variation on the use of comics to translate research results are white board videos, such as these examples by physician cartoonist Alex Thomas and health education specialist Gary Ashwal of Booster Shot Comics.


Another way comics can be useful in health research is to exemplify, using the power of narrative, the individual experience that a study seeks to illuminate. Consider this recent example comic by Aubrey Hirsch, “Medicine’s Women Problem” published last week on The Nib.

panel from “Medicine’s Women Problem” by Aubrey Hirsch. Link to full comic above.

There is much data to support the claim that women’s experiences in medicine are unequal to those of men, that is, that a gender bias exists in medical care. Hirsch cites several of these studies at the end of her comic. But it is her story, presented clearly, visually, and supported by data, that is uniquely revelatory and compelling.


Bottom Line: Consider building comics into your research plan. When applying for grants, include a budget for paying a comic artist to work with you. Bring a comic artist whose aesthetic you like into your work as early as possible. If you would like recommendations for partnering with cartoonists, or simply finding cartoonists whose aesthetic and background might match your research goals, here are a few resources for connecting with comic artist in your area.

You can contact cartoonist/health care practitioners via Graphic Medicine. You can be in touch with the place that confers  advanced degrees in making comics, the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. You can attend your local independent Comic expos, such as Small Press Expo (Bethesda), CAKE (Chicago), MOCCA (New York), MICE (Boston area), Short Run (Seattle), TCAF (Toronto), Alternative Press Expo (San Jose area). Walk the floor, see who is doing science-themed work, or whose aesthetic you might like, and strike up a conversation about potential collaboration.


As James Sturm, co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, said when discussing Graphic Medicine and his school’s applied comics program, “Comics are a blowtorch. So far we’ve only lit a few cigarettes.”



MK Czerwiec

More Health Policy Comics

By MK Czerwiec

July 4, 2017

Following on my earlier post about Health Policy Comics, I want to share more fantastic work. Cartoonists are responding strongly to the possibility of losing health coverage because, as Andrea Tsurmi points out in her recent comic, Trumpcare is Bad News for Freelancers, and most cartoonists are freelancers.

Read the whole comic “Trumpcare is Bad for Freelancers” on The Nib here.


Comic artist Nomi Kane has written previously about her life with diabetes. Her comics “Sugar Baby” and “Nomi Kane’s Quick Guide to Type One Diabetes” have been staples of Graphic Medicine since she published them. (Both comics available here.) This week The Nib published her comic connecting her diabetes to concerns about the repeal of Obamacare, and the fiction that pre-existing conditions are somehow the “fault” of the person experiencing health issues. As Kane points out in her comic, “My Life With a Pre-Existing Condition,” simply being alive is a pre-existing condition.

Read the full comic “My Life with a Pre-Existing Condition” on The Nib here.

MK Czerwiec

Health Policy & Comics

By MK Czerwiec

June 13, 2017

Story is an important part of healing. An entire sub-discipline in the health humanities referred to as narrative medicine has developed in the past thirty years in an attempt to understand, explore, and expand the use of story in health and healing. Sociologist Arthur Frank writes in his book Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-narratology that our stories about our bodies and their troubles can actually care for us, by helping us formulate the courage to continue to desire from life, by helping to externalize our fears, and by helping us imagine our next viable selves, with and post illness.


Though both care givers and receivers alike can benefit from telling and hearing stories that help us heal, sometimes articulating our stories can be a challenge. Making and reading comics can be a terrific method for accessing our stories. (I’m defining ‘comics’ here as sequential art that conveys a narrative, often including text.) Based on a traditional panel framing, comics build one box at a time, helping us to focus and organize our thoughts and feelings. Comics combine word and image, and we know that different parts of our brains are in use as we do this, forging unique connections and pathways. Finally, comics can be fun – even when difficult topics are discussed.


Comics are an expressive medium, containing many genre. One of the genre to emerge quite prominently in the past ten years has been that of “Graphic Medicine.” This term was coined in 2011 by U.K. physician Ian Williams (author of The Bad Doctor) to refer to the interface between comics and the discourse of health. Three stellar examples of the variety and range of the genre are Peter Dunlop Shohl’s My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s, Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s My Mother and Me, and Brian Fies’s Mom’s Cancer. Fies has said of creating this book, “Comics were the right medium for the story I wanted to tell. They meld words and pictures to convey an idea with more economy and grace than either could alone.”


In Graphic Medicine, most often the works used in teaching are non-fiction memoir created by those living with illness and/or caregiving. Who better to represent the challenges illness can bring to lives, families, and communities? But those of us familiar with the history of medicine know that these voices are precisely the ones that have most often been marginalized. Physicians and other “experts” have traditionally defined and represented states of health, illness, and deviations from expected norms of the body. The underground history of comics is one that has created a space for bearing witness to stigmatized realities and amplifying the voice of the marginalized. Often these are our most vulnerable citizens, most in need of our health services, most at risk with proposed cuts to the Affordable Care Act. The new genre of comics known as Graphic Medicine can help by bearing witness to the stories of the impact of the ACA, those who will face the devastation its loss will bring to their lives. A series of four comics were posted last week on a website called The Nib, a website featuring political cartoons and non-fiction comics. The ACA comics were each individually titled, and the group was called “What Will Happen to Us? Four Cartoonists on A Life Without the Affordable Care Act.” The following example is by cartoonist Lucy Bellwood.Bellwood wrote on her blog about this comic, “I don’t talk about politics often. I like keeping my work accessible to a wide range of people. I’m also, if I’m honest, conflict-averse. But this so immediately and directly impacts my life and the lives of so many people that I love, that it seems like a good time to use the creative skills I’ve been cultivating to try and push for more awareness, more compassion, and more action.”


Those who work in the public health domain know that comics are great educational tools when we face a high density of information to communicate, there is a high importance to communicating the information, and the learner is in a high-stress situation. Next time you are on a flight, take a look at the informational card in the seat pocket before you. Odds are it’s a comic. They work.


Medical anthropologist Dana Walrath wrote in the introduction to her graphic memoir, Aliceheimer’s that, “Around the world, comic artists, caretakers, parents, and assorted onlookers are taking up their drawing tools, pens, papers, scissors, and computers to depict illness and ways of being human that have been stigmatized. This is Graphic Medicine.” If you are interested in Graphic Medicine and the potential uses of comics in health and health policy, visit If you are in the Seattle area, consider attending some of the public events of our annual international conference this coming week which will be held at the Seattle Public Library Main Branch Thursday June 15 through through Saturday June 18th. More information is available here. Let’s get drawing, reading, and sharing more comics about the impact of health policy that aims to benefit the already advantaged and leaves the most vulnerable lacking basic care. No experience necessary.


MK Czerwiec, RN, MA is a Senior Fellow of the George Washington University Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement. She is also Artist-in-Residence at the Northwestern Feinberg Medical School. Her graphic memoir, Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 was recently published by Penn State University Press. She is also a co-author of the Graphic Medicine Manifesto and with Dr. Ian Williams co-runs 

MK Czerwiec