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REVIEW: Graphic Medicine Manifesto

A concentrated focus on the uses of comics in medical education and practice may seem alienating to readers outside the medical field, but this essay collection's benefits reach far beyond its intended audience.

Graphic Medicine Manifesto
MK Czerwiec, Ian Williams, Susan Merrill Squier, Michael J. Green, Kimberly R. Myers, and Scott T. Smith
The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015
publisher site | WorldCat

I'll admit that my first reaction to the idea of Graphic Medicine was something like, "cool, but so what?"; I figured any field should use all the tools it can, and I wondered why medicine was special. Through their deep but accessible essays, authors MK Czerwiec, Ian Williams, Susan Merrill Squier, Michael J. Green, Kimberly R. Myers, and Scott T. Smith have both debunked and reinforced my assumptions by clearly demonstrating the benefits that comics offer the medical field in particular, and by providing a road map that other fields can use to incorporate comics.
Scott Smith provides the first essay, an examination of the state of comics scholarship so impressive that I think everyone interested in comics should read it.  (In fact, the publishers have done an enormous favor to us by providing it as its sample chapter for the book.) From there, the authors get into explicitly medical territory, sharing their experiences incorporating comics into medical education and practice. The authors demonstrate that comics can be used to illustrate various difficult-to-grasp ideas (such as the self-disgust one might feel upon contracting an STD), to illuminate the emotional impact of clinical information, or to show the effect of illness or treatment before and after the points of medical intervention, and to teach empathy with patients' experiences through all of these uses and more.  Some authors have also incorporated comics-making into their classes, reporting that it teaches humility (important for a notoriously overconfident profession), how to craft a well-articulated explanation, reliance on co-workers for feedback, and even that physicians can use comics to express their own frustrations and joys with work. Some of the situations apply specifically to medicine -- improving an understanding of the experience of mental illness, for example -- but many can be adapted or translated directly into use by other fields.

Medical librarians will obviously have the most use for this book, but nearly all other librarians will benefit as well.  At the risk of being reductive, I'd say the biggest lesson here is that people working in institutions (schools, universities, even libraries themselves) can learn new ways to work together to serve their clientele more effectively by reading and making comics together, and we comics librarians can be the ones to guide this positive change.