Last week I had the great pleasure to travel to Philadelphia to participate on the opening panel for this year’s MEDstudio@JEFF collaboration with Design Philadelphia. The short description of the event is that artist Tom Judd is spending a week creating a mural of 7,500 apples, with each apple representing 100 people, in order to raise awareness of the 750,000 people who go hungry each day in the Delaware Valley. Here is a complete description.
The panel (as seen in the photo to the right) was a multi-disciplinary force, including expertise in medical research, architecture, social justice, with my role being to represent graphic medicine. Each of us were given time to share our current projects, in my case the focal point being educational outreach on the value of comics in medicine and our Graphic Medicine Book Club Kits initiative. While we had planned a great number of potential topics, we didn’t make it too far into them because once the panel got talking, we couldn’t stop making connections between all of our work!
We ultimately spent a great deal of time discussing a series of “A’s”, spurred by the use of the apple: Awareness, Anger, Advocacy, and Action. If we consider Tom’s chalkboard mural a mission of raising Awareness, which creates a feeling of Anger in the community, the question becomes how do we connect that to Advocacy and/or Action? Here is where I felt comics could enter the conversation. As a medium well-suited to conveying complex information in simple ways, following up on the ability of the finer-arts to raise awareness, comics could then provide the necessary information to effect community change. Imagine, if you will, a comics campaign that told a story about an activist from a Philadelphia neighborhood that along the way shared how to be a real life activist – providing representative contact information, example scripts, and local organization information. Important information that is typically widely dispersed, condensed into a legible, accessible form!
Since I like to practice what I preach as best I can – I’m no “fine” artist – I sketched out a small comic after the event to help reflect, condense, and visualize the very conversation I just described above. You can see it below. I recommend drawing a simple comic like this any time you need to reflect and focus in on an idea you don’t want to slip away – especially if your memory is anything like mine!
Speaking of being “no “fine” artist”, I want to leave you with one last comic to consider (below) about the nature of drawing. Part of the panel discussion, as is part of every discussion about integrating comics into medicine, was around the idea that people latch onto that “I can’t draw”. I firmly believe, as I thought-bubbled out below, that you can learn something from even the most cartoonish of illustrations. For example, when I asked a stranger at the bar next to me what they learned about me from my stick-figure self, they were immediately drawn to the marks on the knee – meant to illustrate pain. I’m not the only one who feels this way – for example, this recent post by Anita Ravi describes her use of similar illustrations in her medical practice as a way to bridge language and cultural barriers. Give it a try!
While my trip to Philadelphia was brief, I learned a great deal and made new relationships that I hope to build and grow in the coming years. I encourage you all to follow along with the progress of Tom’s mural on Twitter (@MEDstudioJEFF) and consider: how might YOU make use of the arts – murals, comics, or beyond – in your practice?
— Matthew Noe, Library Fellow & Graphic Medicine Specialist, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Lamar Soutter Library & NNLM NER