Tag Archives: Graphic Medicine

Review: ‘Menopause: A Comic Treatment’

“When the Menopausal Carnival Comes to Town,” by Mimi Pond, in Menopause: A Comic Treatment (Graphic Medicine/Pennsylvania State University Press)

Menopause: A Comic Treatment. Edited by MK Czerwiec. Penn State University Press. 2020. 144pp. $29.95

Mimi Pond was a queen for the night at the Eisner Awards this year as she was the winner in the Short Story category for her take on menopause. Yes, folks, you heard it right, a cartoonist won a prestigious industry award on a subject that has gotten little recognition over the years outside of a Joan Rivers comedy act. What’s more, Mimi’s story is part of the book that also won an Eisner Award–in the Best Anthology category! We all need to get over ourselves on so many levels more than ever. The truth is that we all have bodies (who knew?) and they go through changes as we steadily make our way to our final stop. There is no denying that a woman’s body goes through hell. But it’s not left just to me to say that. This book says it in a variety of ways, both vivid and hilarious.

Running off with the circus!

There is so much politics, a lot of it quite toxic, attached to everything about us, including our bodies. What’s refreshing about this book, in that regard, is that it’s engaged in some primal truth. That is what is so compelling about Mimi Pond’s short story as the main character must confront who she is at the most basic level. She’s mad as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore! This comic is one of those in-your-face show stoppers that takes you out of the page, out of the book, all the way to the Eisner Awards. In the story, a mother and adult daughter are wandering around an old-fashioned carnival when a carnie lures them into a show about empowerment. On stage, there is a troupe of naked middle-aged women doing a spoken word act. The mom is overcome and joins the group on stage, strips off her clothes, and vows to run away with the circus. The mom sees her mad dash as her last chance to shine, to live her life. Psychological road blocks can be every bit as real as anything else standing in the way of fulfillment. One is left with a universal urge to push one’s way through no matter what. And, if dad’s hot casserole gets cold, so be it!

Menopause: A Comic Treatment

With Mimi’s raucous story leading the way, this collection boasts an array of significant work from 28 contributors, explaining, and expressing their views, on the many aspects of menopause, from the general to the more specific and personal. This book is another partnership with Graphic Medicine, co-founded by MK Czerwiec, this book’s editor, as well as a contributor under the pen name, “Comic Nurse.” Menopause: A Comic Treatment is the nineteenth book in the Graphic Medicine Series published by Penn State University Press. The following are some more examples from the book. As I say, it’s a great range of work: some are more medically-focused, created by medical professionals, with simple drawings; and some are from seasoned professional cartoonists more invested in a slice-of-life perspective.

“A Slow Intermittent Leak,” by Jennifer Camper

Jennifer Camper’s “A Slow Intermittent Leak” cuts to the chase with a long hard look at the menstrual cycle, from first period to last. For many men, the reality of blood alone makes periods a highly taboo subject. Of course, those men need to get a grip. Camper is a professional cartoonist and it clearly shows. This is a highly organized and masterfully composed work. The combination of the artwork and engaging prose is a pleasure to read and guides the reader through with humor and grace.

“Burning Up,” by Comic Nurse (MK Czerwiec)

MK Czerwiec’s “Burning Up” is both highly informative and entertaining and is a great example of the power of visual storytelling. For these type of educational comics, art is only part of it and can be pretty simple as it is here. What matters most to the cartoonist is finding just the right balance of words and pictures to best convey the information. Czerwiec’s pen name is “Comic Nurse,” and this piece demonstrates what she is great at: taking challenging subjects and making them relatable. In this case, we follow our main character on a journey of self-discovery and an appreciation of “hot flashes.”

“Surgical Menopause–In Ten Postures,” by Susan Merrill Squier and Shelley Wall

My final sample demonstrates how truly powerful and practical comics can be. “Surgical Menopause–In Ten Postures,” is unique in its specificity as it greatly benefits from two experts in their fields. It is written by Susan Merrill Squier, a professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State. It is illustrated by Shelley Wall, a medical illustrator and assistant professor in the biomedical communications graduate program at the University of Toronto. The comics coming from the Graphic Medicine community, which this book is a prime example of, are said to provide insight to medical professionals that they typically do not get. It is through the combination of Squier’s eloquence and Wall’s precision that we get a window into the highly idiosyncratic individual. Too often it comes down to doctors vs. patients when, in fact, we’re all just humans. It takes a very sophisticated comic like this is prove a simple truth: we’re all vulnerable and we all need to be carefully listened to. Ironically, despite how articulate this comic is, it is speaking to how easy it is to not speak properly or to be listened to properly. The prime example in this comic: the doctor, in an all too matter-of-fact tone, asks the patient, “Do you want to keep your uterus if you’re having your ovaries removed?” The patient, in an all too defensive posture, replies, “I am not my uterus.” End of discussion. Uterus removed. Oh, but the patient didn’t really mean it, wishes the doctor had questioned her words and now regrets having her uterus removed.

About the Editor

MK Czerwiec, RN, MA, is the artist-in-residence at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the cocurator of GraphicMedicine.org. She has served as a Senior Fellow of the George Washington School of Nursing Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement and as an Applied Cartooning Fellow of the Center for Cartoon Studies. She is the creator of the graphic memoir Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 and coauthor of Graphic Medicine Manifesto, both published by Penn State University Press.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Anthologies, Graphic Medicine, Graphic Recording, Penn State University Press

Interview: Brian Fies, A Fire Story, and the Art of Comics Storytelling

There is a true art to comics storytelling. Don’t let anyone tell you different. And, if you’ve joined me here, you most likely already know. Heck, you can tell when a story has got that crunchy goodness and when it falls short. Maybe you’ve had the pleasure of reading the comics of Brian Fies. He’s the guy who did that webcomic that went viral and ended up inspiring the creation of a Digital Comics category at the Eisner Awards. It was the webcomic, Mom’s Cancer, which won in that category that first year, back in 2005. Comics scholar Scott McCloud was there to hand Brian Fies his award. Recently, Brian’s book, A Fire Story, was released in an updated and expanded edition. Read my review here.

Mom’s Cancer

How do you end up creating a comic about your own mother’s cancer? Well, that’s where the power of storytelling comes in. You can tell any story, of course. And there’s something about the nature of comics, the medium’s built-in tendency to organize thought, that can lead both the creator and the reader down some very unexpected and rewarding paths. And, yes, you can even extract a touch of humor from the most challenging situations. Fies did it with his groundbreaking webcomic and he did it again with his more recent, A Fire Story, which has just been released in an updated and extended edition.

A Fire Story

I hope you enjoy this interview. It was a pleasure to do. I hardly had to refer to my notes as I had a million things I could talk to Brian about. He even knew, right away, about my favorite pop culture hero, George Clayton Johnson. I focused much of our talk on comparing Mom’s Cancer to A Fire Story. Maybe we’ll need to do another talk that compares his book, Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? with his upcoming book, The Last Mechanical Monster, due to be released early next year.

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?

The Last Mechanical Monster

It is safe to say, in my opinion, that all auteur cartoonists share the same trait of being compelled to also be journalists: to act as caretakers of a big story and be obligated to gather all the facts, process all the facts, and present the best, most detailed yet concise, version of these facts. Some do it better than others. There are numerous variations and ways of doing this. But, at the end of the day, a real cartoonist is every bit as capable and driven as a real reporter.

Panel excerpt from  A Fire Story

If you are new to Brian Fies and to A Fire Story, and if you’re looking for a perfect textbook example of how to tell a story through comics, then seek out this book! For more details, go to Abrams ComicArts.

BONUS: We avoided a detour during our conversation and had meant to return to it. So, for all you true believers, this is the bonus content. Brian wanted to share some hard-won process insights. Here is what he later related to me via e-mail:

“My Last Mechanical Monster anecdote is that I’d written the whole story and penciled more than 100 pages when I realized I wasn’t having any fun drawing the story. Every day at the board was a slog. I figured that if I didn’t enjoy writing it, nobody would probably enjoy reading it, either. So I paused, rethought the whole thing, turned those 100-plus pages of penciled drawings over, and started drawing a whole new story on their backs. I thought of it in the context of “wasted time”—in one sense, I wasted many months (maybe a year?) writing and drawing a story that I abandoned. But I had to work through that story to get to a better story I liked.

My lessons from that: you have to trust your process; you can’t be afraid to toss something that isn’t working; and sometimes you have to dig through crap to find gold (or at least less stinky crap.)”

Thank you, Brian! You are a modest and gracious person!

Excerpt from The Last Mechanical Monster webcomic

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Filed under Brian Fies, Comics, Interviews