Contemporary Comics

Late in the 20th century, underground comics, zines, and graphic memoirs increasingly addressed often stigmatized or neglected health concerns. Coinciding with the patients’ advocacy movement, graphic narratives of the illness experience offered patient perspectives from within an increasingly corporatized, depersonalized, and complex healthcare system. Healthcare workers, too, were turning to comics to express their experiences. Within this environment, graphic medicine as a field of inquiry and practice emerged to connect scholars and practitioners. Coined in 2007, graphic medicine is commonly defined as “the intersection between the medium of comics and the discourse of healthcare.” Intentionally broad, the field embraces a wide range of topics and practices, including reading and creating comics, patient education, advocacy, and medical and humanities education. As the contemporary materials attest, comics address an expansive range of health topics across a variety of styles and formats. Importantly, they also reflect a diverse range of experiences from groups that have historically been marginalized or neglected. This exhibit reframes graphic medicine within a deeper historical context, situating these contemporary works within the history of comics to both reflect upon the past and contemplate the future. Collectively these works bear witness to this moment and will become the future’s historical artifacts, not only providing a “sufferers’ history—medical history from below,” but challenging the traditional history of medicine by elevating the voice of sufferers and care providers to an equal level of importance and inquiry.