Graphic Medicine: Comic Books as Medical Literature?

Maureen A. O'Reilly, DNP, NNP-BC


November 30, 2018

In This Article

What Is Graphic Medicine?

Quite simply, graphic medicine is the latest, hottest educational approach in healthcare. As defined in a US National Library of Medicine (NLM) exhibit, graphic medicine uses comics to tell personal stories of illness and health. The exhibit's subtitle ("Ill-Conceived & Well-Drawn!") provides a clue to the light-hearted take on serious subjects and groundbreaking use of "kid stuff" comics to tell a tale.

Ian Williams, physician/writer/comic artist, coined the term "graphic medicine" to denote the role that comics can play in the study and delivery of healthcare. Under the nom de plume "Thom Ferrier," he created his own comic strips ("Fear of Failure") in 2007 while coping with the ups and downs of a rural general practice in southern England.[1] His debut graphic novel, The Bad Doctor (2014), targeted a physician audience, exploring the dark humor of human interactions in medicine.[2]

Figure 1. Graphic novels by author Ian Williams: The Bad Doctor (left) and The Lady Doctor.

Williams also cofounded the website Graphic Medicine, which highlights articles and social media messaging about comics in medicine, with podcasts about artists, authors, and comics reviews. Medicina Grafica, a Spanish-language sister site, is evidence of burgeoning international interest in graphic medicine.

Together with MK Czerwiec, Susan Merrill Squier, Kimberly Myers, and Scott T. Smith, Michael J. Green and Ian Williams coauthored Graphic Medicine Manifesto. This volume confirms graphic medicine as a new area of scholarship that can engage and offer patients, family members, physicians, and other caregivers new ways to experience the complex challenges of the medical experience.

Figure 2. Graphic Medicine Manifesto.


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