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May 18, 2012 / priscillalyf

Comics…powerful communication tool in the medical profession.

When I say graphic novels, what comes to mind?  Do you think of comics for children and teenagers solely for pleasure?  Have you ever thought of a comic being used for entertainment and in the medical field?


“doctors, nurses and patients are increasingly using graphic art to unpack their experience of medicine and disease.” [1]

They are also using graphic novels to train their students in the medical profession.

Who would have thought that reading comics like Archie, For better or worse or Snoopy as kids, we would also be able to learn and be entertained with medical comics such as “Mom’s Cancer.”

Brian Fies started the webcomic “Mom’s cancer” when

“his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer.” [1]

He started this comic because he wanted to share his story and wanted to educate other people on what to expect.  He thought that this way was the best way to tell a story, because it uses pictures with a few words and it told more than if it was just the pictures or words alone.  Fies uses metaphors, for example he uses her mother walking on a tightrope which signifies her balancing her medication.

Over a hundred years ago, comics were meant to be for adults, but somewhere along the way, people started writing for children and teenagers, therefore it stuck.  Through years of comic writers for adults had to battle the unfortunate stereotypes.  Now there are a large number of comics scholars where there are all forms of graphic novels for all ages.

What fascinates me the most is that teachers in the medical field are using comics to teach their students.  Some teachers use it because it helps students with doctor-patient relationship.  How to communicate with the patient regarding news, having consent and to help them experience what the patient is experiencing as well.  Czerwiec, who is a hospice nurse and has published “Comic Nurse” believes that comics help to engage both sides of the brain, words access one thing and images challenges you on another level, to use them both together is very powerful.

Others believe that “medical comics are a valuable resource for educating health care professionals.” [1]  These medical comics “illustrates and writes about an important aspect of the illness experience.” [1]

Some things to consider when writing for science graphic novel is to make sure readers will understand the jargon associated with the subject matter, in this case could be medical terms.  If not, they could illustrate it in a picture or explain it in a few words.  The pictures also help the reader, by having a good visual to accompany the words it makes the graphic novel more enjoyable.  Graphic novels are usually short compared to textbooks or novels therefore science graphic novels would have to get to the point and tend to be more direct with little or no explanation.  Compared to science textbooks where they would give pages of explanation on a chemical equation.  Science comic strips are more for entertainment and there are chances where you could learn things too.  Writing a science graphic novel most of the time is to both educate and entertain using metaphors, visuals and analogies.  In the case of “Mom’s Cancer,” he used personal stories so the reader could understand what he went through or could learn what to expect.


[1] O’Luanaigh, C. (2010, July 14). Comics put patients in the picture. Retrieved from



Leave a Comment
  1. selinamj / May 18 2012 6:38 am

    I loved this.
    The Mum’s Cancer one is really tragic and I think this probably serves a two-fold purpose of communicating the hardship and things that will come with cancer as well as acting as a coping mechanism that allows the exploration of a tragedy through what might be considered mildly light hearted.
    It is one of those pieces where you laugh but only because if you didn’t you would cry. I think the use of comics in communicating this sort of message was perfect. The imgae was simple yet powerful and captured emotion while the text was short and to the point.
    Like you pointed out above I think comics could also act as a fantastic education tool. I know that I am much more likley to remember cute, colourful pictures over pages of text and theory. I think the other fantastic thing with comics is that they present stories and situations rather than hypotheticals. There is more emotion in this and people find it easier to relate to and probably remember it easier as well.

  2. NicolaRuprecht / May 19 2012 2:34 am

    This is a really great example of how graphic novels can present an entertaining perspective on a familiar idea. I think that through the combination of pictures and few words, Mum’s Cancer is very effective in portraying what it would be like to go through such an ordeal. This example of a graphic novel is a great way to educate people and I think it could be a really effective tool in communicating all types of science to the public, not just medicine. It might even motivate high school children to be more interested in science.

  3. shortfletch / May 20 2012 1:01 pm

    Fantastic job. Such an awesome topic.
    You talked a little bit about the duel nature of graphic novels/comics and how it has both pictures and words. This made me think back to a conversation we had the other day about the different way people read graphic novels. I read the words and barely look at the pictures while our other housemate looks at the pictures and barely reads the words. Still the two of us and up with the same information by the end. I graphic novels have the potential to cater to people with different learning styles.

    To me comics imply humor. Depending on your audience I think humor can be a fantastic coping or memory technique and I do think it’s appropriate. However, humor is not always appropriate for all audiences. You do have to be careful not to offend someone. In this case you can have a graphic novel (because some of the ones I’ve read have been really serious and depressing). If there is a real difference between comics and graphic novels I am sorry I don’t know the technicalities.

    As a teaching tool I think comics/graphic novels can be really helpful because the structure of a comic forces you to break down the information. It also requires a line of reasoning or linear path. These two aspects make the story easier to follow (at least for me). Does anyone think graphic novel textbooks would be a terrible idea?

    • keikok / May 21 2012 9:51 am

      I totally agree to you shortfletch.
      I am from the country where most citizens have read comics in their life. To us, comics (or ‘Manga’ is English word these days isn’t it?) are part of our culture. I used to learn history from comics because I hated history class but still loved comics. So, my mother bought me comics, which tell you the story of history and it worked well for me. As you mentioned, people has different learning styles. Not reading boring text book but comics was my style of learning history as well as the other subject.
      Even for science, I definitely would say, graphics make the subject easier to understand and I think priscillalyf gave us such a good example.
      Great topic and now you made me feeling like reading comics!!

      • priscillalyf / May 21 2012 3:08 pm

        My brother always enjoys reading manga, he can spend hours reading it. I wasn’t particularly into manga, I would read it once in a while but never followed a full manga from start to finish. Maybe after reading this article and your comment I should start reading more mangas.

        That would be an interesting way of learning history, I too didn’t like history class, I could never remember the facts that came along with that class, but maybe if it came in manga form I would for sure remember and would want to learn more about history. Instead of just words, there would be an illustration beside each fact and I would remember the image much easier.

        I remember one of my chemistry textbooks when I was in high school had a little comic in the corner of every chapter which had a play on words with chemistry terms, I quite enjoyed reading and looking at that little comic.

    • priscillalyf / May 21 2012 2:57 pm

      I too remember that conversation we had the other time that we look at the words more so then the pictures. I think this is the case because we are so use to reading textbooks and concentrate on the words.

      When I first read the title of the article I thought it would be about something humorous. Yes, definitely humour is a good coping mechanism but not always good in all situations. I find comics as a good way to relax and laugh a little after a hard day of focusing of school things.

      Until I read this article I did not know of such things as comics being read as teaching materials, but I found that quite interesting and I would think it would be an easy way to learn from comics rather than textbooks all the time.

      I think graphic novel textbooks would be a good idea! I would for sure be interested to read more and more of the text, rather than reading the textbook because I have to, or leaving the textbook to the side until I need it to study.

  4. bonnyp / May 21 2012 6:43 am

    I think that comics and graphic novels are a really innovative away of communicating science. Like artwork, the creation of comics can serve as a type of therapy for patients and their loved ones as a way of expressing their emotions and dealing with the situation when they are seriously unwell.

    As you mentioned in your post, the way that comics combine text and visual images allow the creator to include many other techniques such as metaphors, analogies and plotlines. The combination of images and short pieces of text may make comics particularly useful as tools to use with children or young adults.

    I don’t read comics or graphic novels myself, but I know that they are really popular. A lot of my friends like to read webcomics, and I think that science-based webcomics can be a great way of promoting science as they use both visual and textual features and are accessed through a medium as widely-used as the internet.

    • priscillalyf / May 21 2012 3:15 pm

      I also have friends and family members who read lots of graphic novels and they find it quite enjoyable. What I notice now is that a lot of graphic novels are turning into movies, like the most recent that came out is the “Avengers.” Did you watch that movie yet? It was quite good and I enjoyed it very much. So I find that people who don’t read graphic novels are able to watch the movies instead and enjoy it much the same as reading the graphic novels.

      For sure, “science-based webcomics can be a great way of promoting science” it incorporates both visuals and text with a science related theme and can be enjoyed by everyone.

  5. baileymoser / May 21 2012 11:19 am

    Wow, I really liked this blog post, although I wish it ended with some specific discussion topics.

    I also really like @shortfletch ‘s comment about humor as a coping mechanism. I think that all the medical books and articles my family had access to through our dealing with cancer not only educated us but also caused undue amounts of stress. Had the information been presented to us in comic form, perhaps it would have been easier to understand the medical terminology and some of the incatracies of the situation. Also, the humor in these comics is also so relatable, and in times of crisis it’s consoling to know others have been through situations you have been through. I completely agree with you that comics can be an effective tool in communicating medical science to people of all ages, especially those without a medical background.

  6. gracerussell1 / May 25 2012 1:27 am

    ‘Mom’s cancer’ comic is a great example of how a comic can have very different meanings or messages compared to your stereotypical ‘funny’, ‘humorous’ or ‘light hearted’ comic. I like that it conveys specific information to the reader, makes the reader learn new information through emotive messages without the reader realising.
    Great blog post. You explained everything very well, with clear and concise examples 🙂

  7. Paran23 / May 25 2012 7:56 am

    “Laughter is the best medicine.” I agree that comics have a great role in our daily busy life. I am not a great fan in reading novels; however, I read few comic books about medical students during my undergraduate years. Those were really interesting. The pictures in this article itself gives lot of stories in the current (sometimes complicated) medical practice. The article and your review were used well the stories with examples, facts and pictures in articulating the message well !!!

  8. maria93 / May 25 2012 8:58 am

    ‘Mum’s Cancer’ shows that comics can make a difficult situation somewhat easier by bringing in an aspect of humour and making the information more relatable to people without a medical background or knowledge of the issue.

    I personally do not enjoy reading comics; however I do agree that in some cases it can be a very effective way of telling a story.

    Great post!

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