Comics are not just about superheroes. Emily Oomen meets the artists shaping graphic medicine – a genre focused on the experience of living with illness. Ellen Forney was in her twenties and working as a professional cartoonist when she stumbled into the world of graphic medicine. The artist had been working for one of Seattle’s long-running newspapers The Stranger when, in 1998 and just before she turned 30, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She says the diagnosis “sank in like the sun had gone behind the clouds”. Comics had always been a familiar language and format for Forney. She turned to them looking for comfort and was excited to discover a new genre she had never heard of – graphic medicine.
The genre focuses on and discusses topics within the medical field from cancer to Alzheimer’s and anorexia in an engaging and entertaining way. Although developed for patients and medical professionals as a way to explore different conditions, it is now often found in general stores and libraries.
Forney who was comfortable telling stories through this medium, started to create comics for herself about her experience of living with mental illness. “I wrote a lot in my journals,” she says. “I didn’t know that those were going to be pieces of a comic, a memoir later, but it’s kind of how it comes out of me, in words and pictures.” She says it gave her great solace while she learned to manage the condition.
After several years of creating comics for herself she designed a graphic memoir of the experience – Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me. “I felt like I needed to do it for myself and to get it out there to reach other people – because I can, because I’m a storyteller, and I thought it was an important story to tell. “It’s not just ‘here’s my experience, that was a mess’, but how do we put those pieces together? How do we come to heal?”https://www.bbc.com/news/disability-55562107