Comic Art As Healer and Teacher: Mom’s Cancer

I am a self-described comic art geek.  It has been a fascination of mine since childhood, and mystifies my mother to this day.  Imagine her bewilderment when I had eschewed both law and medical schools for fine arts and a career in animated films.  Fast forward twenty years and I am still a comic art geek, as well as a wellness coach.

Comic art has evolved a great deal since I was a kid.  Over the last 40 years, the medium has dealt with more mature subject matter – social protest, history, autobiography, human relationships, illness, and death with increasingly sophisticated graphic narrative.  Thanks to new generations of talented artists, writers and other creative groups, who raised the medium’s literary content and standards, comic books are no longer just for kids.

I have long believed in the potential of comic art to be a powerful, engaging storytelling medium for the purposes of healing and teaching.  In fact, today there is a growing sub-genre of autobiographical graphic novels tackling such themes as elder care, mental illness, cancer, and grief.  These same graphic narratives have also recently found their way into medical school curriculums as tools for student training and patient education.  Furthermore, the existence and growing popularity of international interdisciplinary conferences like Comics and Medicine is testimony of comic art’s coming of age as a viable and relatable educational medium.

This month I would like to share with you one of my favourite graphic novels, Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies.  It is the story of one family’s battle with cancer that offers other people dealing with illness, a moving glimpse of a shared experience.  Brian Fies is a freelance writer who documented his mother’s battle with lung cancer.  As the family struggled through the diagnosis, barrage of tests and treatments, Fies began to serialize their experiences on the Internet as a Web Comic.  It was posted anonymously to protect family privacy and readership grew through word of mouth.

In 2005, Mom’s Cancer received the Eisner Award, the comic industry’s equivalent to the Oscar. Beautifully drawn, brutally honest, and at times funny, Mom’s Cancer is visual storytelling at its most poignant.

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