Thursday, December 8, 2011

Graphic Medicine/Jerry Robinson

Two bits today, one nice and the other a little heartbreaking.

"Nice" first: Although I'm hip deep in the small offshoot of science and art called "Graphic Medicine," having participated in one international conference on the topic and helped organize two, I have a hard time explaining what it is. Now I don't have to. Instead, I'll just point everyone to this article at Hektoen International, an online journal of the medical humanities, written by Ian Williams, who explains the whole thing. Ian provides some historical perspective and literary analysis in an excellent overview. And not just because it mentions me.

"The depiction of illness influences the perception of illness, which can change the illness experience for others," writes Ian. "Comics artists exercise considerable personal power through the publication of visual illness narratives."

Ian is a UK physician and cartoonist who invited me to speak at the first Comics & Medicine Conference in London in 2010. He's also on the committee that's organized the second conference in Chicago last June and the third we're planning for Toronto next July. Smart, talented and British is hard to top. Recommended reading.

* * *

"Heartbreaking" second: Comic-book great Jerry Robinson has died. I didn't know him but I met him for ten minutes, introduced by Editor Charlie at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2006. Comic Book Resources has a nice obit.

Mr. Robinson was just about the last of the great Golden Age creators who was there at the beginning of modern comic books in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Born in 1922, he began his career as an assistant to Batman creator Bob Kane and is credited as co-creator of Robin the Boy Wonder and the Joker. His work later extended beyond mainstream superhero comics to encompass editorial cartoons, literary criticism and comics scholarship, most notably his very important book The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art (1974), which was an absolute lifeline to me in my teenage years.

In my brief encounter with him, he displayed qualities I've found common among old-school comics creators: humility, genuine appreciation that his work was remembered, and apparent curiosity about new work by someone he'd never heard of. Like Gene Colan before him and one or two since, Mr. Robinson immediately treated me like a peer. It's hard to describe how great that feels, even when you know you don't deserve it. He was a gentleman.

ADDED Friday: Links to Mr. Robinson's obit at the New York Times, and the one I was waiting for, this obit by writer Mark Evanier.


sligo said...

You have fairly good karma there, Mr. Fies. And I love the halos.

Brian Fies said...

I feel very honored to have met him. The halos are funny: I didn't notice until someone else pointed them out when I first posted that picture five years ago. Now they're all I see. I actually thought about not reposting it yesterday precisely because showing a halo over the head of a recently deceased man seemed a little too cute and "on the nose" (not to mention the presumption of showing one over myself!). But sometimes a light fixture is just a light fixture, and it's the only photo of Mr. Robinson that I have.

ronnie said...

Toronto? Really? Wonder if I might wrangle a way to be in the neighbourhood...?

I noticed the halos too and thought they were a lovely if accidental touch. Very nice.