Monday, February 6, 2012

Rx: Graphic Meds

Thanks to a new publicity push (i.e., e-mailing some people such as the wonderful Johanna at "Comics Worth Reading" and Alan at "The Daily Cartoonist"), I'm getting notes from folks seeking information about the Comics & Medicine Conference I'm helping organize for Toronto next July 22-24.

This event follows conferences in London in 2010 and Chicago in 2011 that were both terrific, exciting, thought-provoking, intelligent spelunkings of that odd seam where comics meet healthcare (Epileptic, Stitches, Psychiatric Tales, Our Cancer Year, Tangles, Mom's Cancer...). Patients, caregivers and medical professionals tell their stories and use comics to communicate experiences and information in ways no other medium can. It's a growing niche in the field of Medical Humanities. Participating in these conferences has been an absolute highlight of my comics career and we hope/expect to recapture the magic in Toronto.

A couple of FAQs:

1. How can I propose a paper/talk/workshop/topic? Check out the "Call for Papers" at our Graphic Medicine blog, which is in general a good place to keep up with the latest. It'll give you a good idea what we're looking for, which boils down to a page explaining who you are and what you want to talk about. Deadline is Feb. 28.

One suggestion: although our conference theme of "Navigating the Margins" focuses on underrepresented or outsider perspectives, don't feel like you need to bend over backwards to make your idea match the theme. We're open-minded and would never reject a good proposal just because it didn't exactly fit that box. Part of the fun of organizing this thing is gathering different presentations into panels that become greater than the sum of their parts. (As I recall, we had one panel slot last year that consisted of "Stuff that Doesn't Fit Anywhere Else." We ultimately came up with a fancier name for it, but that's what it really was. And it was good.)

Important point: these are academic conferences, not comic conventions. Most of the participants are professors, students, physicians, nurses, etc., along with as many creators as we can convince to come. In Chicago, our headliners were David Small, Phoebe Gloeckner, Scott McCloud, and our lucky charm Paul Gravett (who kicked off both London and Chicago with a terrific context-setting talk that we're hoping he'll bring to Toronto). In addition to Paul, we're planning to have Joyce Brabner (Our Cancer Year) and Joyce Farmer (Special Exits) in Toronto.

2. How can I register? You can't, yet. We'll set that up soon, but right now we're still determining funding and expenses. Once that's nailed down, we'll know how much registration has to be to cover the costs (and we're only aiming to cover the costs; no one makes a dime). Our goal is to keep it affordable for starving artists. Watch that Graphic Medicine blog for updates, and I'll be sure to announce it here as well.

Another difference between an academic conference and comics convention: everybody registers and pays, even panelists and presenters (the only exceptions are invited keynote speakers). I'm going to register and pay. These conferences are intimate--80 to 100 people in London and Chicago--and presenters comprise a big proportion of those attending. This is standard practice in the worlds of academic and business conferences but sometimes comes as a surprise to those more used to comics conventions, which hand out free passes like Mardi Gras beads. I only mention it to head off that unhappy conversation later.

More information about past events and graphic medicine in general is available at

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