Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Down by the Riverside

Got home from last weekend's "Medical Examinations" conference at UC Riverside and spent Monday catching up on missed work. Good conference! Especially for the first of its kind. In contrast to the Graphic Medicine conferences I've been involved with, this one dealt with storytelling in a broader sense, with a sort of anthropological academic perspective. Art, theater, history, literature, Native American prayer, comics: it's all good.

As with all conferences, the most interesting and valuable stuff happened between the presentations and panels. I got to spend more time with my friend Dr. Ian Williams, who cartoons under the pen name Thom Ferrier, and I was especially happy to get to know Arthur Frank, a sociologist at the University of Calgary who wrote The Wounded Storyteller, one of the seminal examinations of medical narratives. I confess I didn't know his work beforehand but quickly got up to speed after two or three different people e-mailed me to say, "You're going to be at a conference with Arthur Frank?! Wow!" His talk on the theme "When Bodies Need Stories" was my favorite of the conference, and he's a friendly, witty, brilliant gentleman--a highlight of the weekend for sure.

Registration table for the conference at UC Riverside's Culver Center for the Arts. All the talks were given in the large room behind the table (you can just see a slide projected on the far wall behind the bald gent), while artwork was exhibited on easels in the left and right galleries defined by the columns. It was a nice space.

Many of the attendees were grad students and undergrads hopelessly devoted to Juliet McMullin, the UC Riverside professor who organized the conference. Some had contributed to the artwork exhibited along the sides the room, and a lot of them had read Mom's Cancer, which was gratifying.

Best of all, my sisters Brenda and Elisabeth drove over to see me do my thing, which I think was a first for both of them, and share a late birthday dinner with Karen and me. So I had the pleasure of introducing Nurse Sis and Kid Sis to some people who didn't quite seem to believe they were real. That was fun.

With Juliet McMullin. She's the best.
Kid Sis, Nurse Sis and me flanking a page from Mom's Cancer featuring Kid Sis, Nurse Sis and Me. It's like a recursive Escher etching or something. Spooky.

I think my own talk went well. I had three basic goals: make the case that comics are a medium with unique abilities to tell stories in ways no other medium can; talk about the idea of "community" (communities of family, friends, caregivers, humanity) within Mom's Cancer; and introduce the idea of Graphic Medicine as a body of comics work with its own history and value. That's a lot.

As I prepared the talk, I rehearsed bits of it but never really put it all together and practiced it as a whole. I was aiming for about 45 minutes and figured if anything I'd go long. So I was surprised as I neared the end of my talk to check a clock and see I'd only spoken for 30 minutes. Gosh, I must've been motor-mouthing like a madman! I finished a few minutes later, took some questions, left the stage, and went to apologize to Juliet for coming up 10 minutes short. Karen stopped me:

"But you talked for an hour."

"No, I checked the clock. It was like 35 minutes."

"It was more than an hour."

"No way!"

I appealed to Juliet.

"Everybody seemed to be enjoying it so I didn't want to stop you."

I don't know what happened to the time. I don't know how I misread the clock. When Juliet left a comment in my previous post about loving my 240-minute talk, she was only exaggerating a little. All I know is I that started, WHOOSH, and then I stopped. Luckily I was the last speaker of the day so I didn't intrude into someone else's time. I hate those guys.

The very beginning of my talk, approximately the moment I entered a fugue state.
Anyway, that happened, and then we all signed books. Arthur was dismayed because Ian and I were drawing little sketches in ours. Made him look like a chump.

Signing books with Ian Williams and Arthur Frank. Mom's Cancer sold out and I think Ian did well, too. My vision's perfect out to about arm's length so I often take off my glasses for close-up work. That's a fat new Pentel brush-pen I'm trying out; I liked it!

Day Two was relaxing because I'd fulfilled my responsibilities and could sit back and heckle. Ian gave a great talk that dovetailed well with mine, and I think between us we created a few converts to Graphic Medicine.

What I saw of the city of Riverside was swell, and the Mission Inn where we were lodged is pretty fantastic, in all senses of the word. One look at its website convinced Karen she wanted to come along. It's sort of a Spanish-Moorish citadel that covers a city block and reminded both Karen and me of the Winchester Mystery House, if you're familiar with it, in both its rambling randomness and clear signs of having been assembled by a crazy multi-millionaire. Highly recommended.

How Karen spent some of her day.

Good weekend, good event, great people. Thanks to Juliet, Chikako Takeshita, Laura Lozon, Sharon Rushing, Kara Miller, and lots of others for inviting me, organizing everything, and making us feel welcome. Just in terms of logistics, this was one of the best-run conference I've ever been to. I'm especially grateful to all the attendees and students who stopped to talk so we could get to know each other a bit. That's the best part.


Ian Williams (aka Thom Ferrier) said...

Totally agree, Brian, a very well and enjoyable conference. Thanks to everyone involved.
Can you ask Karen to send me some pics please?

Brian Fies said...

Of course! They'll be on the way soon. Hope you enjoyed Joshua Tree and whatever other corners of the USA you hit before heading home.

Ian Williams (aka Thom Ferrier) said...

I did, and I've just had a fantastic evening in Laguna Beach where I stumbled upon a free gig of incredibly talented Laguna musicians.