Vermont Cartoonists Head to Ireland to Explore Ties Between Comics and Medicine | Comics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Vermont Cartoonists Head to Ireland to Explore Ties Between Comics and Medicine


Published July 10, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.

Books by Center for Cartoon Studies-affiliated artists - COURTESY
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  • Books by Center for Cartoon Studies-affiliated artists

Next week, the Center for Cartoon Studies will embark as a group on its first international foray for the 2024 Graphic Medicine Conference, held July 16 to 18 at the Technological University of the Shannon in Athlone, Ireland. The Vermont cartoonists will join others from around the world to explore how their work can inform new and different perspectives on health, illness, caregiving and disability.

Cofounded by cartoonist James Sturm and then-professor Michelle Ollie, the cartoon school has been a cultural and educational staple in White River Junction since 2004. In addition to nurturing new generations of professional cartoonists through its master's and certificate programs and workshops, the school has a strong focus on applied cartooning, the practical use of comics to explore real-world issues.

To that end, CCS has produced several socially conscious nonfiction books over the years, including This Is What Democracy Looks Like: A Graphic Guide to Governance; How We Read: A Graphic Guide to Literacy; Freedom and Unity: A Graphic Guide to Civics and Democracy in Vermont; and Health and Wealth: A Graphic Guide to the US Healthcare System. Last October, the school launched its Applied Cartooning Lab to formalize such projects.

The cartoon school has had a steady presence at the annual Graphic Medicine Conference, even hosting it in 2018. Ollie, now president of CCS, has long championed the importance of graphic medicine, a burgeoning field dedicated to conveying complex health care info and stories through easy-to-understand comics.

"This movement is becoming more mature from when it was just a few people who saw a connection between comic[s] and medicine," Ollie said. She added that the Graphic Medicine Conference is "quite different from the other conventions cartoonists go to" — there are no costumed superheroes like at Comic-Con.

The school will send a mix of alumni and fellows to Ireland. Cartoonist, editor and educator J.D. Lunt, class of 2016, will share an oral history of the oldest no-cost health camp in California. MK Czerwiec, a 2019 Applied Cartooning Fellow, will present awards, while Nicole Georges, a 2013-14 CCS Fellow, will lead a workshop on comics and grief.

"It'll be a cross-section of practitioners, creators, fans, doctors and educators," Ollie said. "There are still so many ways this movement can intersect, support and elevate the medical profession."

Natalie Norris, a CCS alum, cartoonist and current teacher, attended the virtual conference in 2020. Though she won't go this year, she sees these gatherings as opportunities to bring together people across multiple industries.

"When I spoke at the conference, it was looking at the way in which graphic memoirs can help people process trauma through writing and drawing simultaneously," Norris said.

"Graphic medicine has been a terrific way to tie two interests together for so many people," said Czerwiec, who is a nurse, cartoonist and educator. The cartoon school's "support of our work in graphic medicine has been so important," she added. "It very much dovetails with their goals to let this powerful medium actually work in the world."

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