Drawing Blood traces the history of comics’ obsession with medicine from the 17th century to today. Until the nineteenth century, medical care often meant ancient, ineffective, and dangerous treatments such as bloodletting and purging. Early cartoonists found a favorite topic for satire in self-trained barber-surgeons and apothecaries proffering cures that were frequently worse than the disease.
From the nineteenth century to the present day, modern medicine underwent remarkable transformations—from anesthetics and germ theory, to modern vaccines and increasingly advanced imaging technologies. Each new advancement transformed public attitudes about medicine, but not always in positive ways. Comics were there for the good and the bad, helping to rebrand the doctor from quack to hero, but also critiquing a medical system that often privileged profits over patients.
Drawing Blood highlights the sometimes caustic eye of cartoonists, as they consider doctors, patients, illness, and treatment in the rapidly changing world of medicine—one which continues to present new possibilities and new challenges.
This site begins as an accompaniment to an exhibition by the same name at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, telling the story of the strange love-hate relationship between comics and medicine from the 18th century to the present. The exhibit, which runs at the Billy Ireland until October 20, 2019, will serve as the foundation of the website, but as the site grows we hope it will serve as a resource for scholars interested in medical history, comics history, and the remarkable convergence of the two in the Graphic Medicine movement of the 21st century.
Along with images from the exhibition (some of which won’t be available for scanning for the website until it comes down), the site will seek to fill in areas of the story the exhibition could not feature—because of lack of space or lack of access to the right materials for museum display. We will also include links and resources for those who wish to learn more about comics and cartooning, medicine and illness, print history, public health, and more. Using the history of a powerful popular culture form and mode of creative expression allows us, we hope, to look at some of the most daunting and ofttimes terrifying issues in our society—medical care and its costs, caregiving and the obstacles it must battle every day, and the inevitability of human pain and mortality—with a new lens.
The exhibition would not have been possible without the remarkable curators and staff at the Billy Ireland, including Anne Drozd, Museum Coordinator; Susan Liberator, Public Services Coordinator; and the two people who taught how to curate, Caitlin McGurk (Associate Curator) and Jenny Robb (Curator and Director of the Billy Ireland). Morgan Podraza, PhD candidate in the English Department here at Ohio State, contributed invaluable research and writing on the labels for the exhibition.
The exhibit also benefited extraordinarily from the generosity and support of several cartoonists who donated and loaned important work in graphic medicine. Full credits will be provided in the exhibit inventory which will be posted soon, but I must especially thank MK Czerwiec, who donated her own work and loaned invaluable pieces we would have otherwise not been able to obtain, and Rachel Lindsay, who generously allowed us to use art from her book, Rx: A Graphic Memoir, in promoting and designing the exhibition.
Emily Winter, a senior English major and employee at the Billy Ireland, is my collaborator on this website while she finishes up her senior thesis on Nabakov’s Pale Fire.