The Center for Biographical Research is thrilled to announce that “Graphic Medicine,” a special
issue of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly (volume 44, numbers 2 & 3) guest edited by
Erin La Cour and Anna Poletti, has been selected as Honorable Mention (second place) for the
Best Special Issue Award in this year’s Council of Editors of Learned Journals contest.
The CELJ judges offered the following assessment of the special issue:
Honorable Mention: “Graphic Medicine,” a special issue of Biography
The number and quality of submissions for the 2022 CELJ Best Special Issue Award was
truly impressive, making adjudication both delightful and difficult. We were inspired by
the range of topics and approaches. In making our decision, we considered the clarity of
editorial vision, the significance of the contribution, whether or not an issue was
conceptually interesting beyond a single field, formal and methodological innovation, and
evidence of collaborative engagement across individual contributions to the broader
project of the issue.
The award review committee recognizes “Graphic Medicine,” a special issue
of Biography on life narratives in the medium of comics, with an honorable mention. The
decision to include different genres—both scholarly essays and original autobiographical
comics—resulted in a multi-genre issue that compellingly explores the possibilities and
concerns raised by living with (and/or alongside) illness and disability. The scope of the
articles encompassed a broad but interrelated investigation into the topic, and the editor’s
introduction effectively contextualized these articles in relation to the field of
interdisciplinary medical humanities while making a persuasive argument about how
comics “expose the subjective experiences of health and healthcare systems that may be
difficult for both practitioners and patients to understand or explain in either verbal or
visual language alone.” We appreciated the wholistic approach taken in developing the
issue, with contributions being collectively workshopped as part of the process. Finally,
the layout, typesetting, and graphics all contributed to an excellent reading experience.
Congratulations to the coeditors—Erin La Cour and Anna Poletti—and the contributors to the
special issue—Safdar Ahmed, Suzy Becker, Kiene Brillenburg Wurth, Jared Gardner, Crystal
Yin Lie, John Miers, Nancy K. Miller, JoAnn Purcell, Susan Squier, and Julia Watson.
Biography has been recognized by CELJ for special issues twice before: in 2017, when it won
the Special Issue Award for “Indigenous Conversations about Biography” edited by Alice Te
Punga Somerville, Daniel Heath Justice, and Noelani Arista, and in 2012, when it won for
“(Post)human Lives” edited by Gillian Whitlock and G. Thomas Couser.
Released digitally on Project Muse in June 2022, the issue was also published as a book by the
University of Hawai‘i Press in August 2022.
In Graphic Medicine, comics artists and scholars of life writing, literature, and comics explore
the lived experience of illness and disability through original texts, images, and the dynamic
interplay between the two. The essays and autobiographical comics in this collection respond to
the medical humanities’ call for different perceptions and representations of illness and disability
than those found in conventional medical discourse. The collection expands and troubles our
understanding of the relationships between patients and doctors, nurses, social workers,
caregivers, and family members, considering such encounters in terms of cultural context,
language, gender, class, and ethnicity. By treating illness and disability as an experience of
fundamentally changed living, rather than a separate narrative episode organized by treatment,
recovery, and a return to “normal life,” Graphic Medicine asks what it means to give and receive
Comics by Safdar Ahmed, John Miers, and Suzy Becker, and illustrated essays by Nancy K.
Miller and Jared Gardner show how life writing about illness and disability in comics offers new
ways of perceiving the temporality of caring and living. Crystal Yin Lie and Julia Watson
demonstrate how use of the page through panels, collages, and borderless images can draw the
reader, as a “mute witness,” into contact with the body as a site where intergenerational trauma is
registered and expressed. Kiene Brillenburg Wurth examines how microscripts productively
extend graphic medicine beyond comics to “outsider art.” JoAnn Purcell and Susan Squier
display how comics artists respond to and reflect upon their caring relationship with those
diagnosed with an intellectual disability. And Erin La Cour interrogates especially difficult
representations of relationality and care.
During the past decade, graphic medicine comics have proliferated―an outpouring accelerated
recently by the greatest health crisis in a century. Edited by Erin La Cour and Anna
Poletti, Graphic Medicine helps us recognize that however unpleasant or complicated it may be,
interacting with such stories offers fresh insights, suggests new forms of acceptance, and
enhances our abilities to speak to others about the experience of illness and disability.