I still haven’t had time to process everything from the past three days – I doubt if anyone else who went to this year’s Comics & Medicine Conference in Chicago has either. It was one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to – extraordinarily diverse, full of great artists and writers, buzzing with ideas, and alive with energy and enthusiasm for the subject matter, its validity and its future. And, as someone said on the bus to Quimby’s bookstore at the end of the conference, it was informal enough so that you felt you could talk to anyone. So true. Where else would essentially amateur comics writers and authors (even those of us who are published) get to rub shoulders with people like Paul Gravett, Phoebe Gloeckner and David Small – and in some way, in this field at least, feel that we are equals?
It would be too hard to flag up any highlights – everything was so good, all the papers were so interesting (too interesting: you knew the one’s you were missing would be just as good). Paul Gravett’s opening survey of the history of Comics and Medicine was fascinating – and really served to set scene for the whole conference, answering that crucial question: how did this happen? Where did this conference come from? If Paul showed us the past and the present, Phoebe showed us the future. Her utterly enchanting talk, as much a performance of herself as an exposition of her fantastically inventive work, showed us brilliantly to what heights we could aspire as comics creators. David Small, too, reminded us all that narratives of illness and experience can be literature. Stitches is honest, dark and terrifying, yes, but beyond that, a literary creation as well as a visual one. And Scott McCloud, in a presentation that was like watching a live-action film of “Understanding Comics” (even wearing a check shirt), set us all the challenge of making our work relevant and true in a age of transformative technology.
Met lots of amazing people doing extraordinary work: writers like Sarah Leavitt, whose book, Tangles, blows so many out of the water; artists like Jeff Benham and Rinko Endo, Neil Harris and Shelly Wall, all of whom are doing really exciting stuff; and an amazingly eclectic mix of authors, artists, medics, nurses, critics and students: Raney Linck, Ian Williams, Mita Mahato, Susan Squiers, Andrew Rostan, Cathy Leamy and Peter Stringham – people I didn’t get anywhere near enough time to talk to.
But hopefully we’re only just at the beginning of the Comics & Medicine story. I’ll be going to thoughtbubble this year in Leeds, and Ian Williams and I are going to get together and do some drawing at some point somewhere in the Welsh borders soon. There’s talk of a third conference, and talk of some major online collaboration between graphicmedicine.org and Comics & Medicine.
Thanks again to MK, Ian and the whole organising committee for a genuinely inspirational conference – and look forward to seeing everyone at C&M III!