A Review of the Penn State University Press Graphic Medicine Series
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Matthew Noe, MLS
Lead Collection & Knowledge Management Librarian
Countway Library
Harvard Medical School

Content

The Penn State University Press Graphic Medicine Series is a series of curated books dedicated to the value of comics as a medium to communicate the experiences of health. The series is managed by Kendra Boileau, assistant director and editor-in-chief of PSU Press, alongside an editorial collective (viewable on the series homepage) that includes scholars, medical practitioners, and cartoonists equally. Many of the titles in the series are jointly published with U.K. based publisher Myriad Editions, including The Lady Doctor by Ian Williams (2019), recently positively reviewed in Doody’s Review Service by Kimberly Brown, MBA (GE Healthcare).

As is common for the field and genre of graphic medicine, titles in the series include works of memoir, history, fiction, journalism, and scholarship. While all of the titles in the series are appropriate for course use, and a majority of them have been reported to be used as such, none of the comics in the series are explicitly written as educational material. This differs from most academic publishers, where few publish comics at all, but when they do, they are of a textbook or explicitly instructional nature.

Features/Functionality

As defined in the Graphic Medicine Manifesto, Czerwiec et al. (2015), graphic medicine is “the intersection of the medium of comics and the discourse of healthcare,” and as such, the books in the series follow a few possible tracks. Broadly speaking, the series contains comics and books about comics. The comics currently comprise the vast majority of titles and range from the individual patient narrative to the fictional healthcare worker story and beyond. A growing number of translated works are published by the series, providing a broader understanding of the experience of health.

The series includes several scholarly collections that explore the possibilities and histories of comics engagement with health. The most well-known of these is the Graphic Medicine Manifesto, considered the foundational scholarly text on graphic medicine, whose authors include all current and past members of the series editorial collective. A recent addition, Uncanny Bodies: Superhero Comics and Disability by Scott T. Smith and José Alaniz (2019), reckons with the complex history of the superhero ideal against the backdrop of calls for more diverse and appropriate representation in media.

Business Model

The Graphic Medicine Series books are available in print through most U.S. based bookselling vendors, including commonly used academic library vendors such as EBSCO’s GOBI and ProQuest’s OASIS. Libraries should make note that some of the comics are of dramatically different dimensions, which, while appropriate and beneficial to the work, may create shelving difficulties. As of this review, only eight of the more than 20 books are available electronically to institutions due to various electronic rights issues. This is not a concern unique to the PSU Press series—it applies broadly to all monographic works of graphic medicine and poses a potential limitation for the adoption of such works, particularly during this time of COVID-19.

That said, comics provide a unique opportunity for the increasingly digital-first library to continue to provide physical items—they are high-demand, visually appealing works that encourage community engagement and outreach. Works in the series can serve a variety of community needs. The Graphic Medicine Manifesto and the forthcoming PathoGraphics, Squier and Krüger-Fürhoff (2020), for example, detail methods of scholarly engagement with comics and may inspire new areas for research. Comic titles, such as My Degeneration by Peter Dunlap-Shohl (2015) and The Facts of Life by Paula Knight (2017), find use in empathy development for students and as consumer health resources for patients. These are just a few of many possibilities. Readers are encouraged to explore more ways to engage with graphic medicine at www.graphicmedicine.org.

Breakthrough

Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library holds an extensive collection of graphic medicine (viewable using bit.ly/HarvardGM) that includes at least one physical copy of each work in the Penn State University Press Graphic Medicine Series. Several of the series titles are assigned books in classes across Harvard University, have been featured in the library’s book clubs and other programming, and circulate at a higher rate than the general collection. To this reviewer’s knowledge, titles in the series are found in every specialized graphic medicine library collection and featured prominently in the Network of the National Library of Medicine’s New England Region Book Club Kit program.

References

Brown, K. (2019). Doody’s Expert Review, The Lady Doctor. Retrieved June 15, 2020, from http://www.doody.com/DEJ/Service/ViewTitle.asp?SID={0621FD77-E964-4698-80FB-F9E49F9D148E}&ISBN=9780271083742

Czerwiec, MK., et al. (2015). Graphic Medicine Manifesto. Penn State University Press.

Graphic Medicine. (n.d.). Publishers. Retrieved June 15, 2020, from https://www.graphicmedicine.org/book-series

NNLM New England Region. (n.d.). Graphic Medicine Book Club Kits. Retrieved June 15, 2020, from https://nnlm.gov/ner/graphic-medicine-book-club-kits

Penn State University Press. (n.d.). Graphic Medicine. Retrieved June 15, 2020, from http://www.psupress.org/books/series/book_SeriesGM.html

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