New Library collection provides good medicine about serious topics

Quesenberry draws people together with graphic medicine books

October 10, 2023

Cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease and AIDS are not easy things to discuss. And they are certainly not topics most would associate with comic books or graphic novels.

But a new collection of books at the Albion College Library connects these two elements together for an interesting concept referred to as “graphic medicine.”

“The idea is to gain a better understanding of our bodies and how we work through medical challenges,” said Krista Quesenberry, assistant professor of English at Albion College and organizer of the collection. “We are trying to improve health outcomes and bridge patient and practitioner relations for doctors, nurses, dentists, veterinarians and others.”

The Albion College Graphic Medicine Collection was established after Quesenberry was awarded a grant from the Joyce G. Ferguson Faculty Development Fund. She used half of the grant to purchase more than 100 graphic medicine books for the library. Library Director Jill Marie Mason, Associate Director Erin Smith, and student employee Sydney Wood then collaborated with Quesenberry on building the collection and integrating the materials into the library’s resources.

Students participate in the first “Drawing Together” event at the Library

Titles in the collection include: “Stitches: A Memoir,” by David Small, which deals with throat cancer from a patient’s point of view; “Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me,” by Sarah Leavitt; “7 Miles a Second,” by David Wojnarowicz, about how a patient deals with AIDS; and “Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow,” by Anders Nilsen, about coping with grief.

“There are books about mental health and bipolar disorder, less common illnesses such as myocardial encephalitis and even veterans coming home from war,” Quesenberry said. “There is not always a happy ending, but we are using comics to understand how a wide variety of medical experiences impact lives and identities.”

Quesenberry is introducing the collection with a series of monthly “Drawing Together” events at the Mudd Library Living Room. The events are designed to bring people together to draw (no experience required) as an avenue of self-expression and, perhaps, therapy.

The upcoming “Drawing Together” events are scheduled for Oct. 19, Nov. 16 and Dec. 7. The events are free and open to the public.

“The idea is to break down barriers and have a good time,” Quesenberry said. “You don’t have to be an ‘artist’ for the experience to be meaningful and powerful. You can be engaged and articulate through comics without having a beautiful and polished style.”

Quesenberry said she is a good example of that.

“I teach about comics, but I don’t draw, so I went to a conference about drawing so that I can start to practice what I preach,” Quesenberry said.

The addition of the new books brings the total of graphic medicine books at the Albion College Library to more than 130.

“As far as I know, this is one of the largest collections of ‘graphic medicine’ books for an institution our size,” said Quesenberry. 

Quesenberry said the benefit of the collection goes beyond the field of medicine.

“Everyone can benefit from this,” she said. “It is a valuable thing for students who are potential doctors as an avenue they can explore. Art students can study them. I can use them in my English classes. I am so grateful that Albion College supported this.”