Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Review-Parasites!-Edward Ross, Jamie Hall, Rachel Morris

The first thing that strikes me about Edward Ross's and Jamie Hall's lusciously produced mini comic Parasites is the cover. Drawn by Rachel Morris (along with the back cover scientific diagram) the cover is slightly psychedelic and evokes old B-movies and sci-fi, with the outline of a parasite lurking menacingly in the background like some alien creature ready to strike. But the whole point of this comic is that parasites and parasitic diseases are not things of fiction and bad 50's B-movies, but are very much real especially to the large numbers of our population living in underdeveloped countries and tropical climates. This comic then manages to be both an educational aide (I can easily imagine it being used in GCSE science classrooms) and a humanitarian effort. It isn't preachy, it doesn't ask us for our money, but it does cause us to think and highlights a simple injustice in the world (the business drive behind creating and distributing medicine). This very short comic was written by a friend of the artist Jamie Hall who wanted to raise awareness of the research that was being done by Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology in Glasgow. It was promoted during the Glasgow West End Festival using a giant trypanosome float in the festival parade (which would have been an arousing sight for all scientific types out there). The comic itself avoids a lot of the usual educational cartoon cliches such as parasites with evil faces and superhero doctors in favour of the actual voices and faces of those working for the Welcome Trust. There are of course comic style visual devices to make the comic visually appealing but these are kept to a minimum so not to distract us totally from the importance of the words. A rain of parasites over an African skyline and a parasite playing a game of jenga against a researcher are enough to symbolise certain struggles trying to fight these diseases. The language itself is too overcomplicated, of course it will certainly pass over young children's heads, but as I mentioned earlier, a GCSE class should have little problem with this comic, and it does them a favour by not trying to patronise them either. I did notice however that a lot of the important words and phrases are highlighted in bold perhaps for impact or maybe to make them easier to read. As for the artwork, I'm sad to say that in this instance the artwork takes a backseat, not because it is bad (I have been looking at Edward Ross's preview for the next issue of Solipsistic Pop and it looks great) but perhaps because it is here to serve a purpose. In medical comics that are more about personal experience rather than reciting facts and trying to gain support, the artwork becomes more a part of the experience itself, reflecting it, distorting it, symbolising it (two obvious examples of this would be David B's Epileptic and Frank Stack's art for Harvey Pekar's Our Cancer Year). Of course I am not saying that reciting facts is a bad thing, I do feel that the more personal approach can be superior because it encourages empathy from the reader but in this instance I think the ultimate achievement is perhaps the subtle humanitarian aspect that I discussed later. One of the researchers voices the fact the work they do is 'interesting and important even if it's not financially profitable' we get the whole point neatly summed up. Medicines shouldn't be about profit, it should be about saving people's lives. This comic is free because it is funded by the Welcome Trust. They want this information to be free, they don't expect anything in return (I better be careful or I'll get all Karl Marx/hippy commune).
To summarise: I've always thought that comics have great educational potential and it's great to see (especially with the rise of Graphic Medicine) that the world of health care is really catching on. As this is one the first (to my knowledge) comic books of non-fiction produced by a medical professional and an artist I can only hope for more like this in the future.
If you would like a copy you can email Edward Ross at and for more information on the project got to Edward Ross's blog here or the Wellcome Trust here.

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