Cartoons and comics have a way of distilling complex ideas into easy-to-digest gulps. “Drawing Us Together: Public Life and Public Health in Contemporary Comics” at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study celebrates the phenomenon.
In the show, organized by Meg Rotzel, Radcliffe’s curator of exhibitions, engaging graphic murals delineate the intricacies of democracy and the US health care system. They’re from Vermont’s Center for Cartoon Studies.
These wry comics acknowledge and explore systemic problems. The health care mural is excerpted from a comic book, “Health and Wealth.” James Sturm, cofounder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, was a Radcliffe fellow in 2020 and 2021. As the pandemic turned everyone’s attention to health care, Sturm worked with a collective of cartoonists and students from Harvard College and the Center for Cartoon Studies to produce this book.
“Health and Wealth” explores the costs behind a hospital stay, the history of Medicare, and the role that powerful lobbies play in shaping legislation. The comic opens with the tale of a child with an injured leg — a fall, an ambulance ride, an overnight at the hospital. The child returns home, on the mend.
“Like several European countries, a bill is never sent,” narration reads. “There were limits on how much profit could be made from the sick and injured.”
Then, on the next page: “Unfortunately, the US healthcare system is not so straightforward.” A mind-boggling board game drawing fills the spread: part Monopoly, part Chutes and Ladders, part Candy Land, with a “GoFundMe LAKE” in the center. Another page features a fat cat senator strolling down the US Capitol steps with two lobbyists, a goat, and a rabbit, as dollars rain down. “Splendid weather we’re having, Senator,” the lobbyists say. “We wrote some legislation for you.”
Among more than 80 books on view is “Graphic Medicine Manifesto,” by nurse and cartoonist MK Czerwiec, physician and comics artist Ian Williams, physician Michael J. Green, who is a professor at Penn State University, and other Penn State academics Susan Merrill Squier, Kimberly R. Myers, and Scott T. Smith. Turns out graphic medicine is a genre exploring how comics can open up the health care discourse. Stories and pictures don’t just illuminate health care’s red-tape labyrinth. They remind us we’re all human.
DRAWING US TOGETHER: Public Life and Public Health in Contemporary Comics
At Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, 8 Garden St., Cambridge, through Dec. 17. www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/event/2022-drawing-us-together-exhibition